Dealing With a Difficult Board
Every pastor who has pastored for any length of time has experienced circumstances where their church board doesn’t see eye to eye with them. You have this grand vision of where the church should go or what the next step is but some people on your board don’t agree with you.
It can be very frustrating for the pastor. If you aren’t careful you can even find yourself developing resentments towards these ‘difficult’ board members. Many years ago as a young associate pastor I was moved into a church where the senior pastor had been there for four years. It didn’t take long for me to see that the trust between the senior pastor and the senior leadership of the church was strained at best and could maybe even be characterized as hostile.
Our church board was comprised of somewhere around 30 members. We all sat in one of the big rooms of the church facing each other in a big semi circle facing the chairperson, usually the senior pastor who stood before them. Many of those board meetings were heated. Most things my senior pastor proposed were shot down or were only passed with some major arm twisting on the pastor’s part.
As a new pastor, fresh out of school, I had many ideas for how the church could do creative ministry in the local community. In those early days I had been fortunate to be introduced to John C. Maxwell and what was then the Injoy Life club. It was through Maxwell and his book Developing The Leader Within You that Maxwell taught me about the five levels of influence. You can get access to the book for free by subscribing to Scribd.
By understanding these five levels, I was able to identify how to best use my time and effort to get things done at the church. I identified the top influencers at the church. Even though the church had over 300 members, I was able to identify three people who together had major influence with the whole church. In other words, if those three individuals were in favour of the initiative I was proposing to bring to the board, most times, the proposal would pass.
Understand that I’m not talking about manipulation. I’m referring to influence. These three leaders had spent at least a decade in the case of a couple of them, several decades as members of the church. They had served the church well. They were people of character. Others looked up to them and respected them. When these influencers spoke, almost always it was
seasoned with wisdom that most everyone recognized. No one had to doubt the loyalties of these three. Everyone knew they had the best interest of the church and the people in mind as they led.
“PEOPLE DON’T CARE HOW MUCH YOU KNOW UNTIL THEY KNOW HOW MUCH YOU CARE.” – ZIG ZIGLAR
While it is true that some leaders are mentally handicapped and probably shouldn’t be in leadership, most leaders are there because a group of people felt that they were worthy of such an honour. In my particular denomination, that group is usually what we call a nominating committee. This committee is selected by the church to meet, discuss and nominate the leaders for the coming year or two.
DIFFICULT PERSON OR BROKEN RELATIONSHIP? Most of the time that I have had difficulties with a member of my board it was because I have failed to invest in my relationship with them. Pastors are human. We have limited time. We can’t be everywhere at once. Developing deep relationships with lots of members is impossible. Jesus, perfect as he was, invested most of his earthly ministry time into the 12 disciples. Sure there were crowds that followed him. Sometimes thousands, sometimes seventy, but he invested himself heavily in 12.
When people criticize me, it sometimes makes me feel that I’m not good enough. I am my own worst critic.
If you want people to support your initiatives, they must first know that you care for them. That you have their best interest and the best interest of the church at heart. Chances are, if they are often opposing you it is because they have some kind of unresolved issue with you.
As a leader, it is easy to be so focused on what we want to do that we forget that our main job as leaders is to influence people, not coerce or manipulate people in the direction we feel God wants the organization to go. It is easy for us as leaders to use our power to push difficult people out. To force them to resign or to influence the nominating committee not to re-elect them. I’m not telling you not to do it, I’m asking you to examine your motives.
More often that I would want to admit publicly, I have felt threatened by those who openly opposed me in board meetings. I would react defensively. I want to tell you that I’ve conquered that weakness, I’m not so sure I have but I am at least now aware of it.
When people criticize me, it sometimes makes me feel that I’m not good enough. I am my own worst critic. I am usually quite aware of what I am not doing that I ‘should’ be doing. Even if I’m not, there is usually some member ready to remind me of where I’m falling short.
So what am I afraid of? Why am I so defensive when my ideas are criticized or I am criticized? Deep down, I am insecure. When a leader is insecure, he or she will do anything they can to move away from that pain. Therefore, if the pain is being caused by vocal and dissenting members of the church board, the easiest thing is to seek to have them removed.
Do you know the problem with that course of action? It will inevitably lead to a lower level of trust of you as leader. The message is passed loud and clear. Don’t tell me the truth. Tell me what I want to hear. Say soothing things to my ears. Let me do whatever I want. Is this really want we want as pastors, as leaders?
SLOW DOWN AND SMELL THE FLOWERS
Next time you have a thorn in your side on your church board, take a step back and evaluate. How is your relationship with them? How much time have you invested in them? What do they enjoy doing? What are their hobbies? What is their passion? What motivates them to get out of bed? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, chances are you don’t know them very well.
Before you take action to remove them or influence or force others to remove the difficult leaders, invest time in them. Pray for them. Ask God to give you His love for them. Seek to develop common ground. Listen to their ideas and their opinions. Affirm whatever you can agree with. Help them get what they want.
You know what you’ll discover? As you invest in them, their criticisms will lessen. Sure, they’ll always be direct and will still sometimes tell you something you wished they didn’t but you’ll have an authentic relationship with them.
WHEN TO REMOVE THEM
If they refuse to socialize, you may eventually be forced to remove them. Even then though, I encourage you to take them before Our Father in prayer. If they are disrespectful, they need to be told in a firm manner that what they are saying or doing feels disrespectful to you. Stand your ground but do so lovingly.
If you can’t do it lovingly, pray and seek God until you can.