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Centerboard: Spiritual Discernment in the Decision-Making Process

January 2012
By: Tom Lothamer

The job of the board of directors is to make decisions on behalf of the organization. Some decisions will be simple or routine; others — such as initiating new programs, cutting programs or staff, changing a name, and so forth — will have a lasting impact. How should a board make those decisions?

Because the Lord is the owner of a Christian ministry, it is the board's joy, privilege, and responsibility to discern His will and plan for His ministry. Because members of a ministry's board are (or should be) mature believers in Christ, one might think coming to agreement about what God's will is in a particular situation would be easy. But, as many boards have found, there can be as many opinions about and methods for discerning God's will as there are members on a board!

All decisions require wisdom and discernment, but especially the difficult ones. How is a board — a purposely diverse group — to come to agreement on serious matters?

The assumption is often made that every member comes to the boardroom table "prayed up," living in close harmony with the Lord, ready to offer wise counsel. And, when boards meet, they often spend time focusing on Scripture and praying for faith and wisdom. A PCC board will not be like the small group at church where you go for fellowship and accountability; however, members can encourage and challenge one another in faith, spiritual growth, grace, following God, sensitivity to the Holy Spirit's leading, and so on.

ALL DECISIONS REQUIRE WISDOM AND DISCERNMENT.

Board members do, however, vary in their walk with the Lord. What if a member seems to lack spiritual discernment, falling back on worldly patterns of decision-making or becoming contentious? That person needs loving correction by the board chairperson. If the pattern persists, he or she may need to be asked to leave the board.

A person's mind is renewed and transformed by reading God's Word and conforming deeds, thoughts, and attitudes to it (Romans 12:2). We shouldn't read the Bible with an agenda — to find a passage or verse that supports a position we're taking on an issue before the board — but rather with humility and a desire to learn what pleases God. Scripture also needs to be handled properly, with careful interpretation (according to the context) and application.

The book of Acts gives several examples of Christian decision-making, but two stand out as instances where leaders made decisions on behalf of the larger organization. The first is in Acts 6:1-7 where "the twelve" solved a practical problem for the Jerusalem church, and the second is in Acts 15:1-29 in which the apostles and elders solved a theological dispute for the Church everywhere. While a PCC is not a church, it might be a good exercise for your board to look at both cases together in order to come up with some principles of discernment and decision-making.

Let me list a few practical questions that I've derived from my own Bible study and experience serving on boards that can help a governing body work though a decision-making process:

Does the proposal align with Scripture? (Does it violate a clear command? Does any aspect of this proposal violate a general principle of God's Word?) Many options available to PCCs pass this test; but, obviously, not all can be undertaken. 

The next questions would be:

Does it align with the center's mission and vision statements? Will it impact the center's mission positively or negatively? Should the center's mission be changed?

Does it fit within the current strategic plan, or might it be added to the next phase without hindering other already-agreed-upon actions?

Do we have the resources and staff necessary to carrying out the proposal? Having (or not having) funding for a proposed course of action isn't necessarily a deciding factor. If funds or other resources are presently unavailable, might there be reason to believe they'll be available in the future? Stepping out in faith can be appropriate.

OBEY WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW TO BE GOD'S WILL FROM GOD'S WORD.

By the same token, if funds are available, does that automatically mean the proposal should move forward? Let's say a donor offers your center $50,000 to start an adoption program. While such a proposal would not be a violation of point 1 above, points 2 and 3 bear consideration. Rather than assuming ready financing indicates God's favor, the PCC board must be willing to turn it down should it be irreconcilable with the center's mission and vision.

Under further consideration of point 4, $50,000 may not be enough to carry out such a proposal. Current staff may not be able to handle the added work. Count the full cost!

Other factors to consider:

What are the obstacles or barriers to carrying out this proposal? Have any been overcome already? Which ones remain, and how significant are they?

Is the board united on this proposal, or is there dissent? What is the nature of the dissent? If dissent is trivial — based on fear of change or personal preference — time and further discussion may alleviate it. If dissent is serious — based on ethical, moral, or biblical questions — the proposal should be tabled or dropped.

Has the board spent a span of time praying over the matter? There's no formula for prayer or prescribed length of time for awaiting an answer, but the board should determine together a timeline for resolving to proceed or decline.

Of course, prayer shouldn't be the last point, but the one that permeates all the above. In 1 Kings 3:5-9 we read King Solomon's prayer as he assumed the throne: "Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil." It pleased God to grant his request, and we know from James 1:5 that it is one He will grant us as well.

We have been given resources to help us make decisions. Boards need not stumble in the dark or remain frozen in indecision.

During times of indecision, it's helpful for individual members of the board to reflect on God's love and grow in desire to love Him — heart, mind, body, and soul. Obey what you already know to be God's will from God's Word. Then, as brothers and sisters in Christ all engaged in a similar spiritual quest, the board should corporately be able to distinguish His voice from others as it relates to the business of planning and decision-making for the ministry. Allowing the Lord to create this environment in our lives and the board room will lead to joy and growth of the ministry.

Tom Lothamer is President of Life Matters Worldwide in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information, go to www.lifemattersww.org.



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