Board Governance and Trust
So how do you build trust? In the conversation the United Methodist Church is having about structure, there is a proposed movement towards a model of an oversight board utilizing some of the principles of policy governance. People are suspicious of such a small board, 45 people, with an executive staff person, who would oversee the other agency directors. In the corporate world, there would be no question about such a structure. Most large, global corporations have such a structure with one CEO. The ultimate accountability for the board is of course with the stockholders who are usually pretty clear on the outcome they are seeking:profits.
The United Methodist Church is currently structured for representational decision making. We have believed that we will have a better quality to our conversation and decision making if we can have representation from the different constituencies. Therefore we have tried to build our boards with paying attention to age, gender, ethnicity and geographical representation in proportion to the demographics of the church. So why is that a challenge now? We need to have large numbers of people to get that diverse representation, and we have paid such attention to representation, we have not always paid as much attention to giftedness. And when you consider proportionality in the equation of representation, some voices from the edges will always be underrepresented.
But I think what is at the heart of the matter is trust. We have not developed clear agreement on what we want to be doing together. We have not been able to say with one voice this is what matters most. Without clearly articulated and mutually shared outcomes, we try to manage our individual hopes and desires by seeking to have control over the who and the how. We do not trust whoever we have named as the other to take us where we want to go as a church. We are concerned they will not uphold our values, make decisions that will be in our best interests, and ultimately this will be a church we will not recognize and we are unsure it will be a church we will want to be a part of. And therefore we try to get more people at the table who might look and think like us, block others who are trying to do the same with their coalition groups, and we try to build such safe guards into our system in order to keep power in check, that in the end we limit our ability to make significant and substantive changes. A fast changing world requires quick adaptation or we are going to find ourselves obsolete. And policy governance only works when you have well articulated ends: what difference are are here to make and for whom, and clear and agreed upon governance policies including executive limitations.
So what would it look like if we spent less time talking about how we organize ourselves and more time talking about what we want to accomplish together and what kinds of values we will hold. I know this was the attempt in the holy conversations but those seemed to be add ons to the general conference process, not foundational work. So for example, we keep talking about how we are a global church but we don’t have enough substantive conversation about what shape we would like that take. We have lots of disagreement about what we mean by full participation, relationship, financial support and responsibility, contextual freedom etc. Until we have that conversation and work hard to get to clarity about what we mean by being a global church we will continue to have this sense of mistrust, and believe that any group acting that does have not “me or someone like me” at the table, cannot possibly be acting in my best interest.
That kind of work to get clarity about who we are and what we are ca
lled to do and be as a church also takes time. In team building it is called the principle of going slow in order to go fast. If you spend the time to build the shared identity and purpose, as well as relationships of trust, then you are able to make huge decisions in a relatively short period of time because we know this team is clear about who they are here to serve: the mission. But do we even have agreement about what the mission? We can quote the words: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but do we have a shared understanding of what it means, and how it shapes our life? Therein lies the heart of the issue for us a church.