Anyone conversant with “governance” issues and practice within local churches knows full well the tensions and debates this term generates. Some Christian leaders struggle with its “corporation” flavour and apparent dissonance with the “family” language employed in the New Testament to describe the faith community and its leadership. Others resist the characterization of a congregation as a “non-profit agency,” presumably because it somehow conflicts with the essence of the body of Christ as they understand it.
As I have suggested in earlier blogs the term “governance” is connected with Greek words that describe a navigator or navigation, i.e. the process by which a ship is guided to its destination safely (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28 kubernēsis, translated as “gifts of administration” in the NIV). Governance is a competence supplied by God to help the body of Christ achieve its potential, i.e. accomplish its mission. The “shape” and expression of this competence gets formed by Spirit-given virtues such as love, joy, peace, gentleness, patience, kindness, etc. It serves to guide, resource, and protect a local church, as it pursues its mission under God. Leaders described as “managers (oikonomoi),” “assistants (diakonoi),” and “supervisors/guardians (episkopoi)” exercise this gift on behalf of the local congregation. This practice of governance must reflect the essence and values of the local church as the family of God. Governance is a means to an end, never the end in itself.
I propose that we describe the application of governance principles and practices specifically within a local church as “missional governance.” This kind of governance provides strategic ministry leadership within a congregation so that it effectively accomplishes its God-given mission in full conformity with its “family-of-God” character. New Testament materials indicate that such leadership found expression in plurality or team contexts, was accountable to the congregation, provided caring, spiritual “parenting” for the congregation, and represented the interests of the congregation in the larger community.
“Missional governance” finds it roots and coherence in the “mission of God” expressed in the life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Messiah. It is enabled by the resident power of God’s Holy Spirit, because this new faith community is “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” This work of spiritual “navigation” gains its character and values from the faith which defines the Messiah’s community. Paul summarizes these in the words “faith, hope and love.” The forms of the Messiah’s community must be fully consistent with the Messiah’s message and mission. “Missional governance” embodied in the caring leadership of a local congregation creates a significant voice for the Gospel in the larger community. When applied well and effectively “Missional governance” enables a local congregation to exhibit kingdom life imbued with God’s grace, God’s holiness, and God’s love. However, as with any aspect of kingdom ministry it requires a sacrificial spirit and a willingness to carry the burden of spiritual leadership.
We can measure effective “Missional governance” by assessing the degree to which a local congregation enjoying such leadership exhibits the “fruit of the Spirit,” demonstrates and proclaims “the virtues of God,” and exercises a prophetic voice within its community. Its proper practice is one way the local church worships God.
What then would be some key principles defining “Missional governance”?
1. Governance that is embodied in a plurality of spiritual leaders who understand that humility, serving, caring, integrity, and courage must be hallmarks of their collective leadership.
2. Governance that is focused on advancing the congregation’s mission through building the spiritual vitality of the congregation. It requires personal commitment to Jesus’ mission and its expression in the life of that local congregation.
3. Governance that understands the source of its authority in the trust given to it by the congregation and defined in the congregation’s bylaws. Governance that accepts and welcomes its accountability to the congregation as “stewards of their trust.”
4. Governance that understands how to delegate responsibility and authority, along with necessary accountability.
5. Governance that makes decisions that are missional, values-based, and good for the entire body. It is decision-making that is non-partisan, indifferent to personal interests, and totally committed to discerning God’s direction.
6. Governance that has the courage to take risks for the sake of the Kingdom, but is also committed to living with consequences of its decisions.
7. Governance that is committed to learn and enhance its capacity to be more effective for God and for the good of the congregation.
8. Governance that demonstrates transparency, knows how to work confidentially, and models integrity.
9. Governance that is not arbitrary, but rather is based upon clear process, good policy, and mutual respect, believing in the collective wisdom of God’s people. It works consistently in compliance with legal requirements.
10. Governance that is inspired by the hope of the Gospel, believing that God is doing his work and that prayer is the necessary condition for such “navigation.”
At its best “Missional governance” discerns the will of God and navigates the life of the congregation to accomplish that will for the glory of God.