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Eliminate Fuzziness Between Board and Staff Roles

Keep your leaders on track with a one-page Prime Responsibility Chart.

 

by Dan Busby and John Pearson

 

When I first came to teach astronautics at the Air Force Academy,
our faculty dean told the new instructors,
“Remember, just because you’re an expert at one thing
doesn’t make you an expert on everything.”[1]
That was a timely caution.

Jerry White


Pastor Bob always dreaded the next agenda item at the church board meeting: reports from each ministry.

The previous pastor had crowded the agenda with reports from the seven major ministries and the staff/board ratios around the table almost capsized the boardroom! Like clockwork (with no alarm), each ministry staff director presented a detailed report. One problem: the proceedings felt more like an episode of Shark Tank—with each ministry leader vying for more budget and more staff members. The passion was electric, but the ministry impact—not so much.

So in response to Pastor Bob’s angst about too many staff members in the boardroom, the board instituted a new approach that, apparently, was working well at nearby First Church. Seven board members were assigned to each monitor one ministry.

Here are excerpts from each board member’s report. You be the judge—is this working?

Michael: As you know, I volunteered to be the liaison with the junior high ministry because my daughter will be in junior high next year. I have a few ideas for them, but Ben is not very receptive. Confidentially, if I push any harder, I’m afraid he’ll quit after only nine months with us—or I may fire him sooner!

Lamar: No report from the women’s ministry. They just returned from their annual retreat and they’re exhausted and need some time off. I’m a little out of my element, but I just read a book about women’s ministries—so I’m starting to get up-to-speed on how I can help them.

Jack: Because of the confidential nature of the lay counseling ministry, I’m unable to get real close to the action, but my wife is a volunteer, and she says it’s going well. The counseling director just bought some new furniture to spruce up the shabby reception area. It wasn’t in this year’s budget, but I approved it.

Isaac: I don’t think this board liaison approach is working in the worship team area. Pastor Bob, as you know, I’m more of a hymnal guy, but Frank says that the two of you have agreed on “blended worship” (whatever that means). Frank says he can’t function with two bosses—and, in so many words, would prefer that I just bug off.

Joe: Ditto! I’m guessing there are numerous hallway conversations among ministry directors and, wow, they are not receptive to ideas from their board liaisons. I’ve stopped meeting with the single adults team.

Roberto: Well…it’s working for us. Steve has been our church business administrator for 20 years, and he says it’s the first time any board member has taken an active interest in his work. We meet every Wednesday for prayer and I bring the donuts. I also help count the offerings and crunch numbers for the month-end reports. To be frank, I’d prefer being Steve’s volunteer than enduring these late-night board meetings. So…adios! I’m resigning from the board!

So what’s the role of the church board?

  • Ministering? Listening, encouraging, praying with ministry directors?
  • Monitoring? Ensuring that every ministry has goals, reports, and results?
  • Meddling? Jumping in with new ideas, fixing problems, addressing personnel issues?
  • Micro-managing? In the weeds, obsessing over details, mandating lengthy reports? 

Our recommendation is that most church boards should relate to one employee: the senior pastor. Then the board must be crystal clear about the board’s relationship with all other staff. There are many tools that will help clarify these relationships, such as a Board Policies Manual.

Try this tool: the Prime Responsibility Chart (PRC). The PRC will help you eliminate fuzziness between board and staff roles. The PRC is short—just one page. Roles and respon­sibilities are crystal clear. Based on your church’s polity and governance model, you may have a unique approach to some functions (some actions may require congregational approval), but you can customize the PRC to meet your needs.

The chart is simple and straightforward and can be changed at any time—literally at any or every meeting. Growth (or decline) in your church, or a department, will likely impact reporting relationships, so this tool is not static—it’s meant to be reviewed frequently. When the PRC is edited by board action, just make the change and update the chart with “Version 4.0” and the current date, and then email the revised PRC to board members and ministry directors within 24 hours. Plus, have copies available for reference at every board meeting.

The most important principle: only one person has “Prime Responsibility” (P). This one-page chart is an excellent way to clarify board and staff roles.

 

 

BOARDROOM LESSON
_______________________________

Clarify board and staff roles with the one-page
Prime Responsibility Chart. The PRC is a helpful tool
to eliminate current and future fuzziness
on roles and responsibilities.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Clarify: Is your board/senior pastor/staff organiza­tional chart crystal clear? Verify that each staff member only has one direct supervisor.
  2. Create: Customize the Prime Responsi­bility Chart for your board’s unique approach, then label it “Version 1.0” and present it at your next board meeting for both board and staff feedback. Then, based on feedback, send out “Version 2.0” for more input.
  3. Congratulate: At the end of any lengthy discussion at a board meeting, affirm and congratulate (maybe with a Starbucks card) the first board member who observes: “This is taking way too long to decide. Is it because we need to add or edit a line on our Prime Responsibility Chart?”

 

Prayer

Lord, enable our board to focus on governance agenda items,
and to stay out of the weeds—
so our board meetings don’t become staff meetings. Amen

 

 

[1] Jerry White, Rules to Live By: 52 Principles for a Better Life (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2010), 36.

[2] The “Prime Responsibility Chart” is adapted from “Core Competency 17: The Operations Buckets” in Mastering the Management Buckets: 20 Critical Competencies for Leading Your Business or Nonprofit by John Pearson (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008). A ministry board member, while an executive at The Boeing Company, adapted the Boeing template for use by ministries.

 

From Lessons From the Church Boardroom: 40 Insights for Exceptional Governance, ECFAPress, 2018, www.ECFA.Church/KnowledgeCenter.


This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.

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