from Laura Park, Managing Director
I’ve been reflecting on the challenges of role clarity as envisioned by Policy Governance® (PG), particularly the way in which board and minister roles ask each for skills that are not traditionally theirs.
Consider how trustees, if they are to establish transformational congregational ends, aligned with Unitarian Universalist values, need spiritual grounding and a prophetic imagination more usually assigned to ministers to provide. Why, then, give the task of setting ends to lay leaders? James Luther Adams, perhaps the preeminent 20th-century Unitarian theologian says it best: “The prophetic liberal church is not a church in which the prophetic function is assigned merely to the few.” (112)
Trustees can find it uncomfortable to assume the prophetic function, to ensure their church is “the prophetic liberal church . . . in which persons think and work together to interpret the signs of the times in the light of their faith, to make explicit through discussion the epochal thinking the times demand.” (Adams, 112). Policy Governance®, however, provides a structure in which trustees and their fellow congregants can find their prophetic voice together. PG assigns the board the task of linkage, of being in conversation with the people who are the board’s sources of authority and accountability about the future of the church. Through these conversations, the board earns the authority and the ability to:
To be effective, these linkage conversations need to start with a Powerful Question (see this blog post) a question that helps the congregation reexamine its faith and find its relevance anew. To ask a Powerful Question, the board needs grounding in the heritage, traditions, and ideals of Unitarian Universalism, and trustees need clarity about the meaning of faith in their individual lives and in the congregation collectively. These foundations make it possible to find a question that honors the past and invites the congregation into a challenging conversation about the future.
Where does this leave the minister’s prophetic voice? Where it often does in congregational life: out in front, shaping, guiding, framing, inviting. The board and the minister form a crucial partnership in this work. The minister knows at depth what possibilities congregants are ready to try, how much of a stretch those possibilities represent, and what spiritual growth the congregation will need to engage those possibilities. Through its linkage conversations, the board knows what the congregation sees as its strengths and what it longs for in its future. Bringing their knowledge together, and finding language together for the ends, allows board and minister to partner authentically to shape the future of the congregation.
Our book, The Nested Bowls: The Promise and Practice of Good Governance provides more details about finding a Powerful Question, grounded in the board’s understanding of our Unitarian Universalist faith tradition, shaped and informed by the minister’s prophetic voice, to guide the board’s linkage work. Find it at inSpirit or Amazon.
Adams, James Luther The Essential James Luther Adams: Selected Essays and Addresses. Edited by G. K. Beach, Boston, Skinner House Books, 1998.
Policy Governance® is the registered service mark of John Carver; the authoritative website for the Policy Governance model can be found at www.carvergovernance.com.)
Our thinking about the role of governance in congregational life.