When it comes to church structure (constitutions, by-laws, policies, flow-charts, etc.):
What kind of structure is conducive to disciple-making effectiveness?
1. Mission and vision driven – (or purpose driven) – What is your church for? Who is it for? What is it supposed to accomplish? If you were starting over and trying to be the best church FOR your community this year, what kind of structure would you have?
2. Simple – Some of our constitutions/by-laws are hopelessly complicated. Simple is better! One of our pastors says, “We want to put as little bureaucracy between the ministry of our church and the needs of the community as possible.”
3. Actual/real/meaningful – What you have on paper should match what you have in reality. No meetings after the meetings in the parking lot. No “invisible” church bosses. The people occupying the leadership positions should be the real leaders.
4. Churches need teams of leaders for the sake of accountability. None of us are godly enough to be “one man” leaders. The Bible is clear that church leadership should come from teams (Acts 20:28ff, I Peter 5, I Timothy 5, etc.).
5. District/denominational leaders are very helpful, especially in times of transition or trouble when an objective voice is needed.
6. Trust all around. Pastors, board members, staff members, congregants: all should trust each other.
7. Your board’s leadership is only as good as the character, maturity and level of engagement of the actual board members. No structure can compensate for bad character. Good board members who are not truly engaged can be very dangerous. It’s better to have great people in a bad structure than to have poor people in a perfect structure.
8. Decisions pushed down to lowest level – permission granting, not permission withholding. Let’s give hard-working ministry leaders as much flexibility as possible so they can achieve their ministry dreams.
9. Clarity/clarity/clarity and redundant communication. We should be clear on roles and responsibilities. Who is accountable to whom? The pastor must be the “evangelist (or the clarion) of clarity.” Clarity is almost as important as charity!
10. Written ministry descriptions for all leaders. They do not need to be long and detailed, but they need to be written, current and clear.
11. One board. The term board implies “ultimate authority.” Any sort of multi-board system creates confusion and conflict.
12. Small board with big ears. Though we believe that churches should be led by elders who meet the qualifications of Titus one and I Timothy three, these leaders need to be great listeners. Some type of leadership community meeting that involves all ministry leaders should be held at least quarterly, for the sake of communication, training, scheduling and keeping the board members in touch with the congregation. This is especially important if your church formerly had a leadership board which included a wider range of leaders than the current elder-only board.
13. Ministry teams, not committees. Teams work together; committees often just talk. “A camel is a horse put together by a committee.”
14. A minimal number of elected positions. Get the “politics” out of your church leadership selection. Ministry leaders should be selected by those who know whether or not they are competent and qualified to serve. Leadership selection should never be a popularity contest. Best solution? Elect the pastor and the elders and let them choose the other leaders (including deacons/deaconesses, etc.).
15. Have a “policy governance board.” The board should work on “big rocks” items such as mission, vision, values, strategy, policy. These are referred to variously as the “sides of the sandbox” or the “boundaries of the soccer field.” The pastor should be expected to manage volunteer ministry leaders (smaller church) and staff members (larger church) without micromanaging from the board. Many of us love John Kaiser’s formula: The pastor is for leadership, the board is for governance, the staff is for management and the congregation is for ministry. When we “play our positions, everyone wins.”
16. Staff members are not normally on the governing board. This does work in some situations but in many churches it is a formula for conflict between the staff members and the senior pastor.
17. The church in the Book of Acts is our model; it changed constantly. By-laws should allow for flexibility and not mandate particular ministries (i.e., Sunday School) or traditions (i.e., church picnics).
18. Deploy as many as possible into ministry – not politics. In a healthy church, membership is a way of officially joining the mission of the church. It is not about running for office.
19. A tight, trusting, effective relationship between the pastor and the board. Some of us, in reference to Larry Osborne’s book, Sticky Teams, call this a “sticky” pastor/board relationship.
20. No required number of elders. The Bible doesn’t mention a minimum number of elders; it has much to say about elder Mandating a minimum number results in the wrong people serving in this crucially important role.
21. Trained board members. It is not enough to be a “good old boy” or even a godly man. Even the most mature men, from varying backgrounds, will have widely divergent ideas of what boards should be and do. Training gets board members on the same page.
22. A few good flexible policies. Some churches need a few policies. Some churches need fewer policies. All should be viewed as flexible and kept current.
23. The board manages one employee. Boards don’t usually do well at managing employees so it works best if the board manages only one: the senior pastor. Other staff members and volunteer leaders should be managed by the pastor or by other staff members or leaders who are accountable to the pastor.
24. Take membership seriously. The membership roll must be kept up to date and we must practice membership according to the dictates of our constitutions and by-laws. Pastors may advocate for changing their church’s membership policies, but they should adhere to the policies which currently exist.
25. Teach Biblical leadership and followership. The believers in our churches don’t necessarily know what Scripture teaches on this vital subject. Most respond well when they are thoroughly taught.
26. Congregational meetings should be few and godly. Two to four meetings per year is about right. Church leaders should teach Christians that the Biblical standards for godly behavior (as found in Romans 12, for instance) apply to congregational meetings as much as they do any other Christian gathering.
It helps to: (1) replace parliamentary procedure (Robert’s Rules of Order) with a few simple guidelines for how meetings will be conducted (2) hold fewer, rather than more, congregational votes (3) hold meetings in conjunction with fellowship meals, with attendees seated with church leaders at tables (4) hold some listening sessions or “town hall meetings” where votes are not taken (5) frame congregational meetings as celebrations of the progress of God’s work through the congregation.
28. Elder roles should differ somewhat to take spiritual gifts and personality differences into consideration. It works best to allow some elders to serve (outside the boardroom) as teachers, some as ministry leaders, some as care-givers, etc.
29. Elder roles should change as the size of your congregation changes. In large churches elders do their board service as their entire ministry. In smaller churches board members often function like staff members, teachers, etc.
30. Elders should protect the pastor and hold him accountable.Normally the elders should seek to protect the pastor from distractions, accusations, etc. At the same time, the elders must hold the pastor accountable for faithfulness, integrity, diligence, conscientiousness, etc.