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Asking the Right Questions by Dr. Gary Hoag

Why should board directors ask the right questions?


At the CMA Church and Nonprofit Governance Forum in Perth, Australia, on 22 February 2019, Mal Cooke, a wise lawyer and seasoned board member made this opening comment in his workshop.

“The most significant statements you will ever make in a board room end with a question mark.”

Read that again so it sinks in. It’s profound!

Board members that ask good questions support the administration. They hold staff accountable for faithful work. They honor God with their governance, and they help the church or nonprofit they serve stay on mission.

In The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance, Wes Willmer, Greg Henson, and I wrap up the book with a chapter containing twenty questions. We included them to help boards self-diagnose areas that may need alignment or improvement. As a matter of fact, in a board training session I facilitated in Sydney, Australia, on 15 February 2019, we read through the list of twenty questions together. The activity helped that council determine two areas for board development in the coming year.

Here are three sample questions from our list of twenty. The first looks at the role of the board, the second at strategy and discernment, and the third at decision-making and risk management. I offer them with related comments.

(1) What specific illustrations or applications reveal that the council governs and serves as a Christ-centered body and not as a group of rulers controlling a business?

Biblical texts like John 11:47-50 present a council meeting starting with a question. But notice how this one reveals that the Sanhedrin was trying to rule and control the temple and the people. Their aim was self-preservation and not humble service.

“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man [Jesus] performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

 God’s design for governance is not that we sit around talking and acting like we own the operation that belongs to Him. To avoid this tendency, some boards start each meeting with a statement about their role to help them remain faithful.

(2) What spiritual oversight activities do the council and the administration engage in to discern direction from the Holy Spirit including having margin for silence to listen?

Moses poured out his heart to God in six questions coupled with a summary statement in Numbers 11:11-15. He was worn out by the complaining of the people. In response, God gave these instructions in Numbers 11:16-17.

The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.”

Notice that the overseers were to take a posture of standing at the tent of meeting. That was the place where God would come and speak. What about your meetings? Do you convene in a listening posture with margin to hear from God?

(3) What practices have the council and the administration put in place to keep obedience to God as a key filter for decision-making and risk management?

The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 gathered to consider this question: Did Gentiles who came to faith in Jesus Christ have to be circumcised? Peter makes key remarks (vv. 7-11), and his argument pivots on a question (underlined for emphasis).

After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

 Peter’s question helped them make a decision that would shape the future of the church. Likewise, boards today make decisions with lasting implications. To govern well, we must listen in discussion and ask good questions that aim at faithfulness toward God.

Got a board meeting coming up? Make a list of questions in prayerful preparation.


Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D., is president of Global Trust Partners (the international accountability entity recently birthed by ECFA). He has written or contributed to ten books including, The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance (ECFA Press, 2018) co-authored with Wesley K. Willmer, and Gregory J. Henson.


At The Outcomes Conference 2019,  Dr. Gary Hoag, Dr. Wes Willmer, CCNL, Principal, Wes Willmer Group, and Greg Henson, President, Sioux Falls Seminary will be leading a full- intensive on The Bible and Board Governance.  Here’s what they have planned for you.

The Bible and Board Governance

The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance will present four councils 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.

For more information and to register visit


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