Episode 1: The Problem and Opportunity of Church Leadership

It has been said that the local church is God’s plan A to point people to the lifegiving message of Jesus Christ. There is no plan B.

Leadership for God’s plan A (the church) is not insignificant. 1 Timothy 3:1 says, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”

Today we’re hearing from Bryan Walker, the president of Grace Gospel Fellowship and a humble leader.

Who Is Bryan Walker?

Bryan Walker, the current president of Grace Gospel Fellowship, has been a lifelong learner. His career started in a large organization, but not long after, he decided it was time to look into entrepreneurship. Though it wasn’t an easy move, Bryan wanted different experiences to grow in his ability to lead.

During his early- to mid-twenties, as he was exploring these different avenues of growth in leadership, Bryan would say that he didn’t have much of a relationship with Jesus Christ. Instead, his leadership experiences were more of a personal pursuit.

In his late 20s, however, Bryan attended an event that really challenged his faith.

In the early 2000s, Bryan was busy pursuing a masters and doctorate degree at Columbia International University.

During this time, he was called by Grace Bible College to consider coming on an executive team and serving with President Kemper. At first, he said no. He was currently pursuing a degree program that would help him become a better nonprofit leader. It simply wasn’t in the cards.

But God was working in Bryan’s life. During this time, he and his wife Ami sat down to talk and Ami brought up an interesting point. She mentioned to Bryan that he could either continue going to school and getting more experience in the nonprofit sector, or he could just call tomorrow morning and become a nonprofit leader.

After days and weeks of prayer and thought, Bryan accepted the opportunity and began serving. This was his first experience as a nonprofit, full-time ministry leader.

What makes church leadership unique?

There are some significant differences between how a church runs and how a business or parachurch ministry runs.

In nonprofit leadership, there are basically two different leadership structures. These are:

1) Weak leader, strong board
2) Strong leader, weak board

We’re not talking about physical strength here, but rather the centrality of how decisions are made.

What makes church leadership sometimes difficult is that there’s no CEO. In most organizational structures, it’s obvious who gets to make the decisions.

On the contrary, church constitutions often empower a pastor, but they empower him with limited power. He becomes dependent on the board. This is unusual and not the norm in the business world.

Because of the weak leader, strong board or strong leader, weak board structure, church decision-making is a unique and complicated circle of leadership.

 

What does it take to become a board member?

Many of us probably already serve on nonprofit ministry boards, such as camps, universities, Christian schools, or food kitchens. It’s common for these ministries to be seeking board members. When they do, they usually look for certain gifts and often for persons of affluence and influence. In many cases, they also look for an ability to help fund the organization (which is generally made clear to the board member).

In a church role, it’s common to be brought on board because of a person’s leadership capacity. Whether a person is experienced in finance, HR, facilities management, etc., they bring that into the boardroom of the church. While this might be the right path, it’s not certainly the right path.

Instead of simply considering experience and leadership capacity, perhaps we should be considering that maybe, what a person does outside of the church board has nothing to do with what they do inside the church board.

The idea of, “why has God called you to the opportunity to serve on a church board?”, may actually have nothing to do with a person’s profession and education. This is both a hard answer and a heart answer.

What we can learn from 1 Timothy and Titus

In 1 Timothy as well as Titus, Paul talks about qualifications for church leaders. Looking at these passages, it’s interesting to note that Paul mentions character qualities, but not skill sets. What does this tell us?

While character is clear in these Scriptures, they also seem to be written, in a way, vaguely. It seems that Paul understands that this position will evolve in how exactly it looks over time. The character qualities of those in leadership, however, shouldn’t change.

So, how do we as a board support what God is doing in our church?

It’s going to require character. It’s going to require the ability to teach or preach.

But how do we do this in the most effective and Biblical way?

How does board leadership function differently in regards to church size?

Those who have spent years in larger churches often have a fairly clear picture of how church leadership functions in these more sizable organizations. What are the differences between larger and smaller churches? Let’s take a look at some interesting information about church size.

In a 2018 survey of churches, it was found that a large number of churches had less than $1 million annual revenue, indicating somewhere around 200 people.

In fact, close to 95% of churches have less than 200 people. In the Grace Gospel Fellowship, most of the churches we work with are in the 50-200-person range. Therefore, we’re mostly supporting and caring for smaller churches.

Grace Gospel Fellowship – Bryan’s mission, vision, and passion for these churches

GGF is a U.S. domestic church organization. This means that it’s an affiliated membership, not a denomination. There are about 100-150 churches in the network of GGF. It’s supported the local church across the country for over 6 decades. Most of these churches are now in small city areas rather than large urban areas.

There are a few main services that Grace Gospel Fellowship provides to pastors and churches. These include leading the ordination and licensing process, pulpit supply (helping to fill in with temporary pastors while pastors are away), and working with boards on pastoral search committees, among other things.

GGF collaborates with ministries such as Grace Christian University and Grace Ministries International.

For Bryan, GGF ministry has been a part of his life in one form or another for decades. After being called to the position of president last year, some important questions arose. One main question that needed answering was this, “What today does our leadership need to be focusing on in our churches?”

This sharpened into 3 easy motives:

1) Healthy pastors
2) Healthy boards
3) Healthy churches

These three motives go in purposeful sequence. While they’re all important, a healthy pastor facilitates a healthy board. In turn, a healthy board facilitates a healthy church. At the same time, investing in boards also inevitably means investing in pastors. These three focuses are inseparably intertwined.

Questions for Bryan

In the podcast, we asked Bryan the following question.

Why are you getting your doctorate when you have a whole bunch of experience behind you already?

His response: “Leaders need to have a passion for continuous improvement. Good conferences, great books, and good mentors go a long way. Education has always intrigued me. In church ministry, there’s only a limited number of things I can do. So, I pursued a PhD in Christian leadership through Liberty. I’m currently finishing my research. The goal is to be better at serving our pastors and boards.”

Supporting boards is newer to GGF

Coming into his role as president, Bryan’s paradigm of church board work was that churches would be largely managed by pretty healthy boards. After visiting many churches around the country, it became evident that many board members are really seeking to be better.

There’s a developmental cycle that’s missed with church board work. The condition of the American church across the board is largely a condition of church boards that need to be better at their work. We can see this even in how Covid-19 shook the timbers of the American church.

“To whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48)

In conclusion, those who aspire to church leadership need more tools in their toolbox to become effective stewards of what they’ve been entrusted with.

This podcast will aim to address how we can become better stewards of the church, whether we are from the younger generation or the older generation.

Interestingly, not a lot of education is required for being a better board member. There’s been little written on the expert level about what it means to be a board member at a church. In this podcast, we want to help address that.