- The Challenges of the Reasonable Interpretation
Our son-in-law is part owner of a family owned chain of shoe stores in Canada. Often when he is with a supplier he will text my daughter with a picture of a shoe along with a message, “What do you think?” Marcie will reply, “For me or for the stores?” Let’s figure out how Tom will answer that question.
In the previous chapter we learned about the Policy Governance principle of ends. The ends of a church are defined when it has identified the intended benefits in the lives of the intended beneficiaries along with the cost/value of the change in the lives of those people. Before that we looked at the Policy Governance principle of owners. These are the people whoown the ministry of the church. We have also looked at board members who comprise a board that governs on behalf of the owners. We haven’t looked at the role of management, but we will address that in some depth later in the book.
So you have four groups of people who make up your church: the owners, the board, the staff, including volunteers, and the beneficiaries. Now this is where things start to get complicated.
But first let’s go back to my son-in-law and the question my daughter has posed. But for him to answer the question, he needs to understand her question. For Marcie to answer Tom’s question she needs to understand his question. And both need to be doing this using 140 characters or less. So is Tom asking the question of a potential customer? Is he asking if Marcie would like a pair of shoes like the ones in the pictured he texted? If so he is asking abeneficiary or consumer question. Does she like the shoes? What is her personal preference? However if he is asking a question to his wife who is also a moral owner, then he is asking anowner question. He wants her opinion regarding whether she thinks enough people will like the style of the shoe to justify the space it will take on the display table or the room that the inventory will occupy in the warehouse. Her answer depends on what role she is occupying.
You will quickly see that it is impossible to slot everyone in the church into one of the four groups. There will be people who are part of all four groups. Because you are reading this book you may be one of those people. If you are on the board, you are obviously part of the board. To be on the board you undoubtedly have to be a church member which means that you are also one of the owners. If you volunteer as a youth sponsor, usher at a service or lead a home Bible study you are a volunteer which makes you part of what we referred to as the management group. As someone who regularly attends the services and benefits from the church, you are one of the beneficiaries.
Back to the question my daughter is being asked. It is imperative, critical mandatory – whatever adjective you want to use- that she is unambiguously clear about what group she is in when she answers the question. Failure to do so can have a very negative impact. If she answers a consumer question with an owner answer she could end up with a pair of shoes she doesn’t like. A more costly error will take place if she answers an owner question with a consumer answer. The organization could end up with shoes that are preferred by only her and a select few.
Policy Governance is about clarity of roles and non-ambiguity – in case I haven’t mentioned that before. Part of that clarity and non-ambiguity comes from making sure that any conversation, especially at the board level makes clear which group is being discussed.
I have four different sports jerseys and shirts. (Unfortunately for my wife the number is a little greater than that, but I’ll make it four for the purpose of this illustration.) Which jersey I wear depends on which sporting event I am going to. If I am going to a NASCAR race I won’t wear my Packers jersey. If I’m going to a Winnipeg Jets hockey game I won’t wear a NASCAR tee-shirt. I guess I can wear all four at the same time, but only one will be showing. Deciding which jersey I will wear is easy once I decide where I’m going.
Every time you look at a church issue you must decide what jersey you are wearing. In too many situations people wear their beneficiary or consumer jersey. It might be twenty below at Lambeau Field but they will still be there sporting their NASCAR tee-shirt. It sometimes sounds like “I am a member (or what we now know is an owner) of this church and as such I’d like to talk to a board member about how much I hate the music.” Notice the contradiction in their complaint. If they were a genuine owner who was concerned about whether the music was an effective means of connecting with beneficiaries, then their personal preference in music would be inconsequential. If my daughter is responding to her husband’s text from the perspective of an owner, her personal preference about the shoes would be irrelevant. She would only be concerned whether enough consumers would want that type of shoe.
Making the distinction between an owner and a beneficiary is a challenge for your church board. Even though it may have grasped the Policy Governance ingredient of a board as the voice and the agent of its owners, it is easy to lose focus. It should be listening to the owners to understand what difference the owners want to make in the lives of an identifiable group of people. If you have sat on the board of a church for more than half an hour you will recognize that a good portion of the board’s four hour Monday night meeting is taken up responding to the concern of those who perceive themselves as owners but talk and act like consumers. (The rest of the time is spent delving into the details of management, but that’s a topic for a future chapter.) You and I have heard the complaint that churches have a consumer mentality. When we treat owners like consumers, they will respond as consumers. Add to that the frustration for pastors who leave the church beaten up and burnt out because they don’t have a clue whose talking and who they are supposed to listen to. It doesn’t help when they don’t know who they are preaching to. Are they addressing the intended beneficiaries in whose lives the owners allege they are longing to see change or directing their comments at a bunch of self-indulgent owners who are prepared to fire the pastor if they are not satiated? When looking at an issue or listening to a question you cannot be simultaneously an owner and a consumer.
Evangelical churches profess to exist to make owners out of beneficiaries. Using the analogy of a for-profit corporation, they want the consumer to be so enamored with the change that the product has made in their lives as a consumer that they want to become a shareholder.
If the pastor of your church is familiar and comfortable with Policy Governance it allows him or her to address beneficiaries with a view to having those consumers becoming owners.
If the moral owners in your church have an understanding and appreciation of their role as an owner, they will surrender their personal preferences to the greater cause of the church. They will be less occupied with their comfort and convenience and become far more concerned that the ministries of the church have the desire impact on the people in whose lives they desire to see change.
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