Pastoral Care and Leadership - Lesson 14

Pastoral Leadership and Church Structure (Part 3)

Create a culture with a fundamental value of training and becoming leaders. Establish clear qualifications of those who will lead. Create productive meetings that avoid intimidation and manipulation, avoidance of tough issues, personal attacks, digression from the agenda, hot button issues without proper preparation, too much time on money or people issues, leaving the vision and mission out of discussions, people who monopolize and dominate meetings and insistence on unanimity. Have a clear succession plan in place for board members. The staff has the role of daily managing and shepherding and the board focuses on mission and vision.  

John  Johnson
Pastoral Care and Leadership
Lesson 14
Watching Now
Pastoral Leadership and Church Structure (Part 3)

Pastoral Leadership and Church Structure (Part 3)

II. Pastoral Leadership and Structure (cont)

E. Maintain healthy working rules

1. Create a leadership ethos

2. Establishing clear qualifications of those who will lead

3. Develop a healthy selection process

4. One governing board

5. Exercise good board rules

6. Create productive meetings

a. Good meetings are carefully prepared

b. Clear agenda

c. Time boundaries

d. Proper procedures

e. Ten things to avoid

7. Clear succession plan

8. Clarify the roles of elders and staff

F. Questions

1. Privacy of board discussions

2. Should staff concerns go through the lead pastor or directly to the board?

3. Should people with disagreements about the pastor go directly to the board?

4. What is the role of staff pastors who have fiduciary responsibilities but aren't board members?

5. Has your wife's advice helped you with a board decision?

  • Being a shepherd to a congregation includes the responsibility to protect, provide and lead. A church is a group of believers that is incorporated into one body and adopted into a family. The church has a mission to go after truth, respond to truth, love one another and share their faith. The pastor is called to care for and lead the congregation in the process. 

  • Convergence is where your greatest passion, giftedness and abilities line up with the greatest opportunity. When managing your time, don't measure your success only in how busy you are. God has not called to do, but to be. Be on a lifelong journey of becoming so you have a reservoir to give from in both your relationships and your preaching. 

  • Visiting people in their homes is an important part of your ministry as a shepherd. Keep track of who you visit and take notes. Have a plan for a meaningful conversation. As you know people personally, it will make a difference in how you preach and how you pray for people. Pray that the Lord will lead you in what to say and be aware that you may often experience something unexpected. 

  • Jesus devoted part of his ministry to the sick, so you as a pastor should, also. God's not interested in taking us back to where we were, but he's always interested in taking us where we need to go. Sometimes being sick and experiencing pain causes us to focus our attention on God. Call the elders to pray for physical and spiritual healing. Part of the misery of sickness is often solitude. When you visit people in the hospital, be timely, expectant and careful with your words. 

  • In your older years, letting go of life can be difficult if people are not realistic about accepting the inevitability of their own death. The process of dying often helps you sift out the trivial. As you approach death, life often seems to become a series of medical tests, interruptions and uncertainty. If someone begins to lose their sense of identity, remind them that God is good and perfectly wise in everything he does, and that he is powerful. In a Christian context, there is every place for grief but no place for despair. 

  • Help the family plan and carry out the services they want in a way that honors both the dead person and their relatives and friends. Help the family navigate the details regarding what kind of services, who should speak, whether the casket will be open or closed whether people should give flowers or donate to a charity, etc. When you are planning what you will say, take into account special circumstances like murder, suicide or someone who may not have assurance of their relationship to God.

  • With the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, there is something happening beyond the surface that is sacred and divine. In the act of communion, we should experience an empowering grace. We look back to the Passover when God led the nation of Israel out of Egypt. We look back to Jesus' death on the cross. We celebrate our present communion with God by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We look forward to the consummation of all things in the future. 

  • How often should you practice communion? Who should be allowed to participate? Should you use wine or grape juice? Should it be done at home or always at church? Should it always be with the whole corporate body? Should communion be part of a wedding ceremony? When should it be in the order of service? As a pastor, how do you deal with serving communion to people you know are struggling in their lives?

  • Baptism is a sacred ceremony so you as a pastor should treat it with care. People have different views on baptism as it relates to who should participate, the mode used and it’s function as a means of grace or ordinance. Dr. Johnson says that baptism doesn’t produce change, it announces change. As one way to prepare for their baptism, the person who is being baptized can write out their testimony in a way that people who aren’t believers can understand it.

  • There has been a disintegration of the institute of marriage in the American culture over the past 60 years. People in our culture today traditionally get married in a church. Meet with the couple before you agree to marry them. Have procedures and policies in place for use of the church building and your involvement. Suggest that the couple choose one of the following passages as the main focus of the wedding ceremony: Col 3:12-14; I Cor 13:4-7; Phil 2:1-4; Gen 2:24-25; Ecc 4:10-13.

  • Discipleship was an essential part of Jesus’s ministry and a significant part of the early church. Be deliberate about spending time with people that are leaders and potential leaders that are living their lives to follow after God. The heart of congregational accountability is being involved in soul care for each other. Admonition is rebuke and correction that calls people back. Part of admonition is corrective preaching that is done with the right motives and in the right way. Membership requires sacrifice to join others in a battle with others who see themselves as investors not consumers. You, as a pastor, are accountable to protect, guide, encourage, comfort and admonish. In the process of confrontation, it’s important to have a commitment to mutual understanding, to do everything in love, aim for reconciliation, to be proactive, do all for God’s glory, to be a peacemaker and for reconciliation and closure.

  • Attention to administration is critical to the health of a church. By administrating effectively, you will have more time for other activities. A certain amount of administration cannot be delegated. Historically, three models for church structure are the Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Congregationalist. Churches need to be led by effective leaders.

  • The organization should always serve the organism. In some churches, the pastoral responsibilities are carried out by one or more of the elders, and in some, the pastor position is distinct from the elders. It’s important for you to make sure that the elders are qualified and that they carry out the duties for which they are responsible.  Recognize the structure in your church and your place in it so you know how to relate to people in a way that helps you to lead effectively.

  • Create a culture with a fundamental value of training and becoming leaders. Establish clear qualifications of those who will lead. Create productive meetings that avoid intimidation and manipulation, avoidance of tough issues, personal attacks, digression from the agenda, hot button issues without proper preparation, too much time on money or people issues, leaving the vision and mission out of discussions, people who monopolize and dominate meetings and insistence on unanimity. Have a clear succession plan in place for board members. The staff has the role of daily managing and shepherding and the board focuses on mission and vision.  

  • Determine reporting relationships and a structure for accountability. Develop effective staff meetings. Meetings should be regular, clear agenda, predictable time frame, participation, encouragement, focus on the mission vision and operational plan, informational, innovation, nurturing, praying together, discerning and sensitive to cultures. Establish personnel policies including a staff assessment plan and a release plan. 

  • Assessments are important because God calls us to be fruitful as well as faithful.  Effective ministry requires metrics because it helps you address real needs. A church’s mission should include pursue truth, respond to truth, mature the saint, love one another and reach lost people. What is your expectation of outcomes? What would it look like if you gave a final exam each year to determine what people could remember and what they have put in practice from your sermons? The difference between an organization that is good, and one that is great, is discipline.

  • Conflict is part of our lives anytime we are interacting with other people. According to Alan Redpath, if you are a pastor you are always in crisis, either in the middle of one, coming out of one or going into one. Reasons for conflict include that it’s part of life, the role of a leader, your personal growth, change, style, staff, budgets, preaching and uninspiring results. People often don’t like change, but effective leaders require change to make improvements. Your style of leadership can create conflict because of the expectations of people in your congregation, or what they are accustomed to.

  • Accept notes from people about situations in the church, only if they are willing to sign them. Work to gain trust. Don’t assume that people being kind to you at first means they trust you. Help people become dissatisfied with the same things you are. What got you here won’t get you there. As you create a culture for change, demonstrate that you respect the past and leave some things the same if they are working. Encourage people to accept and value your strengths and be patient with your weaknesses. Develop and teach a clear theology of worship. Worship is response to revelation. If you can articulate a theology of worship, it helps reduce the conflict about styles of worship. Focus on the mission and vision of the church to help avoid conflicts about finances. Teach people how to disagree without making it personal.

  • The Pastor’s job is to equip people to do the work of the ministry. Decide on and communicate the mission and vision of the church that the people support. Create a process to assimilate people. Have a clear entry point and subsequent steps for maturity and involvement. There are 4 historical models for how the Church relates to the world. 1. The church separate from the world to stay pure, and attempting to attract outsiders. 2. The Church in the world to be relevant to people. 3. The Church over the world attempts to gain power and position to control the government structures. 4. The Church engaging the world is being salt and light in the world without separating, compromising or trying to control the structures.

  • If you manage your own finances well, it will be easier for people in the church to trust you to manage the finances of the church. Teach your congregation principles of how to manage money and how to give wisely.

  • Designated giving can undermine the budgeting process. Faith-promise offerings can sometimes be helpful practically, but they can also create a false hierarchy of giving categories. Create a budget driven by the mission and vision of your church. Establish procedures and check to make sure people are following them. Conduct periodic audits to avoid embezzlement. Make the salaries one line item in the budget but don’t discuss the salary of an individual in a public meeting.

  • What got you here won’t get you there. Read current publications to keep up on culture. People like Stuart Murray suggest strategies for connecting with people in this post-Christendom era. Balance the tension between tradition and innovation. Evaluate why people are coming to your church as well as why they leave. Engage the world but don’t become like the world.

  • How you manage transition is a critical aspect of leadership. Manage your present ministry by keeping in mind that, “Success is not measured by what you are leaving to go to, but by what you are leaving behind.” “Every congregation is a congregation of sinners and worst of all, they have pastors who are sinners.” When circumstances in your ministry are difficult, it may be the time to stay and learn important lessons about you and your congregation, not necessarily to leave right away.

Are you a pastor? Are you studying to be a pastor? Are you a leader in your church and you want to encourage your pastor? As a pastor, what does it mean to care for your congregation? How do you do it well? What does it mean to be a good leader? What character traits can you develop? What relational, motivational, spiritual and educational strategies can you use to become an effective leader and develop leaders in your church? 

In Pastoral Care and Leadership, you have the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Johnson as he relates what he has learned, experienced and taught over the past three decades. What a great opportunity you have to learn about how to lead and care for people in your congregation from someone like Dr. Johnson who is thoughtful, relational, highly trained, a talented communicator as a seminary professor and experienced as a pastor who served for more than a total of 30 years at three distinctly different churches. 

In this class you will learn how to:

Care for yourself and others;

Deal with sickness and death;

Celebrate the Lord's Supper and Baptism;

Lead a wedding service;

Relate to the board and staff;

Grow from conflict

Handle your own money wisely, and the church's;

Transition the church forward with innovation.

Learning to care for yourself is critical. Understanding who you are and how you apply your gifts, abilities and training is an important place to start. Getting enough rest, being deliberate about your relationship with God and responding to his leading, and nurturing your family and your friendships helps you to have the emotional and relational energy you need to encourage and comfort the people in your congregation. As a pastor, you are often invited to be a part of some of the most memorable and intimate events in peoples' lives. You are welcomed into their homes to get to know them and pray for them. You are in the "front row" for weddings, baptisms, baby dedications and funerals. Dr. Johnson gives you some specific direction based on his training and experiences to help you know what to say and to make these times meaningful and encourage people in their relationship with the Lord in the process. 


As you begin to lead a church, find out about the history, structure and culture of the church. Work with the governing board to determine mission and vision so that when you hire and work with staff members, you can all agree on a common direction. Choose strategies that are innovative and effective. Decide on metrics so that you can measure the results. Continue what works and make changes by learning from your failures. Remember that, "what got you here, won't get you there." Avoid unnecessary conflict by fostering an environment where you set clear expectations and goals, practice regular accountability and show care for people by expecting the best and listening well. When there is conflict, have the conversation with the people involved, focus on the issue at hand, avoid personal attacks and strive for reconciliation. In the area of finances, be a good example of handling your own finances by being disciplined, shrewd, wise and planning well. Manage the church finances by encouraging the budget priorities to match the mission and vision that the congregation, board and staff agree on. Set up procedures to prevent misuse of funds and be relentless to make sure they are followed. When it's time for a transition, leave well by having already mentored other leaders and by creating separation so the church can move on. 


Recommended Books

Pastoral Care and Leadership - Student Guide

Pastoral Care and Leadership - Student Guide

Are you a pastor? Are you studying to be a pastor? Are you a leader in your church and you want to encourage your pastor? As a pastor, what does it mean to care for your...

Pastoral Care and Leadership - Student Guide

II. Pastoral Leadership and Structure (cont.)

We have spent a good portion of this section so far, talking about structure, the importance of structure, recognizing that there is no one structure, though it seems like God has given us a certain amount of freedom in how we structure the church. Recognize that nonetheless, we need to look at Scripture to look for some guidance and we see some forms of structure in the New Testament. So we paid attention to the teachings, we looked at some of the core passages. Then we just finished with looking at the necessity that nonetheless, there has to be structure, there has to be order if a church is going to be effective, just like in any other thing of life.

I may have already alluded to this in another lecture, but I remember a man who was a German scientist, who you would think would be all about structure and order. Actually, when he confronted me one day, his main problem with me was, I was too structured; which was interesting because I don’t necessarily see administrative order so much as my gift. But I realized in leading this church, particularly in The Netherlands with all of its moving pieces with expats, there had to be really clear order and effectiveness, with which he struggled. Then I asked this question one day. We had a lot of expats who were in the oil industry, like Shell Oil and others that were doing amazing things, industries that have amazing order. I think a fair question is, If they have a certain order to be highly effective, why should it be any different for the church, that actually has a far greater mission than Shell Oil. The point is, there needs to be order.

We need to recognize again the danger, and that is we can let order become so preeminent. I think that is where God has raised prophetic voices like Eugene Peterson to say, “If we are not careful, we just become a lot of shopkeepers, we will become CEOs.” In my last church we had a lot of engineers and people who worked at Intel and Nike. They assumed, expected me to be the CEO of the church. I would sometimes have to say that there are pieces of that I do, but I am a pastor, so don’t change my identity here. If I allowed myself to go the direction they wanted me to go, then the organism, I think, would be taken captive by the organization.

Frankly, if you look at the flow of churches, typically a lot of churches look like a lot of organizations. They start strong, there is vision and dreaming. Then there comes the point of atrophy. Atrophy always happens at the highest point. At the highest point then a lot of organizations and churches tend to begin to decline. When they decline, oftentimes how they got here is when this living organism begins to structure. Talking about ministry for today, you know we need to have a policy for who works with our kids. There are pedophiles out there. We need to have some protections here.

So this journey of all of these policies and procedures can lead to organization, which is good, which we are talking about here. But the organization should always be underserving the organism. I think where churches start to atrophy is when it reverses and the organisms start to serve the organization. In my 80-year-old church that was clearly the case. Every time I spoke up about something, someone would say, “Hold it, it is not in the bylaws” or “Our bylaws say…” It is not that they weren’t important, but it felt like the church was held hostage to the rules and regulations. The church began to become sort of squeezed and confined and molded to the policies and procedures. We lost sight of a lot of things. I am arguing for structure, but also warning against some of the dangers.

E. Maintain healthy working rules

The fourth guideline here as you find your way in my notes to this first section is to maintain healthy working rules in the structure. What does that mean exactly? Let me lay out some pieces.

1. Create a leadership ethos. It is really important in a leadership structure that we are creating a leadership ethos. The healthiest churches are where you come in and it is clear that this is a church that is devoted to training and preparing leaders. This is where leaders feel welcome, not out of place. Leadership training that is moving farm teams to the major leagues. Leaders who maybe are leading small groups that will one day be elders in the church. That is one of the working rules.

2. Here is the second. Establishing clear qualifications of those who will lead, which we’ve talked about a bit already. It means that we pay really strict attention to 1 Timothy 3 and Romans 12. Whoever is going to lead needs to fulfill the qualifications.

3. Here is the third piece. Have a really healthy selection process. Whether one is pastor or on a staff of some sort, or on a board, or on a nominating committee, that there is a healthy selection process, which the church has thought through who is going to be engaged in that selection process.

4. One governing board. I have already said this, but I’ll say it again, it is really important in maintaining these healthy working rules, to have one board as opposed to multiple boards that can lead to infighting and jockeying for position and competition for power.

5. Exercising certain good board rules. It is really important that boards have a certain set of rules by which they are guided, a clear set of officers, a clear set of policies, a clear set of procedures.

6. Work hard at something we hate, work at creating really good meetings, healthy meetings. I have been in a lot of bad meetings and I am guessing most of you have had your share of bad meetings. Here are at least some rules I have learned over the years.

Really good meetings are carefully prepared. It means that you as the leader need to have an expectation that is clear - people pick up on this – that everyone who is coming tonight to the meeting, whatever it is, comes prepared. That there are minutes and bylaws and structures and reports that people need to be aware of. They sound rather mundane and not very exciting, but if you don’t have a clear preparation and people are speaking just off the cuff, then you are going to have problems.

I can’t stress this enough, there has to be a clear agenda. Here is what I have learned about agendas. The best boards, the best meetings have a clear agenda that has already been worked through earlier. It is not established that night. It is not added to that night. That is where you run into a lot of problems. We had what was called an executive committee. Its primary responsibility was to accept the agenda for the next board meeting. I can’t tell you how much healthier that made meetings, by knowing that the agenda was set; and if people were tempted to hijack the meeting with their agenda, it was clearly said that if you have something, you can let the executive committee know for the next meeting. What that did is that people who came prepared were not blindsided by things that suddenly came up in the meeting that you were not prepared for. This can be a very dangerous thing.

I was on a board – I will leave the church name out to protect its reputation – where after we had worked through the agenda, the chairman often said, “Now, are there any other items you would wish to discuss?” Which typically led to emotional issues and it is 10:00 at night. It was a perfect storm that led to some of the very worst meetings I ever was involved in, meetings that sometimes went to midnight or later, things that never should have been discussed in the first place.

An agenda therefore that reflects a certain discernment, that also discerns what items should this board be discussing and what items should the board say, “We don’t need to be discussing this. They can discuss it in this committee over here. This can be worked out by the staff over here.” An agenda that answers the question, Do we have enough information to discuss this, in the first place?

That leads to a third piece and that is, time boundaries. I stress again, healthy meetings have agendas which clearly, it is set, this is how much time we have for this agenda item, and this is how much time we have for this agenda item. That protects from what typically happens in meetings where people find themselves repeating one another. A good board chair will say, “I think we have heard the points and we have three minutes left on this issue. Is there anyone who wants to bring out something we have not already discussed?” You keep things moving and you have a board chairman who hopefully will say something like this – I dream about these kind of leaders – “This meeting will go no later than 9 o’clock because after 9 o’clock it will get emotional. We typically lose a lot of our thinking after 9 o’clock, I know I do. So at 9 o’clock, no matter where we are, we are ending. If we have to take up matters, we may have to have another meeting, but we will end this meeting at 9:00.” It is really important n

ot to go beyond what is the agreed time because tired meetings make the worst decisions.

That leads to making sure there are proper procedures. Whether it is Roberts Rules of Order or whatever you use, there is a protocol that people understand and there are procedures and there are boundaries. There is an encouragement for civility, something we have lost in this culture today. By civility, I think a good board in terms of board rules says let’s establish a set of core values. If a board doesn’t have a set of core values, they should, in which the board together says, “This may take three months, but we are going to establish these.” This may have words like loving one another or patient with one another or whatever those “one anothers” are. They are something a board can go back to when it starts to get off the rails and say, “We are getting away from our values.”

Some indicators of bad meetings, I have listed a few: Inbred tension; the pastor and the board chairman in a rivalry for power; boards are so fiduciary-minded, they are oblivious to the mission; or pastors who are so missional, they are oblivious to the fiduciary responsibilities. Those are some indicators.

Now I’m going to give you 10 things to avoid.

1. The first thing to avoid is intimidation, manipulation. I had a board chairman. Once I was sitting in a meeting and obviously we had a very difficult relationship. I remember, he was sitting there and he said, “Pastor, I don’t like the way you are sitting.” His mission was intimidation. Intimidation and manipulation should never be part of meetings.

2. Here is the second thing to avoid, that is the avoidance of tough issues. We can’t live in denial. If we are leaders, we have to be fearless.

3. Thirdly, disagreement that disintegrates into personal attack. It’s really healthy on boards to disagree. Patrick Lencioni in one of this first books on leadership, talks about the fact that the very best meetings have conflict. I think we as Christians, it has been so ingrained in us to avoid conflict, to agree with everyone, that we are afraid to disagree. Actually, what makes for a good meeting is when you have a lot of real disagreement,; but it does not descend into personal attack. First of all, they are not boring, they are engaging. Actually sometimes, often, the very best decisions come out of those. We tend to be echo chambers, or another phrase is narrow framing. We just listen to those who agree with us and we think everyone should agree with us. I like a board chairman that says, “Not only am I giving you permission to disagree, I am encouraging you to disagree. We need to look at this matter from multiple angles. But here is the rule in disagreement: If this starts to move into personal a

ttack, then you have lost your credibility to speak.”

4. Here is the fourth, which I have touched on already in things to avoid, that is digression from the agenda. Good meetings are highly disciplined.

5. Fifth, hot button issues that have not had proper preparation and anticipation. We are going to deal with hot button issues, things that have come up, feelings people have about a decision to abandon the choir. I don’t know, that just comes to mind. But, hot button issues that a board will have to think through. A board that is going to have a good, good meeting, is going to come with a lot of preparation. So, what are we discovering out there? What are the pros and cons? Why should we continue to have a choir, or why shouldn’t we? What is the makeup of our church? These kinds of things.

6. Here is the sixth. That is on preparedness, which I have already touched on.

7. Too much time on money and people issues. There has to be a certain balance at board meetings. It can’t be all about money and it can’t be all about people issues. I’ve been on boards that can talk about a family and their needs for an hour. I’ve been on boards that speak about money for most of the evening. So, too much time on these issues.

8. This is kind of hitchhiking on this: Leaving the vision and the mission out of the discussion. We need somewhere in all of our meetings I think, to remind us, Why are we here? Let’s remind ourselves what this church is about. What is our mission? What is our vision, by the way? Let’s review some of the strategy. Let’s make sure we keep that in front all of the time; and then it suddenly puts things contextually in their place. But if we are not careful, we let what I have just talked about get hijacked by immediate issues, fiduciary issues; and then we get off the rails.

9. People allowed to monopolize, dominate meetings. It is going to happen. There is going to be some who are too quiet and some who are too loud. A good board chair will know how to moderate that, to say politely but carefully, “Jim, I know you feel strongly and we have heard your position, but Jim, we haven’t heard from Tim. Tim, we haven’t heard from you tonight, and I know you are thinking about this, tell us what you are thinking.” Sometimes we have to pull out and you have to slow down.

10. The last one in terms of bad meetings is an insistence on unanimity every time. It is great to have unanimity. All of us want unanimity. But the reality is, if we always strive and we always insist upon unanimity, there will be a lot of decisions that are never made. You have to be willing to say something like this: “It would be great to have unanimity, but most likely we won’t on this issue. But let’s aim for consensus and if we can gain consensus, then what we must all be bound to and agree on is, we walk out as one board tonight. If we have any problems with this, it is kept internal.” Because one of the worst things obviously that can happen is the board person who says, “Yeh, but I was not one of the people who voted for that” in the congregation. That is a recipe for division.

Another major rule with boards and structures is to have a clear succession plan in place, a plan that locates people on and off the board. It might sound really simple, but you have to think it through carefully so that it is not losing a whole lot of people all at once, so that there is a certain rhythm to this, keeping the board size healthy.

In terms of thinking about succession, part of it is, do we replace with the same number? Boards can be part of that ministry creep that pretty soon can get too big and unwieldy. Large boards I have been part of have a certain representation that is nice, but a terrible ability to make decisions. Ideally, I think anyway, a board of five to seven is ideal. I have been on boards of 15, 17, you can kiss decision making goodbye. There might be a recognition that someone who is an elder is an elder for life, but there need to be breaks. This is really difficult, but there also needs to be boldness sometimes to step up and say, “You really need to get off the board.” We are afraid to do that. Boards should not leave it to pastors if it comes to that point. Boards need to do that.

I had a very difficult board in my second church and two men in particular who had no business being on the board. Unfortunately, the board did not step up as they should have. It took four pastors for at least one board member to finally stand up and say, and this was to the elder chair, “You need to leave, and you need to leave this church.” So healthy succession and sometimes healthy elimination is good.

Something else here is clarifying the roles of elders and staff, which we have touched on already, but let me talk a little bit more about this. In our desire to bring down the silos and not have the elders over here and the staff over here, and almost a certain alienation and disrespect sometimes, there needs to be willingness to really bridge and bring together. But it has to be done in a way where you don’t so flatten the roles, there is no distinction.

So the elders govern, but they don’t manage, they don’t get into the day-to-day operations. They can’t. For the most part they work. They sustain the mission and vision and core values and they make committee assignments. They take the fiduciary role of setting and managing the budget. They do these kind of board things. They make sure that the resources are managed effectively and they establish the bylaws and the duties. They assist in shepherding, as we talked about. They review and evaluate the performance of pastors. They are called to do this.

Let me just say a word about reviewing pastors because a lot of boards don’t know how to do this very well. I don’t think it is a bad thing for a board to say, “We are going to review you annually. What would you like us to ask?” I think that can be very healthy because a pastor might say, “I would like you to ask me how may family is doing. I would like you to ask me about my health. I would like you to ask me if the wages I’m earning are sustaining us. I would like you to ask about my spirituality. I would like you to ask me, are you just preparing sermons and reading the Bible for sermons, or are you reading it for your soul? I would like for you to ask me how often I pray.” I think a wise board would say, “We would love to ask you those things and you have given us permission to do that.” Things that move beyond just looking at the job description. That should be a really healthy time. It should not be a time a board gangs up on a pastor at all. It hopefully should be a time where there has been some

really careful listening and there has been both encouragement and also recognition of areas to grow. I don’t think it is a healthy performance review if it is just, “Hey, you’re doing so great, we are so privileged to have you as our pastor. Keep at it.” That is not going to really help the pastor. On the other hand, it is not going to help the pastor if it is all critical. “We don’t think you are really connecting with the people. You are really disorganized. We wishing you were doing more of this.” It has to be encouragement as well as some correction. There should be, again, mutual accountability. They know that in a sense they are under the pastor and he shepherds their souls, but he is looking to them in an accountable way as well.

So the elders have their role, the staff has their role of this day-to-day functioning and managing and shepherding, and they are responsible to the board. They keep the board accountable as I have mentioned.

One more thing I will talk about in terms of these relationships. I think I have learned over the years that perhaps the most important relationship in the church, of many relationships, is the relationship of the board chair and the pastor. How that relationship goes will say a lot about how the church goes. If the church sees that the board chair and the pastor are joined at the hip, that they mutually love and embrace one another, it is going to do a lot to bring healing and I should say unity to the church. If they see two men who are each maneuvering for power or intimidation or just don’t like each other, it is going to be hard to see a church that is very unified. This is not automatic, it does not just happen. There has to be great intentionality on the part of both.

A pastor looks to his board, I always have, as my first line of defense. I look to my board as the men who have my back, who are going to be there for me, who are going to stand up for me. I’m not saying this to say that a board should be composed of “yes men.” It is healthy to have a board and a board chairman that will challenge and push back at times. But at the end of the day, a pastor is going to sleep well knowing that the board is there for him. Just as the board knows the pastor will always defend the board and stand up for them. So, the board chairman and the pastor have to be on the right page; which means that in the selection process of who should chair the board, a pastor’s voice in that decision should always be respected. He might have to say, and maybe even a bit confidentially, “This would not be a good working relationship, we don’t agree on a lot of things.” This board chairman must be skilled in again, leading meetings and love the church as much as anyone else in the church; and also

value a close working relationship; and I can’t stress this enough, refuse, absolutely refuse to ever be a lightning rod. Lightning rods are the most dangerous people in the church. Lightning rods are those that just attract criticism like lightning rods attract lightning. People who I often hear say, “I don’t know, it just seems that I’m safe. People like to come and talk to me.” No, actually they realize that because you agree with them and you become divisive in the process, you create these triangular relationships” instead of saying, “If you have a criticism, go to the pastor, I know he’d like to hear from you.” He may not like to hear from you, but he needs to hear from you. If this person says,”I have tried, I have gone, he won’t listen to me,” that is another issue. The board chair must not, must not be a divisive person. They both must intentionally establish regular meetings, monthly breakfasts, anything to establish a good relationship so they can work as a team and must be willing to step down if the relationship is not working.


Privacy of board discussions

Question: I have a question about privacy. How do you feel about conversations in an elder meeting being private and specifically, is it okay for an elder to share the discussions with a spouse, or should it be no, this is absolutely private?

Dr. Johnson: It depends. I think there can be issues in which a board agrees that this must not go any further than our spouse. There are going to be times a board I believe must say, this can go to no-one. My wife, Heather, would sometimes get frustrated with me because she would find out things from somebody else because I’m actually pretty private when it comes to church business. There are two reasons for that. One is, by the time I get home, the last thing I want to talk about is church, especially with my spouse. Secondly, I think I can fairly say that in my 33 years as a pastor, no-one could ever accuse Heather of being a gossip because I never gave her any material. It was part of protecting. So I think sometimes it is really healthy to say, “Not only this must not go to our spouses, but we are protecting our spouses from doing something that would be really unhealthy, and it will fall back on you.” Because elders have a lot of information and some of that information in the hands of the wrong spo

use is like gold in terms of being in the know; and people like to be around people in the know. I think there are times absolutely. When we were going through this lawsuit, there were a lot of things I wanted to share, but I could not share and I dared not share.

Should staff concerns go through the lead pastor or directly to the board?

Question: A follow-up question again on privacy. Staff and elders, do you think that staff are free to share with elders, or should the staff concerns go through the leading elder, you. If the members of your staff have concerns, can they go directly to the board, or do they have to go through you?

Dr. Johnson: Things about me, or other things?

Question: I would say about anything, because if they have a problem with you, I know your answer, it is going to be, talk to me.

Dr. Johnson: I think it is really healthy to say to the staff, Let’s work through these issues and if we feel we need to talk to the elders, let’s at least first make sure we have talked it amongst ourselves. If you have something about me, please, please never go an elder behind my back without first coming to me. If you need to go to an elder because I don’t have time, I’m not giving you the time of day, I’m not taking your interests at all into consideration, then I’ve sort of forfeited that right.

I had a staff person who probably not the first time, went to an elder behind my back about a frustration. I remember, that was a really hurtful experience. I think from that point on, it created a certain mistrust that no pastor wants to feel towards the staff. I think that you can’t assume people will know that. I think it is part of setting ground rules early on in ministry with the staff. Here is our role. Here is the elders’ role. Here is how we deal with disagreements, etc. Here are our values. There are a lot of things that need to get set.

Should people with disagreements about the pastor go directly to the board?

Question: Another slight version of that is, sometimes people will have a beef about the pastor or a staff member. Because of intimidation or whatever reason, they are not comfortable going to the person or maybe you don’t even feel safe, so they want to bypass the pastor, the staff, and go to the elders to complain. I know if there are issues of molestation, etc., where someone does not feel safe, that is a separate issue. But would you ever allow having people say, “If I have a problem, I’m just going to go to the elders and talk to them.” Is there ever a point at which they do that?

Dr. Johnson: I know you understand this. In one sense, whether I allow it or not, I don’t know if that is the right terminology. If they are going to do it, they are going to do it. I think again, this is where sharing with your board, use some operational things, procedures, how we do things here. Because we want to be Ephesians 4, we want to preserve the unity of the faith. We want to work hard at unity. This is what I am saying: You elders, if someone comes to you about an issue related to us as pastors, or me as the lead pastor, and it is clear they haven’t talked to us, please, please, don’t let the congregation go any further. Just stop it and say, “You need to go.” “But I feel a little bit intimidated.” Then you have another problem because pastors should not be intimidating by the nature of their task and their role. I think we have to gently say, “Actually, Pastor John would be really happy to talk to you, but I don’t want to talk to you unless you have first talked to him.”

I think what happens then is, once you have said that, if an elder says, “Pastor, we need to talk because Kevin has something he brought up to me about your preaching” or something like that, I think what I have just said is what I need to say: “This conversation ends right now because you need to go back to Kevin and say, ‘Kevin, you need to go talk to John’ because I don’t want to hear it from you.” I hate to hear anything third party because it loses a certain accuracy for one. It could makes it complicated. Pretty soon people know that no, I wouldn’t call the elders because it is pretty clear we have a culture in which we go to the person.

What is the role of staff pastors who have fiduciary responsibilities but aren’t board members?

Question: Along those lines, a lot of churches in their structure have staff pastors who also serve on the elder board, who are responsible for fiduciary responsibilities of the church, but also are under the eldership as well. Would you speak to the special nature of that role in the church?

Dr. Johnson: I had 10 pastors at one time and at times they chafed a little bit out of the fact that, why shouldn’t they be elders as well? What I tried to say is that it is important that there is a distinction in roles so that there is a certain submission to the elders in leading the church. Part of that chafing was, “But I don’t have a vote” and I would say, “But you have a voice.” Actually a voice is more important than a vote. We had women who served on our board who were not elders, but nonetheless they served on the board, but they did not have a vote. But I always told them, “But you have a voice.” If your voice is the right voice, then the vote won’t matter. I was the only one as pastor, because I was lead pastor, that had a vote because I was technically an elder. I think in my 16 years at Village, I never voted once. I wanted the board to feel like they were not voting against me, or that I was not using my vote to manipulate them in any way. I chose not to take advantage of that. But I did

not hesitate to use my voice.

So it may be in your structure you have some staff who are also elders, so they have a vote. Not that I think there is anything necessarily wrong. In our arrangement the staff and the elders were two distinct roles that had different responsibilities and different authority.

Question: Could you speak to some of those challenges that staff elders would have when they sit on the board and they do have a vote, with the lead pastor?

In the structure of the church of which I am pastor, we have an elder board of nine men and the lead pastor serves on that board and there are two staff pastors who also serve on the board. All three of those paid staffers have votes. Would you speak to some of the challenges those three might have working together because they have a vote and essentially two of the men are under the authority of the lead pastor, who is their boss, but they also serve as elders.

Dr. Johnson: I’m not sure. I guess because I was in a different structure, I’m trying to think through how that would change the dynamics in terms of my relationship. If the board said, “Pastors should also have an elder role and have a vote,” I think a number of my pastors would have said, “That is great.” But I think what is not so great is then I think there could have been a confusion of the fact that the pastors are also under the elders. Pastors have to be accountable to someone and that someone logically are the elders. Who is going to give the performance review? In one sense, I would give performance review of pastors, but someone had to do a performance review of me. In some cases, elders would get involved in the performance review of pastors where they needed to. I think there would be confusion if they are elders, too.

If someone says we are going to give a pay raise to the pastors. Let’s check with the elders, but they are pastors. I’m not saying it is unhealthy or wrong. Again, the whole point of this lecture is to say that every church has a different structure. It is not necessarily right or wrong. There will be pluses and minuses with any structure. Congregationalism can be a great structure if everybody loves and supports and defers to one another. An elder rule church can be wonderful if the elders are embraced and they speak for the church. But they can also be really bad if the congregation has gone to seed and is keeping the church hostage to any decisions, or an elder rule where authoritarianism takes hold and people don’t feel they have a voice for anything.

I probably completely waffled on your question. I think one of the challenges is if you move to staff becoming elders, it is going to be really hard to turn that back, so that is a decision that should be weighed very carefully. I think, even though my pastors sometimes wanted that role, in the main I think they appreciated they did not have that role. They kept everything in a certain tension and balance.

Has your wife’s advice helped you with a board decision?

Question: One other question. You spoke about your wife, Heather, not sharing anything from the board. Can you think of a time when your wife, Heather, has influenced or helped you make a decision in regards to the board. Does she have influence over you? Speak to that a little bit.

Dr. Johnson: That is a good question. I can’t immediately think of a time, outside of the fact, and that is why I became a strong proponent to have women serving at the table, as there is certainly a female contribution. Not to sound sexist, but women do see thinks differently. If people want to flatten that, then I would say you are living in nonreality. Heather, like the women on the board, at times would help me to see that you have to think about how these people are going to feel if you do that. Or, it seems like we are going kind of fast here. I can’t speak to a “Yeh, I remember this one time…” I think because I have protected her from so much of the business of the church. Home is a lot of times more of a retreat.

It depends on the pastor’s wife. Some pastor’s wives, I don’t mean to be demeaning at all, need to be like queen bees. They need to be head of the women, right in the center of the action. I’m sure in those situations, those pastors get an earful of opinions. Heather is a public school teacher. She was overwhelmed just doing that for years. She approached church as, “I have a responsibility to be a Godly woman, to faithfully use my gifts in the church and be faithful to the church” but she did not aspire to leadership roles, even though sometimes people wanted to push her to that. Therefore she was not in the politics, if you will, and the business of the church too much. A lot of this is going to depend upon the involvement of a wife. I am not saying one is right and one is wrong. I can tell you, speaking for myself, I loved Heather having no more role than that.