We often get questions about what kind of decisions an effective policy/accountability board is responsible for.

Below are a couple of brief scenarios that demonstrate decision-making processes a board should and should not engage in. (These are hypothetical examples that may or may not reflect issues facing your congregation.)

  1. The petty cash policy limits the drawer to $125 and only the administrator may access or spend the funds. However, the cost of postage and coffee has risen and there is now an administrative staff. This IS a board issue. The board should review this policy and make changes as necessary.
  2. There is currently no policy for PR when the church faces a public crisis (such as a staff member’s moral lapse). This IS a board issue. The board should develop a policy for who should be the media contact for the church, who the backup media contact should be, and develop general guidelines for communication content and style.
  3. There is no current policy for leadership social media activity. This IS a board issue. The board should develop a basic SM policy.[1]
  4. The worship team is making plans to launch a second worship service designed to reach the congregation’s adopted core target audience. They have decided to reschedule the 11 AM traditional worship service to 9:30. A participant of the 11 AM traditional worship has raised objections and has asked the board to review the decision. This is NOT a board issue. The board should advise the objecting participant that the worship team has full authority to make these types of decisions and that the board supports the work of the worship team. 
  5. The pastor terminated the Christian education director because he did not meet the annual goals that had been set. There are a couple of very unhappy families and they approached the board asking that the director be reinstated. Again, this is NOT a board issue and the pastor’s decision must be supported.
  6. The pastor has been working on her days off and has “banked” her vacation for the past fourteen months. In addition, the pastor hasn’t taken a spiritual retreat break for nine months. This IS a board issue and the pastor should be instructed to schedule a spiritual retreat and at least four weeks of vacation (not concurrent with the retreat). In addition, it should help run interference so that the pastor can take her day off without congregational interruption – and the pastor should be sternly admonished to take her day off, even if that means she has to turn off her computer, home phone, and cell phone.
  7. The organist has been creating significant conflict within the choir, and it has affected the quality and culture of worship. The organist is the youth director’s spouse and both the music director and the pastor have opted to turn a blind eye to the issue for several months. This IS a board issue on two levels. First, there needs to be a policy about hiring multiple staff members from the same family (generally not a good idea). Second, staff issues fall under the purview of the lead pastor. However, the organist’s behavior is not an issue the board should deal with directly. Instead, the board should begin by inquiring why the pastor had not directed the worship director to deal with the organist (that should be the director’s responsibility). Depending on the response, the board may need to offer correctives (perhaps insisting the pastor should get a directive leadership coach and maintain a relationship with him or her). Finally, the board should direct the pastor to take care of this issue with assurance that they would have the pastor’s back as necessary.
  8. The church’s average worship attendance has grown, but the number of annual baptisms has remained flat. The church’s vision calls for a minimum of a 2.5 percent baptism to worship attendance rate (2.5 baptisms per year for every 100 in an average worship service). This too IS a board issue, since the pastor is responsible for achieving the congregational mission and vision. On examination, if the pastor has the authority and resources necessary to achieve the goal but has let other things get in the way, then the board should insist that the pastor reprioritize the work to ensure the baptism rate climbs. If the issue continues and the board has provided resources to help the pastor achieve the goal, then the board may need to begin the process of finding a pastor who has the ability to lead the congregation more effectively.

Note that the board’s reluctance to put the good of the church above the abilities of the pastor is one of the chief reasons congregations find themselves with a lack of faithfulness to the church’s mission and thus unable to meet their vision. In addition, the board’s unwillingness to hold their pastor accountable for maintaining, reflecting, and reaching the congregation’s mission and vision with the church’s values is one reason renegade pastors damage congregations.

However, before any action can be taken, the board must ensure that it has provided the pastor the resources and the authority to make the necessary decisions to achieve mission alignment and mission attainment. Only if the pastor has had the authority to do what is necessary is the board able to hold the pastor accountable with any level of integrity.

Question: Have you successfully transitioned your board/council to a policy making/accountability board? Share with others how you’ve accomplished this in the Comments section below.

[1] If the church has a communications team, then the board should ask that team to develop a proposed policy to present to the board for consideration and adoption.  Board members should be wise enough to know where their personal expertise lies and, if a policy decision arises where there is limited knowledge among the board members, then they should seek outside help, either from those in the congregation or beyond.