I addressed the issue of church board accountability in the form of a case study in blog article 159 “The Accountability Vacuum.” More needs to be said about this aspect of church board operations because effective, long-term church board leadership depends upon it. Without processes that mandate and sustain accountability, church boards run the danger of distancing themselves from congregations. They can act arbitrarily, secretively or abusively, none of which contributes to congregational health or demonstrates Kingdom values.
Two leadership characteristics or attitudes encourage Christian leaders to embrace accountability. The first is humility. Church board members individually or collectively do not have a monopoly on spiritual wisdom and discernment. Humble leadership keeps listening for the Spirit’s direction, wherever He may choose to give it voice. The second is a servant heart. Church boards find their sweet spot in leadership when their decisions and actions concentrate on serving the congregation and the larger community. When serving you want to know whether you are meeting people’s needs and if you discover that you are not, then you are willing to change and adjust.
Additionally, spiritually wise church leaders recognize that they do not “own” the congregation. As Peter says, church leaders are invited by God to shepherd “his flock” (1 Peter 5:1-4). Paul affirms this as he encourages leaders to care well for the “flock of God” (Acts 20:28). By God’s grace He entrusts his flock to us and we steward what belongs to God, what he has bought with the blood of the Messiah Jesus. So accountability is built into the very DNA of Christian leadership and this includes church board leadership.
It is my view that the leaders and members of a church board have to take ownership of their responsibility to demonstrate integrity and accountability. The congregation should not have to agitate for this, but rather accountability should willingly and intentionally be offered by the church board. This is done through the report given by the board at the annual general meeting of the congregation. The board chair shares on behalf of the board how the board has advanced the mission of the congregation over the previous twelve. In addition the board chair as spokesperson for the board outlines how the board members believe the next twelve months should unfold. This includes the major initiatives that need to be implemented in order to accomplish the vision embraced by the congregation.
Other ways that a church board demonstrates its accountability would include:
1. the approachability of church board members — congregants feel free to ask them questions and have confidence that the answers are truthful and not evasive. When a board member does not know the answer, he or she says so, but promises to try and find out, following up when further information is received;
2. an attitude of humility — church board members are thankful to congregational participants who take the time to ask good questions and suggest additional wisdom regarding critical issues;
3. communicating with the congregation regarding the implementation of major decisions and celebrating successes. As well, when serious problems are encountered, the board finds a way to share this with the congregation, respecting privacy issues as necessary.
Accountability demonstrates that the church board members understand the trust that the congregation has vested in them to care for, protect, and discern the congregation’s interests. Accountability does not mean that the board caters to the whims of the congregation. Rather it requires the board to exercise its best leadership to inform the congregation about key issues and initiatives, enable the congregation to discern with the board the right directions to take, and encourage their prayerful support.
When a church board does this well, it generates a broad ethos of accountability within the entire congregation. The board communicates that it has done its homework on the key issues and so its recommendations are worthy of support. It prevents suspicion from taking root because the board is transparent in its dealings. Above all it sustains the unity of the body.