There’s a remarkable new book out on governance in religious organizations that you won’t find reviewed in our “Reading List” section. The book is Building Effective Boards for Religious Organizations, edited by Thomas P. Holland and David C. Hester (San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, $25). 

Why no review? Because the editors of the book and most of its contributors are part of the In Trust team. Tom Holland and David Hester have been fixtures of the In Trust Seminars on Good Faith Governance. Contributor Christa Klein is director of the seminars and a member of In Trust’s board of directors. Contributor Malcom Warford has served on In Trust’s editorial council and advisory council, and has written frequently for In Trust (See his article, "Viewing Leadership Through Another's Eyes," in this issue of In Trust.) Several other contributors to the book have written for In Trust or have been quoted frequently in its pages. With the book’s editors and many of its contributors “family” so to speak, we’d be hard-pressed to examine it with the critical eye expected in formal book reviews. Hence this “unreview.”

Given the interrelationships, however, it goes without saying that I believe Building Effective Boards is an important, even indispensable, book for those eager to fathom the sometimes mysterious ways of seminary boards and shape them into effective tools of leadership and policymaking.

Most current guides to boardsmanship examine theological school boards as a subgroup of the boards of institutions of higher education or perhaps of nonprofit organizations.

Holland and Hester see them from a crucially different angle. They see them as bodies concerned for the governance of religious organizations, boards that have a spiritual mission to carry out. So strongly do the two feel about this that they open their book with statements about their own religious backgrounds and commitments (Holland is an Episcopal layman, Hester a Presbyterian minister). 

Hester develops the theme further in a chapter he has contributed to the book titled “Practicing Governance in the Light of Faith,” in which he notes that many agree to serve on the boards of religious organizations, including seminaries, because they see it as a way that they can be faithful disciples and good stewards of the church. Having observed the operations of boards of seminaries serving religious bodies ranging from the liberalism of the Unitarian Universalist Association to the firm biblical literalism of the Missionary Baptists, I can state with some confidence that a sense of religious call manifests itself in the great majority of board members.

This issue of In Trust explores the question of leadership in various ways. But it’s a specific kind of leadership we’re looking at, religious leadership as expressed in the governance of religious institutions and more broadly in the pastoring of congregations and other religious gatherings.

Holland and Hester’s book offers some nourishing material on the nature of this kind of leadership, particularly in the chapter “Beyond Hierarchies: Transforming Power and Leadership” by the late Thomas J. Savage, which we have excerpted in this issue under the title “Life Beyond Hierarchies.”

If you find material in In Trust useful, if you have found participation in an In Trust seminar a mind-opening experience, I can say without hesitation that you’ll find Building Effective Boards for Religious Organizations an invaluable addition to your library both for its insights into governance as a spiritual activity and for its practical suggestions on understanding and assessing the performance of religious organizations.

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