What is the role of the Church Council? Is it to manage the church or to govern the church? Historically and in practice, most Church Councils manage. Often how the Church Council functions in the local church has been handed down from generation to generation. Not all Church Councils function the same nor are they all even called Church Councils. Some are called Ad Boards and a variety of other names.
In Paragraph 252 of the UMC Book of Discipline, the Church Council is to provide for the administration of its organization and temporal (i.e., secular, lay, worldly, perpetual). It shall envision, plan, implement, and annual evaluate the mission and ministry of the church. The church council shall be amenable to and function as the administrative agent of the charge conference.
In its duties among other things, the Church Council is to envision, plan, implement, and evaluate the mission of the church. Therefore, there should be a strategic plan for how the church is living out its mission of making disciples and evaluating how well the plan is working. Instead, most Church Councils are hearing written reports read aloud to them on the details of particular ministries that have been carried out during the past month without regard for the alignment to a strategic plan or evaluation in its fulfilment of a strategic plan. Great things may very well be happening in the life of the church, but we really have no way of knowing. Ministries are being planned in a vacuum without a common purpose and overall alignment and evaluation. When a Church Council is involved in the details of the day-to-day ministries, it is managing. Managing is the role of the ministry team leaders and staff not the Church Council.
Church Councils (or perhaps you have moved to the simplified, accountable structure) that have moved to governance are concentrating in the four areas of fiduciary, strategic, generative, and accountable leadership:
Stewardship: The board tends to the fiduciary responsibilities and alignment of God’s people and resources. This could include things like ensuring the facility is properly insured and safe, that personnel policies are appropriately followed, and the church’s finances are regularly audited to ensure that the treasurer is appropriately handling the congregation’s money. Fiduciary responsibility speaks to the appropriate care and management of the church’s assets such as real estate, cash, human resources, and investments.
Strategic: The strategic work of the leadership board ensures the assets are aligned and leveraged in the best way possible so that the mission, vision, and goals are accomplished within the boundaries of the core values. The leadership board is monitoring the progress of the goals and the strategic data (vital signs) and makes adjustments as required.
Generative: Conversations, dreaming, and thinking with a generative focus is one of the more difficult adaptive leadership shifts most leadership boards have to make. Generative work is framed around big-picture questions, as opposed to current stewardship or strategic priorities. This is the creative, adaptive, and innovative work of discerning God’s future dreams for the congregation and discerning the faithful next steps in leading the congregation.
Accountable Leadership: Setting a culture of well-aligned, impact-focused ministry that fulfills the congregation’s mission, vision, and God-sized goals. This is accomplished through leading with authority and taking responsibility for missional fulfillment.
Notice what is not listed above – management! When the Church Council is managing, no one is tending to the governance responsibilities. While the fiduciary work is often tended to, the other three governance responsibilities habitually go by the wayside when Church Councils/Boards manage instead of govern. And, when these three important governing responsibilities are ignored, churches often lose sight of their mission, are declining, and ultimately not reaching new people. Therefore, it is imperative to help our Church Councils/Boards regain their sights on their governance responsibilities. For more information, see Mission Possible: A Simple Structure for Missional Effectiveness by Kotan and Bradford.