A Book Review of Dan Hotchkiss’ Governance and Ministry
Books on governance and structure for Christian congregations will often present a “how-to” plan for a certain set of by-laws and governing documents or a theory of governance borrowed from the business world but not quite tested in congregations. Dan Hotchkiss in his book, Governance and Ministry: Rethinking Board Leadership (Herndon, VA: Alban Institute, 2009), manages to combine missional theology, organizational know-how and practical experience into a volume that will be of help to both parish leaders and congregational consultants. It is a book that is written by a man who knows what he is talking about through his work with a multitude of congregations over many years. He seems, at times, to anticipate your questions, and his chapters are full of both wisdom and caveats for congregations of all sizes.
Hotchkiss recognizes from the beginning that “organized religion” is an oxymoron, yet our revolutionary faith must be set forth in an ordered way. He calls governance an art to be practiced rather than simply a skill to be learned. “Leaders must continually balance the conserving function of an institution with the expectation of disruptive, change-inducing creativity that comes when individuals peek past the temple veil and catch fresh visions of the Holy.”
The book does not offer a particular model of governance and structure. Indeed, the author contends that there is no one right way to organize a congregation, but he does offer a framework in which congregations can make choices within the general concepts of governance (setting direction, values, plans) and ministry (the day-to-day practical work of the congregation.)
Theory is set forth in terms that are easily understood by the average person. More importantly, theory is applied in practical ways that will be of help to any congregation. Hotchkiss declares that when it comes to governance, size does, indeed, matter, and he makes it clear that most of the observations in the book apply to congregations in the “pastoral” size range (50-150 in worship), but he displays a knowledge of large congregations, and especially “family size” congregations (50 or less in worship) that I have seldom found elsewhere. Any pastor serving a small congregation and thinking about restructuring needs to read this book! Small congregations just can’t be governed in the same way as mid-sized congregations, but they can distinguish governance and ministry roles for the sake of God’s mission.
Again and again, practical guidance is the forte of this book in chapters that deal with such subjects as…
- Effective Evaluation of pastor, staff and board.
- Budgeting for mission in difficult times.
- Board covenants and norms.
- Dealing with conflict.
- Money and mission.
The book is a good read for both congregational leaders and congregational consultants.