This series of blog postings about the institutional character of congregational life needs to give particular attention to how effective and flourishing congregations have a coordinated vision for worship, education and formation and mission that is sustained and leveraged through a system of governance. The genius of what works, of course, is that this system of governance actually allows for leadership that is accountable and transparent – leadership that fosters the capacity of the church to be what it is called to be – and more, to grow and flourish. The system of governance needs to be one where the church is able to grow and mature in its identity and mission and this means that the church can adapt and respond to changing circumstances – notably environmental changes.
The environment is fluid. The demographic in which the church is located changes. Or the church outgrows its facility. Or a missional opportunity and challenge emerges, for example. Or a conviction arises that the form of the liturgy needs to be adjusted or adapted or changed. And the question is whether the system of governance is one where it is possible for leadership to be exercised so that there is a wise and courageous action – a choice, a vision implemented, the right actions taken so that what needs to happen happens.
Ask the question: in your church is there the capacity of the church to not only survive but to thrive – to do what it needs to do to respond to changes and opportunities? Does the system of governance not only allow for this to happen but actually encourage it? Or is the system one that continually holds back the church from doing what needs to be done? It typically all comes back to this: can leadership happen? Not leadership that is autocratic, but leadership that is wise, courageous . . . and, crucially, accountable?
If leadership cannot happen because in congregational government the Annual General Meeting always has a vote that essentially vetoes what needs to be happen . . . or if there is a board that is held in check by a minority on the board who keep the board from supporting the action that would to a courageous and wise course of action . . . what do we do?
Well, we only have two choices. We either work with the system and its limitations and gently bring about the changes to the governance system that can keep the church on mission. So, if there is a false dichotomy between those who manage the finances of the church and those who oversee the “spiritual life” of the church . . . we work to bring higher coordination between the two. Or, if the board makes the final decisions on just about everything, then you need to have a board chair that knows and will work towards cultivating a board vision that supports the leadership and changes that need to be implemented.
Or, option 2: we conclude that there is an impasse that makes it simply impossible to lead. We are not autocratic; we are more than willing to consult widely, to follow best protocol and to be transparent with these processes. But, there are too many internal blocks, too many limitations so that the congregation simply cannot be led to a new future. In that case, as often as not, we accept the limits of the situation and move on. I know that sounds drastic; but when a congregation cannot be led or when the systems of governance give no window or leverage for a wise and courageous response to the environment, then those who want to lead and can lead will graciously move on.