The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is considering an approach that would reduce the size of the board by more than half – and would cut formal representation on the board from advocacy and advisory committees in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
The proposal – being described as a white paper – comes from the board’s Governance Task Force, and is expected to go to the Way Forward Commission for consideration on its Feb. 7 conference call. The board’s executive committee discussed it in a conference call Jan. 26.
The proposal calls for the size of the board to drop from its current size of 40 voting members and 17 nonvoting members (with voice but not vote) to a board with 16 voting members and 8 nonvoting members. The change would need approval from the General Assembly – or possibly from the Way Forward Commission instead, which has the power not just to recommend but to act.
Among the groups that would lose non-voting slots on the board, if the proposal is approved, are ecumenical advisory members and representatives of the:
- Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy;
- Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns;
- Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns;
- Committee on Theological Education.
The Governance Task Force, in making the recommendation, cites the 2016 report of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Review Committee, which stated that a board of 57 members and its current structure is “unwieldy and outdated.”
It proposes a new board structure described as being “nimble, responsive and focused.”
In presenting the recommendations to the executive committee, Melinda Sanders, chair of the Governance Task Force, said that when her group began its work a year ago to consider the work and configuration of the board, it recognized that “the landscape could change dramatically.”
Since the 2016 General Assembly created the Way Forward Commission, and that group began meeting in December, “we have another partner in trying to see where God is leading us,” Sanders said. “That’s a good thing. It helps us test our hypothesis. … At the end of the day, it’s going to be a better way of moving forward.”
Board chair Ken Godshall described these as “parallel processes” that will lead to a “dynamic back and forth” between the board, which next meets March 22-24 in Puerto Rico, and the Way Forward Commission.
Sanders said the task force considered a number of ideas for reconfiguring the current board, but then decided “let’s start with a blank sheet of paper.” The question became “what do we need? What does God need? What does the church need? What is needed in these times?”
Among the changes the white paper proposes:
- Having less specific nomination criteria for proposed members. The task force says it wants to focus on “gifts and skills, parity and diversity, with due consideration being given for geographical representation.” The current criteria include having board members from presbytery and synod staffs; current and former General Assembly commissioners; young adults; and rotating representation from presbyteries.
- Having two representatives of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) serve on each of the three committees of the board’s corporate entity, which is known as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) A Corporation. Those corporate committees – Audit, Personnel, and Legal/Property – would each have five members from the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board and two from COGA.
- Having three agency board committees in addition to the Executive Committee. Those committees would be:
- Mission Impact.
- Liaison – “to ensure that we have a structured and more focused way of hearing all voices,” the proposal states. This would replace the current model of having corresponding members from a variety of groups serving as nonvoting members on the board, and having board members designated as representatives to groups across the denomination.
- Reducing the “supplemental roles” that board members play, meaning they represent the board in a variety of other settings – everything from the General Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations to the Presbyterian Council for Chaplains and Military Personnel. The report states that “there are 23 agencies / committees / programs / interest groups to which the Board is committed to deploy at least one member to serve on each board or participate in its meetings; this is an overwhelming responsibility for a volunteer board.”
- Changing the terms of service. Board members would each serve a four-year term (as opposed to a six-year term currently), with an option for a second term.
- Having eight non-voting members on the board (with voice but not vote), in addition to the 16 voting members. Those non-voting members would be:
- The stated clerk of the PC(USA).
- The executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
- The president of the Board of Pensions.
- The president of the Presbyterian Foundation.
- The president of the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.
- The president of the Presbyterian Investment and Loan program.
- A representative of Presbyterian Women.
- The moderator of the General Assembly.
The task force also states in its report that “we welcome feedback and discussion. An open and public vetting will only improve the process and the final structure.”
Speaking of the proposed Liaison Committee, Sanders said: “Quite frankly, we haven’t worked out all the details. We want to do that with the very people we’re trying to partner with.” She said the current configuration – with some groups sending corresponding members to the board, and the board sending representatives to a variety of groups – “is not a very effective way of hearing what they have to say, of understanding the concerns, of doing ministry well together.”
She also said: “This is one area where we’re very fluid. … Nothing is written in stone about this idea. We just want to find a better way.”
Regarding the size of the board, Sanders said research on best practices has shown that any board above nine members “becomes less effective the more you add to it.”
Executive committee member Nancy Ramsay raised a concern that having a board of 16, with the substantial committee work that also would be required, might limit the pool of those who would feel they would have enough time to serve – and might rule out qualified candidates with work or other responsibilities.
Committee member Joe Morrow asked how the reconfigured board would connect with mid councils.
Those are important considerations, Sanders said, but some details will need to wait until it’s known whether the full board or the Way Forward Commission will accept the kind of dramatic change the task force is recommending.
This is the proposal from the Governance Task Force for reconfiguring the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board from 40 voting members to 16. The Way Forward Commission is expected to discuss the proposal in a conference call Feb. 7.
This is an exhibit showing a geographic and demographic analysis of the current Board.