Life after governance change

Alban Insitute discusses governance and how it may be changing from the “way it’s always been:”

An anthropologist from Pluto might be forgiven for misclassifying board and committee meetings among the sacred rites of Earth religion. Meetings, with their arid liturgy of motions, seconds, minutes, and reports, give comfort and security to some, while driving others crazy—particularly those who like results better than extended conversations about pros and cons of possible approaches to activities that may or may not one day issue in results.

It is not actually meetings that drive people nuts—most leaders expect, even enjoy productive meetings—it is the perpetual unclarity in many congregations about who makes what decision. Lay leaders burn out like old brake pads from the start-and-stop decision-making tempo. People who, at work, carry assigned projects from start to finish find it hard to understand why relatively small decisions require long discussion, often at not one but several meeting tables.

This is gradually changing. For a variety of reasons, leaders in congregations of all kinds have begun to question the unquestionable. Sometimes the departure of too many governing board members triggers the rethinking. Sometimes a strategic planning process launches an imaginative plan that quickly founders in the sandy shoals of governance. Sometimes an exceptionally vital, growing congregation notices that its most innovative programs have emerged only when someone, in despair of working though the formal structure, worked around it.

No structure guarantees success or promises a life free of problems. “T.S. Eliot warned against “dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.” Luckily congregations are full of people who are good already. The work of governance change can be simply a matter of enabling the congregation to be as good as they are.

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