Our perceptions frequently shape our attitudes and behaviours. What we name something influences in turn our perception of it. Just consider why many churches today are so sensitive about the names they choose to identify themselves! Names shape perceptions. I think this is particularly apparent in regards to church boards.
If we define the primary spiritual leadership team of a local church as a "board," this term stereotypes this group as associated with administration, business, policy, official actions, legalities, finances — matters rarely considered spiritually significant, despite their importance to the good operation of the church community and its health. Pastoral leaders in many instances view the ‘church board’ as a necessary evil, perhaps even using combative terms to define their relationship — a perspective rarely conducive to spiritual health.
I would suggest it is more helpful and biblically appropriate to think of the church board primarily as one of the key ministry teams essential for the spiritual life and health of a local church. This ministry team has various functions, some of which are board-like, but others are more helpfully placed in the category of ‘pastoral oversight’. This ministry team is responsible for sustaining and enhancing the spiritual life and vitality of the entire church community. It cannot delegate responsibility for this, although it accomplishes this work through pastoral staff and other volunteer ministry leaders.
If you are leading a church board, you have the opportunity to shape how this group of spiritual leaders view their work together in the church. If you are the lead pastor, then it is vital to the health of the church that the board perceive themselves as one of the most significant ministry teams operating in your church. While this group has specific, important legal, financial, and policy-making responsibilities, they do it within the framework of the spiritual health of the church. In many respects they represent the best spiritual wisdom the church brings to bear on the critical issues of vision, employee care, member care, spiritual protection, and assessment of progress. The personal spiritual formation of each board member surfaces in this perspective as a primary concern for the lead pastor and board leader. The collective spiritual focus and dynamic of this team has to be nurtured, encouraged, and developed.
Understanding the church board as ministry team influences how agendas are developed, the way decisions are processed, the means used to encourage personal accountability among the ministry team members, their role as spiritual models within the church community, the educational components that should be included in board meetings, etc. This affects how they view their leadership in the church and seek to exercise it wisely. It also guides the relationship between the church board and pastoral staff. We often use the term "ministry team" to refer only to the professional ministry staff in a church and this is a legitimate application. However, if we only apply the term to this group and fail to recognize the existence of other significant ministry teams in the church, then we devalue their roles.
Another aspect of this reality is the question of developing the church board as a ministry team. What strategies can the board leader employ to meld the board members into an effective, well-functioning team of spiritual leaders? If we neglect this, we risk the spiritual health of the entire church. If this ministry team fails to work at a very high level of spirituality, then it will be very difficult for the local church to advance its spiritual life.
Team-building is a matter of relationships. Church board leaders have to give attention to helping the people on this ministry team deepen their relationships of trust, mutual respect, and Christian brotherhood. Attention given to developing good, spiritual team dynamics will pay huge dividends for the church.