Listen to the Wisdom of Many Counselors

Don’t ask board members to vote against God!


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


By your grace, my leadership will either enhance or restrain
the work of your Spirit in those who lead with me, making them
more effective or less effective. Those I choose to follow
will have a profound impact on the results in the [church],
and they will have a profound impact on me.[1]

Richard Kriegbaum

As we’ve reflected over what we’ve learned and observed from hundreds and hundreds of boardroom experiences, there’s a common discipline that is all too uncommon: LISTENING!

At one memorable breakfast, I had a zillion questions for Frank (not his real name), a seasoned senior pastor, and yet he was amazingly patient with my naïveté.

“So, Frank,” I asked this savvy leader, “how do you walk that tightrope of leading the church without usurping or minimizing the board’s role?”

He thanked our server—by name—for a second cup of coffee. (Oh, good, I thought, he still has time for more questions.) Then he shared this story.

“It’s a delicate dance. Yes, the board wants you to lead, but it’s their job to define the parameters.”

John Carver’s Policy Governance® model describes this as the corral. The board must agree where the fences are. Based on leadership competencies, resources, risks, and many other factors, the board is able to regularly move the fences in or out with the crystal-clear understanding that the senior pastor and staff have board-approved authority to operate inside the corral, but not outside. Many boards function with a Board Policies Manual that delineates the corral boundaries.

Frank continued, “I thought I did this pretty well, and the board was basically happy with my leadership. But then during a coffee break at a quarterly board meeting, one of my favorite board members pulled me aside.

“He began, ‘Frank, I have some angst about your report and recommendations. Don’t misunderstand. I appreciate you and your leadership. But all morning, you used a troubling phrase with our board:

God told me we should launch this program.’

God told me we should build a new building.’

God told me we should budget for this new initiative.’

‘So if you plan to continue to tell your board that “God told me,” and if you’re absolutely sure God told you to do something, just do it.

‘Just do it and don’t ask the board for any input because I don’t want to show up at board meetings just to vote against God!

‘However, if you believe—like I do—the Scriptures teach that there is wisdom in many counselors, then please change your rhetoric so we can discuss, discern, and decide based on the combined wisdom of our board, not just your wisdom!’”

Oh, my. Frank’s transparency was stunning. He laughed about it—in a confessional way—and he admitted it changed the trajectory of his leadership.

If there actually was a Church Board Member Hall of Fame, a picture of Frank’s board member would be displayed in a prominent location.



Edit your leadership rhetoric so all board members
are encouraged to share their insights and discernment.
Avoid pronouncements that begin with “God told me!”

Listen. Listen. Listen.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Read: Ask a board member to read and report on Pursuing God’s Will Together: A Discernment Practice for Leadership Groups by Ruth Haley Barton, especially Chapter 11, with 10 listening guidelines.

  2. Evaluate: At your next end-of-meeting evaluation, ask an observer to comment on the listening skills of the board. Ask this person to note examples when the board sought to hear from God and if any inappropriate verbiage tainted the discussion.

  3. View: Frame this Scripture for your boardroom wall: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22 NIV).



Lord, teach me to be a better listener
and to thirst for wisdom. Amen.



[1] Richard Kriegbaum, Leadership Prayers (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1998), 31.


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.