Three More Qualities of a Good Church Leader
Go to the nearest Christian bookstore and you’ll find title after title on good leadership in the church. The frenzy on leadership has grown so much that there are seminary degrees in biblical leadership. Churches are taking secular leadership and organizational management books and incorporating what they can into the church. There is a focus on people development, mission, vision, strategy, goals, pipelines, and execution. These are all great things. But when was the last time you read a leadership book on the unique combination of theology proper, spiritual practice, ethics, creeds, ecclesiology, constitutions, policies, committees, boards, and American law that is church governance?
In most universities, business schools teach their students business law as a requirement. This is lacking in most seminaries. While the leaders of any for-profit endeavor that makes a few hundred thousand dollars each year will understand the basics of legal compliance, human resources, risk management, and the like, few employees of a church with a similar budget have the necessary training and education to lead the church in a manner that properly complies with the law and minimizes legal risk. They just don’t teach that in seminary.
Governance is the action or manner of conducting the actions, affairs, and policies of a state, organization, or group of people. The church is an organization and a group of people, so based just on these to premises it is clear that churches may need governance. If the question is whether a local church needs governance, the subsidiary questions are whether churches should act, whether churches have day to day affairs to conduct, and whether churches need policies. The answer to each of these three questions is a resounding yes, and therefore churches must be governed. If you are a church leader, church governance is your responsibility.
1. Good leaders move the church to act.
Churches must act. and good leaders move the church to do so. If the five-fold purpose of the church is to worship, fellowship, engage in discipleship, minister, and evangelize, then the church that does not act at all is not a church at all. Churches do things. They have worship services. They admit members. They have programs designed to educate and equip believers. They do weddings and funerals, christenings and baby dedications. They conduct baptisms and the Lord’s Supper. They serve meals and conduct free medical and dental clinics. Churches act, and every action any organization takes carries at least one legal ramification or risk. As such, churches must have a manner or a system in place by which those actions are planned, funded, authorized, and executed. Churches need good governance to make this happen.
2. Good leaders pay attention to details.
Churches have day to day affairs that must be managed, and good leaders see to these day to day details. Churches hire and fire employees in a relationship that is highly regulated to begin with, not to mention the exception to every rule that churches face. Those employees counsel believers and non-believers alike. They maintain facilities in good working order. They engage in business with vendors and contractors. They rehearse music written by other people. They answer telephone calls. They handle money and process donation receipts. They address benevolence issues as people come in needing assistance from the church. They plan and prepare for the next weekend. Most of these details are either regulated by federal and state governments, or carry their own set of legal ramifications and risks. In order for these day to day affairs to be conducted properly, churches need good governance.
3. Good leaders rest on good policy.
Churches need policies, if for no other reason than churches are unfortunately notorious for some relatively petty power struggles. Who gets to decide what color the carpet is? Who gets to decide who uses the church van on what day for what function? Who gets to decide who gets married in the church? Who gets to decide who can have their wedding anniversary party at the church? Who gets to decide what kind of music is sung in the worship service? How do we decide who to hire? Who gets to decide when to fire someone? Who gets to decide when the doors will be open? Who gets to decide who has a key to the church? What do we do when there is an accident at the church? How do we select volunteers to work with minors? Where will the money be counted and stored safely? When are bank deposits made? When are the service times? All of these things need to be answered by a policy – a document to which any member can be referred for the process of getting things done in the church so that there is a fair treatment of all members.
More importantly, policy should insist on best practices that comply with government regulations and law, as well as minimize the risk the church takes on in their activities and affairs. Complying with the plethora of regulations and laws that churches are subject to can be a full time job that if not done properly cost the church money, bad publicity, and could even shutter the church doors. Worse, if the church is found to be negligent in how it conducts itself and that negligence causes damage to another person, the church could get sued. Policy looks at the needs of the church and the requirements of the law to ensure that needs are met and the law is followed. Policy looks at the activities of the church and the due diligence necessary to minimize the risk of those activities to ensure that activities are carried out in a manner that fulfills the mission of the church and protects it from unnecessary risk. If churches need good governance, good governance is rooted in good policy.
The foundation of church governance is Scripture. The roof and walls of church governance are made up of bylaws, articles, and policies. At Church General Counsel, one of the first things we'll do is take a look at all of these documents and help pastors provide good governance. Learn more here.
Church General Counsel Managing Attorney Josh Bryant, J.D., M.Div., authors most of the posts in this section. From time to time, he will post articles from others in the field of church growth, administration, and operations.