Monday, July 9, 2012

Policy Based Governance

Policy Governance® is an integrated set of concepts and principles that describes the job of any governing board. It outlines the manner in which boards can be successful in their servant-leadership role, as well as in their all-important relationship with management. Unlike most solutions to the challenge of board leadership, its approach to the design of the governance role is neither structural nor piecemeal, but is comprehensively theory based.  Google this and John Carver to see the origins of this idea and the ways in which this structure has been utilized.

In the Church, policy (or outcome)-based governance governs according to the vision and outcomes of the Convention and District.  The board of directors or the convention lays out the broad vision and the task of accomplishing that vision lies to the structures supporting the board (mainly paid staff).  Countless church bodies and congregations have found this model attractive because it effectively answers the declining interest in representative based governance in which people are appointed or elected to standing boards to design and implement policy.  Because folks seem not to be interested in that anymore (who can dispute this?) the scramble to do the work of the kingdom with a different structure has led churches to borrow business models.  Policy based governance is about policy -- that is the single more important area of the larger elective board (Board of Directors, for example).  They set policy, set a direction, and aim for goals.  They leave it to others and hold them accountable for obtaining the outcome desired.  They provide the financial resources to make it happen but often have little say how those resources are actually used and directed in pursuit of the outcomes desired.

Example.  We want the Church to grow.  We want it to grow quickly.  We want it to grow in a cost effective manner (defined subsidy and quick movement to self-supporting and contributing entities).  So we basically lay this goal out and let a group go for it.  We have little room to judge their methods as long as they reach their goals and do what we ask them to do.  Our evaluation is not an evaluation of the finished product but a judgement as to whether the outcome we desired was achieved (in whatever form).

I will admit to onetime thinking this all made sense.  I will admit to thinking this was a benign structural issue that was values neutral.  I will admit to thinking this was the most effective and efficient way to fill the void in congregations, districts, and the Synod -- especially where people no longer want to sit on boards and deal with the minutia and details of actually running the show.  I am not so sure anymore...

This is not values neutral.  It has an intrinsic value that trumps all others.  It invents the real authority of ministry and mission in few people, generally paid staff people, and it allows them quite a free reign to do as they please to achieve the goals asked of them.  The problem is that where staff is very theologically grounded and confessional oriented, this outcome may look solid and be a credible success in all areas of that definition.  But when the people doing the job are not so theologically and confessionally grounded, the outcome will be achieved but it may not look or act or sound like the church that charted these goals in the first place.

I know we cannot go back to the old days of people vying for elective position to sort out the nuts and bolts of what the church is and does on the daily basis...  I know that we do not have people knocking down the doors to serve on boards and committees and that meeting for the sake of meeting is not effective or encouraging the work of the kingdom either...  But I am not sure we can afford the great divide between the policy definers and the policy implementers any longer.  I fear that this is not a fad nor neutral tool for organizational or operational usage... but the critical undoing of our Church by limiting authority of the church structures to policy and by allowing non-constitutive structures the real power... and those are mostly paid staff...

Our boards and councils and committees have become passive entities.  They speak in broad terms content to delegate details to others and the effect of this all is centralization of the real authority in the hands of a few.  What we saw happen with the health care legislation in Washington is, in reality, happening every day on various levels of the church's life and work.  It is efficient but it is an efficiency which may have more destructive consequences over the long haul.  It erodes our sense of ownership.  I am constantly reminding people that there is nothing call District except the congregations and clergy of a particular place.  We r District in this place.  It turns the churches into service providers and puts all our bucks into providing those services instead of raising up Christ and setting people free to authentic witness and serve Him in the world with mercy that lifts high the cross.

I am having second thoughts about this PBG model... how about you?

You may also want to check out Pr. Peter Speckhard's article on the same in the July Forum Letter (go ahead, just subscribe!!).


Rich Kauzlarich said...

Pr. Peters: But what do you do if the representative (i.e. board-driven) model does not work because people do not want to serve on formal boards -- or even attend voters' meetings?

Anonymous said...

"people no longer want to sit on boards and deal with the minutia and details of actually running the show."

"Our boards and councils and committees have become passive entities. They speak in broad terms content to delegate details to others and the effect of this all is centralization of the real authority in the hands of a few."

Most people are not leaders. They are not decisive. Putting them on a board does not make them more competent or principled. Add to that the problem of female participation. I know this will anger some, but when you let women sit in these positions, you get greater passivity, less decisiveness, more delegation, less confidence. I have seen well meaning ladies just do what they are told and not really contribute at all. They didn't even ask interesting questions. They were just lost on the board. They were sincere, etc. They just couldn't get the jobs done. Too much concern for how people would feel and too little grasp of the big picture etc.

Rev. Dustin Beck said...

The biggest implication that I found while studying polity and leadership models during my last year of sem was the role of pastor is shifted to executive. I'm not sure a CEO pastor is what the church needs, especially when the desired outcome rests not on the pastor's shoulders, but on the Holy Spirit. Strange times we live in.

Janis Williams said...

Rev. Beck,

Correct. The CEO model is what most mega churches are built upon. Unfortunately, this model has led to a bigger problem than people refusing or failing to serve on boards.

Christ Rosebrough from Fighting For the Faith/Pirate Christian Radio (along with others) believes this leads to a form of fascism in churches.

The CEO now becomes a furher (leader) who must go to God for individual revelation of God's 'Vision' for the particular pastor and church. As if special revelation didn't have enough problems, this affects the body also. Because the pastor has received this vision, members must get 'behind' the pastor and help him make the vision come to pass. If you disagree, you are kicked to the curb (excommunicated - this is as close as these churches come to church discipline).

The board becomes a group of 'yes' men and women, and if there is disagreement, you get fired. Individual sheep are slaughtered if they are unruly. There is no shepherding taking place any longer.

Rich Kauzlarich said...

Pr. Beck and Janis: Interesting observations. But what is the model for governance if the CEO model is flawed and the old representative board model is not working?

Anonymous said...

Here is a link to a paper written by Ted Kober, President of Ambassadors of Reconciliation. He has experience with the strengths and weaknesses of Policy-based governance and recommendations for churches that have PBG. Please read it. His recommendations make a lot of sense.

Anonymous said...

It is important to properly distinguish "policy-based governance" from Policy Governance®. Policy Governance® is an integrated system of governance based on ten principles that are designed to be used together. Numerous hybrid governance approaches, such as "policy-based governance", either improperly apply or fail to incorporate one of more of these ten principles. Consequently, any critique of "policy-based governance" should not be construed as a critique of Policy Governance®. Paul Zilz, The Governance Coach,