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Pastor-Board Relationships in the Smaller Congregation

After the honeymoon of starting a new pastorate is over, the work of building strong pastor-board relationships is just beginning.

Shortly after assuming my role as district superintendent, I surveyed our ministers and found most of them desired help with pastor-board relationships.

Pastors often view their boards as adversaries. A number of boards have the same feelings toward their pastors. Pastors and boards sometime fail to understand each other’s roles in leadership and are insensitive to each other’s needs. Shortly after the honeymoon is over, problems develop that hinder the pastor’s ministry and the progress of the church in the community. This can be especially true in a smaller congregation.

Pastor/Board Relationships

Pastors need to be sure of God’s call on their lives. Becoming a person of God is a worthy ambition. Leaders need to make sure their vision is God-birthed. Board members need to share the pastor’s vision. Great ideas and vision are born when people of God communicate and build relationships with each other.

Pastors need to know their board members by spending time with them. Visit their homes and workplaces. Pastors need to understand their board members’ backgrounds—how they think and make decisions. Many board members live and work in hostile environments. They will appreciate knowing their pastor cares for them. They, too, have had to make adjustments to leadership styles for each pastor with whom they may have served. Visiting with board members over a cup of coffee or lunch can be profitable in promoting fellowship and building relationships.

Pastors need to be aware of the spiritual level and needs of each board member. It does little good to bemoan the level of commitment and spiritual concerns of board members unless the pastor is willing to encourage them. Most board members will be responsive to a pastor’s honesty, sincere concern, and passion to please God and do His will.

A wise pastor affirms and honors his board and helps them feel they have an essential place in their relationship with him. Most men and women appreciate being involved in the responsibilities of the church and its mission. It is rewarding for them to feel needed and valued.

Boards must feel the need to be partners with their pastor. They are assistants and helpers. Some church disciplines give the board absolute authority. In many Pentecostal churches, the pastor is the God-called leader. The board is chosen by the people and used by God to assist the pastor in the ministry of the church (Acts 6:3–7).

Many churches have gone through difficult times, some of which could have been avoided by being more diligent in building relationships. Most problems that arise are a result of poor communication, failure to understand each other, and incompetent and insensitive leadership. This often results in declining attendance and financial difficulties with accompanying spiritual and moral erosion.

Pastors and boards can make a difference when they build strong relationships and address problems with honesty, prayer, and a willingness to work together. Issues need to be dealt with in love, honesty, and firmness. Unwise leadership allows issues and problems to escalate until they polarize the people and division takes place. This leaves people wounded and discouraged. Many churches that once had a passion to make a difference in their world have become museums and failed in their mission.

Wise board members understand that some pastors are visionary and eager to see the church progress, while other pastors are laid back and content to lead in a leisurely manner. It takes time, patience, and understanding for board members to work with and accept different leadership styles.

Wise boards make themselves available to share the pastor’s vision and help with implementing the mission of the church.

It is important that boards seriously accept the responsibility of being leaders in the church. Consistent and faithful support of the church in attendance, finances, and cooperation with the programs of the church should be par for the course. First Corinthians 4:2 reads: "Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful" (NKJV).

Pastoral Changes

For a church to fulfill its mission, it is essential that the pastor and board understand they are fellow laborers with a common mission. Churches do best when there is an atmosphere of love, understanding, and trust. One place where trust is often broken, understanding is lacking, and love is not demonstrated is during pastoral changes. During these times, church members may lose heart and no longer share the enthusiasm they once knew. It is then incumbent on pastors to lift the level of people’s faith and trust in each other. Here is where the work of the pastor and board becomes important.

Stress is often present when churches go through pastoral changes. Close relationships may have been severed and some people go through grief. Or, discord and frustration may have led to the pastor’s resignation. This affects the way people respond to leadership. Wise leaders are patient and kind with people who go through the trauma of transitions. Leaders may need to spend more time than anticipated while helping people through this grief recovery.

Some church members may feel the loss of a beloved pastor, friends, or a style of worship. Some, through it all, have lost trust in leadership. It helps when pastors and boards are aware of the traumas of transition and work together to bring healing to the church.

Wise leaders learn that building relationships with hurting people is sensitive and time-consuming. It often means putting ambitious plans and programs on hold until the pastor and board have bonded and the people are willing to accept his leadership. If pastors are too eager to get things done, they may get ahead of their people. If pastors attempt to push their sheep too fast, sheep have a tendency to scatter. Pastors can avoid many conflicts if they understand the temperament and inability of some to accept new leadership. Time spent building relationships with love inspires trust. Great ideas and vision can be lost when leaders expect people to respond before the trust factor has been established. Little can be done until leadership bonds and is able to share the vision and work together with the people.

Conclusion

One of the best ways to avoid problems is to maintain good pastor-board relationships and seek God’s wisdom in all deliberations. Most problems involve poor communication and a failure to address issues in love and sensitivity. Complaining church members need attention just like crying babies. Scolding or ignoring them will not cause problems to go away. Assess the need, attend to the issue at hand, and seek God for guidance in applying the remedy with love.

It has been said, "I don’t care how much you know, but I would like to know how much you care." The language of love has healed many hurts. Learn to listen. Hear both sides of the story. Be fair. Seek God’s wisdom in making determinations and administer with love.

—Marcus Bakke, Bismarck, North Dakota, is former North Dakota District superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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