Best Board Books #16: The Council

By John Pearson

What does the Bible say about board governance? That’s the weighty (but short and sweet—just 106 pages) commentary on what board members can discern from biblical and historical councils, such as the Council of Moses, the Jewish Councils, the Gentile Councils, and the Jerusalem Council described in Acts 15. It took three notable leaders/thinkers to tackle this topic. And beware—it’s convicting!

Book #16:
The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance, by Gary G. Hoag, Wesley K. Willmer, and Gregory J. Henson (Order from Amazon)

Gary Hoag, Wes Willmer, and Greg Henson thoughtfully and biblically draw from deep wells of discernment about governance in this new resource from ECFAPress. Gratefully, the theology is well balanced with practicality. Example:

We believe that no governing board of a Christ-centered church or ministry wants to become a case study of disaster. No such council wants the story of their oversight to report how they morphed from governing like the Council of Moses to ruling and controlling like the Sanhedrin to maintain its place in society. The truth is, it could happen to any board.” Yikes!

The authors—with impeccable credentials from other gems like The Choice and The Sower—urge boards to practice four disciplines of what they call the “council model.” The four practices: Scripture, Silence, Sharing, and Supplication. This may seem like a no-brainer at first, but—honest now—when was the last time you experienced intentional silence in your boardroom? The Council quotes Richard Foster:

“Silence frees us from the need to control others. One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying upon words to manage and control others. A frantic stream of words flows from us in an attempt to straighten others out. We want so desperately for them to agree with us, to see things our way.”

Foster concludes with this poke: “We evaluate people, judge people, condemn people. We devour people with our words. Silence is one of the deepest disciplines of the Spirit because it puts a stopper on that.”

The authors warn about four snares of the Sanhedrin and four pitfalls of the Gentile Councils: 1) Selecting people of status, 2) Employing a ruling and controlling posture, 3) Being lovers of money, and 4) Pride. On the latter they note, “…to preserve their grip over their people they had the smug audacity to bring forward bogus testimonies.” Whew!

Board service is a high calling but Hoag, Willmer, and Henson remind us—it can get messy. “To share Moses’ burdens meant the seventy would voluntarily inconvenience themselves and put the needs of the people ahead of their own.”

That’s not a bad board prospect recruitment pitch—to test the humility and character of possible nominees: “Maria—we ask our board members to ‘inconvenience themselves’ as they steward God’s work at our ministry.”

BOARD DISCUSSION: The authors list 20 “Hard Questions” (plus a nine-page study guide) that can be addressed one per board meeting—or multiple questions, perhaps, at a board retreat. Example: “Does the [board] have a selection process that prioritizes candidates for the role of [board member] based on Christian maturity and administrative gifting and that protects against scheming and exploitation?”

MORE RESOURCES: Check out the “40 Blogs. 40 Wednesdays.” color commentaries on Lessons From the Nonprofit Boardroom, by Dan Busby and John Pearson, including Lesson 39, by guest blogger John Walling, “Invest ‘10 Minutes for Governance’ in Every Board Meeting.” Order The Council and ask a board member to share a 10-minute review/taste at your next board meeting


This article was originally posted on the “Governance of Christ-Centered Organizations” blog, hosted by ECFA.
John Pearson, a board governance consultant and author, was ECFA’s governance blogger from 2011 to 2020.
© 2021, ECFA and John Pearson. All rights reserved.

This text is provided with the understanding that ECFA is not rendering legal, accounting, or other professional advice or service. Professional advice on specific issues should be sought from an accountant, lawyer, or other professional.