I do believe that boards within medium and large-size churches should operate within a policy governance model. This model can also be helpful for boards in smaller churches. However, no matter how carefully a board crafts its policies, it cannot create policy that takes into account every future scenario. Inevitably some situation arises that a specific policy did not consider or, if the situation clearly does not fit the policy guidelines, extenuating circumstances may cause some board members to seek approval for it despite its clear violation of policy. How should a board chairperson seek to guide a board when such situations arise?
In the first instance, i.e., a situation that the original policy did not foresee, the board has two options. If the board discerns that that the situation has enough weight or may be repeated in the future, then it can adjust policy to respond either positively or negatively to the situation. In my view, this would be a normal development of such policy. New situations always arise that require boards to reconsider specific policies and where appropriate revise the policy. This is why it is important for boards to have a regular schedule within which they review all policies so that they can recalibrate them as new situations occur and the policies get tested.
The second instance is more complex, i.e., even though the majority of board members discern that the situation plainly violates policy and they do not think the policy should be revised, nonetheless one or two board members keep pushing for some exception to be made. Motivations that urge such board members in this direction might include personal relationships with the party affected, the belief that church boards should not be bound by policy, but by the Spirit, a perception that in some manner the policy is wrongly conceived, or the conviction that the application of the policy is somehow unjust or unwarranted.
It is the case that boards can create and change policy. However, it is usually not good process for boards to disregard policy about which they have decided by formal motion. If things go sideways in such instances, the board members can be accused of abandoning “due process” and acting against their own policies. Having said that, if a board determines that there are extenuating circumstances that motivate them to allow an exception, then they can approve it. However, in such cases they should clearly state in the minutes related to that decision the key reasons why they considered such action justified.
If the majority of the board members, having considered the exceptional situation carefully do not support such a motion, and yet two or three board members continue to agitate for a different outcome, then the problem changes from one of policy management, to a question of the way the board resolves internal differences of opinion. If the majority of the board support a motion not to proceed, then those that oppose either accept the decision or, if the issue is important enough to them, they should resign. It might be possible for them to ask the chair to allow additional discussion about the decision and request the board to reconsider. However, if after that special opportunity has been granted and the majority of the board persist in their decision, then the matter should be concluded, however difficult it might be for those board members who disagree.