Recently in my reading about non-profit board governance I encountered the verb “micro-govern.” Within that context it was being contrasted with “micro-manage,” a common non-profit board dysfunction. The term “micro-govern” describes a board that operates with a very narrow or selective understanding of the scope of governance. One frequent manifestation of this would be a board which regards its responsibilities as primarily fiduciary, but ignores its mandate to establish ‘ends’ and provide strategic leadership to the agency through proactive and anticipatory decision-making.
When church boards micro-govern they tend to focus on monitoring and/or compliance, with concern to control what is happening within the congregation. Monitoring progress in achieving ends and ensuring compliance with policy are several important church board responsibilities. However, if they remain the primary focuses of board time and energy, then the board cannot serve as the strategic ministry leadership team that the congregation requires it to be. Such focuses are backwards looking, attending to decisions already made and not seeking God’s direction regarding the future. It leads to a reactionary mindset, not an anticipatory leadership.
One of the ways to gauge whether your church board is addicted to micro-governance requires a simple analysis of your recent church board agendas. If the bulk of your agendas deals with reports about what is happening, with very few items focusing upon future development or board education, then I would suggest your board is micro-governing.
Sometimes pastoral leaders like it this way. It allows them to be the movers and shakers in the congregation, driving the strategy. Of course, this will be the perspective in a so-called “pastor-led” congregational model. However, this presumes that the other board members have no wisdom to share regarding these matters or that the congregation has appointed these board members essentially to advise the lead pastor, rather than set direction. I think the proposed distinction between pastor-led and board-led is a false one. Rather biblically we find plurality of leadership and the contemporary church board model, which includes the lead pastor among its members, provides for this plurality and enables a collaborative approach to strategic ministry leadership within a congregation.
What can you do as board chairperson if you observe that your board is trapped in a mindset of micro-governance? One strategy is to spend some time in a board meeting asking the members to assess their performance as a board. The key question here would be — is their collective work advancing the mission of the congregation? If not, what needs to change? Secondly, you might seek advice from your denominational office about board development opportunities, i.e. workshops, webinars, etc. that your board might use to expand their vision of what their role should and might be. Thirdly, evaluate your board agendas. Find ways (e.g. using consent agendas) to limit the amount of board time given to monitoring activities. Begin to include more items related to strategic issues and future planning. Finally, try to improve the discipline of circulating reports prior to board meetings and expecting board members to read them before coming to the meeting so that board time is spent asking questions, rather then listening to reports.