What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Prepare your board now for the possibility of future accusations and investigations.


by Dan Busby and John Pearson


For years, King Uzziah sought the Lord.
God gave him material and military success. His fame spread.
Yet the following commentary exposes the tendency
of God’s leaders to read their own press clippings:
“He was marvelously helped until he was strong.
But when he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly,
and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God”
(2 Chronicles 26:15-16, AMP).

Terry Powell


Imagine this scenario. It’s Saturday 7:30 a.m. in the church boardroom. You have hot coffee with your favorite creamer. Your “board buddy” (a person assigned to all new board members) has guided you through two informative orienta­tion sessions. You’ve reviewed the church’s rolling three-year strategic planning process—and learned how it was birthed by prayer and spiritual discernment. You’ve read the Board Policies Manual, and you’ve signed the Church Board Member Annual Affirmation Statement, the Confidentiality Policy, and the Conflicts of Interest Policy.

It gets better! This Christ-centered board is forward-looking, yet humble, and board member micromanaging is gently prohibited. The board has welcomed you and the new class of board members with warmth and affirmation. You’re ready to deploy your spiritual gifts, your top-five strengths from the StrengthsFinder assessment, and the senior pastor and the board chair know your social style—you’re an “analytical” (one of four styles).

What could possibly go wrong?

The board chair begins. “Thank you, everyone, for attending this early morning special meeting of the church board. We have just one agenda item: our financial administrator has been accused of embezzling funds. Our senior pastor and the senior team have recommended that our board handle this matter internally—and keep a lid on it.”

Yikes! This is new territory for you. The room goes quiet. “Lord, help us…” you plead silently to the heavens. Then your beating heart calms as you realize…surely, there must be a best practice for this kind of crisis. Surely there is a policy and a step-by-step procedure. Airline pilots have emergency checklists. Surgeons have checklists.[2]

So you blurt it out! “Oh, my…who has our emergency checklist for staff misconduct?”

But you already sensed this—there is no checklist. Somehow, when you agreed to serve on the church board, you knew deep down that this might not be easy duty.  Problems would not be as rare as filet mignon before the invention of fire. But you didn’t expect this at your first board meeting. You whisper a prayer, “Lord, help us.”

It actually could be worse. Take your pick:

?   Your junior high youth pastor is accused of sexual misconduct with a member of the youth group.

?   Three staff members have met with the senior pastor—alleging that the executive pastor’s management style is overbearing, manipulative, and sometimes bullying.

?   Your morning newspaper reports that a long-time food pantry volunteer at your church has been indicted for fraud in the state’s food assistance program.

?   It’s been four months since the board chair has reviewed the senior pastor’s expense reimbursement payments. (The policy mandates a monthly review.) When the board chair finally reviews the reimbursements, several personal expenses were submitted for reimbursement (and paid).

?   The HR director has documented a new department head’s “pattern of dishonesty,” but the senior pastor is squelching any further investigation. “Grace abounds,” your pastor allegedly said.

What should church boards do when confronted with a continuum of issues and accusations? Should every accusation be investigated? Who should investigate? Should all investigations be conducted by outside, independent investigators? If so, who should select the investigators?

Outside help can be essential to a proper investigation and possibly even required by law. When it appears criminal acts were committed, law-enforcement should be contacted regarding allegations of any abuse, embezzlement, data breaches, or sexual misconduct. This allows civil authorities to come alongside the church to enforce the laws of the land, while the church addresses the spiritual issues.

It would require a library of books to address the challenges identified in this lesson. So, how can churches reduce the possibility of misconduct? The answer starts long before the impropriety is known.

  • Churches, large and small, have best practices. Or not.
  • Even stronger than best practices, churches have established policies to help prevent misconduct. Or not.
  • Church boards are committed to disciplined execution of the policies. Or not.
  • Church boards periodically review risks and take steps to mitigate or minimize significant risks. Or not.
  • “Panic can turn experts into amateurs,”[3] so church boards do not make quick decisions unless there is an immediate danger. Or not.
  • Serious matters are dealt with by church boards without regard to media pressure. Or not.
  • Churches have a culture of vigilance, not just to detect sexual misconduct but regarding a hostile work environment created by a leader through temper tantrums, constant sniping at subordinates, vindictiveness, refusal to apologize, and arrogance.[4] Or not.
  • People in churches are encouraged to speak up if they see something, suspect something. Or not.
  • Church leaders deal vigorously and preemptively with allegations.  Or not.
  • Victims in churches can come forward feeling assured that they will be safely and confidentially heard, not dismissed. Or not.[5]

So…what could possibly go wrong at your first board meeting? Only the Lord knows. But don’t stress out. “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24, NIV).



Should every accusation of misconduct be investigated?
One policy doesn’t fit every situation.
But you must have regular and robust boardroom
discussions to address your staff, volunteer and
board policies regarding accusations and investigations.
If those issues are not addressed thoughtfully,
prayerfully, and legally, your church’s Kingdom impact
may suffer severe consequences.

  Board Action Steps:

  1. Prepare and prevent: Review and update your policies and procedures in your board, staff, and volunteer documents—so when accusations arise, there is a roadmap to follow.

  2. Investigate: Create clarity on when an outside, independent investigation of an accusation is warranted and when in doubt, lean towards outside help.

  3. Honor and address: Consider whether outside legal counsel, counselors, or wise consultants are needed as you protect and minister to both the accuser and the accused yet addressing the sin as God leads.



Oh, Lord, help us. remind us that when turmoil and crisis
confront our church and our board
You are our Rock and our Redeemer.
Help us not to lean upon our own understanding, but to lean on You. Amen.



[1] Terry Powell, Serve Strong: Biblical Encouragement to Sustain God’s Servants (Abilene, Texas: Leafwood Publishers, 2014), 105.

[2] Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009), 100.

[3] Frank Partnoy, Wait: The Art and Science of Delay (New York City: PublicAffairs, 2012), 104.

[4] R. Glenn Ball and Darrell Puls, Let Us Prey: The Plague of Narcissist Pastors and What We Can Do About It (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2017), 188.

[5] “Willow Creek and America’s Roll Call of Disgrace,” Chicago Tribune, August 17, 2018.

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.