Governance and Finances
Many of our larger congregations have adopted a form of Policy Governance, which is simply a way of refocusing the Board’s understanding of its distinct work, apart from executive roles. The Board is not responsible for the daily operations of the church, but rather has its eye on the vision and the mission of the institution, and creates and monitors policies to help advance that vision and mission. It is the responsibility of the senior minister or executive team or whatever body the Board appoints to implement those policies.
I’ve worked with five different Boards; two 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.
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
While serving the Fox Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Appleton, WI, I was fortunate to work with their Associate Minister, the Reverend Leah Hart-Landsberg. Early on in our ministry together, we created a covenant and met weekly for supervision and reflection about our various ministries. We each were responsible for our own portfolio; however, there was often overlap between them and need for clear communication. I’ve learned that it’s important for a new interim minister and an established associate minister to take the time to get to know one another; to learn about our communication styles, and to establish clear expectations and guidelines. It’s also important to have a place for both ministers to go if there is a conflict between them or a breach of the covenant. That may be the Transitions Team, a Conflict Management Team or a sub-group of the Board, depending on the church’s structure. Fortunately, most misunderstandings can be easily addressed through clear and frequent communication.
Working with Staff
There’s an old adage that the people “run” the church; and the ministers “do” the ministry. It’s another one of those well-intentioned beliefs, that is, 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.
My experience has been as a head of staff, with the authority to supervise, hire and fire staff. I do not do this in a vacuum. I consult with individuals who need to be informed of any major decisions. I am comfortable being a leader and supervisor of staff and have routinely played this role. The care and feeding of any church staff is an important aspect of a minister’s day to day life. My first tasks with the staff are to meet with them one on one, review their job descriptions, discuss their goals for the year, and discover what’s important to them about their work and what continues to feed and excite them.
The Interim’s Relationship with the Previous Minister
In my current interim placement, I followed the departure of a beloved Senior Minister, who served the congregation faithfully and well for twenty-five years. His departure was marked with both sadness at the loss of their minister; and joy as he moved into another chapter of his life. 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.