from Laura Park, Managing Director
We’ve written extensively about how to write ends in conversation with the congregation and other sources of the board’s authority and accountability. But what happens after the board has set the vision for what will change in people’s lives over the next five to seven years of the congregation’s ministry?
One question that comes up regularly is how to respond to ambitious ends that give very little specific direction for programs and ministries. As one minister said to me, “We could drive a truck through our ends they’re so broad and open.” If you’re accountable for results on such ends, what do you do? Five suggestions:
Celebrate your opportunity. Your board trusts you to appropriately interpret its vision. The board wants your vision to influence and shape how the congregation develops and deepens. Use this opportunity to clarify for yourself, for the board, and for the congregation as a whole what it will mean to make progress together on your ends (see “Write an interpretation” below). How they respond will inform everyone about what’s truly possible for your ministry together.
Take a second look. Are the ends really as broad as you think they are? Where are they inviting you to challenge the congregation, comfort the congregation, keep the status quo, invite change?
Invite the congregation to consider what the ends are asking of them. This works particularly well in small groups. How would they know their group’s ministry is changing lives in the way the ends identify? How might their group’s work advance the ends?
Look to the future. Most congregations re-write ends every five years. How might you help the congregation clarify and deepen their understanding of their ministry so that the next set of ends are more focused?
Make it formal: write an interpretation. You want to do this for all ends, because it answers two key questions for the board:
Want more help? We're convening study groups on writing interpretations in the fall; more information here. Or contact us to arrange for one-on-one coaching.
"If someone had told me twenty years ago," the Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs began our workshop The Promise and Practice of Good Governance, presented at the Unitarian Universalist Association General Assembly in June 2013, "that the most exciting, most inspiring aspect of my ministry had to do with governance, I would have laughed in their faces. But the truth of the matter is that when we are able to align our decision-making, align the way in which we operate with our covenantal theology, leadership is liberated. Lay leadership is strengthened, ministerial leadership is liberated, and congregations can move forward in new and transforming ways."
He went on to say that "Covenantal theology is a becoming. It's better perhaps to refer to covenanting, to use the participle form, because it holds us to a practice, a way of being together religiously. Martin Buber, the great Jewish theologian, taught that covenantal community is made up of promise-making, promise-keeping, promise-breaking, and promise-renewing people. Policy-based governance. . .provides us with a framework for living into the practice of covenant. It's not a thing we do once, for all, it's a way of putting our full faith into a continuing conversation, a conversation which, when practiced with patience, and discipline, when allowed the time it needs, gives form and direction to our faith and helps us remember what matters most. Policy-based governance is a unique way of church which brings our decision-making into alignment with our theology and our heritage."
If you'd like to learn more about promise-making, promise-keeping, promise-breaking and promise-renewing in congregational governance, more about developing a covenanting practice in congregational governance, check out the following resources on our website:
Participant booklet from The Promise and Practice of Good Governance
Recorded Webinar: Principles of Good Governance
Recorded Webinar: The Nested Bowls of Values, Mission and Ends
Recorded Webinar: Role Clarity for Visionary and Operational Leadership
Recorded Webinar: Leadership Cycle in the Mission-Focused Congregation
Our thinking about the role of governance in congregational life.