One of the issues a church will wrestle with (in a Christian kind of way hopefully), is whether it’s a good idea or not to allow members to serve on the church board. Regardless of what you may call this group, whether it be elders, deacons, or board members, the challenge is still very real in that the desire is to have the most capable, qualified and spirit-led leaders as possible serving.
Below are a few of the issues to consider as your church possibly decides if this is a practice to be avoided or embraced.
Update Constitution and Bylaws
Of course, as a church, you will want to make sure you have an updated Constitution and Bylaws in place. This goes far beyond the requirements of the State and Federal Government as a 501c3 organization that provides giving reports for your donors. You will find it of great value to take a look at your Constitution and Bylaws on at least an annual basis with a Revisions Committee for any recommended changes. We meet at the end of each year. When you meet on a regular basis, it won’t ever be portrayed that “they met just to put in changes to deal with a situation”. The steps we take are:
1. Meet as a Committee to give recommendations to the Board.
2. Meet as a Board to act upon those recommendations to decide if it should proceed to the Congregation.
3. Meet as a Congregation to decide on the recommendations of the Committee and Board. It takes a 2/3 vote to change the C&B.
There’s no “Cookie Cutter” approach to a Church Board
While most of this article will present the idea that relatives serving on a church board together is generally a bad idea, there may be the reality that a church is smaller, and is simply struggling to have qualified leaders to serve, and are thrilled to have someone who is willing to just say “here am I, send me”! It has been said that every church has a “personality”, and if you’ve been around churches long enough, you realize this is indeed the case.
So again, while we are presenting this article in a way that goes to the negative of having relatives serve on the board, you may find it works for your situation, and that’s wonderful!
With that disclaimer in mind, let’s jump in to a few of the reasons it’s NOT a good idea:
Blood is Thicker than Water
Perhaps you’ve heard that statement and have wondered what it means. Well, in this context, it simply means this: “relationships and loyalties within a family are the strongest, despite the reality that we are also “brothers and sisters in the family of God.” Again, this is a fairly general statement to make, yet is one that is true more often than not.
While there are many who may say “it shouldn’t be that way”, again, if you’ve been around church life and leadership for long, you have found that for the most part, it’s true. Decisions that are made within the context of a board meeting can be misconstrued entirely when the next family gathering takes place and the relatives ask each other “so what did you REALLY think about that decision”?
2. Avoid the “Worst-Case Scenario”
The idea behind not having relatives serve on a church board is not that you don’t like a particular family within the church. Perhaps there’s a family that has handled this thing extremely well for years, but have grown a bit weary of serving. The church then considers the “next in line” family to serve in leadership, yet these relatives are hardly filled with the character and integrity previous family members had as they served.
Perhaps I’m wrong, but I would say the vast majority of Pastors would say that even if their experience with relatives serving on the board has been positive, they would recommend against it simply to avoid a “worst-case scenario” in which one or two families begin to develop a sense of entitlement, protection or even dominant leadership in the church. While it may start off innocently enough and even the Pastor is “ok” with it, that Pastor will not be there “forever”, unlike the families who have been there long before the Pastor arrived, and will be there long after he/she leaves.
3. Avoid Awkward Holiday Meals
One thing some families fail to realize is if a church allows family members to serve, usually that means there’s a time of electing board members. Without a doubt, one brother-in-law running against another brother-in-law for one available board position can be extremely awkward! This, in spite of the statements that declared, “it’s whatever God wants”, or “it’s up to the people to decide”, etc. Why not just eliminate that possibility if at all possible, and there are enough qualified leaders to serve?
The turkey will taste better at Thanksgiving, and the Ham will be more delicious at Christmas and Easter when you don’t have to sit down with someone you “beat in the last church election”, or “lost to in the last church election”.
4. “But my gift is leadership, so why can’t I serve?”
Well, that may be true, but what if someone came into the church who was very talented musically on the keyboard and looked up to see someone already serving the Lord in worship on the keyboard? It’s highly unlikely that this one person will supplant that person on the keyboard, and even if they added another keyboard, it would be highly unlikely the church would consider this for each and every person who walked in to express their gifts.
Some might feel as if the church is robbing someone of their leadership gift if they aren’t allowed to serve while another relative serves on the leadership team. That’s not usually the case… it simply means they should not serve at the SAME TIME. Do a short study in 1 Corinthians 12 and we see that in fact, everyone does not serve in the same place at the same time. Each one has a gift, and while gifts may be identical in calling, they can’t ALL be used at the same time!
5. “But Jesus had brothers serving with Him as Disciples!”
Hmm… do we really need to go here? Yes, that argument has been shared as well, but one of the keys to remember here is that Jesus was, and is, the Son of God. As far as I can recollect, there were not too many times Jesus took a vote on the latest building project, or whether to move the keyboard 1 foot from it’s current position on the platform.
Even Jesus Himself had to deal with an issue with family regardless of whether He was the Son of God as we see in Mark 10:35-45.
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” 41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. 42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Can you say “awkward”? Even the other Disciples were upset about the maneuvering for position that was taking place on Jesus’ “board”.
Folks, it’s just not a good idea.
6. But the Pastor “can” have Relatives on the Board?
If this kind of change is ever to be implemented effectively, the policy should (and must) apply to all board members, including the Pastor of the church. While many church Governments function differently, often a Pastor serves also as the Church Board Chairman and should be included in the “no relatives serving on the board” policy. This would seem like a “no-brainer”, however, I have found in my years of ministry, it’s often the case that a Pastor has members of the family on the board.
There’s an old saying that goes like this; “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander”, and this would seem like a perfect situation to apply this wise policy.
7. How to define relatives?
This is a question that can be best handled within the context of the local church. Perhaps the size of the church dictates you can’t have the definition too broad since it would cut down drastically on the number of available possible leadership team members. It could be defined as immediate family, or could be extended to include in-laws as well.
To Sum it All Up
To sum it all up, and in my humble opinion, this is one of the reasons many of our churches are declining or plateaued, or even closing. A family has dominated the leadership of the church for years, and has decided “their generation” is not the one who’s giving in to give that control up, especially if it means to a Pastor who will come and go, and in fact, are “a dime a dozen”.
What do you think?