When The Pastor Has a Dysfunctional Church Board


I was recently asked by Jeff and Jonny over at 200churches.com (You need to visit their site and sign up for their newsletter.) to come up with a list of the top challenges pastors face. After seven years of coaching pastors and thirty years of being a pastor myself, I know something about the on-going challenges most pastors deal with. What you’re reading is the fifth in this series. Here we go…

Pastors are constantly facing the challenge of working with a dysfunctional board.

“Not me. I’ve got an awesome church board.” I believe you. I’m happy for you. I certainly don’t want to give the impression that all church boards are dysfunctional. I’m working with and have worked with many pastors who have wonderful leadership teams and church boards. However, I know enough pastors who have, in my opinion, a dysfunctional board, to add this to my list of my top ten challenges pastors face.

When I was recording a podcast for 200churches.com on this subject I was asked, “What do you mean by ‘dysfunctional board’? That’s a good question.

A dysfunctional board is one that sees their job as ‘business-focused’ rather than ‘spiritual’.

A dysfunctional board is one that fights and opposes every idea the pastor has.

A dysfunctional board is one that ties the hands of the pastor preventing the pastor from leading the church.

A dysfunctional board is one that is filled with spiritually immature board members.

A dysfunctional board is one that is unclear as to what their job is.

A dysfunctional board is one that thinks they know what their job is, but they don’t.

A dysfunctional board is one that has members that should have stepped down a long time ago.

If a pastor is afraid of or intimidated by any board member, he or she has a dysfunctional church board. (Of course, the pastor being afraid or intimidated might reflect a dysfunctional pastor but that topic will have to wait for another time.)

Unfortunately many congregations have an established polity that can easily contribute to a dysfunctional church board. For example:

In many churches board members are voted in by the congregation and often the congregation has no idea the type of person who is qualified to serve on a church board. In many churches the board’s job is to handle the ‘business-part’ of the church with little or no concept of being a spiritual calling requiring spiritual and godly leaders. In many churches there are no term-limits so dysfunctional board members serve until they resign or die. In many churches the board has too much power and authority over the pastor.

These are just a few examples of church polity that the pastor can have very little power to change.

So what’s a pastor to do if they find themselves in a situation like this? Here are four suggestions.

1. Pray. Ask the Father to change the hearts of your board. You could ask that the Father remove the dysfunctional board member (I’m not talking about lightening) so you don’t have to. Maybe God needs to change some dysfunction in you that is contributing to the dysfunction in the board. Again…another topic for another time.

2. Gear up for the long haul. Be patient. Leading a board from dysfunctional to functional is not going to happen over-night. This is going to take time. Sometimes it will seem like two steps forward and one step back…sometimes two steps back.

3. Invest relationally with the board members you find difficult to work with. Oftentimes resistance we experience from dysfunctional board members is the result of a lack of trusting relationships. Try to spend time together not to discus church stuff but to have fun, to get to know each other better.

4. Reeducate your team as to what the role of a board should be. Again…this will take time. I can help. I’ve developed six Church Board Training Modules. These one hour conference calls are designed to reeducate, refocus, and reinvigorate your board. To find out more go here.