What role does a church board chair play in ensuring that church employees, particularly pastoral leaders, receive good care? Is it appropriate for a chairperson to advocate for pastoral employees and if so, on what basis and for what kinds of issues?
This is a tough question. On the one hand the church board chair and lead pastor must have a good working relationship if the church is to function well. One of the awkward points in such a relationship can be matters of employment, e.g. salary, benefits, professional development, sabbaticals, etc. The lead pastor, however, has no one else, other than the church board chair normally, to ask for clarification on such matters. On the other hand, the lead pastor may not feel comfortable discussing such matters because it seems self-serving — not appropriate for the “humble servant of God.”
Now your situation as church board chair may be a little different in that your board may have a personnel committee which is charged to attend to such matters. But at some point the board will have to deal with these issues and as chair you will be involved in the debate. So how might a church board chair deal with this issue?
As a general biblical principle the congregation is enjoined to care for those whom God has given for their spiritual nurture. The chair as the spokesperson for the church has some obligation then to ensure that the church’s responsibility in such matters is being handled on the basis of the agape principle and justice. When a church does not treat its employees appropriately, it has potential to damage the church’s witness and reputation in the community. Again, the board chair has some concern to foster the congregation’s good name in the community. If the church does not care well for its pastoral leader, what confidence will others outside of the congregation have that they will be served with Christian love and grace?
One way that a church board chair and lead pastor can manage these issues is to agree that at a certain time of the year employment matters will be a normal item on their respective agenda. Creating a regular opportunity for such matters to be raised removes a possible sense of crisis or anxiety when they are discussed. Further, the church board chair should give permission to the lead pastor to feel free to raise employment concerns at any time. In a growing congregation new challenges will always be occurring and inevitably some of these will affect employee relations. So expect it, permit it, and be gracious when it happens.
Finally, I would suggest that the chair does exercise some influence in a church board to moderate unduly harsh perspectives or irresponsible largesse. Good, consistent, principled employee care does more to sustain employee morale than anything else. Also, be proactive in giving public recognition and apprecation for ministry staff. At least one Sunday every year should include an opportunity for the church board to lead the congregation in thanksgiving and celebration for the ministry team God has provided — and make sure some tangible demonstration of this expressed.
One of your goals as church board chair should be to ensure that your church is known by your ministry staff as a good employer and that this is demonstrated consistently year after year.