January 31, 2014

By Bart Hildreth

We Methodists have it in our D.N.A. to know that there is something about governance (method), which matters to missional effectiveness. But it’s not just about our heritage, it’s critical to our future. As Bishop Schnase has said, if we are to reform the United Methodist Church we have to create “technically elegant systems of governance.”
    
This past year the Ozarks North & South Districts began an experiment that we believe is the first of its kind in the UMC. For years now, we have worked to integrate the culture and functioning of our two districts, such that all of our committees and ministries (with the exception of our dCoM), function as one. However, when Bishop Schanse decided that the time was right to ask me to serve as Superintendent for both districts, our leadership team began moving toward a “One Board Model” for governing. 
    
Many in the Missouri Conference have heard of the “One Board Model” that is often a part of HCI prescriptions. However, as far as we know, it’s never been applied to the governing of two districts. What’s more, in many and maybe most of the churches where attempts have been made to employ this model instead of a shift in paradigm in which the board “governs,” the board has simply “managed” with fewer people. This is understandable because most of us default to what we know best, and most of us have experience in our workplace with management—either we are in management, or we have a manager to whom we are accountable. Under crisis this is especially true—we revert to what is most familiar! What isn’t as familiar, but maybe more critical, is the need for good governance. Good governance ties an organization closely to its owner. And, in the case of the church, we belong to Jesus Christ. Good governance is outwardly focused and forward looking. It gives priority of service to those “outside” itself, over those who are “insiders.” 
    
As our Bishop has said, “the church fulfills its mission at the edge. The margin is where the action is.” Good governance is relentless in its pursuit of the organization’s mission—of its ends. It establishes clear boundaries and roles in its development of policies, and understands that it is not management. Good governance provides a system for monitoring performance and holding individuals accountable. It leads the organization to think creatively about the adaptive situation in which we find ourselves, and to move strategically in response. 
    
This is what we are attempting in the Ozarks North and South.
    
At the end of the day, however, it’s not about what happens in our two districts—it’s about local church effectiveness. The local church is where new disciples of Jesus Christ are made and the world is transformed. By governing better, we expect to be able to free up more persons for local church leadership. What’s more, we expect to be able to model for our churches a “technically elegant system of governance,” and to build a platform from which we can better teach good governance in our churches.
    
While creating these systems is no guarantee of achieving our mission, or panacea for all that ails the church, we believe it is a step in the right direction—a lever for missionally-directed change. Eventually, we hope to have a set of our governing policies posted online on our district website. Stay tuned.