Governing Board Summary (Download)
by Doug Talley
Historically, churches and other not-for-profits have often used a business model (based on the concepts of leadership and management) for the primary board. However, that model tends to not work very well in the local church, partially because it distracts the local congregations from their mission and often hand cuffs the church in the pursuit of its mission. And accomplishment of the mission is the primary reason the church exists.
After observing that the business board model did not work well for not-for-profits, John Carver developed a model frequently called Policy Governance. His primary work on this model is Boards That Make a Difference. The governance approach has been refined by Dr. John Kaiser (Winning on Purpose) for use in the local church and renamed the accountable model of leadership.
In the leadership/management model the primary board makes decisions on behalf of the church and the lead pastor carries them out. Two basic reasons this model fails to empower the church to accomplish its mission are because 1. board members are not trained to lead and manage the day to day ministries of the church, and 2. board members aren’t on-site daily to engage in immediate decision making and implementation. The result is the leadership/management model becoming a bottleneck for the health and growth of the church.
Governance or the accountable model of leadership is based on the primary board establishing policies that direct the primary pastor and empower him or her to lead the church in the accomplishing of its mission and does not require hands on involvement by the primary board. These policies direct the pastor (and subsequently any other staff) in outcomes desired and empower him or her to accomplish those outcomes.
Two of the most common structures are bureaucratic and authoritarian. In the bureaucratic structure, there is responsibility for accomplishing something but not the authority. So the purpose often gets lost in the seemingly endless process of getting permission and approval. This system is safe but not effective. In the authoritarian structure, there is the power to get the job done but no accountability. This system can be effective but is not very safe. Governance adds a third component that connects responsibility and authority so that the mission is accomplished in a safe and effective manner.
The accountable model of leadership involves the development of a set of governing policies called Guiding Principles. These principles are divided into these sections: mission, boundary and accountability principles.
These are addressed from the governing board to the primary pastor and identify the mission of the church in outcome terminology. For example, the comprehensive mission principle might read, In order to glorify God by bearing much fruit, First Church exists to lead people into a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ. We exist so that people in our ministry area will become committed followers of Jesus Christ.
A further level of principles would typically be developed to describe what making more and better disciples means so that the governing board is able to convey to the lead pastor what is to be accomplished. Mission Principles do not focus on activities but end results since the mission of the church is not to conduct religious services but to fulfill the Great Commission.
These are addressed from the governing board to the primary pastor and identify the boundaries within which the primary pastor (and staff) must work as he or she leads the church in accomplishing the Mission Principles. The comprehensive boundary principle might read, The Lead pastor shall not cause or allow any practice, activity, decision, or organizational circumstance that is unlawful, imprudent, unethical, or unbiblical.
Further detail can be added to specify what that entails so that the boundaries have more clarity. These principles give the primary pastor not only the responsibility for accomplishing the mission of the church, but also the authority needed to fulfill the mission. The pastor is empowered to use whatever means he or she believes is appropriate and necessary to accomplish the purpose within the boundaries established by the governing board.
These are addressed to the governing board and define the board’s process of governing, including how the board relates to the congregation, the board itself, and how the lead pastor relates to the board. These principles identify how accountability will be provided for the lead pastor and the board. The comprehensive boundary principle might read, The responsibility of the board before God, on behalf of people and the surrounding region who need to be led to Christ and nurtured in Him, is to see that First Church, through the leadership of its Lead Pastor, (1) achieves the fulfillment of its Mission Principles, and (2) avoids violation of its Boundary Principles.
Additional detail of the boundaries would be provided so that there is clarity on what accountability looks like and how it is accomplished. The function of these principles is not to provide a magnifying glass through which the governing board evaluates every action of the pastor. Rather, they are intended to provide protection for the lead pastor, the governing board, and the congregation, as well as protect the integrity of the lead pastor. This accountability feature combines responsibility and authority in a manner that empowers the accomplishing of the mission.
Since governing boards do not manage, or micromanage as is often the case, they do not need to meet as frequently as leadership/management boards do. Nor do they need to be as large. A governing board in a local church would likely meet quarterly and consist of 3-7 people, including the lead pastor as a full-fledged member. The optimum number of persons in most cases is five. The lead pastor is the only staff person who is on the governing board and meets with it regularly. This means the only access the governing board has to other staff is through the lead pastor and the Guiding Principles, thus protecting the integrity of the accountability process.
A board meeting would include a time of vision casting and spiritual instruction by the lead pastor, training and leadership development, review of Guiding Principles (over a two year period), monitoring of progress being made towards goal accomplishment through reports (accounts) given by the lead pastor, and keeping in touch with the community and the congregation. The pastor could be chair as he or she would lead much of the meeting as the Chief Visionary Officer of the church. If the pastor does serve as chair, then another board member should be selected to serve as Chief Governance Officer and handle the accountability component of the board since it is not appropriate for the pastor to lead the board in holding him or herself accountable.
In the last quarter of each calendar year the lead pastor submits goals for the following year. These goals are developed by the lead pastor and staff (paid and/or unpaid). The litmus test question the board asks is, “If these goals are accomplished, will our Mission Principles be fulfilled?” There may be some negotiation between lead pastor and board on the goals in order to ensure that the goals to lead to mission accomplishment. At the end of each calendar year, the pastor gives an accounting to the board of goal accomplishment and includes enough information to verify that the accountability principles were followed. Goal and mission accomplishment become significant influences of the lead pastor’s pay increase for the coming year. If the accountability process reveals significant lack of accomplishment, the board may require that the pastor develop a performance improvement plan for the following year.
All staff (paid and unpaid) work for the lead pastor and are hired and fired by him or her. Operating within the approved budget and the boundary policies set by the board, the pastor is free to hire staff as he or she deems necessary and appropriate for the accomplishing of the mission principles. One of the lead pastor’s primary tasks is developing of the staff and aligning their ministry responsibilities with the mission and vision of the church. Just as the governing board holds the lead pastor accountable for operating according to the Guiding Principles, so does the lead pastor hold the staff accountable. Under no circumstances does the governing board get involved in staff issues other than as it relates to the lead pastor. If a staff member approaches the governing board regarding the lead pastor, the approved grievance policy must guide the board’s involvement.
The pastor is responsible for identifying the core ministries of the church and then recruiting staff (paid and/or unpaid) to lead and manage them. The size of the church will play a role in the number of core ministries. A governing board member may serve in a ministry position in the church in addition to the board, but cannot serve in a staff role leading a core ministry (due to the conflict dynamic created if the lead pastor is in a accountable relationship with the Governing Board and then a Governing Board member is in an accountable relationship with the pastor as staff, it is cross accountability and can create conflict.)
The lead pastor may choose to seek the wisdom and insights of governing board members on ministry, management, or staff issues. It is advised that such conversations take place after the conclusion of a board meeting so that the board doesn’t confuse management with its function. In these situations the lead pastor is in no way obligated to follow the suggestions offered by any board members or even by the board collectively. Management and means are the lead pastor’s responsibility, and the board must diligently honor those boundaries.
DLT Version 11-24-08