The body with the prime responsibility for overseeing the work of the United Church of God is the General Conference of Elders. In practical terms it is not possible for more than 300 elders to do this, so the responsibility is delegated to the 12-man Council of Elders. The Constitution and Bylaws describe in some detail the extent of the Council’s responsibilities.
However, one of the tasks not formally delegated, but one which the Council imposed upon itself in the early years of United’s existence is regular self-evaluations of its own performance.
It is strongly recommended by external authorities for governing boards to regularly evaluate their performance against criteria appropriate to their particular enterprise, and especially so in the case of not-for-profit organizations that receive and expend financial contributions made by their members or by the general public. Earlier Councils accepted the wisdom of this advice and have held “retreats” from time to time. While these could be regarded as evaluations of sorts, they have usually been used to deal with particular circumstances or issues and have therefore not really been opportunities to consider the overall performance of the Council and its individual members.
The Roles and Rules Committee of the Council had been considering this matter of self-evaluation for quite a long time, and in March 2011 presented the Council with a proposal that an annual evaluation and retreat be conducted immediately following the May Council of Elders meeting each year. This timing would enable all current Council members plus any new Council members elected at the immediately preceding GCE to participate. The proposal also recommended that the president, secretary, legal counsel, operation managers and selected senior personnel be invited to contribute to the evaluation.
The Council accepted the proposal and so the Thursday and Friday immediately following the GCE were set aside for a self-evaluation retreat, which was conducted at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Cincinnati.
This was not an official Council meeting but instead an opportunity for a free-ranging, informal exchange of experiences, thoughts, ideas and concepts. It was not a forum for the discussion of what might be considered regular Council business.
No business was conducted at this recent retreat. No record was kept other than a list of actions that might be considered to improve the Council’s effectiveness. To provide some structure to the meeting and to make the best use of the limited time available, the discussions were focused on the following specific areas of the Council’s responsibilities:
• Overall effectiveness
• Strategic planning
• Fiduciary accountability
• Risk management, compliance and audit
• Relationships and ethics
Each part of the program was moderated by an individual Council member to keep it on track and maintain the required focus. Members of the Administration joined the retreat on Friday morning when the discussions centered on:
• How the Council can contribute to the effectiveness of the Administration
• How the Administration can contribute to the effectiveness of the Council
• From the perspective of the Administration, how the Council can improve its overall effectiveness
The outcome of the retreat was a list of more than 50 potential action items for the Council to consider. Time will be set aside at the August Council meeting, or before, if appropriate, to think about the application of each item and to analyze the planning, conduct and effectiveness of the retreat. An important question to be answered will be the advisability of holding a similar event each year.
In his first letter to the congregation at Corinth (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40), Paul wrote, “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints…Let all things be done decently and in order.” The retreat was an effort to put this advice into practice.
The Council is very aware that it is not alone in its task, knowing that “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man [and woman] avails much.” The Council needs the prayerful support of elders and members alike if it is to fulfill its responsibilities with wisdom and effectiveness. The Council seeks to walk wisely in all that it does and to acknowledge the principles espoused in Proverbs 16:20, 21 and 28:26—“He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good, and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he. The wise in heart shall be called prudent…He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool, but whoso walks wisely, he shall be delivered” (KJV).
Effective governance requires the Council of Elders and its individual members to demonstrate sound leadership, integrity and good judgment. Effective governance will ensure better decision-making, greater transparency and accountability. Effective governance requires the Council to wisely oversee the work undertaken to preach the gospel and to care for those God calls. Effective governance requires the Council to ensure the resources provided are optimized.
All of this is what the Council as a group, and as individual members, will strive to achieve in the year ahead. The retreat was a helpful step in that process.