By Paul Dickerson, Congregational President
Our leadership has received an abundance of feedback from our congregation since we first published the proposed changes to our bylaws nearly two months ago. This feedback has included everything from wholesale endorsement to general questions to concerns about specific provisions and clauses.
Thank you! I truly believe that these types of discussions will make whatever bylaw changes that are ultimately approved by the congregation more effective in supporting our mission and ministry. And of course that is the goal – for our bylaws to support our mission of making, teaching and baptizing disciples of Jesus.
The conversations I’ve had with other leaders and members about specific provisions of the bylaws have centered on three sections. One of the most common of these has been the about the term limits for elected leaders.
Right now, our elected leaders serve for two-year terms and may be elected for up to three consecutive terms. After that, the leader is required to vacate his or her position for at least one year before being eligible to serve again. Additionally, no person may serve as a Congregational Officer or the Elder Chairman for more than seven consecutive years without special approval from the SLC.
Under the proposed amendments to the bylaws, the length of the terms are reduced from two years to one year but may be renewed indefinitely. There are no special limitations on the number of years an individual can serve as a Congregational Officer, at-large SLC member, or Elder.
I believe reducing the terms from two years to one gives the congregation more control over the direction and vision of the congregation. Every year, the congregation has the opportunity to elect leaders that it believes will chart a course that will best support and achieve the mission of our church.
I also believe that allowing for terms to be renewed indefinitely will increase continuity and cohesiveness amongst our lay leadership groups. Rather than turning over up to half of our leaders every year due to nothing more than the changing of the calendar, the amount of turnover will be determined directly by the congregation through its elective processes.
The hope is that if the congregation votes to retain the majority of our lay leaders from year-to-year, this will increase cohesiveness within the group and result in a more effective leadership team. And with annual elections, the congregation also has the ability to remove ineffective leaders or change direction more quickly.
Yet, there are potential drawbacks to the proposed system. There is the possibility that lack of turnover will lead to stagnation on the board and prohibit new or younger leaders from joining. Or that an ineffective leader will be able to keep his or her position indefinitely.
While both of these scenarios are possible, I believe the nominations committee (through the vetting process) and the congregation (through its elective processes) are in the best position to address any potential pitfall. Of course, if the one-year term system proves to be ineffective and these or other problems are getting in the way of our mission, the congregation can and should change the bylaws to a system that will facilitate rather than hinder our mission.
In fact, this goes for any section of our bylaws. As a congregation, we should hold our bylaws loosely enough that when it becomes clear that a section is hindering rather than facilitating our mission, we are able to identify it and change it to something that will be more effective.
To this end, one of our members suggested that just as we conduct a periodic financial review, we also conduct a periodic review of our governance structure and bylaws. This is a great idea! Under this proposal, every two years either a team of members not currently in leadership or an independent firm would review our governance structure and bylaws and suggest revisions to the SLC and/or congregation.
The goal behind the periodic review will be to enable our congregation to identify areas that need revision and make small course corrections rather than larger, wholesale changes. I also believe that regularly bringing proposed changes to the congregation gives our members a greater control and a voice in the governance of our church.
A third section that received substantial discussion amongst leadership was the composition of the SLC, specifically the provision for at-large members as opposed to elders. While there is an obvious appeal to having a handful of elders also serve on the SLC, ultimately we decided to propose at-large members fill out the board instead.
There were two primary reasons for this. First, one of the main goals in amending the bylaws was to clarify leadership roles and free the elders to focus solely on pastoral care of the staff and congregation. Asking some elders to serve as both an extension of the pastoral office and on the SLC (which includes review of staff) runs counter to this primary goal.
The second reason is that allowing for at-large members creates more opportunities for our members with a gift of leadership to exercise that gift, especially women. St. Luke has enjoyed a long tradition of recognizing the unique gifts that women can bring to the leadership table and encouraging the use and expression of those gifts. Because our elders are a direct extension of the pastoral office, we do not have female elders at St. Luke. Opting for at-large seats on the SLC rather than filling those positions with elders, therefore, creates more opportunities for all of our members to participate in the leadership of our congregation.
So I personally support annual elections with no mandated term limits for lay leaders, a required review of the bylaws and governance structure, and a Spiritual Leadership Council with officers and at-large members for the reasons above. But there are good reasons to do think differently; that’s why we are getting together to talk. We will thoughtfully and prayerfully discuss our options and thoughtfully and prayerfully vote on how we can best move forward in mission and ministry.
Please take a few moments to review the proposed bylaw changes, read one or more of the blog posts, and prayerfully consider how our governance structure can best support the mission of our church. Attend our Voters Meeting on November 9 at 7 p.m. at St. Luke – Ann Arbor as we discuss and vote on the proposed amendments. Bring your comments, questions, and any suggestions you may have for further revisions. And my hope is that after that meeting, we will have a set of bylaws that will more effectively support our mission of making, teaching, and baptizing disciples of Jesus.
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