Governance, Finances and Staff
tGood Governance = Good Ministry
I’ve worked with five different Boards; three of whom have adopted policy governance. It’s a governance system that can work with any size congregation, provided there is a clear and common understanding of the minister’s role in the policy governance system, and that there is adequate staff to implementation clearly stated ends and policies.
What’s most important about governance is that the minister and the Board’s leadership are in agreement about authority and responsibility. When those areas are made transparent by policies or by mutual agreement, both the minister and the leadership have a good chance of having a successful ministry together.
The Unitarian Universalist Churches who have implemented policy governance will sometimes describe their model as “Carver” vs. “Hotchkiss.” By this, they mean their model follows either the John and Miriam Carver model of policy governance, or the one suggested by Dan Hotchkiss. Either model can work to a congregation’s advance, but what is critical is that the organization understand the disciplines that are required to implement a governance system and then agree to stick to it! I have worked in both policy governance and non-policy governance (i.e., managerial boards) and can attest to the ways in which policy governance streamlines the decision making process, thus freeing the Board to do the work that only the Board is uniquely qualified to do: make decisions about the mission, vision and financial health of the institution.
In my most recent interim ministry at All Souls Church Unitarian, I worked closely with the Board of Trustees to reaquaint them with the disciplines of Policy-based Governance. We contracted with Laura Park of Unity Consulting (St. Paul, MN) to work with the board on developing new Ends (or Goals) Statements. That process, known as Imagining the Future, resulted in seven new church goals and a process that brought the congregation together to dream and articulate their values. Through careful monitoring and reporting, the Executive Team links our programmatic and administrative work to these new church goals.
The Interim Minister and Finances
A well-intentioned, but unhelpful belief is that the minister should be protected from knowing the financial affairs of the congregation, and focus primarily on preaching, teaching and pastoral care. While it’s true that many ministers are not trained to be accountants or bookkeepers, it is our responsibility, especially when functioning as head of staff, or as chief executive officer, to be held accountable for the overall financial health of the institution. I would expect to work closely with the financial manager, treasurer, bookkeeper and/or Business Administrator to be informed about the budget and provide input and opinions about the budget needs for the upcoming year.
I would expect to be knowledgeable about the congregation’s endowment and be involved in fundraising, stewardship and building; as well as cultivating gifts and donations to the congregation on a regular and on-going basis. I would expect to review policies around spending and make recommendations to the Board for any new policies required to ensure the health and vitality of the institution. I do this not only because I see it as part of a minister’s job, but because finances are inextricably linked to what we value. I believe people value their congregations and the benefits they receive from them highly. It’s my job to help them to make the connection between their values and how well and how often they support the institution they care about.
Working with an Associate or Assistant Minister
In the last three Interims (Fox Valley, Annapolis, All Souls) I have been hired as the Senior Interim Minister. In all three congregations I have worked closely with colleagues. At All Souls in DC, I was a member of the Executive Team, consisting of the Executive Director and the Interim Senior Minister. We both reported directly to the Board, speaking with one voice as the Executive Team. I also supervised two colleages; the Minister of Social Justice and the Minister of Congregational Care. “Supervised” is technically true; but our relationship was one of collaboration and colleagiality.
At the UU Church of Annapolis, I began as the Interim Senior who supervised the Associate Minister, Rev. John Crestwell. Within a year into that ministry, it became clear to both Rev .Crestwell and to me that we were working together less like Senior/Associate and more like co-equal colleagues who worked on differing portfolios. During the last half of my ministry at UUCA, Rev. Crestwell and I have built a collaborative and co-equal working style of ministerial leadership. This model has been the inspiration for UUCA to call a colleague of equal standing to work with Rev. Crestwell as part of a ministerial team. For more information about how I have functioned in this role, please do not hesitate to speak to Rev. Crestwell directly.
At Fox Valley UU Fellowship in Appleton, WI, I was hired to serve the more traditional role of Senior Minister, working with Rev. Leah Ongiri (nee Hart-Landsberg).
Working with Staff
There’s an adage about how the church is managed: that the people “run” the church; and the ministers “do” the ministry. It’s another one of those well-intentioned beliefs–that if the lay members run the day to day operations of the church, this would naturally free up the minister to do more traditional ministerial roles.
However, what I’ve discovered is that good administration helps create good ministry. The person most likely to have a daily presence in the office and interacting with staff is a minister. The minister, working in collaboration with a team of dedicated and professional staff, can help to make the church run efficiently and well. An efficient and well-run church provides both stability and builds trust among its members and stakeholders. The minister provides a coordinating function for a staff as the minister holds the big picture in mind and can help connect any missing or broken links. The minister is often called upon to help resolve conflict, to interpret policies and procedures and to ensure that those policies and procedures are being followed.
Your Staff is part of the Transition Too!
This may be stating the obvious, but sometimes congregations are so focused on congregational life that they may not fully known how this transition affects staff. The care and feeding of church staff is an important task for the interim time. One of the first things I do when I enter a new church system is to meet individually with each staff member, review their job descriptions, discuss their goals for the year, and discuss what they need to feel good about their work.
I am comfortable serving as head of staff, however, I have also experienced the supervison of staff being handled capably by an Executive or Administrative Director.
The Interim’s Relationship with the Previous Minister
My last three interim placements followed the ministry of long-term and beloved ministers; Rev. Rob Hardies (All Souls, Washington DC) Rev. Rev. Fred Muir (UUCA, Annapolis, MD.) and Rev. Roger Bertchausen (FVUUF, Appleton, WI) Their departures were marked with both sadness at the loss of their minister; and joy as they moved into another chapter of their lives. Former ministers of a congregation and the interims generally meet to discuss their departure and any unfinished business that the interim should know about.
Generally, the former minister agrees to refrain from regular contact with members of the congregation or staff and will notify the interim minister of requests for rites of passage. This allows for both the minister and the congregation to let go of one another, to allow a new ministry to emerge. As a former minister of a settled congregation, I know how hard it is to leave a congregation you’ve known, loved and served for many years. As an interim minister, I also know how important that break is for both the minister and congregation. When ministers build a relationship around a covenant and mutual trust, everyone benefits. One of my first actions as your interim would be to establish a covenant with your former minister or ministers.