Essentials of good faith governance

Earlier this year, I took the first crack at bringing together into a single document the best of two decades of In Trust wisdom on the topic of good faith governance within the world of theological education. As you can appreciate, twenty years of teaching is a lot to condense into six essentials, plus commentary. But I managed to do as asked — with a little (okay, a lot) of help from my friends on the In Trust staff and board.


My approach to the In Trust assignment was informed by three foundational beliefs borne out of my many years of working with and serving on nonprofit boards.

  • First, I’ve seen (too often) that careless or bad governance can do real hard to a nonprofit organization.
  • Second, I’ve also seen (thankfully) that good governance is an impetus for even greater mission effectiveness by the organization.
  • Third, I’ve observed that a nonprofit organization is no stronger than its board — at least in the long-term.


It’s my sense that boards well beyond theological education can also benefit from a discussion of the six essentials as identified by In Trust.  So here’s the list. with a tiny bit of commentary attached to each point.  (You can get access to the complete document at

Boards that understand governance as ministry are careful to:

  • balance respect for the way things have been with a robust anticipation for what yet can be. It’s the board’s role to hold the organization true to its historic faith commitments in the midst of change — to encourage innovation, but to also watch for signs of mission drift.
  • take responsibility for their own readiness to govern well. In fact, attention to its own performance is one of the most important things the board does for the organization.
  • care for CEO from the initial call, to the final good-bye. The board’s continuing nurture, feedback, helpful evaluation, and faithful prayers are essential to a strong presidency.
  • actively pursue the two-part goal of mission fulfillment with financial vitality. Wise boards know that money and mission go hand-in-hand and are ready and willing to hold the organization’s “feet” to the “fires” of financial reality.
  • invite persons from across the whole of the organization to participate in decision making and visioning. Within the context of Christian community, it’s all about inviting a host of stakeholders into the sacred task of stewarding the organization.
  • model a culture of collaborative goal-setting, continuous planning, and hard-nosed evaluation. It’s up to the board to live the behavior expected from others within the organization.

What do you think? Do the essentials I’ve listed match your understanding of exemplary governance within a faith-based setting? What other essentials would you add to the list?

What's your take on this topic?

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