When a church board works diligently to develop a well-presented recommendation to the staff, or the congregation or some external body (e.g., a denominational conference), but receives a negative response, how the board and its members handle this result defines in many respects the character of that board. Normally church boards assume that if they do their work well, it will be received — and this is a valid expectation. It assumes that those they serve trust their wisdom. However, church boards sometimes forget that those to whom they are accountable or to whom they make recommendations always have the right to say no. The board members may not think such a response is good or wise or appropriate, but nevertheless that is always a possible outcome.
Sometimes a negative response occurs because of the influence of a small group of people who have a particular motive for opposing the recommendation. In this case the board will have to discern how to respond to this group. This may require meeting with them, listening carefully and then redeveloping the recommendation. However, other, deeper issues might lie behind this opposition and the board will have to consider such things carefully.
If the church board regards the entire process, including the discussion with the larger group or other entity, as one segment in discerning God’s direction, then the board will have to consider whether the negative response is indeed the Holy Spirit’s guidance. So the board will have to review its motivation in making the recommendation and also what alternatives it might consider in its leadership of the congregation or staff or denominational family in the matter. These alternatives would include terminating the issue, redeveloping the proposal in the light of criticisms, putting the idea on the shelf because the time is not right, etc.
Sometimes a negative response can lead a board and its leadership to question their mandate. If the recommendation concerns the vision of the congregation and its direction and the congregation gives a resounding “no” to that direction, then the board quite rightly has to evaluate whether they are out of touch with the membership. If this is the case, then it will have to work hard to re-establish trust and find ways to discern the mind of the membership more adequately. However, the board may come to the conclusion that the recommendation they made is the right one and the decision of the congregation means that the board lacks their confidence. In such a case the board members will need to consider whether their resignation is the most appropriate action. Of course, such an action is very serious and should not be taken without much prayer and discussion. Handling the emotion of a “no” response will test the maturity of any board.
A “no” response can be an important learning experience for a board. Perhaps the board has not done their homework in forming the recommendation and so a “no” response is really saying to the board — we trust you, but do your job properly! Bring the recommendation back in a form we can approve! At other times a “no” response means “we do not trust your leadership and are not ready to support this proposed direction.” Or perhaps a “no” response means “give us more time or information. We are not ready to make a decision.” If so, then the board should respond sensibly to such requests.
When a church board gets a “no,” it has to discern carefully what message is being conveyed by the “no.” Responding petulantly or in an authoritarian way will not get the board to “yes,” but rather erode confidence. Perhaps this is where the “servant” in “servant leadership” needs to get applied, employing a humble response and seeking additional wisdom and direction.