8. Carver, Governance, Policy and Local Church Governance – Are they Compatible?

What is the essential principle or presupposition that guides the Carver Policy Governance model? A volunteer board in a non-profit institution must “provide strategic leadership, it must clarify policies and expect organizational activities to give them life.”1 The key question the board must answer, according to Carver is this – What human needs are satisfied by our institution, for whom, and at what cost? Or to put it another way, what is lost if our institution ceases to exist? Carver’s desire in developing this model is very basic – to enable the board to address the most significant issues that define and affect the institution and lead. It is all about acting concertedly to make a difference.

What is the essential function of the Elders Team or the Deacons Board in a local church? When you strip away all of the stuff, what is its primary responsibility? I would suggest job one is keeping the church spiritually focused on fulfilling the Great Commission. It seeks to ensure that the local church stewards all of its resources so that human beings in that local community connect with God and live in sacrificial obedience to Jesus as Lord, forming a healthy Kingdom community. You might define it somewhat differently, but the church board ensures that the local church keeps focused on the main thing and thus enables that church to make a difference for God in its community.

Church boards committed to being missional for God can use Policy Governance as the means to discipline themselves to act missionally. Since it is the board that defines values and is entrusted by the congregation to fulfill the church’s mission, all of the board’s work in a Policy Governance framework is theologically centred and grounded. There does not seem to be any essential incompatibility between Policy Governance as defined by Carver and the essential function that a church board must fulfill for a local church to be healthy. This is not to say that Policy Governance is the only model that will achieve it. However, it can be an effective model for a church board to use.

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  • 1John Carver, Boards That Make a Difference. A New Design for Leadership in Nonprofit and Public Organizations (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1997, second edition), 26.
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