How to Get Your Church Board to Move Forward On Discipleship Programs
This is #9 in a series on Getting Started with Discipleship Programs. If you prefer to learn in a “Workshop” format or via audio/video, you can purchase the Getting Started With Discipleship Workshop here. Or see the index of all the posts here at the Getting Started with Discipleship Index page.
If you’ve been a pastor for any length of time, you know that one of the features of church life is “gatekeepers.” There are people with influence who can raise up an idea, or lower it. There are people that can kill an idea, or let it live. One of those gatekeepers is a church board.
This is not all bad, of course. It is dangerous to be surrounded with "yes men." I don't think that everybody should simply obey exactly what you say necessarily, but it's a fact of life. It's something you have to grow into figuring out how to influence them to do valuable things, particularly discipleship programs. Let's talk about how to convince your church board to move forward.
Relationship First, Then Techniques
It should be noted that living by leadership techniques is a poor way to lead influencers in your church. You should invest in them relationally first! Often, coffee or barbecue is more effective than using technique, which can come across as manipulative or utilitarian.
John Maxwell, the best-selling leadership author, talks about his building of his influence in his very first church. He insists that he never was the primary leader. The primary influencer in that little country church, was a farmer named Claude. But once John realized this, he went to bale hay with Claude on his farm. After baling hay for a while, he’d say “Claude, I’ve been thinking… what if we did something like ____?” They would discuss it for a while, until Claude agreed. Then in the next board meeting, John would say, “Claude and I were talking, and we think…”
Invest first. No one wants to be a leadership experiment, but most people want to follow someone who loves and respects them.
Having said that, here is a techniques techniques I recommend to lead your church board effectively toward valuing and executing discipleship programs:
1. Require your church board to go through discipleship training with you.
“A mind is like a rubber band: once stretched, it never quite returns to its original shape.”
When combined with a good relationship, this technique is powerful. Let me tell you the story of how I learned this.
When I began as pastor of my church, we only had 12 people our first Sunday. At that beginning stage, there were 4 people on the church board. I was the chairman of that board by virtue of office, but I didn't have all the influence that I needed. There were some times where I'd present an idea that would get shot down.
The frustrating thing was walking out of one of those board meetings, when you were certain your idea was good for the church, but it had been shot down… and you knew that you were the only person in that room who had read a book or article on that topic. No one else in the room has ever thought about it except for that 15-30 minutes in a board meeting. Finally, I decided, “I'm not doing this any more.”
I went into the next board meeting and said, “Everyone, today I'm just going to talk for about 45 minutes. I want you guys to listen to what I'm wrestling with.” And I started in.
“The relationship that we have is not sustainable. I spent five years in Bible college in training to learn as much as I can, know as much as I can. I’ve read stacks of books trying to make sure that I'm as well-educated as possible. And, I’m still reading and learning. But our relationship feels like this: my job is to come up with all the ideas, and your job is to shoot down as many as possible so this young crazy pastor doesn't do too many things. I don’t think that’s workable; it's unfair to you and unfair to me. You're not learning, or you're not getting the privilege of being exposed to the same ideas and best practices that I am, and I'm not getting the interaction and the help of people who have been exposed to valuable learning!”
The board was sitting there with a “deer in the headlights” look on their face. They thought I was bringing my resignation. I said, “No, no, I'm not resigning. I want to stay unless you want to send me away. I'm not going anywhere. We just need to change the way we do business.”
I pulled out a book that I had purchased. It was Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger. I said, “Here's what we're going to do. Starting next month, the first 20 minutes of our board meeting is a discussion on what we're currently learning as leaders of our church. I need everybody take this book, come back next month with chapter one already read and ready to do the discussion questions at the end of the chapter.”
We did that for a while. It wasn’t long until actually one person decided to resign the church board. They just weren't willing to take that kind of action, those kind of steps, and to submit themselves to educating themselves on these topics.
And let’s be honest, that’s probably for the best in some circumstances.
“Are you saying I need to do that?”
No, no. I am not suggesting you need to go have a confrontational conversation with your church board. I had served as pastor here in OKC for 2 years, and had invested huge amounts of time weekly in building relationships with those families.
My point is that you can introduce a way to empower your church board and require them to stretch their minds as growing leaders in order to be part of the leadership of your church.
What I am saying is that you must communicate, “We are learning leaders!”
Purchase a book, a video course, or a conference and watch it together. Then, spend 15 minutes discussing it. Prepare a list of discussion questions. Ask, “What stood out to you that we should integrate it into our church? What do we need to change in our church to make us more in line with this truth that we're learning today?
“This is something that is highly important to me – we have to be on the same page about our philosophy, and be a learning organization. I value your input, and I want your input to be as informed as possible. So we’re going to start doing some reading and training as a board. This is part of what it means to ‘be on the church board’ here. It means you’re a leader and a learner.”
You can do this:
In regular board meetings, by having a training component
In a focused time, such as a board retreat
With reading assignments before board meetings
You will find that educational experiences are truly valuable for community building and learning.
2. Request a budget line for discipleship programs.
When I became a pastor, my church had no budget. There was no plan for spending money in expected ways, on agreed-upon priorities.
I literally remember an early board meeting where we virtually no money. Leading a board meeting, I found myself asking for a motion so we could buy toilet paper. I can’t write that line without laughing!
Hopefully you’re not as lame as I was as a young pastor!
If you don’t have a budget, you’ll need to build one. Or, at least request a small amount of money each month that you can put into valuable, church-building activities without having to come back for permission.
If you do have a budget, tell your board:
“I'm not doing as well as I'd like to be with discipling people. If we had brand new converts, we're really not ready to see them fully discipled. I really want to see that happen. I need a budget line for discipleship. One of the ways we know what we really value is what we spend money on. As a church, we have a budget line for lawn care, and insurance, and the light bill. I need a budget line for discipleship… after all, Jesus says this is the main part of the Great Commission!”
Types of expenses you can ask to be included:
You’re going to need to have this conversation with your board members. Yes, they may feel awkward or attacked. But it is better to have awkward conversations than to avoid conversations that really need to happen.
3. Frame the spending as an investment in the primary mission, not an expense.
Some things are expenses. Maintenance. Utilities. Insurance. Carpet. But money invested in marketing, discipleship, evangelism are NEVER expenses. They are always investments!
Get this deeply settled in your mind:
As a church, you are not required by any verse of Scripture to own a building, but you ARE required to make disciples!
How can we help board members be willing to make expenditures on things like discipleship? Connect it to the “rubber meets the road” things that they already care about.
Make it clear: “New attenders don’t pay the bills, but disciples do.”
Action Items for Chapter 7
1. Plan your communication.
Write out a pitch to your board members to have them watch a video in a training series (maybe this chapter?) and what you’re going to say to get them to shift their mindset to become a “learning board.”
2. Text your board to schedule a board meeting if needed.
Don't sandbag them. Change isn't best accomplished by springing unexpected things on people. Give them something in advance and let it soak, especially if you expect it to be a hard conversation. Tell them:
“I've been convicted that our church needs to step up our game in discipleship. I've found some materials I think will really help, and I want us to have a meeting where you give me thoughts on it.”
3. Figure out what your “ask” is to your board on your discipleship budget. How much is going to be needed?
If you need a 1 hour training on discipleship that you can share with your board, you can find one here for free:http://webinar.newstartdiscipleship.com. Or, if you want the full training you’re going through here, you can find it at http://coaching.newstartdiscipleship.com.
Getting Started with Discipleship Programs Training Videos available:
You can purchase the Video Workshop on Discipleship Here. It features:
10 Video sessions on discipleship in the church
36 Page downloadable Discipleship workbook pdf
Includes a 22-question Discipleship assessment
Includes a 30 Minute 1-on-1 coaching zoom call
A book and a video course that cover this material are available for your use. If you need offline versions that you can download for training at a board or church staff retreat, email firstname.lastname@example.org.