11. Carver, Governance, Policy and Local Church Governance: Can the Board Handle it?

John Carver states with absolute clarity that “Policy Governance offers not a mere improvement in board leadership, but a revolution in boardroom behaviour” (Reinventing Your Board, revised edition, 17). These are strong words. Any church board that might consider adopting Policy Governance as its framework for governance leadership must discern very carefully whether it wants to embrace such a revolution. To put it baldly, if a church board is not willing to accept responsibility for ensuring that the faith community is achieving its stated mission, then it should avoid Policy Governance.

Carver argues that boards up for the challenge of vigorous, governance leadership must accept this reality — “the board is accountable for everything that goes on in the organization” (Reinventing Your Board, 43). Kind of daunting! This kind of governance leadership is not for the faint-hearted, muddle-headed, or the spiritually uncommitted. To define outcomes unambiguously, to assign their accomplishment to someone clearly, and then to make sure the outcomes are being achieved effectively — this is hard, soul-filled work.

A church board  only grabs hold of Policy Governance because it wants the church to be more effective for Jesus, because it yearns for the rule of Christ to be demonstrated throughout its ministry,and  because it desires people in the community to hear and respond to the Good News. But then this board will have to change in order to work within this framework. If there is no commitment to change and to engage in the disciplined, intentional, unremitting focus on mission achievement, then the church board should steer clear of Policy Governance.

So if your church board is evaluating Policy Governance as a preferred mode for exercising its leadership, then make sure each board member counts the cost for getting the church on target. Board members must prepare to be more engaged in thinking strategically, to be more educated about significant issues, to be more willing to hold themselves and their primary leadership accountable, to be more rigorous in pursuing their agreed outcomes. It may mean a significant change in the composition of your board.

But the rewards are great.

  • No more frustrating board meetings where no direction is discerned and nothing seems to change!
  • No more acceptance of mediocrity within the board or among the key leadership!
  • No more paralyzing uncertainty as to who is responsible and who is accountable!

For church board members who discern their roles as a significant part of their Christian stewardship, such change is welcome, because they passionately want to serve Jesus well. They hold the trust of their congregation with humble seriousness. They know it is the Holy Spirit Who must give wisdom, must empower, and must encourage, but they stand ready to move as He directs, indeed, ready to suffer as He requires.

If  you truly desire your church board to lead, “to see that tomorrow is created in a better image” (Reinventing Your Board, 229), then take a very careful look at the Policy Governance mode of governance leadership. Carefully count the cost of embracing it — but also evaluate the price of ignoring it and choosing not to change.

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