In this series of articles the focus is on the development of a Board Governance Manual as a tool to stimulate good governance and to capture the wisdom of the board. One of the first things to consider is to discern where in the hierarchy of “board limitations” such a manual should be situated.
1. From the standpoint of a church board the ultimate mandate for its work arises from biblical principles and specific instruction. Every principle that guides a church board’s operation should either be stated in Scripture or consistent with biblical values. The congregation does represent in some form “the body of Christ” and thus should express the values of Christ.
2. A church board must also give attention to external legal requirements established by the jurisdiction in which the congregation exists. For example, in Canada Federal and Provincial legislation has something to say about the organization and operations of nonprofit charities, the category within which most congregations operate from the standpoint of these respective governments. There are reporting requirements, financial restrictions, labour laws, privacy of information requirements, harassment prevention stipulations. If your congregation owns property and buildings, then safety regulations must be followed. This applies not just to physical safety, but also to potential abuse occurring on the property.
3. Most congregations have a constitution and set of bylaws which define their purpose and outline how this organization is governed, how people become members, and what its primary outcomes will be. As Laughlin and Andringa (Good Governacne for Nonprofits) suggest, “the bylaws usually constitute the message from the members to the board as to their expectations for the board” (18). Within the bylaws the selection and appointment of church board members (elders and/or deacons), as well as the mandate for the board, will be defined. Specifically the bylaws normally will express what decisions the congregation reserves for itself and what areas of decision-making it delegates to the board. In some denominational settings the bylaws will also define how the congregation relates to the denomination. This may affect how pastoral leaders are selected and appointed, how property is owned and managed, and what financial obligations the congregation has to the denomination.
4. We then consider the level at which the board’s own operational policies and procedures fit into this hierarchy. If we follow Carver’s model for nonprofits, then these policies will define how the board exercises governance, definition of ends policies, the board’s linkage with the executive leader, and limitations on the executive leader’s actions. Laughlin and Andringa’s model includes “introduction and administration,” “organizational essentials,” “board structure and processes,” “board–CEO/staff relationship,” and “executive parameters” (Appendix A, 179-99). The parallels between these two outlines is fairly obvious, as well as some distinctions. Whether or not a board has a formal governance manual, it still formally or informally has to work through and follow some kind of guidelines in such matters.
5. Then there are the administrative policies and procedures developed and used under the direction of the executive leader. Church boards usually expect their executive leadership to have the necessary wisdom and competence to know what these should be and have the ability to develop them. The board may specify in its policies, for example, that the executive leader will ensure that an employee policy and procedure manual is in place and that it complies with regional labour laws, but then delegate its preparation to the executive leader who reports its completion.
6. Finally there may be additional organizational policies that may be guide behaviour and perspectives in broad areas of congregational life. These may be developed by various groups within the congregation. For example, the a criminal records check policy may be developed that applies to all leadership positions in the congregation, but especially for those roles that interact with children and youth. Or perhaps the board in cooperation with the pastoral leadership develops a policy regarding the conduct of weddings within the church premises. Or there may be need to develop a broadly conceived facility usage policy. While these policies do not necessarily belong at either levels 4 or 5, they do affect the life of the congregation in broad terms.
Congregational leaders, including board chairs, need to know how to generate, revise or repeal policies at levels 3-6. Further, board chairs need to have broad awareness of all policy levels so that he/she can advise the board appropriately. Occasionally conflict will occur as one organizational level seeks to develop and implement policy that affects another part of the organization in ways it does not appreciate. Church board chairs often have to give leadership in resolving such differences.