The topic of leadership receives great attention these days. We realize that individual leaders come in all shapes and sizes, with different gift sets. Defining and identifying group or team leadership is even more complex, but that is what church boards must do — understand the nature of their leadership as a team within the congregation and externally and then express it effectively.
Frequently we think that the leadership of the church falls upon the shoulders of one or two individuals, i.e. the “lead” pastor and the board chairperson. But while such individuals do exercise leadership in the congregation, it is always as part of the strategic ministry leadership team, i.e. the church board. If the lead pastor or board chair gets out of sync with the leadership of the church board, conflict and difficulties ensue.
So this raises the question — what kind of collective leadership must a church board provide for the congregation?
1. Spiritual/Moral leadership. In a sense this kind of leadership is the foundation for every other kind of leadership a church board provides. If the spiritual/moral leadership of a church board becomes ineffective, it will affect every other action of the board. This kind of leadership expresses the core principle that the church board collectively and its individual members must be “examples to the flock” of spirituality. People in the congregation should be able to see Christ expressed in their lives and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit demonstrated in their decisions. Paul places great stock in this level of leadership when he describes the character required for church board members (1 Tim. 3).
2. Theological leadership. Within our Christian culture many theological issues create controversy. And in the broader culture believers have to come to terms with many critical issues, i.e. assisted suicide, ecological responsibility, ethics in the marketplace, addictions, sexual choices, etc. Although a church board may not feel very competent to deal with such issues, it does represent collectively the spiritual wisdom within the congregation. And so the church family rightfully looks to the church board to give some direction regarding critical theological issues, particularly those that are especially relevant and potentially harmful to the health of the congregation. If the church board does not provide such leadership, then other individuals or groups in the congregation or externally will fill void and seize the opportunity to promote their particular approach to such issues. Inevitably the church board will have to respond to such activity and often it will be divisive and potentially hurtful. Wise church boards are proactive with this kind of leadership.
3. Mission-focused/Strategic leadership. A church board’s primary responsibility is to advance the mission and vision of the congregation. So its leadership has to be exercised to that end. In a certain sense its commitment to the mission supersedes all other loyalties. Its collective and individual actions focus upon the advancement of the mission in submission and commitment to God. Church board members champion it, serve it, and with the greatest wisdom seek to fulfill it.
4. Future-directed leadership. Church board leadership must be focused on the future. If your vision is frozen in the rear-view mirror, then very little is going to change in your congregation and the mission will remain stagnant. The Holy Spirit brings dynamism and transformation into the life of the congregation. When a church board keeps in step with the Spirit, its focus will be directed towards the future. Where is the Spirit taking us and how can we collaborate with the Spirit fully in accomplishing his agenda will be the key question. Today you build the foundations for the congregation will be existing in five years.
5. Adaptive, accountable leadership. Church board decisions are all about change and adaptation. The ecology of church board leadership flourishes in a changing environment. So church boards have to lead with an adaptive and accountable mindset, both with respect to good board practice and the life of the congregation. Adaptations always entail risk and so an accountable board will always be balancing mission advancement, change and risk — something that requires great wisdom and courage.
The collective leadership of a church board can be complex and discerning what kind of leadership is most relevant in any particular season will require wisdom. As well each church board member will be called upon to exercise these various kinds of leadership and some will be better equipped to provide one type of leadership. This diversity, however, blends to make the total church leadership strong and nimble.