It’s been ten years and counting since the board of which I am the current chair opted for Policy Governance. And still the identity of our owner(s) eludes us. We took up the question again at a recent meeting. Comments fell along the usual lines until a board member suggested God as the owner.
Silence. A few sheepish smiles. Then the conversation moved on. Certainly, we said without saying, John Carver and his Policy Governance model call for a more temporal, proximate owner.
But what if affirming God as owner was more than a platitude? What if our board did name God as the One for whom we hold the organization in trust?
I’ve not been able to shake these questions, probably because I know what going there would require of us.
FOR GOD’S SAKE
There would be no catch as catch can when it comes to board member recruitment. No treating a board seat as a premium in hope of a big gift to the organization. No filling the room with folks just like us.
With God as the focus, newcomers would arrive in our boardroom with a sure sense of call to the ministry of governance. Board members would understand themselves as servant-leaders, or as David McKenna writes in Stewards of a Sacred Trust, “owners of nothing, but managers of all, and accountable for all.”
There would be no more simply showing up. Our board would seek, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “to serve in a unique fashion, exploiting the gifts, talents, abilities, experiences, passions, and opportunities God has provided.”
The administrative reporting that fills our agendas would be replaced by what long-time seminary president Malcolm Warford labels as “prophetic inquiry.”*
If we truly believed God is the owner, we would be about, as Warford puts it:
raising thoughtful questions, cultivating and sustaining covenants of relationship within the various communities of the organization, providing financial support for its programs and services, and making decisions in light of the Spirit’s guidance.
If we truly believed God is the owner, board members would understand themselves as
called to pray for the organizations they serve, to offer hope, and with imagination and love to provide a centered community of leadership in the life of the organization. . . to watch (to care for) the institution they serve and to discern God’s presence in the midst of institutional life.
If we truly believed God is the owner, there would be no silence. No more sheepish smiles. No more deference to the opinions of a governance guru. Old ways of doing board work would pass away, and all would be new — transformed by the Owner, for the sake of the Owner’s good purposes.
Which explains my reluctance to tackle the questions. I’m not certain we’re ready or willing to go there. Maybe we can talk ourselves into a less attentive owner. Or maybe . . . I’ll get back to you later with more of our board’s story.
Talk back: What difference would understanding God as owner make in the way your board functions? In your own service as a board member?
*Building Effective Boards for Religious Organizations: A Handbook for Trustees, Presidents, and Church Leaders, Thomas Holland and David Hester, editors, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2000.