On a recent coaching call with church leaders, I inquired if the leadership board had set their annual goals. After a long explanation as to why, the bottom line answer was no they had not.  The reason they had not is that they had not had the time to do so. And, why was it that they had not had time for this important work?  They were too busy managing the day-to-day operations of the church. Many of you may be wondering why this is a problem.  Isn’t this the role of the leadership board/council?  Historically or in typical practice, this is how many of our boards/councils function.  However, in best practices, this is not recommended.  When a board/council is managing it leaves no entity to govern.  Thus, the governance work is left undone!

What is this important governance work?  In the life of the church, there are four areas of focus for governance work: fiduciary, strategic, generative, and accountability.  Church leaders typically do a fairly good job in the fiduciary area.  However, because of the tendency to manage instead of govern in the role of the board/council, the other three areas of governance responsibilities are neglected.

What is the outcome when strategic, generative, and accountability responsibilities are not carried out by boards/councils?  Typically churches are not missionally focused, but are instead maintenance-focused (i.e., building, ministries, funding) or perhaps even focused on living in the past. Leaders are many times concentrating on maintaining existing relationships and pleasing the existing congregants as the highest priority rather than focusing on reaching those in the neighborhood who do not yet have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Churches often become irrelevant and invisible to their neighbors.

In contrast, what is the outcome when councils/boards govern instead of manage?  When boards stay in their governance lane and empower ministry leaders in their day-to-day ministry within healthy boundaries through guiding principles created by the board, the board then has the bandwidth and focus for their own work. This work includes annual strategic ministry planning to set church-wide goals, routinely reviewing demographics in their area and making needed shifts in the life of the church, aligning and leveraging the resources of the church with the mission, vision, and core values of the church, holding the pastor accountable for the church’s goals, monitoring the community context for any changes, and modeling spiritually mature leadership.

Too often the management lane in churches is overcrowded and the governance lane has long been abandoned.  Without governance, a church will meander into the ditch!  It is absolutely critical to have leaders concentrating on this important “balcony work” or the church will not be effective in its mission and fruitfulness.

If your church leadership is stuck in managing and desires to move into governance, there are resources available to help you take next steps to get there.  If you haven’t already picked up a copy, consider using Mission Possible 3+ as a resource.  Or perhaps consider the Local Church SAS Subscription for access to a host of resources or work with a Certified SAS Coach.