Governance systems in churches and non-profits are often antiquated, discouraging and massively complicated. The result is that it is hard to make decisions, know who is responsible, ensure results and create accountability. The result is that the return on mission is significantly compromised.
There are five simple principles that should apply to any governance system. You can also measure your own governance against these five principles and determine if there is reason to rethink how you do governance. Often systems that worked in one season do not work in another.
Keep it simple
There has been a tendency to make governance systems complicated because we are afraid that someone will make a poor decision. The real result is that you have to make decisions more than once, with multiple parties making for a complicated and time consuming process.
Keeping it simple means that:
- There is only one board
- Decisions do not need to be made by multiple groups
- The decision making path is clear and understood
- Decisions can be made in a reasonable time
Keep it clear
Clarity means that everyone knows who is responsible for what, that there is not overlap or ambiguity in responsibilities and that individuals and groups know their responsibilities and the limits to those responsibilities. Clarity is particularly important between those things that are delegated to a senior pastor, staff as apposed to areas which are the responsibility of the leadership board. When that clarity is not present there is confusion at best and conflict at worst. In congregational government the congregation often signs off on items such as sale and purchase of property, changes to the bi-laws, the calling of a senior pastor, election of the leadership board the annual budget. Again, there should be clarity on what goes to the congregation and what does not.
Keeping it clear means that:
- Everyone knows who is responsible for what
- There is not overlap in responsibility
- Decision making pathways are always clear
Keep it empowered
Empowerment means that those who are responsible for certain areas also have the authority to make decisions for those areas. If the Senior Pastor or non profit leader is given responsibility, he/she should also have the authority to act. The same for those areas under the purview of staff. This is not about turf but about the ability to make effective decisions in an efficient manner.
Keeping it empowered means that:
- Those who have responsibility have authority to act in those areas
Keep it accountable
One of the reasons that clarity is so important is that ambiguous governance systems (where multiple groups are responsible for a decision) make accountability for decisions equally ambiguous. Any time an individual, group or a board have responsibility and authority they must also be accountable for the outcome of their decisions. Empowered governance means that those responsible can act within their scope of responsibility but always with accountability for the results of their decisions.
Keeping it accountable means that:
- Those responsible for decisions are also accountable for those decisions
- All actions should be consistent with the mission of the organization
Keep it focused
Our focus must first be on Jesus and then on the mission He has given us. Mission drift is endemic in churches and Christian non-profits because leaders have not done the work they need to do to keep the most important things most important.
This also means that we are committed to alignment around the priorities and direction we have committed ourselves to. All directional arrows of all ministries and initiatives should be pointed directly at the bulls-eye of our mission and vision. When they are not, we have lost focus!