By Paul Dickerson, Congregational President
Our governance structure is getting in the way of our mission. That difficult truth has become more and more obvious to the St. Luke leadership over the last year. One of the sources of the structural difficulties seems to be a lack of clear accountability coupled with overlapping areas of authority.
To try to address this difficulty, our lay leadership team, the SLC (Spiritual Leadership Council), proposed a series of amendments to our bylaws to create a clearer picture of both authority and accountability to help us stop spending so much time in the work of governance. These changes were presented to our congregation prior to our August 31 Voters’ Meeting.
Yet, at the meeting, many of our members felt that they did not fully understand the implications of all of the proposed changes and were not comfortable casting a vote either for or against the amendments. Which is understandable since in the redline version of the proposed amendments showing the changes to be made there was more red than black!
So rather than vote to approve or reject the proposed amendments, the congregation agreed upon a third option–to postpone indefinitely any decision on the bylaws. What this means is that rather than make a decision that night, the congregation chose to wait until the next meeting to vote on the proposed changes.
This allows all of us more time to discuss, ponder, and most importantly pray before approving or rejecting the proposed amendments.
As part of our preparations for the next meeting, we will publish a short series of blog posts discussing the proposed amendments and the practical implications if they are adopted. This first post will focus on the 30,000-foot view, examining the three major changes to the bylaws designed to create a clearer picture of both authority and accountability, freeing more time, energy, and resources for work directly related to mission and ministry.
All the other bylaw changes flow from these three: (1) the composition of the SLC; (2) the role of the Board of Elders; and (3) the office of the Senior Pastor.
- The Composition of the SLC
The first major change contained within the proposed bylaws is to the composition of the SLC. As you know, the SLC serves the function of our church council or board and oversees the ministry and mission of St. Luke.
Under the proposed bylaws, the SLC will continue to serve this oversight function, with many of its duties remaining the same. But the manner in which a person is elected to the SLC will change.
Currently, the SLC is primarily composed of representatives from each of our three sites and the staff: one site elder from each site, one site advisory team member from each site, the at-large elder, the at-large site advisory team member, one staff member, the head elder, and the Senior Pastor (or designated pastor).
The representatives are elected by the site elder and advisory team boards. Once the SLC is formed, that group elects its own leaders who also serve as the congregational 0fficers (President, Vice President, and Secretary).
As an example of how all of this works, I was first elected by members as University Lutheran Chapel as a ULC elder for the 2010-11 term (and re-elected for the 2012-13 and 2014-15 terms). The ULC elders as a board elected me to serve as their representative on the SLC.
Beginning in 2013, members of the SLC elected me to serve as chairman and Congregational President. For the past three years, I have served as Congregational President despite only being directly voted for by a majority of our members at ULC.
While there is nothing wrong with this procedure, the proposed bylaw amendments put more control in the hands of the congregation as a whole, strengthening their role in holding leaders accountable for the direction and vision of the church.
Rather than have the SLC made up of representatives from each site and have the SLC determine the congregational officers, the proposed bylaws call for direct election of all congregational officers and at-large SLC members by the congregation as a whole. The goal is a unified board that is charged with overseeing and leading the congregation as a whole, rather than a congress made up of representatives of each site.
- The Role of the Board of Elders
The second significant change embodied in the proposed bylaws deals with the composition and duties of the Board of Elders. As with the SLC, the Board of Elders is currently composed of the elder boards of each individual site with each site affirming its own elders. The proposed bylaws call for the affirmation of one, unified Board of Elders without regard to site affiliation.
The proposed bylaws also modify the duties of the Board of Elders. The Board of Elders will continue to be charged with serving as an extension of the pastoral office, ensuring that the congregation is appropriately shepherded and receiving adequate care, assisting in public worship, and overseeing the call process.
Under the proposed bylaws, however, the Board of Elders will focus solely on pastoral care. The tasks outside of pastoral care and theology, like overseeing the election of lay leaders and conducting reviews of staff, would be shifted to the leadership council, our SLC.
These changes are proposed to clearly differentiate the duties of the Board of Elders from the SLC, removing the overlapping lines of authority. The accountability structure is also strengthened: under the new bylaws, the elders will not conduct performance reviews on the same staff for whom they provide pastoral care. Instead, the elders can focus entirely on assisting the pastors and staff in caring for the congregation.
- The Office of the Senior Pastor
The third significant change is the affirmative creation of a Senior Pastor position. While our current bylaws provide for the possibility of a Senior Pastor, over the past several years the site leaders as a group have shared the duties that would normally be assigned to a Senior Pastor, dividing amongst themselves the required tasks.
The goal of this system was to foster collaboration between our staff and sites. Unfortunately, the lack of clear accountability and the natural development of overlapping areas of authority have contributed to a difficult system for our staff leadership. The result has been confusion, delayed decision-making, and difficulty in calling and retaining staff.
The proposed bylaws endeavor to address these problems through the creation of a Senior Pastor position. The Senior Pastor will be responsible to create vision and direction, to organize and oversee staff and volunteers, to care for the congregation, and to ensure that our mission as a church is being fulfilled.
The Senior Pastor is accountable to the congregation through the SLC. It is the duty of the SLC to ensure that the Senior Pastor does not cause or allow any practice, activity, decision, or organizational circumstance that is unlawful, imprudent, unethical, unbiblical, or that is inconsistent with the mission and vision of St. Luke as approved by the voters.
In turn, the SLC is accountable to the congregation through direct elections to ensure that they support, collaborate with, and hold the Senior Pastor accountable in healthy and appropriate ways. Accountability and authority are clarified and brought into the proper balance.
The changes to the composition of the SLC and Board of Elders and the explicit creation of a Senior Pastor position are the three major changes contained within the proposed bylaws. These changes shift our governance structure to a pastor-led/board protected leadership model.
We believe these changes will benefit the ministry and mission of St. Luke and be useful whether St. Luke is organized as a multisite church or as an individual congregation.
Additionally, we believe the proposed amendments place more authority directly in the hands of the congregation to elect leaders (and hold them accountable), to have the final say in the ministry planning and budgeting process, and most importantly, to engage in the mission and ministry of our church.
Please continue to share your ideas and feedback as we seek to move forward together. While our mission is bigger and infinitely more important than our congregational structure, our structure can support or hinder our mission.
Our hope is that these changes will facilitate our mission of reaching our friends and neighbors with the Good News of Jesus. May God bless our efforts to that end.