Good Governance and Congregational Life
A case needs to be made for pastors and lay leaders: congregations flourish if and only if they attend to best practices in matters of governance. Sure, there might be – in the short haul – a time of seeming church effectiveness; it seems to be working; people are happy as far as we can tell and the congregation is even growing. But long term effectiveness requires and even demands attention to best practice. Just because it is a religious or “spiritual” organization does not exempt us from attending to the very best approaches to good governance. To the contrary, precisely because we do not “own” the church but that rather it belongs to God heightens the requirement for being vigilant in our approaches to governance and administration.
Congregations, like any non-profit, need capable and empowered leadership that is both transparent and accountable in its approaches to leadership and governance. And all the principles of good governance, including the obvious ones like having a clearly defined and observed conflict of interest policy, apply to the church.
And yet, you can have all the policies in place, but there is no avoiding the following: there are two individuals or roles within the congregation that are pivotal to whether all of this works. First, of course, the senior pastor or minister; like any CEO of a non-profit, they are the keepers of the flame . . . the very ones who keep the organization, that is the church, attentive week in and week out to best practice in regard to good governance. And the other is the board chair. You can have a pastor who is committed to good governance, but without a board chair who also “gets it” and honours the system, the outcome is grief – either for the senior pastor or for staff persons who do not have the confidence that the senior pastor is being held accountable for how governance is managed.
Bottom line: churches only flourish when both the senior pastor and the board chair [or the equivalent] have institutional intelligence with a commitment to best practices when it comes to their approaches to governance.
Side note: it goes without saying, but perhaps needs to be said . . . that it makes no sense whatsoever for the senior pastor to be the board chair. My own denomination [Christian & Missionary Alliance] allows for this anomaly, but institutional health demands that these two roles be separated. The best approaches to church governance foster the dynamic counterpoint between a board chair and a senior congregational leader [i.e. a pastor].