Again, this is a preview from our upcoming book, 21st Century Strategies for Church Growth

Streamline Decision Making with High-Trust Leaders

In most churches, the decision-making process is cumbersome at best and dysfunctional at worst. The solution to the issue is found in mission and vision alignment and in selecting only trustworthy leaders of integrity – and then allowing your leaders to do their jobs. Most church boards operate as if they are organizational management boards. However, in today’s world almost no nonprofit (outside of the church) tolerates such an ineffective and dysfunctional system. Effective, faithful, and sustainable churches develop an organizational structure that allows their leaders to lead and empowers the board to hold leaders accountable to the church’s mission and vision.

The function of an effective board is twofold:

  1. To create policy as needed.
  2. To hold the leadership accountable for achieving the congregation’s mission.

In the most efficient churches, the board exists for the above reasons and only meets as necessary, and the leadership the board holds accountable is the lead pastor… and only the lead pastor. Of course, this means that the lead pastor is not only responsible for ensuring the mission alignment of all staff, committees, teams, ministries, and missions, it also means the pastor has the authority to make changes in personnel, etc. as necessary to achieve that mission. Core program staff, therefore, reports to the pastor (who has the authority to hire and fire).

In smaller churches, all committee chairs report to the pastor, who has the authority to hold these leaders accountable for results. In larger churches, committee chairs report to the staff person responsible for their area of ministry. If the pastor mishandles a situation, the expected behaviors and the leadership covenants are the first line of reconciliation. However, if the pastor doesn’t get the results the congregation expects (in terms of mission and vision achievement, as opposed to whether or not the pastor visited so-and-so), the pastor is held accountable by the board. So long as the results are as expected and the pastor is operating within the congregation’s stated values and expected behaviors, then the board provides a wide latitude in anything that could be construed as interference. If the board does have to step in, its primary role is either to provide a corrective for the pastor or else to remove the pastor.

Building a trust- and accountability-based organization, especially in the church, is not an overnight process. However, the congregational culture will change dramatically when the church shifts from appointing “willing” leaders to appointing “spiritual and committed” leaders. The rubrics below provide the basic boundaries for effective leadership selection and deployment.

  1. Only nominate and install leaders whom you implicitly trust. If you don’t trust them, don’t put them into leadership. PERIOD. 
  2. Under no circumstance should you put anyone in leadership in an effort to encourage/provoke/increase congregational participation. Only install leaders who demonstrate a commitment to the church, its mission, its values, and its vision.
  3. Provide clear boundaries and clear expectations for these leaders: give them a budget and a mission for their ministry/committee/event/task. Provide them with oversight from staff members to whom they are accountable. Remind them they must continue to embrace and embody the congregational covenants and congregational values and to keep their ministry ethical, moral, and legal. And be sure to have them enter into covenant with the church via the church’s Leadership Covenant.
  4. Then get out of the way and let them do their job, including scheduling (or cancelling) events, spending funds, making changes, etc.
  5. Support these leaders by providing ongoing and regular coaching (monthly) and by running interference for them. If someone complains about a change that’s been made, for example, and if the leader has made that change within their mission and budget, then deflect the complaint and stand in solidarity with the leader. In other words, if the leader is achieving the mission within the bounds of the congregation’s covenants, values, and within budget, then stay out of the way – and keep others out of the way as well – so these leaders can make the hard decisions that will lead the congregation into an effective, faithful, and sustainable future.
  6. Unapologetically remove ineffective and disintegrous leaders. When a leader is unable to lead, disregards the leadership covenant, or is ineffective … and doesn’t respond to coaching … they should be immediately replaced. Do not wait until their “term” is complete or until circumstances are “more favorable.” Although there are those who suggest “volunteers” cannot be held accountable in this way, note that hospitals quickly terminate non-compliant volunteers lest they endanger the health of the patients. Certainly the eternal work of the church is no less important …

Question: How have you focused the leadership structure of your church on having trustworthy leaders? How have you incorporated accountability into your leadership structure? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below