A second significant question that a church board chair asks when it comes to evaluating board governance models is which model is most compatible with the congregation’s values (which should be the same as those of the church board). The congregation’s values will be expressed primarily in its statement of faith. However, there may be additional values expressed in documents that define the mission and the vision. Whatever values your congregation and board have adopted officially will serve as an important grid for evaluating models of board governance. The means, i.e. the model of board governance, your church board currently follows to exercise its strategic leadership presumably is somewhat compatible with those values, but maybe you as board chair have never taken time either to define what the model is and to what degree it is complies with those values. Perhaps if you did such an evaluation you might be surprised at the variance between the values and the model of board governance currently being followed.
The first step, then, in responding to this second question, requires you as board chair to develop clarity about the congregational and board values. One value that goes without saying is that the model of board governance must nestle easily and completely within biblical principles of church life and the ethical guidelines that Jesus expects his followers to emulate. If the polity that your church community follows is congregational, then the model of board governance selected must function in a way that supports generously such congregational polity. By this I mean that the board’s practices of governance happily and graciously will involve the congregation in those aspects of decision-making that are defined clearly in the church’s bylaws as its mandate.
In some cases the question of the model of board governance gets mixed up in controversy as to whether the board members should be deacons or elders or whether women and men can serve, etc. Often the question of the nature of the board’s authority becomes the point at issue. For example, if the authority of the board extends to spiritual oversight in the congregation, then does this require the members to be elders and only males? Of course theological principles will define the response. Here again your values will direct the model of board governance.
Secondly, you will need to discern which values concern issues of leadership and authority, because the model of board governance will have to be compatible with such values. For example, the church in which I serve has defined “leadership formation” (“We raise up, equip, and release leaders to realize their full potential of God’s calling on their lives”) as a significant value. So in this congregational context we need a model of board governance that encourages and exemplifies “raising up, equipping and releasing leaders.” Thus an advisory board model will not accomplish this. A management board model might, if our congregation was 150 or less. However, our size and the number of staff we employ pushes us towards a policy model of board governance. One of the policies that such a board will develop would describe how it will discern and develop new board members with intentionality. “Equipping” means that the chair will work to provide continuing education for board members in relationship to various, pertinent topics.
In terms of authority, the model of board governance selected should promote the exercise of authority that serves and cares for all within the congregation. Special interest groups should not be able to coerce the board into actions that cater to their particular agendas. As well, the board’s authority should enable pastoral leaders to provide the leadership in a way that is motivating and effective, but express clearly the boundaries of their authority to act. In other words, the model of board governance should both grant authority, but also require appropriate accountability.
Thirdly, some values will be focused more upon spiritual growth. To take another example from my own congregational context we have expressed “Loving God” as a significant value (“We are dependent on God, our creator and sustainer, and His Word, to guide our spirit-filled lives. In thanksgiving we offer our praise, prayers, gifts, and obedience”). In this setting the model of board governance chosen would have to support spiritual growth of the board and congregation, enabling worshipful work. The decision-making processes employed should give expression to biblical truth, and conscientiously rely upon God’s Spirit for guidance.
Fourthly, one category of values will be relational in focus, i.e. loving neighbour, serving others sacrificially, etc. The members of the congregation are both ‘stakeholders’ and ‘beneficiaries’ of that ministry agency. There are also other stakeholders and beneficiaries beyond the congregational boundaries that have to be considered. So your board needs to select a model of governance that enables them to attend consistently and effectively to the concerns both of internal and external stakeholders and beneficiaries. In other words the model of board governance should enable the board members to determine to what degree the agency is assisting its defined categories of clients effectively.
Younger leaders are interested in governance models that align with values of collaboration and networking. They are uncomfortable with hierarchical models or models that create silos within the organization. So you might as chair, considering this value trend and the importance of bringing younger leadership into the board context, discern a church board governance model that invites and supports collaboration between board and staff, rather than conflict or confrontation.
Fifthly, an important value for many congregational leaders is excellence. They desire the ministries of the congregation to be planned and implemented with a serious commitment to quality and excellence. This does not mean elitism, but rather recognizes that the Lord Jesus we serve in these endeavours deserves out best efforts. The model of board governance you choose should enable the board to exemplify and encourage excellence throughout the congregation’s life together.
Finally, advancing the mission of the congregation has to be a central and core value. The model of board governance should enable the board to pursue vigorously and unrelentingly this Great Commission focus. If the model of board governance enables and encourages apathy and lethargy with respect to the mission, then this model needs to be challenged.
It may be that the cluster of values that your congregation and board has chosen to define its life will require a model of board governance that is not purely one or the other, but a mixture of principles. If this is the case, then experiment with it, but keep evaluating whether there are better ways to proceed.