In Praise of Church Boards
Walker and Haley Schurz are Directors of Rhema Bible Training Center Zambia and have ministered in Southern Africa since 1992. They are both graduates of Oral Roberts University and Rhema Bible Training Center (USA). Pastors Walker and Haley had the privilege to be trained at Rhema by both Pastor Kenneth W. Hagin and his father Kenneth E. Hagin. They have a long and rich heritage of service and leadership.
After ministering and living ten years in South Africa, Walker and Haley have made their home in Lusaka, Zambia since 2004. They also lead Miracle Life Family Church, a growing and vibrant international church of over 3200. They have a deep desire to see believers grow, develop and fulfill their God-given destiny. You can receive more information about them and their ministry by visiting www.africaoutreach.net.
My wife and I began a wonderful journey fourteen years ago when we became the pastors of a healthy and growing church in Lusaka, Zambia. We were in ministry and had some leadership experience, but nothing prepared us for the roller coaster ride ahead of us. Almost everything we did was new and we needed wisdom and help quickly and in large quantities. We had and still have wonderful mentors, friends and access to knowledge that filled in many of the gaps of our inexperience.
One continued source of help and strength was our local church board. God has been extremely gracious to our church and we have seen the fruit of changed lives beyond our imagination. The growth that was consistently taking place also brought new challenges. Without our board, we simply would not be where we are today and perhaps not even in our position.
For many leaders, the idea of working with a board has the same emotional response as a trip to the dentist for a root canal. It is necessary, but painful. There are certainly horror stories of rogue boards that are of no help at all. If that was your experience or if you are board-shy for good reasons, I hope the thoughts in this article will encourage you to try again and determine to work with this potentially great resource.
This article will not deal with the governance details or specific structures as different churches and organizations have a variety of traditions and beliefs about how to constitute a group of shared responsibility. There may be statutory requirements that are needed to be compliant with certain authorities that also determine the make-up of a board and its responsibilities.
Why Boards can be Helpful
Leaders are usually wisdom and experience deficient, but have a hard time admitting it. It seems like God has the habit of throwing us in the deep end of responsibilities before we are fully capable. He realizes that the process of figuring it out and looking to Him in our frustration causes us to grow. This is rarely fun, but necessary. In my experience, I have discovered that most of the help I need to succeed as a leader is already on planet earth and is in the containers of godly people.
Proverbs 21:2 says that, “every man’s way is right in his own eyes.” Most leaders who make bad decisions later admit during the messy autopsy that it seemed like the right decision at the time. Proverbs 12:15 is more blunt about this problem: “Fools think their own ways is right, but the wise listen to others.” To think we are going to get all the wisdom we need directly from God is irrational and not supported by scripture.
A properly selected board can add wisdom and experienced decision making to the organization. As our church grew, we found that we had never managed a staff of 60 people, built multi-million dollar buildings nor oversaw large budgets. In our history, many board members used their existing skills and knowledge to greatly reduce our learning curve. As we listened to others, we received wisdom we did not have.
In Acts 6, it was only after hearing negative feedback that the apostles realized that an intended ministry was not working. They were able to add new leaders and the church began to grow again, but only after listening to others. Our board many times is aware of rumblings in the church or personally recognize areas that need improvement. They widen the scope of what we see and with more feedback, we can make better strategy.
Ecclesiastes and other Bible passages describe some of the great benefits of moving from isolation to connection.
Eccl. 4:9-12 (NLT)
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.
Shared Decision Making
As Eccl. 4:9 shows, two “can help each other succeed.” Our board knows that we all have the same goals – to do our mission well and achieve the vision God gave us. Perhaps the biggest “do-over” and regrettable leadership decision I made was around a staff hire. This decision looked “right in my own eyes,” but it turned out to be incredibly costly in many ways. A board member later told me that had they known about the potential hire, they would have shared information that made it obvious that this was a bad decision. I discovered the hard way that Prov. 15:22 is true: “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” Now for key hires, we constitute a panel from among our board and others in that discipline to interview the candidate and give honest feedback. Our decisions become much easier with more of the facts on the table.
The early church faced a new challenge—what to do with Gentile believers. Nothing in their past had prepared them to handle this new situation caused by growth. At the conclusion of their prayer and discussion they stated, “for it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us . . .” (Acts 15:28a). Even though Peter was the senior leader, this tough case was handled together as a team. Hearing from God and perceiving the Holy Spirit’s leading can be an “us” process and not just one person going up to the mountain alone. All wisdom and counsel ultimately comes from the Lord, but many times, it travels through the conduit of other people. They too have access to God’s word and the Holy Spirit.
Strength in a Battle
When we first moved to Lusaka, an experienced pastor in our city warned us that church splits were commonplace and to be careful. I immediately discounted his advice and thought that we were the exception due to our great leadership and pastoral prowess. Sadly, we found ourselves in the middle of a bitter dispute among a few determined members. Nothing in my past prepared me for this situation.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 says that “a person standing alone can be attacked and defeated.” I faced this battle alone for far too long due to fear and simplistic hope. Things only quieted down after opening up to the board and receiving their help and support. They stood up for us with boldness and courage. We no longer keep these issues from them now and with their wisdom and strength, a disagreement today never escalates to a congregational war.
Relationship Warmth and Personal Support
Many leaders feel it is lonely at the top and believe there are few people who truly understand. Ecclesiastes 4:11 asks, “how can one person be warm alone?” Our board has given great spiritual and emotional support at important times in our lives. They are aware of the challenges facing the ministry and their timely encouragement and gestures of kindness translate into needful, relational warmth.
Financial Shared Responsibility
Paul referred to a large offering that he and others were tasked to administer. This passage shares great wisdom about the need to share the responsibilities of money handling among a group.
2 Cor. 8:19-21 (NLT)
He was appointed by the churches to accompany us as we take the offering to Jerusalem—a service that glorifies the Lord and shows our eagerness to help. We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable.
Our church is located in a region of the world where there is significant mistrust towards authority regarding financial management. Many people have every reason to think money is not being used well as regular reports come from organizations of graft, theft, corruption and poor stewardship. Too often, this dysfunction is also seen in how local churches handle money.
Our board is a great help as we build trust with our members about how their gifts are administered. The board approves the annual budget and receives quarterly updates about how we are doing as per the budget. Quarterly reports are then presented to the church briefly on a Sunday morning by a board member. The board sets the salaries of the senior pastors and conducts a yearly, surprise financial internal audit that helps our staff engage in better practices and ensures constant improvement.
As our church has grown, so have our finances. Our giving has increased every year for the last 14 years. God is certainly at work in the hearts of people to bless them and bring about generosity. Members also have much evidence that helps them trust that their donations are used carefully and honestly towards the mission of the church.
May God give you great insight to find and place godly and skilled people in your organization, including in your governance, that will help you reach your highest redemptive potential. Making decisions while getting input from others does at times slow things down, but the extra time spent is a great investment for better outcomes. There is a wonderful proverb here in Southern Africa that says, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” May you go together and reach destinations beyond your hopes and dreams.