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Have We Taken the Fun Out of Being a Board Member?

Ideas that can make the work of church elders and board members more rewarding, less tedious, and more fun.

For years now, I have heard something that I find troubling. I don’t hear it all the time or from every church, but I do hear it often enough that it concerns me. It is that many churches are finding it very difficult to find qualified people to serve as elders or board members[1]. The reasons run the spectrum from “We don’t have anyone qualified to serve” to “We have qualified people, but nobody wants to serve on the board.” While these reasons are very different from each other, the result is usually the same. We put the wrong people on our church boards to fill mandated positions or the church violates its own governance rules by having too few elders. Neither is a good option.

Based upon my very unofficial and mostly anecdotal research, I want to suggest that way too many potentially qualified board members don’t serve because they think it will be a terrible experience that they don’t want to endure. This is a big contrast to the words Paul wrote to Timothy in I Timothy 3:1, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer[2], he desires a noble task.” (ESV). A “noble task?” Why do so many people think otherwise and decline to serve?

I have come to believe that one of the big reasons is that way too often the work of board members is not enjoyable. People don’t like work they don’t find significant and/or enjoyable in the secular marketplace or in the church. 

What are some of the things that turn people off from serving as board members?

The work of a board member is important, and it can be difficult and sometimes draining. It reminds me of some of my experiences in my policing career. At times the work was hard and even unpleasant – occasionally disgusting. But it was important work and, all things considered, it was a fulfilling career and a noble work that I sought to do. People don’t generally shy away from work merely because it is hard but will do so if it is unfulfilling and lacks meaning. Hence, my question – “Have we taken the fun out of being a board member?”

What are some of the things that turn people off from serving as board members? That’s something to talk about, and here are some prompts to facilitate the conversation.

Sometimes board members and the pastor have very different expectations about what the job entails. Board members want to serve well and lead well. They want their work to be meaningful in the life of the church. They want to partner with their pastor in shepherding and leading the people. Pastors, however, sometimes see board members as gatekeepers – impediments even, or hurdles that must be jumped over or hoops to jump through to get things done. They are not partners in the ministry.

How do you view the role of your board members?
How do they view their role?
Are these views aligned and complimenting each other, or is there dissonance?
What can be done to address any dissonance?

Board members tell me that they want to engage in meaningful work. I’ve served as a board member at my home church for a cumulative 25 years, so I know those feelings. Although they want to focus on meaningful work, board members cannot ethically or even legally avoid the at times tedious work required by corporate laws. We need to exercise fiduciary oversight and do that well. We need to be involved in budgets, buildings, and more, but we do not need to make them the primary focus of our meetings. How might we remove some of the tediousness?

  • Consider having routine oral reports delivered in writing and distributed in advance of the meeting. If one person feels a need for clarification or more information, they can get it before the meeting and thereby save meeting time for everyone else. What kinds of oral reports might you be able to reduce to writing to save meeting time and energy for your board members?

  • Do we prepare and distribute an agenda several days before the meeting? I oftentimes have people tell me that they just cannot do this due to the demands of their job, but they seldom talk about the damage not doing so does to the board members who show up to meetings not knowing what is to be discussed or decided and having no time to prepare to do so. I recommend that board chairs ensure that the agenda is distributed to attendees at least three or four days prior to the meeting, accompanied by any materials needed to inform their decisions or prepare them for discussions. Seeing the agenda at the start of a meeting is not much help to anyone other than the person leading the meeting. Discuss with board members whether they receive a useful agenda along with materials to facilitate discussions and decisions to be made with sufficient time before the meeting to enable them to be and feel prepared? How might we do better?

  • How much time is wasted in meetings while the members debate the wording of a motion? For instance, the board is considering year-end bonuses for staff. How much time and energy goes into discussing the wording of a simple motion to allocate them? Consider including the “draft” wording of any anticipated motions on the agenda. It is oftentimes easier for a group to amend a draft motion seen in advance than it is to have the board members try to draft it collectively from scratch during the meeting.

  • Long meetings are a bummer. I often say that no great decision is made after 9 pm. When do we schedule meetings? Are attendees going to be fresh and prepared to work together, or will they be tired and worn out? Too many meetings too often wear out people, too. They become bored meetings rather than board meetings. When was the last time board members discussed the days and times and frequency of meetings to ensure optimal energy and focus and availability? My home church used to meet on Thursday evenings. Then we had a season of meeting on Sunday afternoons. Recently they returned to meeting on a weekday evening. It’s not because there is an eternal, single best day, or time to meet, but because we want to meet at the best time for the board we currently have, not the board that started meeting that day and time decades ago. Consider discussing with the team what may be the best day and time for meetings.

Do your board members have a code of conduct? If not, why not?

  • I still hear horror stories about ungodly conduct during board meetings. I have long thought that the place in a church where the fruit of the Spirit should be most evident is when its leaders gather to make decisions and to discern the will of God. But this is not always so. Do your board members have a code of conduct? If not, why not? If yes, are people held accountable to follow it? I hear tales of nasty, mean, angry, ungodly conduct by a board member during a meeting where the meeting wasn’t immediately halted, and the misbehavior (sin) immediately called out. For some reason, we seem to think that we should talk about such issues sometime later, when everyone calms down, but oftentimes that issue is never addressed other than in hallway and parking lot conversations. What is our plan for addressing such conduct during our meetings?

  • Incumbents oftentimes raise the bar for new people to join them. I’m intrigued that the Apostle Paul did not tell Timothy or Titus to create a one-year elder orientation class and a six-month internship from which to appoint overseers. He told them to find men of godly character and proven capability and appoint them to lead. What is our system of entry for prospective board members? If we have one, why is it designed the way it is? Are its components one-size-fits all (which we all know never fits anyone) or individually tailored? Why was it not needed in the first century but needed today?

  • In many churches, board members are invisible – no one knows who they are or what they do. Congregants think of them as some kind of closed little group that controls and directs things from behind a curtain as did the legendary Wizard of Oz. Most board members that I run across don’t necessarily want to be on stage every week (or often) but do want to have meaningful and regular interactions related to their responsibilities with congregants. Some can occasionally preach. Some can read Scripture during services. Some can pray during or after services. All would benefit from having some kind of meaningful exposure in their role among the congregation. What strategy do we have to acquaint the congregation with our board members and their responsibilities?

These are but a few ideas for restoring service as a board member to an interesting, meaningful, and – dare I say it – fun service to God and the church. I would love to hear any good ideas you may have about this so that I can share them with others. Let me know by reaching out to me at bob.osborne@efca.org. Let me know if I can help you address any issues or provide training for your team.

Having happy, focused, dedicated, godly board members is a blessing to a church and its pastor. Figuring out how to do that is something to talk about.

Let us know if we can help and how your conversation goes. Contact Bob Osborne by e-mail at bob.osborne@efca.org

This is one of a series of articles intended to facilitate and guide church leaders’ conversations about significant issues that often are not talked about among pastors, boards, and church leadership teams. Visit the EFCA West website to see prior Something to Talk About articles.


For ease of reading in this article, I will use the term board member for elders and other church board configurations.


Most EFCA churches I work with have elders that serve as the church board, but not all. I suggest that whatever type of board members a church has, they should have the same character qualifications as overseers and/or deacons as found in this chapter.

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