Creating a Lasting Culture of Unity
Board meetings can be more like a Cold War standoff than a cooperative team effort. Dick Hardy’s Church Boardsmanship guide is subtitled “18 Rules for Engagement.” It sounds like something out of the Geneva Convention! Hardy has a good point though: if meetings are likely to become battlegrounds then there should be some ground rules.
Is it possible to have disagreement without division?
In her book Dare to Lead, author Brene Brown talks about how she and her team have “Rumbles.” These heavy debates are based on the premise “rumbling with vulnerability.” Starting with the reality that they are for one another puts them on the same team rather than being on opposing sides. This allows freedom to be vulnerable. The enemy, then, is the problem to be solved or the conflict between vision and reality, not the other person. Then the two teammates, working together to attack the problem, get it in a crossfire until it is resolved.
How can a church board build an atmosphere of trust and unity that allows for strong disagreement while maintaining division? Here are a few principles to keep in mind:
1. Build a list of relational values that will drive how you relate to one another.
Here are a few examples:
- We are each made in the image of God and are therefore worthy of respect and must be treated with respect.
- We each have different calling and gifting from God. We are each responsible to God first, therefore we should not judge where there is no sin.
- Speaking the truth in love means building up the other person, not cutting them down.
- Base spiritual authority on prayer and ministry of the Word, not on titles or offices.
- Accountability must be mutual. Non-mutual accountability is simply judgment.
- Motivation comes from within the person out of their relationship with God.
- Trust the Holy Spirit within the other person to work in his way and in his timing.
- Recognize that none of us are perfect, allow imperfection in others.
2. Regularly rehearse and discuss the relational commands, also known as the “one anothers.”
How can these be implemented in your regular boardroom relationships? How can the board intentionally model these to the church?
3. Kill the unity killers.
Gossip, grumbling, complaining, bitterness, criticism, and malice have no place in a church. They are Satan’s weapons to destroy the unity of the body. They have no place in a church board.
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.– Ephesians 4:31
4. Praise people; correct behaviors.
We often get this backwards; we correct people and praise behaviors. This makes the church performance driven, where everyone is wondering where the next judgment or criticism will come from. We will never be good enough in such an environment. However, in a grace-led culture, a person’s value is not based on their performance but in the work of Christ. If we encourage other board members and help them grow, they will know that we are for them.
5. Make room for sins, struggles, and failures.
Leaders are going places no one has ever been. This involves risk and sometimes failure. If there’s no room for failure then the church will never move forward, because no one will risk change. Also, if there’s no room for a sinful person to struggle against their sin, then the church board has become a self-righteous gathering of pharisees. Of all the spaces in the church, the boardroom should be the safest for people who are pursuing Christ.
6. Bind up what is broken.
As sinful people, the church board should be a community of people who confess their brokenness and help one another find healing in Christ. The words of God’s forgiveness spoken over one another are an important part of building up the body. The boardroom must be a room of confession and forgiveness before it can be a place of leadership.
Never trust a leader who doesn’t walk with a limp.Dr. J. Robert Clinton
7. Learn to discern God’s will in community.
Ruth Haley Barton’s book Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups is essential reading for church boards. It describes how to make space to let the Spirit of God lead the group in decision making instead of arguing over opinions. This practice creates a spirit of unity in the Spirit that drives the church forward.
What are some other ways we can create unity within church boards?
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© Sean Nemecek, 2018. All rights reserved. Request permission.
Sean Nemecek, (M.Div. Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the director of The Pastor’s Soul, and pastor at First Baptist Church in Tustin, Michigan since 2001. A third-generation pastor, he grew up listening to pastors and their families talk about the realities of ministry. Now he wants to use this knowledge to bless the church. Sean is married to Amy, a poet and freelance book editor. Together, they have a 17-year-old son.