Who Decides What: The Pastor or The Board

Posted by Aaron Buer on February 1, 2018

Who gets to decide what in your church?

If the person who leads the children’s ministry at your church decides that it’s time to redecorate the kid’s classrooms, who needs to approve the decision?

Who needs to approve the money allotted, the paint colors chosen, and the hiring of painters?

Speaking of children’s ministry, who evaluates the effectiveness of the children’s ministry? Who is involved in the decision to fire or hire a children’s ministry director?

The reason I bring these questions up is because in many churches the boundaries around decision making and authority is a little blurry. Often, it is the most confusing when it comes to a church’s board.

What role exactly do board members have in relation to church leadership?

Do you ever wrestle with this?

Recently, I read a thought provoking book on this topic. The book is called Winning on Purpose.

Don’t be fooled by the old school looking cover. Although this book is almost ten years old, it is definitely worth reading, especially if the lines of authority and leadership feel a little blurry in your church.

In this book, John Kaiser presents a leadership model that he calls the Accountable Leadership Strategy.

I’m not necessarily advocating for this model (especially since many of us serve and lead in churches that are part of a denomination in which the structure of leadership and accountability is already set) but I do think his model is worth consideration.

Even if you decide that Kaiser’s model is wrong or unrealistic for your setting, I do believe it could be incredibly helpful to return to the question I started with:

“Who gets to decide what in your church?”

A lack of clarity around this question can lead to major problems in churches.

These are the conflicts that lead to church splits and effective leaders leaving for greener pastures. Clarity is crucial here. So, let’s take a look at the model that Kaiser proposes.

(Note that we chose to change some of the wording that Kaiser uses in his book in order to contextualize ideas.)

What the Board's Job Is

What exactly is the role of your board? What kinds of decisions are board members involved in?

If your answer is something like:

“Ummm... well... uh... stuff?”

Don’t worry! You’re in good company. I believe that there is confusion here in most churches.

In Kaiser’s model, the board’s role is to GOVERN.

What does this mean? First, it means that the board establishes the guiding principles of the church. According to Kaiser, these principles establish the rules of the game.

This coming weekend is the Super Bowl so let’s use football as an analogy. The rules of football explain how a team scores and wins and also what is permissible and what isn’t. In other words, what is out of bounds and what will draw a penalty.

These are the guiding principles of football.

So, the role of the board is to establish what it looks like to win as a church and what behavior or tactics are out of bounds.

Said another way, the board decides what the goals are and what the senior pastor can’t do.

Central to these guiding principles is the overall goal of the church given to us by Jesus: To make disciples.

What the Board's Job Is Not

Now, let’s talk about what the board’s job isn’t. Again, let’s use football as an analogy.

It is not the board’s job to evaluate what plays the coach is calling. It is not the board’s job to make decisions on who plays and who is on the bench.

In other words, according to Kaiser’s model, it is not the job of the board to evaluate the tactics the senior pastor choses for ministry. In his book, he puts it this way:

“If an activity is not illegal, unethical, imprudent, or unbiblical, the board has no legitimate interest in forbidding it to the staff and the people working with them in ministry”

So, to use the example we started with of a children’s ministry redecorating its ministry spaces, the board should not be involved in the decision of whether or not to redecorate or even who is leading the children’s ministry.

Ok. Well, who then is involved in these decision?

What The Senior Pastor's Job Is

This question brings us to the next role in Kasier’s model, the senior pastor. Let’s return to football to explain the senior pastor’s role.

In Kaiser’s model, the senior pastor is the head coach. The head coach decides how the team will play the game. He or she decides on what types of plays, who is on the field, when to call timeouts, etc.

According to Kaiser, the senior pastor’s role is to LEAD.

The senior pastor sets the vision of where the church is going and the tactics employed to get there.

The senior pastor oversees the staff team, whether paid or unpaid and they are all responsible to him or her.

The senior pastor is the only person responsible to the board.

The board holds the senior pastor accountable to the guiding principles.

In other words, if the football team is winning games, the senior pastor is rewarded and if the senior pastor misses the playoffs three years in a row, the senior pastor loses his or her job.


And, back to the decision of evaluating the children’s ministry and redecorating their ministry spaces. These decisions are in the realm of the senior pastor. Hopefully, he or she chooses to delegate the paint colors but at the end of the day, the senior pastor decides whether or not the children’s ministry is effective and whether or not changes need to be made in personnel.

What The Staff's Job Is

Ok, what about the rest of the church staff team?

This is where most of us find ourselves.

You might think of the rest of the church staff as all the assistant coaches and personnel of a football team’s coaching staff. They don’t make the big picture decisions but they design plays, purchase and maintain equipment, advise the head coach, oversee travel schedules and develop players.

According to Kaiser the role of the church staff is to MANAGE.

The staff isn’t directly responsible to the board, in fact the board should not be swooping in to critique and evaluate what the staff is doing.

No, the staff is responsible to the senior pastor who is the Head Coach of the team. It is the staff’s job to manage and implement the vision of the senior pastor.

What the The Church's Job Is

Now, what about the attenders of your church?

Well, you can probably see where this is going.

They are the players in the game. They execute the plan.

You might be thinking, but let’s be real, the staff are the real players. The volunteers just support what the staff is doing.

I think we might have this backwards. Paul writes to Ephesus:

"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up..."

Ephesians 4:11-12

The role of the staff is to equip the church for ministry—that is making disciples, which again, is the overall goal of the church and what the entire operation should be focused on. And so, Kaiser describes the church’s role as MINISTRY.

Wrap Up

So, under Kaiser's model, the ideal job for each role looks like this:

I’m not sure what you think about Kaiser’s model but I would encourage you to read this book because it might bring a measure of clarity.

I’m not saying you need to implement this leadership structure in order to be effective but I do believe that fighting for clarity around the question of “Who decides what?” could be a game changer for you and your church.

Clarity could keep you away from major conflict and it could lead your church to a place of greater effectiveness in ministry.

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Perhaps you follow a different model that works really well in your context or maybe you have experience in this model.

Feel free to leave us a comment below.

Topics: Advice

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