“…men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do-“
I Chronicles 12:32
“Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them.”
Nobody wants to prepare for a crisis. It’s a lot of work. And there are so many potential crises to prepare for. Besides that, you can’t prepare for a crisis without having to think about a crisis, and who wants to do that?
But churches are human institutions and human institutions have their crises. And churches are institutions which are attacking the Devil’s territory (Matthew 16:18), which means that the Devil will always fight back against them in any way that he can (Acts 5:3, II Corinthians 2:11).
More often than not we are found completely flat-footed when the crisis hits. And I said “we” because I’ve been there myself.
Here are a few examples of the kinds of crises which church boards face without the benefit of a professional pastor’s help:
- A moral failure on the part of the senior or solo pastor
- The unexpected resignation or retirement of the senior or solo pastor
- The sudden – “no notice” – angry resignation of the senior or solo pastor
- Serious conflict between the board and the senior or solo pastor
- An abuse accusation aimed at the pastor himself or a church volunteer during a time when the church has no pastor
For any board, these events are difficult. For the unprepared board, they’re extremely difficult.
But here’s what the pastor, the board itself, and – in some respects – the entire congregation, can do to prepare the board for their almost inevitable future crisis:
(1) Teach them how to go to God in serious, heartfelt, humble, submissive prayer. Teach them how to bring their crises to God like David did in Psalm 37, and to find their strength in Him, as David did in I Samuel 30:6. Teach them how to lay that devastating letter they just received before the LORD, like Hezekiah did in II Kings 19:14. Teach them how to listen for God’s direction, as the leaders of the church at Antioch did in Acts 13:1-4.
(2) Teach them to be aware of and quietly confident in their God-given authority. Acts 14:23, Acts 20:17-35 and I Peter 5:1-5 clearly show that God intended for churches to be led by teams of qualified leaders. It’s not my place to “fix” the polity of the churches I serve, but I do stress that every church needs to be led by a team of godly leaders – by whatever term they are called in that congregation. A team; not just one individual.
The pastor who shares his authority with a qualified leadership team must sacrifice a degree of autonomy – he can’t do everything he’d like to do – but by training and empowering others he gives them a much better chance of leading effectively in the crises which they must face without his help.
(3) Start training teachable people for board membership right now. Don’t wait until you have a crisis to start doing this. Don’t allow the current board to refuse to receive a reasonable amount of ongoing training. Don’t wait until you have a nice-sized group of teachable people. Don’t expect persons to commit to the task before they’ve had some training; it is in the process of being trained that many Christ-followers develop a “fire in the belly” to help lead their churches. There are many ways to train leaders, so find one or two that will work in your context and go to work. Click here for some ideas.
(4) To “encourage” literally means to “put courage in.” Pastors (and church members) can put courage into church boards to do the right, vital, important, difficult, frightening things which God is calling them to do in the absence of a pastor. Most notably, the church board which cannot seem to muster up the courage to hire, fire and lead in church discipline, will end up with an ineffective, undisciplined, chaotic congregation.
(5) Show them where to turn for help. If your congregation is part of a denomination/fellowship/association, you should be able to turn to that group for help in time of crisis. If your church is completely independent, you should be able to establish and grow a good relationship with a consultant or volunteer older, wiser leader – who loves your church – who can help you out in a time of trouble. Putting some funds aside for this purpose wouldn’t be a bad idea either.
(6) Develop a relationship with a wise Christian lawyer or law-firm. Don’t wait for the big crisis to begin your search for a godly, competent attorney.
(7) Establish clear lines of authority. If the pastor is suddenly taken from the scene, does the church know who’s steering the ship? Does the board itself know who’s steering the ship? How about the staff members and volunteer ministry leaders who were accountable to the pastor; do they know who they are accountable to in the absence of a pastor? Are you aware of the difficulty of having these folks answerable to a board, rather than an individual?
(8) Get started with preparing your board for the future by reading and discussing this post.