4. Your Church’s DNA. Addington writes a wonderful chapter, filled with insights regarding the struggles church leadership has in helping a congregation focus upon its mission. As he notes, conflict probably will arise as clarity is gained about the mission. If the discussion is led openly, with good opportunity to dialogue, and diligent efforts made to sustain trust, then differences of viewpoint will not necesarily rupture relations, but lead to a better understanding of the mission. However, it is probable that some people may leave the church as the mission is refined, because the removal of ambiguity will require decisions of commitment that some will not be comfortable to make.
Each church does possess its own DNA. Sometimes this DNA results in dysfunctionality and lack of church health. Some of the genetic code needs replacing and this can be a painful experience. Yet if it is never addressed, the church will never have the opportunity to enjoy spiritual health. The risks are worth the reward. We might say that our commitment to Christ, the head of the church, requires us to take the risk.
For a church board to make progress in addressing church health requires deep coherence and unity. Start with some small issues, develop trust and credibility and then tackle the larger questions. Resolve conflicts within the board first, because without those being resolved, congregational conflict will never heal. Addington urges boards to develop covenants that define how the board will work together and what attitudes and actions are out of order. He provides a sample that can serve as a template for your church board to follow.
Addington appeals to Matthew 18 principles as a guideline for resolving church conflict. One caution here — direct approaches are not always culturally appropriate and can create greater problems. Often an indirect approach (sending a third party to initiate conversation) will start the process of reconciliation more effectively. In congregations that have increasing multicultural dimensions this cultural awareness becomes important.
5. Values, Mission, Vision and Initiatives. Chapters five through nine discuss these four significant helps to healthy church life. Addington’s overview of each area is well done. Although it may take a board up to two years to work through the entire process, the outcomes will be transformational. Here is where consistent, disciplined, intentional board leadership becomes critical, as it gives necessary attention and energy to developing each of these elements. For example, if the board chair is changing every year, it is difficult to retain momentum and initiative in completing such work, as well as monitoring its implementation. When a church lacks these guiding documents, there is little ability for the board to assess progress towards mission achievement.
Some may dismiss these elements as leaving no room for the Spirit’s direction. Others feel they are borrowed from the business world and have no place in the church. If that is your perspective, then I would encourage you to re-think your evaluation. God wants to build his church and He expects us to discern responsible, biblically-consistent ways to achieve this.
In my view the church board has to be involved in discerning values, mission and vision. Specific initiatives will be planned and proposed by ministry leaders or others in the congregation to whom the Spirit may be speaking. All initiatives, however, have to align with and carry forward the church’s ability to achieve its mission in coherence with its values and vision.