8. Carver, Governance, Policy and Local Church Governance – Are they Compatible?

What is the essential principle or presupposition that guides the Carver Policy Governance model? A volunteer board in a non-profit institution must “provide strategic leadership, it must clarify policies and expect organizational activities to give them life.”1 The key question the board must answer, according to Carver is this – What human needs are satisfied by our institution, for whom, and at what cost? Or to put it another way, what is lost if our institution ceases to exist? Carver’s desire in developing this model is very basic – to enable the board to address the most significant issues that define and affect the institution and lead. It is all about acting concertedly to make a difference.

What is the essential function of the Elders Team or the Deacons Board in a local church? When you strip away all of the stuff, what is its primary responsibility? I would suggest job one is keeping the church spiritually focused on fulfilling the Great Commission. It seeks to ensure that the local church stewards all of its resources so that human beings in that local community connect with God and live in sacrificial obedience to Jesus as Lord, forming a healthy Kingdom community. You might define it somewhat differently, but the church board ensures that the local church keeps focused on the main thing and thus enables that church to make a difference for God in its community.

Church boards committed to being missional for God can use Policy Governance as the means to discipline themselves to act missionally. Since it is the board that defines values and is entrusted by the congregation to fulfill the church’s mission, all of the board’s work in a Policy Governance framework is theologically centred and grounded. There does not seem to be any essential incompatibility between Policy Governance as defined by Carver and the essential function that a church board must fulfill for a local church to be healthy. This is not to say that Policy Governance is the only model that will achieve it. However, it can be an effective model for a church board to use.




  • 1John Carver, Boards That Make a Difference. A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit and Public Organizations (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997, second edition), 26.
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2 Responses to 8. Carver, Governance, Policy and Local Church Governance – Are they Compatible?

  1. Tom Thornton says:

    Since Policy Governance is a unique technique to delegate responsibilities to the organization, some may believe that it needs to be modified for a church. Elders are chosen for their character qualities to perform specific responsibilities as outlined in scripture,e.g.,praying for the sick. Some elders may believe that because of their character qualities, these cannot be delegated to non-elders. Does Policy Governance allow for this in a way that does not erode holding the CEO accountable?

    • Hi Tom:
      I was checking through comments to theis website as I ended the year and noted that I had not responded to your question. My apologies.

      1. By all means the ideas that Carver presents about governance can be and probably should be modified as they are applied to board work within congregations. This is particularly the case for smaller church boards which have to carry some management functions. However, the key ideas, i.e. key board work is advancement of the mission, development and use of policies to guide board work and operations, accountability of the key pastoral leader to the board for congregational operations, and evaluation of leadership and programs, remain in my view signficant and important advances that Carver has identified re non-profit board operations.
      2. I think the resolution to your question lies in discerning that elders who form church boards wear two hats. In the one case they are board members responsible to provide through policy and other means strategic, spiritual leadership for the congregation, in a manner consistent with their mandate as the church board defined in the congregation’s bylaws. In the other case they are elders responsible for the spiritual life and health of the congregation expressed in specific ministries as you have defined. In this case, I would suggest, they function as part of the lead pastor’s ministry team, working with him to implement ministry activity within the congregation. So in the first case they are looking at the big picture, i.e. how to advance the mission of the congregation. In the second case they are immersed in specific ministry responsibilities that any elder scripturally is responsible to accomplish. One of these ministries is to serve as board member. Keeping these two elder roles distinct, i.e. board member and ministry provider, requires discernment and intentionality.

      Trust this helps.
      Larry Perkins

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