On The Church Board

"Being on the Board" At Church Is More Than An Honor (7.13.12)

Deuteronomy 16,18: "Judges and officers thou shall make thee in all thy gates, which the Lord thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment."

In taking full responsibility for sexual abuse of minors at their school the Penn State Board of Trustees reminds us that "being on the board" of any institution- whether a Wall Street bank, a university, a multinational corporation, a local museum, or at church- is primarily a responsibility (requiring diligence and preparation) and way more than an honor.

Yet in our "just get it done" culture some boards become cliques of similarly minded insiders who occasionally throw holy water on the day to day operations and operators of the corporation. Membership has become primarily an honor, complete with perks and high public standing and social power, which does not go unwielded.

So Penn State's Trustees confession is a refreshing wake-up call. (I wonder if the board of Barclays in London will take responsibility for various machinations of the London interbank interest rates.)

And for us in the Christian church this Penn state example is an opportunity to return to our Jewish biblical roots and look upon any church board service as a call by God per Deuteronomy 16,18 above.

Acts 14,23 also clearly tells us that Paul the apostle ordained local elders (which includes the local pastor, also an elder, leading a group of elders).

If we go back even further we see that since the time of physical temples in Jerusalem there was an overseeing board led by a pair of leaders, the "Nasi" (patriarch or president) and the "beit din" (head of court). 

And this Jerusalem board, aka "Sanhedrin", were all individually ordained. They would appoint local boards, consisting of 23 members wherever there were Jewish communities with sufficient numbers outside of Jerusalem ("Beit Din," Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion (1997), Ed.s Werblowsky and Wigoder, 107)

So likewise Paul, as he went about forming and founding and recognizing churches, he ordained elders for local church boards.

He was not primarily bestowing an honor but recognizing the fitness of a particular person to serve and shoulder the responsibility of a vital office in the local church.

We Christians have all been in the local church where "the pastor does everything" or "the bishop does everything" (or perhaps the pastor's or Bishop's spouse does everything). And the church board is mostly honorary and the members are known for profesional preparation outside the church, but may not have been trained up in any way by God.

What we need to do is go back to the fullness of the various Christian offices and the fullness of the gifts attached to them, and seek out and recognize apostles, prophets, evangelists, local pastors and teachers (some argue pastor-teacher is one office, but it clearly incudes elders from whom local pastor are derived per Ephesians 4,11 and Acts 14,23).

I don't want to belabor the point,  but a word about the most important church board meeting ever held is perhaps appropriate. This so called "Jerusalem Council" decided whether gentiles had to become Jews to follow of Jesus (they said "no"). This board meeting was headed and governed by the local pastor-teacher, the apostle James and his local elders with him.

Acts 15,4 tells us that both the apostles Peter and Paul [who were also prophets] "were received by the church, and the apostles [James and others resident there in Jerusalem]  and the [local] elders.

To sum up, since local "elders" in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament were called to that office and in the Jesus era helped plant our apostolic and prophetic faith, the members of our present local church boards must demonstrate a tested faith leadership capacity as well as personal attributes akin to that of leading local pastors per 1Timothy3,1-7.

In other words, serving on a church board is more than serving on a deacon's board, and more than meeting the minimal requirements of state law, and way more than an honor.

And, with the Penn State Board of Trustees in mind,  it's a fitting time to remember this.



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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.