Church Board Information

Leadership Structure - The "One Board" Model

What is it?

The “one board” model is based on the work of John Edmund Kaiser, who wrote Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission. Kaiser’s work has been expanded upon by consultants Kay Kotan and Blake Bradford in their book Mission: Possible.

The basic premise: Congregations are most effective at nurturing current disciples, reaching new disciples, and engaging in transformational ministry when the leadership structure includes RESPONSIBILITY, AUTHORITY, and ACCOUNTABILITY. If any of these pieces is missing, energy is expended on things other than accomplishing the mission of the congregation. The goal: Having a leadership structure that is both safe and effective for supporting ministry.

 There are many types of leadership structures that congregations use:

  • Bureaucratic – responsibility to live out the mission/vision is assigned to the pastor but without also granting the authority needed to fulfill this responsibility.
  • Autocratic – responsibility and authority to live out the mission/vision is assigned to the pastor but without safeguards that would prevent that authority from being misused.
  • Committee-based/Consensus-driven – responsibility, authority and accountability are shared but the time it takes to “work the system” to get things done is inefficient.
  • Pastor-Centered/Personality-Driven – an autocratic model that is dependent upon the charisma and talent of the pastor. 

The “one board” model attempts to avoid the pitfalls listed above by building responsibility, authority, and accountability into every aspect of the congregation’s governance: 

  •  The board sets and revises the congregation’s guiding principles
    • Mission/Vision 
    • Core Values 
    • Strategies 
    • Measurements
  • The lead pastor interprets the guiding principles
    • Through daily discernment of how the congregation will live into its stated mission, vision and values; 
  • The staff applies the lead pastor’s interpretation of the guiding principles
    • Managing their areas of responsibility/ministry utilizing the lead pastor’s guidance; 
  • The lead pastor holds the staff accountable for application
    • Making sure the staff is applying the lead pastor’s interpretation of the mission, vision and values in their areas of responsibility; and 
  • The board holds the lead pastor accountable for interpretation and application of the mission, vision, and values
    • Making sure the lead pastor’s interpretation and application are moving the congregation toward its goals of growing disciples and engaging in transformational mission in the world, and
    • Reviewing and revising the guiding principles for greater clarity and usefulness in fulfilling the congregation’s mission. 

How does this “look”?

The board consists of 9-12 people, chosen because they are recognized as spiritual leaders by the congregation, and elected by the Charge Conference.

  • The criteria for choosing and nominating board members is straightforward: If you were in a crisis, needed prayer, or needed spiritual guidance, what lay person in the congregation would you call? 
  • People on the board would “wear many hats” – carrying multiple roles, and functioning as a “committee of the whole” when area-specific matters must be discussed and decisions made, e.g. Staff-Parish work, Trustee decisions, etc. 
  • The “typical” board would consist of: 
    • 3 Staff-Parish Committee team representatives 
    • 2 Trustee Team representatives 
    • 2 Finance Team representatives 
    • 1 Lay Member to Annual Conference Session 
    • 1 Lay Leader 
    • 1 UMW/UMM Representative 
    • 1 Youth representative (if possible and practical) 
  • One person of the 12 could be designated as Treasurer and another designated as Finance Secretary. 
  • Terms would be for three years, and 1/3 of the board would rotate off every year. 
  • The Nominations Committee would remain a separate committee. 
  • Persons who were not members of the congregation would not be able to serve on the board.

Board meetings would be structured so that part of the meeting would focus on spiritual development, part on learning together, and part on decision-making.

Each board member, with recommendations from the congregation, would work to identify a new leader that would replace him/her on the board, with the purpose of nurturing that person for serving as a spiritual leader on the board.

Quarterly all-church meetings would be held, for the purposes of

  • Celebrating where the congregation has been at their best, 
  • Sharing what members see God doing in their midst and in the community, 
  • Learning information that is helpful for building up the congregation for its life and ministry, 
  • Sharing what is happening in the congregation and sharing “what’s next”, and 
  • Having time for holy conversation about all of these.

Other Considerations

Transition to this model of governance can feel chaotic, disconnecting and confusing for everyone, leading to concerns and anxiety about change happening too fast, or confusion about the roles and authority of pastors and board members. 

It takes at least three years of intentional work to live into this model and do it well. 

In this governance structure, new ministries do not need multiple levels of approval from multiple groups for them to proceed. 

  • New ideas can be brought to the board by anyone in the congregation
  • The board then asks these questions: 
    • Does the proposed ministry reflect our guiding principles, mission/vision/values? 
    • If so, does the person presenting the proposal have a team recruited to assist (so they do not bear the work alone and risk burnout)? 
    • If “yes” then what resources does the team need to move this forward? 
    • If resources are in place, the board blesses the ministry and the team can give progress reports/celebrations to the congregation at the quarterly gatherings. 

Strengths of an Accountable Leadership Structure:

  • Marries accountability and authority with accountability 
  • Promotes church unity 
  • Functions on a high level of trust 
  • Decisions are made very quickly 
  • Mission/Vision fulfillment is the driving force, not management or maintenance 

If the “one board” model is embraced by the congregation, it will be necessary to officially adopt the new structure at a Charge Conference. 

This alternative structure, including retaining the Nominations Committee, complies with The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2016; specifically, ¶243, ¶244, and ¶258. 

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