The Holy Spirit and Board Governance By Dr. Gary Hoag
What difference does the Holy Spirit bring to board governance?
Board members of Christ-centered churches and ministries face a great temptation. We can fall into the trap of ruling and controlling the work at a church or ministry, rather than serving as overseers of work that belongs to God.
How do we avoid this pitfall? The Jerusalem Council offers a helpful insight for us. As a board, we must attune to the Holy Spirit so that our decisions first seem “good to the Holy Spirit” and then “to us” (Acts 15:28).
In a recent conversation with Bethany Hughes, a Northern Seminary student doing her thesis on the work of the Holy Spirit, we talked about the tendency of biblical readers to focus on the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives individually. Interestingly, many texts that refer to the Holy Spirit use plural or collective language. What does this have to do with board governance?
Let’s look at three biblical texts and consider related applications.
Listen and Learn Together
In John 14:26 (parentheses mine), Jesus says,
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you (plural) all things and will remind you (plural) of everything I have said to you (plural).”
If we read this as Jesus saying each of you (singular), we miss the you (plural) point Jesus makes. The Spirit will teach us (plural) all things and remind us (plural) of everything He said.
Imagine a board meeting at which the deliberations centered on helping a ministry navigate a crisis? Board members have different views on what should be done. Might that be the time to stop, stand, and read Scripture in order to listen and learn together. To sit is to assume the posture of those who rule and control; “to stand” is to take the humble posture of service (Numbers 11:16-17). Paul would likely refer to this practice as making “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). Doing this positions boards as a group to listen and learn, to be taught and reminded by the Holy Spirit.
Pause and Pray Often
In Romans 8:14, Paul writes, “For those (plural) who are led by the Spirit of God are the children (plural) of God.” Sometimes even those who are closest to Jesus can be focused on the wrong things.
Remember Peter in Matthew 16:23?
“Jesus turned and said to Peter, Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Each and every board member must come to grips with this fact. When we are not focused on the concerns of God but on human concerns we function just like Peter, not as a child of God but as one led by the evil one. Yikes! How do we avoid this? We must be people who pause and pray often individually and collectively. This will help ensure that our oversight is led by the Spirit of God and so that our minds are fixed on the concerns of God.
Review and Reflect Collectively
In 1 Peter 1:1-2, the letter opens with this greeting, “
Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who (plural) have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance.”
We are chosen people, set apart, and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus.
When we link this reality to our board service, it is humbling to realize that God has placed us in an oversight role to make sure that the ministry we serve remains faithful to Jesus. If the ministry does not remain faithful, it will not be fruitful. A good way to stay on track is to review and reflect collectively. Most boards do self-assessment on a strategic level. This practice must include the spiritual dimension. Survey the board after each meeting.
Consider asking: How did the Spirit guide our proceedings? What did the Spirit teach us collectively at this meeting?
If you serve on a board, I suggest you regularly adopt these practices to attune to the Holy Spirit. This will help ensure that your decisions seem good to the Holy Spirit and to you as a group (in that order).
- Stand together as a board, read Scripture, and listen in silence so that the Spirit can teach you (plural) the way of Jesus.
- Pause and pray often, both individually and collectively, so that you (plural) are led by the Spirit of God and focused on the concerns of God.
- Review and reflect collectively after each meeting so that the sanctifying work of the Spirit ensures that your spiritual and strategic governance service, in an ongoing way, remains obedient to Jesus.
Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D., is president of Global Trust Partners (the international accountability entity recently birthed by ECFA). He also serves as a visiting professor at multiple seminaries and as a board member for two Christ-centered ministries. He has written or contributed to ten books including the most recent release, The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance (ECFA Press, 2018) co-authored with Wesley K. Willmer, and Gregory J. Henson.
If you want a deep Biblical perspective on Board Governance, then mark your calendars for The Outcomes Conference – April 14-16 in Dallas Texas. Dr. Gary Hoag, Dr. Wes Wilmer and Greg Henson , the authors of ECFA Press book, The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance will present four council appearing in the biblical record, and set forth a mindset, model and map for helping overseers govern God’s way.
- Gain a biblical mindset for thinking about governance, rooted in exploring councils appearing in Scripture
- Apply a biblical model with four practices to help governing boards stay on track in their oversight capacity
- Take home a board checklist for following God’s path for governance
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