Why Church Governance Must Improve (and How to Start the Process)

The recent news of abuses perpetrated by pastors and priests against children and women, and subsequent cover-ups and lack of accountable oversight, are a crushing blow to the church governance. With church attendance in rapid decline and skepticism in religious institutions increasing, recent revelations about the behavior of church leadership at Willow Creek and Catholic Churches in Pennsylvania are a gut-punch to the Bride of Christ.

Scripture tells us, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Which means we don’t need the sinful acts of church leaders to add to the often-harsh words and judgments that come from the court of public opinion.

It would be easy to despair, but this is not of God. Pastor and author Max Lucado offers a healthy admonition for those prone to making blanket judgments about church leadership:

“Yet, let all believers be reminded, for every clergy person who violates a trust, there are thousands who guard it jealously. For every religious leader who stumbles, there are thousands who serve faithfully, carefully, and lovingly. This is no time for blanket dismissals.”

Corporate America Shows Us a Better Way

Prior to my years in youth ministry and at Covenant Eyes, I was a consultant that helped organizations implement the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a law passed in 2002 in response to corporate governance failures, most notably, at the Enron Corporation. After years of exploiting accounting loopholes, special purpose entities, and deceptive financial reporting, the $63.4 billion Enron bankruptcy became the poster-child of corporate failure at every level.

Sarbanes-Oxley aimed to significantly increase corporate accountability by radically increasing the independent verification of certain internal controls.

See, in most businesses (and churches), there’s a leadership hierarchy that looks something like this:

Church Governance

The problem is that the system of accountability in most churches (which was also true in most businesses prior to Sarbanes-Oxley) has an inverse relationship with the amount of power and level of risk that exist in the hierarchy. Those at the bottom often have minimal power, great oversight placed over them, and present lower overall risk of failure to the organization.

Compare this to the power, low oversight, and power to crush the soul of a congregation that exists in the hands of an influential, publicly known, charismatic senior pastor with a board or Administrative Council made up of friends, internal to the church, who know and love the pastor personally.

Scripture Is Clear–Pastors Have an Immense Responsibility

Scripture is not kind to pastors who abuse the power of their position. When the shepherds of Israel were not faithful to their role as pastors, Ezekiel 34:10 tells us:

“Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.”

God is against them? Really. Earlier, in verse 2, the King James translation says, “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves!”

James 3:1 offers these heavy words to those who want to lead God’s people, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

A friend who is a pastor once told me that a professor at his seminary began a class by saying, “Congratulations! By choosing this path, you have cut your chances of entering eternity in half.” His point being, “Be sure of your decision. The path you find yourself on is fraught with great reward and also great risk.”

For such a time as this, churches must take every measure to establish iron-clad church governance practices that elevate their institution above the serpent-infested waters of power, control, and greed.

It’s Time to Make Church Governance a Top Priority

Covenant Eyes is going all-in on helping churches and ministries win at every level, including church governance. We don’t have all the answers, but we have a staff dedicated to helping faith-based organizations identify their greatest needs.

Our specific specialty is helping churches heal and protect their organizations from pornography’s grip. This always begins with a healthy check of the church’s governance, policies, and procedures, answering questions like:

  • Does your ministry have a staff culture that allows for someone to step forward with their own struggles without being instantly condemned?
  • If a ministry leader is looking at porn, what is the scale used to determine severity and action?
  • If a leave of absence is necessary, what provisions should be supplied to the leader’s family?
  • Even if pornography is not an issue, should the entire leadership team be required to use Covenant Eyes as an additional standard of integrity before the church? (Many faith-based organizations encourage or require this.)
  • If use of Covenant Eyes is required, who will be the Ally? Who will pay for the account?
  • What systems of accountability are present around the senior pastor or ministry leader?

2 Helpful Resources for Strengthening Church Governance

After consulting with hundreds of churches, we have answers to these questions that we want to share with as many faith-based leaders as possible.

Download Our Ministry Leader’s Guidebook

A first step in protecting your staff and people from organizational risk might be to download our first Ministry Leader’s Guidebook, READY: How to Heal and Protect Your Ministry from Pornography. It’s not only free, but practical. In an area that often seems muddy and difficult to navigate, the advice in this Guidebook is actionable. Today.

Join Our Monthly Pastor’s Virtual Round Table

At Covenant Eyes, we rest on the solid rock of Jesus’ words to Peter about His Bride in Matthew 16, where he reminds us, “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” If you’re a church or ministry leader, we pray for you and want to come alongside you.

Each month we host a virtual Pastor’s Round Table. Hundreds of pastors from all over the nation join and participate in thought-provoking discussions around the topic of pornography in the church. We’d love to see you there. Registration for these events is free, but you will need to save your spot as space is limited. Sign up for the Pastor’s Round Table today!