When discussing church boards and education, the general tendency is to focus on the importance of church boards educating themselves about their roles and responsibilities — developing their competence and capacity to lead well. However, in this blog article I am considering what role and responsibility a church board has in overseeing congregational education.
The “teaching office” in a local congregation is tightly bound up with the responsibilities of pastors and elders. If your church board essentially is an elders board, then this responsibility becomes a central part of the board’s activities. Usually the “teaching office” is associated with and primarily limited to preaching within the congregation. However, I would suggest that it includes the entire educational program within the congregation. In some way a church board should be giving oversight to this aspect of the congregation’s life.
In some Christian traditions the introduction to catechism for teens is the primary education for Christian worldview that a congregation will sponsor. As good as this might be in introducing individuals to the ideas that shape Christian understanding, it usually does not address more contemporary issues that shape Christian identity. In other Christian traditions home Bible study groups or small groups of some nature become the primary vehicle for educating believers. However, the degree to which such experiences actually result in significant gains in Christian understanding will vary widely. And so by default almost we place extraordinary weight on the weekly sermon as the essential platform for educating believers in the congregation. However thirty minutes of instruction/encouragement once a week does not amount to significant influence when we compare that with many hours of exposure Christians have weekly to the influence of culture expressed through multiple media — TV, the internet, movies, music, blogs, etc. Without a more consistent and extensive educational process congregations will lose the battle for the Christian mind. I think this is particularly important when it comes to the faith formation of young adults.
The primary way by which a church board can counter this educational battle is to develop good policy which will define how the board will fulfill its leadership responsibility for developing Christian minds and hearts . Such a policy would include a clear statement about the way in which education functions to advance the congregation’s mission. To be effective this needs to be stated in terms of key results or outcomes that this education should accomplish and some measurements which will indicate success. In addition, it should address the question of who bears responsibility for oversight of this area and the limits within which they must operate as a leader in this congregational area.
Once this is clear, then the person to whom this responsibility is assigned should be asked to develop a ministry plan that will enable the church board to discern that its key results for this area will be met. This plan will also outline resources necessary to accomplish this plan. The plan should also include some means to evaluate whether the plan is achieving its stated outcomes. Some timelines would be an important ingredient.
A church board chair then would lead the board in its development of such policy. When the policy is approved for implementation, then the chair will see to it that the report outlining a ministry plan will be scheduled into the appropriate board agenda. And then there should be some report presented to the board in six to twelve months indicating progress towards achieving the objectives.
A key question worth considering, even as policy is being discussed, concerns the scope and focus of such an educational ministry. You might phrase the question in this way — if a person is involved in our congregation for five years, what development in their Christian understanding do we want them to experience? What should they know, in what ways should their Christian identity and character be formed, and what skills and competencies should they develop? Without a clear sense of expectations it will be difficult to shape a coherent, productive and effective educational mission.
Perhaps your church board functions as a traditional “deacons’ board” with the lead pastor part of the board. This will not change the importance of your board addressing these questions. However, the involvement of the pastors/elders might be more pronounced and the board may be relying upon them more significantly for shaping the policy.
Believers want to understand their faith. They desire to live into their Christian worldview with passion and effectiveness. However, often they lack the knowledge, encouragement and tools to do this and the congregation suffers as a result. This can change if a church board grasps their responsibility for achieving this part of the congregation’s mission and vision.