(I recently received an e-mail from a BJS reader who was concerned that her congregation was moving to a policy based governance system (PBG). A friend of hers suggested that I had some experience with PBG and so she asked me my opinion on it. The following is part one of my response to her. PBG is a philosophy of governance that was created recently in the corporate world to give Boards of Directors guidance on solving the age old challenge of over managing the CEO. To implement PBG a corporate board develops a set of policies intended to create a fence around the CEO while at the same time giving him the freedom to manage the corporation without board interference as long as he stays within those bounds. The board focuses on larger issues, working with the CEO setting mission and vision for the corporation.)
The Problem of Oversight
Policy Based Governance (PBG) is attractive because it seeks to answer the age old question “Who is in charge in the church?” Its answer is neat and clean but very problematic. Most pastors would like PBG from a secular standpoint because it frees them from the oversight of a church council, voters assembly and committee and allows them to manage the day to day affairs of the congregation. (By the way, this can be achieved without PBG. My congregation allows me a lot of day to day management freedom because I respect the elders and they respect me.)
The problem is that this freedom comes with a price, a huge and unbiblical price. In PBG the CLT (Congregation Leadership Team, i.e. the Church Council) has ultimate oversight over the pastor. They do his performance reviews. This is very dangerous. The pastor is called by God and is responsible to God and his word, not to a church council, board of elders or voters assembly. Every self-respecting congregation should want nothing more. If he is accountable to any group or individual within the church he will now be tempted to adjust his goals and priorities to please them.
This is not to say that a congregation cannot hold a pastor accountable, but the way they hold him accountable is through God’s word, not through man-made policies. Christ and his word are ultimately in charge in the church, not the pastor and not the CLT, elders, voters assembly, etc. The problem is that PBG holds the pastor accountable for all sorts of “outcomes” (measurable check points) rather than holding him accountable for what the scriptures and confessions say he is accountable for, i.e. preaching the Gospel in its purity and administering the sacraments according to Christ’s command (Augsburg Confession VII).
Of course, most if not all congregations that are interested in PBG have fallen for the deception that the goal of the church is to grow the kingdom of God. This approach to the church lends itself to measurable things, e.g. visitors to church, prospects visited, adults confirmed (in many PBG churches adult confirmation is more about learning the workings of the congregation, particularly stewardship, more than it is about teaching doctrine).
To summarize this oversight issue consider that PBG gives a neat and tidy answer to a question that does not have a neat and tidy Biblical answer. Who is in charge of the church? PBG says that the pastor runs the church day to day and yet the laity is ultimately in control because they do the pastor’s performance review. (Can you imagine Moses, St. Paul, Luther or Walther ever talking about performance reviews?) The Bible says that the church follows God’s word. The pastor is the teacher of God’s word and the people are the hearers. (This is what Luther says in the Small Catechism.) If the people do not hear the word of Christ coming from the pastor then by all means they should rebuke him in love. This is a far cry from a performance review – but you see, in the PBG church, it is all about results and is not centered in teaching the faith. (The chart I will share in part two of this series highlights the fact that the word “Jesus” is only used once in a PBG document that I reviewed while the word “outcome” is used ten times.) Church structure is not about the law as in PBG which protects the authority of the laity while expanding the management authority of the pastor. Church structure is all about pastor and people living together in trust under the authority of Christ’s word each doing what God has called them to do.
This neat and clean answer to the authority question in the church according to PBG leads to some real problems down the road which will be the topic of our next post.