9. Carver, Governance, Policy and Local Church Governance — Can the Pastor handle it?

One of the key principles embedded in Policy Governance is that the board holds one person accountable for achieving the institutional ends — the Chief Executive Officer. For the CEO this is double-edged sword because on the one hand it gives tremendous flexibility within well-defined boundaries, but on the other hand puts great responsibility on the CEO for achieving the mission. Is this principle compatible with the pastoral role and if so are pastoral leaders up to the challenge? And perhaps more importantly, are church boards willing to give the pastoral leader the authority necessary to achieve the discerned outcomes?

In the Carver model of Policy Governance the board focuses upon developing policy consistent with mission, values, and ends of the organization. Once these are defined, it empowers the CEO, within specific limitations, to ensure that the organizational resources are focused upon accomplishing the desired ends. In the context of a local church, the board (which most often includes the lead pastor) would establish the policies, including the key ends they want the church to achieve. It then hands off to the lead pastor the responsibility to employ all of the resources of the local church to accomplish these outcomes. This model creates significant clarity for the lead pastor and the board as to their respective responsibilities. So long as the lead pastor is guiding the local church to achieve the outcomes within the limitations specified, the board supports the lead pastor in his role. Reporting lines are clear. The accountability of all other paid staff is to the lead pastor, not the board.

Does this mean that other elders or deacons who form the church board have no role in ministry leadership? Not at all. However, if they are assigned a ministry role in the church (i.e. small group leader, facility oversight, member care, etc.), they are accountable to the lead pastor for that role, not the board. They do not report to the board, but to the lead pastor. It may also be the case that the board assigns them a specific board responsibility (i.e. audit oversight, personnel matters, etc.) and in this case they are accountable directly to the board. So the members of the church board need to be clear as to the nature of their responsibilities and to whom they are accountable for their accomplishment.

Several key questions have to be answered if a church board plans to adopt Policy Governance as their model of leadership. First, are they prepared to empower the lead pastor (church CEO) to accomplish the outcomes the board specifies? Second, is the lead pastor prepared to accept this responsibility and run with it? Third, is the church board chair prepared to work in a disciplined way with the church board to follow these principles? Fourth, is the lead pastor prepared to let the church board chair lead the church board? If the answer to these questions is yes, then the local church may be prepared to embrace the Carver Policy Governance model and make it work for their benefit. If not, then some other model needs to be considered.

Do these elements of the Carver Policy Governance model contravene Scriptural principles? I am not aware that this would be case. In fact they may assist the local church in applying consistently and fairly the biblical principles of accountability, empowerment, and good order. Whatever model the local church may adopt, it should understand it clearly and work it consistently. Much frustration and tension arises because leaders do not agree on the model, apply it inconsistently, or do not act in accountable ways.

The Carver Policy Governance model requires both the church board chair and the lead pastor to understand their respective roles clearly and be supportive of each other in those roles. But that is a subject for another blog.

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