Clergy Conflicts

In Board Development, Strategic Planning by Geoff Burns

While it might seem strange, having a member of clergy on the board of your religious charity may not be the best idea, especially when it comes to advocacy and fundraising. Who wouldn’t want the leadership and direction of clergy when addressing the issues facing a religious organization? Clergy provide sound doctrinal advice, are passionate about ministry, have access two a whole flock for support, but are they really the best choice for your organization?

Before I continue, please understand that there are always exceptions to the rule and I in no way am aiming to bash clergy.

Why are these seemingly great prospects such a concern? All the factors seem favorable: Name recognition, network, education, passion for ministry, servanthood, etc. Think for a minute about some typical roles of clergy.

Their first responsibility is to their flock, their congregation. Think about attendance at board and committee meetings. Do you think that the pastor will tell the family of a dying man that he can’t come because he is in a board meeting? Although not common, it is an issue, and depending on the size of the congregation and the role of the pastor, could be more of a concern than not.

Think about name recognition. Many pastors are known locally. Few are known throughout the city. Lesser known clergy don’t typically bring the presence and recognition that a board of directors needs. If they do, then it likely means that the person is so busy in the community already that he/she won’t be able to make the commitment needed to lead your organization.

Networking is another key area where clergy have high marks. Access to a captive audience is natural. At least weekly, a pastor can reach many people who are used to giving to religious causes. However, the pastor is the shepherd of the flock. According to Barna.org, only 5%-7% of Christians tithe, meaning they give 10% of their income to the church. Even in conservative evangelical congregations where tithing is highest, the numbers only reach 24%. Consider the clergy who must run the operations of the church with less funds than perceived. Do you really think that a clergy member is going to advocate for their flock to support another organization when only 5-7% are supporting the church? Even if the pastor is willing to give to your organization, the fear is that any giving that could be achieved from the church base to your organization is now going to be a reduction to the church coffers.

Servanthood and Ministry are also assets to your organization. But think again on your organization. If the church felt that your ministry was so important and worth supporting, wouldn’t it be done by the church? Again, an individual pastor may have a heart for your organization’s mission, but don’t expect much beyond the individual pastor.

In the end, it is up to the organization to properly identify and vett prospects including clergy to make the best decision to support the organization and its mission. Some clergy may be a great fit, but exercise due diligence when considering any prospect for your board of directors.