Last year a fine Christian man came to me for guidance. He had recently been elected to be president of his church's elder board, or consistory.
"Clare, I own a small manufacturing company but I've never lead a ministry or church. At my business, I'm clearly in charge. But a church feels like a religious democracy. Do I manage differently or how should I?"
"First, yes many churches are run like a religious democracy, but they're they're not. The church is a theocracy. Jesus is the King, the Bible is the believer's Constitution and expects us never to forget that," I told him. With that theological correction out of the way, I told him my story of being elected to be the chairman of the board at my church, a large (undenominal) church almost 25 years ago. What follows is a summary of our discussion.
I knew I was being nominated for the position of chairman so I went to the current chairman, a good, godly man for advice. "Clare as chairman you're like a judge. You shouldn't have any personal agenda other than what the elders and deacons of our church want. (We had 12 of each at the time.) Your primary task is to make sure things get done in an orderly biblical and timely manner."
I pushed back on that part of discription. I'd been the chairman of four ministry boards by that time. Here's how I viewed my church leadership.
I think the leader of a church always has an agenda. But there are three requirements for that:
1. It should never be a hidden agenda. What causes leadership problems isn't having an agenda, but having those you lead suspect there's a motive behind it that you're not being up front about. Let everyone know exactly what you'd like to see happen and why? Why are you suggesting this course of action? Be honest enough to share the upsides as well as the downsides so the board can make thoughtful, informed or biblical decisions.
By the way when I'm using the word "agenda" I didn't mean the type of agenda that most boards type up for a specific meeting. My "agenda" is more a course of action a ministry or church ought to take to accomplish the goals your church desires.
2. When you present your agenda, make sure everyone understands these are your best thoughts or opinions. But invite new ideas and even criticism to your ideas. In other words, your agenda is a rough draft of an agenda you hope the board will support so that the board can focus their discussions on a few ideas rather than time-wasting brain-storming sessions. Think of this first agenda as an outline of the most important challenges you believe the church must address and a few ideas that you've asked the Holy Spirits guidance on to resolve them. However, always be open to new, better, or more urgent topics you either hadn't thought of or hadn't realized. (The Holy Spirit speaks to others as well!)
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition, or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves..." Philipians 2:3-4
3. Use "straw polls" often. Straw polls are non-binding votes to indicate how much, or how little support any new idea has, your's or other peoples ideas. I've been in too many meetings where the discussions went on for 30-45 minutes for an idea everyone knew was going to go nowhere. Once four or five people have weighed in on an idea, ask "Let's take a straw poll vote to see if this idea is one we should add to our agenda for further discussions or not."
This way if there isn't at least 50% support, I'd drop the idea from any more discussion at that meeting. I'll often ask the individual who introduced the idea if they still believe in the proposal, they may want to think about the points brought up in our discussion and if they want to further refine the proposal, please write up a new one and submit it again.
However, if a straw poll shows support for an idea, please ask whoever presented the idea to "flesh out" their proposal based on the discussions and present an actual plan for future discussions.
Perhaps I should have mentioned this before, I think it's unwise to allow new ideas to be discussed for more than 15 minutes, unless a fairly detailed written proposal was presented ahead of time for board members to read and pray about before the meeting. Way to much time is taken up by half-baked ideas, that are just thrown out at meetings.
Leaders should lead, not simply moderate meetings. To do so, the leader helps everyone identify the major issues that need to be discussed and moves the group forward to meet them in a way that everyone trusts you to do. They do not have to agree with you, but they must believe you've been fair and thoughtful. My best test of a Christian leader is this:
Would anyone willingly follow you if they didn't have to, simply because they trust your character, competence, and godliness?
"Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly divining the word of truth." -II Timothy 2:15