Episode 8: Board Development in the Local Church

Church board development isn’t always easy, but is it worth it?

And how can a pastor engage his church board, anyway?

In the end, it mostly comes down to the quality of relationship that the pastor has with individual board members.

Join us for this episode as we tackle these difficult questions, and hear some words of encouragement for struggling church boards!

This episode’s special guest

Today, for the first time ever, the Thriving Church Leadership podcast has the pleasure of welcoming a pastor as our guest!

Pastor Jim Shemaria from Celebration Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan is joining us to talk about board development in the local church. Jim has been the senior pastor of Celebration Church since 2013, and before that he served as the associate pastor since 2008.

In addition to his pastoral work, Jim is vice-chair of the Grace Gospel Fellowship national council. When it comes to his theology and church family, Jim says GGF is his “home base.”

How does Celebration Church operate?

Celebration is a board-led church. They have two main boards; one of elders and one of trustees. The trustees are responsible for the physical needs of the congregation and church building, while the elders are responsible for the spiritual needs of the church.

As senior pastor, Jim functions as an equal board member on the elder board.

What was it like to become a pastor?

As a pastor’s son, Jim lived his whole life immersed in the context of pastoral life in the local church. Unlike the common “pastor’s kid” stereotype, he had a great experience as a pastor’s son and grew up with a healthy love for church life. He tells us that being part of a local church was built into the DNA of his family.

When Jim stepped into his pastoral role, it was a pretty easy transition for him. He says he felt like he knew what he was getting into. Rather than being a shock, stepping into his role as pastor was a beautiful and comfortable role transition for Jim.

What is an effective method of connecting with the board?

Pastor Jim’s strategy for connecting with his church board has always been simple: to have a real relationship with every member of the board, not just in a functional capacity, but as brothers in Christ.

He thinks of himself as their pastor primarily, rather than just a fellow board member. Because of this approach, he knows them and their families, and he knows their struggles. This allows the board to function together naturally, rather than as a business.

Jim says to see the other board members as people first, with their own stories and lives that they bring to the board room. If you are successful in this, your board will function much more effectively.

Two kinds of leader-board dynamics

In non-profit circles, it is often said that there are two kinds of leader-boards. The first is a weak board with a strong leader, and the second is a strong board with a weak leader. The importance of this distinction is where the conclusive decisions are being made. Is the strong leader primarily making the decisions, or is the leader just there to carry out the wishes of the strong board?

It’s important to note that neither kind of leader-board is necessarily good or bad. This is just a way to understand the dynamics of your particular church leadership, so you can function together more effectively.

Pastor Jim takes more of the strong leader role in the dynamic with his church board. He explains that his primary job is the life of the church, while the other board members have full time jobs in other occupations. Jim’s vocation is to be thinking about these things and making decisions about them, and he believes the leader-board dynamic tends to work well when the pastor has a stronger voice on the board.

At the same time, it’s helpful to have a mix of personalities on the church board. Not everyone can have the “leader” personality, or else you might run into trouble!

The tension of having a stronger voice on the board

As a pastor, you should always keep in mind that you might have a stronger voice, and be aware of the responsibility that comes with that.

Jim explains how important it is to keep at the forefront of your mind your primary calling to shepherd those in your congregation. Don’t let power corrupt you. Always remind yourself of your role and purpose as a pastor: to shepherd the lives of your people. That is what keeps you in a mindset of humility, and slows you down in a good way.

What are some safeguards to keep the pastor from absolute authority?

While the board itself is an obvious safeguard to keeping the pastor from having absolute authority, sometimes, if the pastor is a strong leader, he can functionally fall into having absolute authority over the church. Pastor Jim gives us a few ways to prevent this from happening and maintain a healthy balance of authority.

First, speak directly to the board about your ideas and ask them, “What do you guys think about this?” Don’t just ask them once, but keep going back to the board to bounce your thoughts off of them.

Second, use the language of cooperation when speaking with the board. It may seem small, but using pronouns like “we” and “us” is far better than “I” and “me.”

Third, show yourself to be truly interested in what the board members say. Really listen to them, and consider how the Holy Spirit might be speaking through the board members. Trust the board and trust that they are a significant part of the church leadership. It’s simple, but a super important safeguard.

Pros of not having board member term limits

At Celebration Church, board members have no term limits. Pastor Jim explains why this is actually a great thing for the church.

The longer you’re able to invest in particular people and places, the deeper your roots grow and the more significant those relationships will be. Having board members who have served the church for 20 years or more brings that depth of love.

Another benefit of having board members who have served together for a long time is that the church is able to grow around the board. The board members are Celebration Church, and they are built into the church DNA. Not only that, but they know each other deeply and have learned how to communicate effectively as a group.

How to bring in new board members

Celebration church doesn’t currently have a program in place for bringing in new board members, but that’s something Grace Gospel Fellowship is here to help with!

We offer leadership conferences for church boards seeking to grow and develop. For past leadership conference recordings, click here.

GGF has other resources for church boards as well, including the Recipe for a Healthy Church Board by Brotherhood Mutual and the Deacon’s Bench.

If you’re part of a church board that needs resources for development, please reach out to us! Email Bryan at bryan@ggfusa.org to learn about the ways we can help.

Encouragement for pastors struggling with their boards

Many pastors feel like they can’t engage, communicate effectively, or get the help they need from their board. They feel like they’re leading the church on their own, and don’t know how to bring the board into it.

If you’re a pastor in this situation, take heart! There are concrete ways you can connect with your board and start working together

Pastor Jim says that the first step towards engaging your board is to begin looking at them as people, not board members. They have their own families and life situations, and they are there on the board because they love the church. Learn to listen and be present with them as people first. And while you’re at it, allow them to get to know you too!

This relationship between the pastor and board members as individuals is crucial. If you’re not sure how to begin building these relationships, start by just taking individual members of your board out for coffee or a meal, and just talk as people, rather than discussing church business.

When you do this, your board members will begin to feel like you really care about them, and are not just interested in them as tools to accomplish your goals for the church. That’s when things will really start to happen! Jim says you can’t replace this relational aspect, and without it, you will always run into trouble.

Another tip that Jim gives us is to get rid of the idea of accomplishing things on a short deadline. Trust God to do things on His timeline, and just be patient, be present, and pastor your people.

Why is it worth it to be a healthy board?

As you can probably see, cultivating a healthy board can seem like a lot of work. Why invest all the time and hard work into these relationships for the health of the board and the church? Why put in the effort?

Ultimately, it’s worth it because the people in your church are significant and their lives are important. There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing people become more aware of how God is working in their lives, and the only way you can do that is if you as a pastor are aware of that calling and committed to that calling. That makes it worth it.

Being a healthy pastor and board matters because your congregation matters.

Pastor Jim’s podcast

If you’re looking for more resources on how to better serve your church as a pastor, check out Jim’s podcast with Mat Loverin, The Pastoral Calling Podcast.

The podcast focuses on the joys and struggles of ministering in small churches, and can be found on all the usual platforms where podcasts are streamed.

Final thanks to Pastor Jim Shemaria

A huge “thank you” to Pastor Jim for joining us today and sharing his insight! It’s always a pleasure to hear from church leaders who encourage and inspire us.

In this episode:

1:00 – This episode’s special guest Jim Shemaria
3:20 – How does Celebration Church operate?
5:00 – What was it like to become a pastor?
8:25 – What is an effective method of connecting with the board?
11:00 – Two kinds of leader-board dynamics
15:40 – The tension of having a stronger voice on the board
20:00 – What are some safeguards to keep the pastor from absolute authority?
25:20 – Pros of not having board member term limits
30:00 – How to bring in new board members
34:40 – Encouragement for pastors struggling with their boards
40:00 – Why is it worth it to be a healthy board?
43:30 – Pastor Jim’s podcast
44:30 – Final thanks to pastor Jim Shemaria


Resources Mentioned:

Past GGF Leadership Conference Recordings

Recipe for a Healthy Church Board by Brotherhood Mutual and the Deacon’s Bench

The Pastoral Calling Podcast by Jim Shemaria & Mat Loverin


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