Organizational governance – its appearance in the Bible

by John Holbrook Jr.
A Biblical View, posted April 3, 2017

When God created Universe, he created the heavens and the earth. Next, he created life on earth, starting with plants and moving on to creatures. Regarding the latter, he created the fish of the waters and the fowl of the air first, the animals and creeping things of the land next, a single man, whom he called Adam, and then a single woman, whom Adam called Eve.

Now I want to cast this story in an unusual framework.[1] Imagine that, when God created Universe, he started a new venture or enterprise, which I will call Earth Inc.[2]

1 – Earth Inc.’s Board

As I indicated in my first blog of July 18, 2016, God is both singular and plural – that is, the Godhead consists of three persons: God-the-Father, God-the-Son, and God-the-Holy Spirit. They form a tri-unity, which is often called the Trinity. Thus the Godhead or Trinity can be regarded as the board of overseers that launched Earth Inc.

As I indicated in my first blog of July 18, 2016, God-the-Father produced the design and script for Universe and God-the-Son and God-the-Holy Spirit are executing them. Thus the board knew Earth Inc.’s  “…end from the beginning.” [3] They must have looked forward to the day when earth would be inhabited by a large number of people who would require many things. They would need some basic institutions: (a) families in which to raise children, (b) churches in which to worship their creator, and (c) governments with which to rule the nations. They would need other social institutions such as (a) schools and colleges to provide specialized education, (b) book publishers and news media to keep people informed, and (c) clinics and hospitals to care for the injured and sick. They would need commercial enterprises such as (a) farms to produce food, (b) manufacturing plants to produce clothing, furniture, tools, and equipment, and; (c) architectural and engineering firms to design and construction firms to build homes, offices, plants, and public infrastructure such as roads and railroads, bridges and tunnels, water, sewer, and power lines, etc. All of these institutions could model themselves on the parent organization, Earth Inc., in which God intended that he (the board) and mankind (the staff) would work in harmony.

2 – The Staff – Mankind

To fulfill the above plan, the board set about creating a CEO to obtain and lead a staff. God formed Adam from the earth, breathed life into Adam, and then set about conveying his priorities to Adam.

Lesson 1 – the relationship between obedience to God and liberty

God issued his first policy statement to Adam in the form of a very extensive permission and a very limited proscription. Adam could eat of every plant in the garden excepting the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.[4] The determination of good and evil belonged solely to God, and fellowship with God would keep mankind informed of what he deemed good and evil.

By issuing a single proscription against eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, God set an interesting precedent. On the one hand, he tried to protect Adam, his wife, and their heirs from death – i.e. eternal estrangement from God – which was the punishment for disobedience. On the other hand, he gave them almost complete freedom to use their own creativity and judgment in fulfilling their mission. The board did not tell Adam what to do or how to do it – just what not to do.

Lesson 2 – the diversity & importance of life

After warning of the consequences for disobedience, God issued an assignment to Adam which consisted of a crash course in the scope of what he had in mind. He would bring to Adam every creature that he had put on earth and Adam would name them. In science, this is known as a taxonomic project. It involves far more than giving a creature a name. It includes examining the creature’s nature and noting the similarities and differences between it and all other creatures, including the differences between a male and a female of the same species. It also includes considering how it might be useful to some enterprise. For example, could it be domesticated? If yes, what could it provide to the enterprise? If not, what impact would its existence in the wild have on the enterprise? If it could perform an unusual task, what could it teach an engineer about designing a device to do the same?  Note two very important aspects of this task: first, it was focused on living beings; second, it forced Adam to notice that, while every species which he was examining included a male and a female, his own species did not. It was lacking a female – a condition which God deemed “not good.” [5]

Moreover, by insisting that Adam start his life by naming the animals, God stressed the importance of life. God is the giver of life. He is the only source of life. Life trumps all other considerations. Mankind must not extinguish life outside of the carefully defined boundaries which God has set. Mankind’s stewardship of the earth must include continual concern for the welfare of all people, animals, fowls, and fish – particularly the most vulnerable among them (such as a baby in his or her mother’s womb). Jeopardizing the life or welfare of any of God’s creatures in the name of convenience or economic profit should be severely punished.

Lesson 3 – the completion of mankind

Immediately after Adam had finished his task, God put him into a deep sleep, took flesh and bone from Adam’s side, formed a woman, and presented her to Adam to be his wife and “help meet” or helpmate.[6] Adam immediately called her “woman, because she was taken out of Man.” [7] [8] Only then was mankind complete.

By both his design of the human male and female bodies and his designation of Adam’s wife as a “help meet,” God stressed the importance of specialization and hierarchy.

Lesson 4 – Earth Inc.’s mission

After providing Adam with a wife, the board conveyed Earth Inc.’s mission to them jointly. As stewards of the earth, they should “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” [9]

By issuing Earth Inc.’s mission to Adam and Eve jointly, the board stressed that Earth Inc. is a joint enterprise involving all living people for the benefit of all living creatures.

3 – Answers to the original question

What then can the Bible tell us about organizational governance?

First, every organization can be reduced to two major components: (1) its board, which usually consists of a small group of people who bring the organization into existence, determine its purpose and policies, select a person to manage its operations, and monitor its operations to ensure that the board’s dictates are being followed and (2) its staff, which consists of 1 to 100,000 or more people who execute all the tasks that are necessary for its operations.

Second, one of the first tasks of an organization’s board is to articulate policies that define, discourage, and punish employee misbehavior.

Third, a board should articulate the ends which it wants the organization to achieve, but it should not determine the means of doing so. In refraining from determining the means, the board establishes a principle. Even within the staff, a manager should assign tasks to his subordinates without insisting on particular means. Doing the latter deprives the subordinates of the opportunity to use their creative abilities and the organization the benefit of the same. (Of course a manager may have to teach a neophyte how he might perform a given task, but at the time he should make clear that, as the subordinate becomes familiar with the job, he might find a better way to do it.)

Fourth, within an organization, whether it be a family or a global corporation, there must be a clear chain of command and clearly defined roles, each of which bears a certain level of authority and a certain level of responsibility, for which the person will be held accountable. These roles should take into account each individual’s God-given gifts and stage of development.

Lastly, an organization exists for the benefit of everyone involved in it, from shareholders to board members to staff members (executives, middle managers, and laborers alike) to vendors to creditors to the community in which it operates. It does not exist solely for the benefit of its shareholders and senior employees who garner its profits. For example, a company must not close a large plant, lay off tens of thousands of workers for whom other, comparable jobs are not available, and plunge the local community into severe economic difficulties due to the resulting (a) loss of tax revenues and (b) gain in social costs merely to benefit the company’s investors and executives. Such an action is criminal and should be punished accordingly.

4 – Policy Governance

Here is where John Carver’s Policy Governance [10] is so important. Whether advertently or inadvertently, its prescriptions for organizational governance reflect God’s prescriptions for Earth Inc.’s governance.

Carver perceived just how dysfunctional the traditional manner of governance can be when board chairs and board members preside over operational committees (administration, finance, research, sales, etc.) that are responsible for the main areas of an organization’s activities.In effect, the board tells the staff what to do and how to do it. Thus the board gets bogged down in day-to-day operations, frustrates and often prevents the employees from doing their jobs, and neglects the board’s main duties.

Policy Governance, on the other hand, is designed to draw a sharp distinction between board and staff responsibilities. The board is responsible for establishing organizational ends and policies, as well as hiring and monitoring the performance of the CEO, who is the senior member of the staff. The CEO is responsible for achieving the board-set ends while adhering to the board-set policies. Thus, within the limits set by the board, the CEO is free to manage, mold, and motivate the organization as he sees fit. He identifies the means that will be used to achieve the ends. He does or oversees the hiring and firing of the staff. He decides what resources will be needed, how to obtain those resources, etc.

Carver’s approach has two important results: (a) it prompts the board to stay focused on the big picture and prevents the board from meddling in operations and (b) it tells the CEO, not what he must do, but what he cannot do, thereby freeing him to use his creativity and initiative in the execution of his job (in this respect, it imitates God’s instructions to mankind, which are mostly proscriptions rather than prescriptions). Most important, it holds one person accountable for the organizations success or failure – the CEO.

© 2016 John Holbrook Jr.

[1] An analogy makes use of a resemblance in some particulars between two things which may be quite different otherwise. It does not imply a one-to-one correspondence between them in all respects.

[2] The precise domain to which God has confined mankind is unclear. There are passages in the scriptures like “The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the earth he has given to man” (NIV Psalm 115:16), which suggests that man should remain on earth. This interpretation is reinforced by passages that condemn the Babylonians for aspiring to reach the heavens with their tower. On the other hand, there are passages like “Thou hast made [man] to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet” (KJ21 Psalm 8:6), which are then defined as “all sheep and oxen, yea, and the beasts of the field, the fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea…” (KJ21 Psalm 8:7-8). Does “the works of Thy hand” include the heavenly bodies or just the earthly creatures that are enumerated? I am inclined to believe the latter. Hence I have entitled the enterprise Earth Inc., not Universe Inc.

[3] Isaiah 46:10.

[4] Genesis 2:17.

[5] Genesis 2:18.

[6] KJV Genesis 2:18.

[7] KJV Genesis 2:21-23. Adam later called her “Eve, because she was the mother of all living” (KJV Genesis 3:20).

[8] The Rev. Malcolm Smith painted a delightful picture here. After noting that, in Hebrew, the word for man is Ish and the word for woman is Ishah and that both Adam and his bride were naked, he asked, Can you imagine what Adam said when he first saw her walking toward him: “Ish…..aaahhhhh!” (Malcolm Smith, Revelation, Logos Tapes, Hazlitt, NJ, 9th tape.)

[9] KJV Genesis 1:28

[10] I highly recommend John Carver’s many books, particularly Boards That Make a Difference, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA 1990.

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