The New Design of General Board

1997 Annual Conference Polity

How we began this process

In early 1995, a sobering financial projection showed we could no longer afford our level of programming. While sensing the urgency of the situation, the Board worked to intentionally build a foundation for further action by seeking and articulating a vision for the Board’s mission and ministries. Working under this vision statement, a Redesign Steering Committee was called from July 1995 through October 1996 to gather information from all comers of the denomination, and to develop the initial elements of the new design. The process continues as the Transition Team works to bring the new organization into existence.

Where we are today

In January 1997, the Executive Committee of the General Board empowered the Interim general secretary, Karen Miller, to facilitate the integration of the new Leadership Team. Then, in March the General Board adopted a new structure designed to carry out the ministries of the General Board of the Church of the Brethren with reduced resources. With fewer staff, there will be some things we can no longer do. We acknowledge our grief in the loss of the familiar. At the same time focusing on core functions, essential mission and ministries will be strengthened. Especially important is strengthening the connections between Annual Conference, districts, congregations, other agencies, and General Board.

We have faith that through these difficult times, God is transforming the way the General Board carries out its mission and ministries. We trust that the whole Church will walk with us toward the future God is preparing.

“I will bless you with a future filled with hope…a future of success, not of suffering.” –Jeremiah 29:11 CEV

In order to fully embrace the emerging new design, we know the following polity changes are necessary:

  • reducing the General Board from 25 to 20 while maintaining representation from districts
  • reorganizing the General Board from a three-commission structure to a (committee, task team, ad hoc) structure based on expertise of Board members, need, and function
  • moving from an Administrative Council to a Leadership Team
  • creating a Mission and Ministries Planning Council to absorb the mission and ministry planning function of the Planning Coordinating Committee (PCC). The role of the Executive Committee will be expanded to include budget parameter development and planning currently done by Goals and Budget Committee.
  • PCC and Goals and Budget Committee would be disbanded.

What needs to happen next

The Church of the Brethren consists of many partners, necessitating on-going conversations to define mutual relationships in order to sustain the new structure. Since the congregational life teams will be in close proximity to the constituents, numerous conversations need to be held with districts so this new concept may be developed in partnership with district boards and congregations. In addition, man~ logistical mailers still need to be worked out.


The General Board recommends to Annual Conference that the following polity governing General Board be adopted to replace Chapter II “The General Board” in the present Manual of Organization and Polity. Pending approval by Annual Conference, General Board also recommends General Board and Standing Committee move to implement the structures included in this document as quickly as possible. It is recognized that the calling procedures for General Board members might be phased gradually into the new system in order for present General Board members to complete their current terms.

General Board further recommends that this new organizational structure be reviewed annually by the General Board. The first major review by a group other than the General Board will be conducted a specially scheduled Review and Evaluation Committee to be selected in 2000 and to present its final report to Annual Conference one year later in 2001, focusing especially on the new design.  The next major review will be conducted by the as stipulated in denominational polity (Minutes of the Annual Conference Church of the Brethren, 1985-1989, pp: 876-878). The Review and Evaluation Committee will be elected in the year 2005 and present its final report to the Annual Conference in 2007.

(From the Conference Secretary: The revised text in the following polity statement is presented in bold print. This has been done as a matter of information to assist the reader in quickly identifying the sections of polity that are being revised. The bold/non-bold style in which the text is presented has no bearing on the substance of this document.)

Manual of Organization and Polity

Chapter II

General Board


We envision a General Board, under the guidance of the Annual Conference and in accordance with its by-laws, that:

  • equips congregations to make faithful disciples to carry on the ministry of Jesus Christ, locally and around the world;
  • works in partnership with Church of the Brethren pastors, congregations, districts, and agencies, -as well as other denominations and organizations;
  • participates in the Annual Conference discernment process and then faithfully implements the will of the delegate body;
  • facilitates denominational ministries through a unified structure and vision of shared ministry;
  • acts as a compassionate employer, calling together gifted staff in a nurturing environment and encouraging excellence among its employees;
  • constantly pursues simplicity, clarity, focus, and good stewardship in its structure and functions;
  • anticipates and prepares for the future mission of the church and is informed by the strengths of our Brethren heritage.

I. Purposes and Functions

I. Participate with Annual Conference in the discernment of God’s leading and assist the Church of the Brethren with the implementation of the will of the Body.

  1. Build and nurture a two-way relationship with Annual Conference, by reporting to each Anual Conference and by seeking guidance and direction from Annual Conference on the total church program.
  2. Propose initiatives for change as a result of General Board discernment processes.
  3. Share with Annual Conference insights and recommendations concerning the ministry and mission of the church.
  4. Faithfully implement the will of the delegate body.

II. Equip the church, under the guidance of Annual Conference, to make faithful disciples to continue the work of Jesus – peacefully, simply, together – locally and around the world.

  1. Provide resources to congregations, recognizing that they are the fundamental building blocks of the denomination.
  2. Provide service ministries to enable Christ’s presence in the world, actively involving individuals and congregations wherever possible.
  3. Coordinate mission opportunities through which individuals and congregations may live out the Great Commission with special attention given to counseling with districts and congregations in the establishing of new congregations.
  4. Facilitate a leadership development system that calls, equips and qualifies people for church and ministerial leadership.
  5. Incorporate the unique Brethren witness in the ministry, mission, and service of the church.
  6. Model a process of fund-raising based on the biblical teaching of stewardship.
  7. Help build community through networking and communications.

III. Administer the General Board as Christian stewards of human and physical resources, in keeping with the general policies determined by Annual Conference.

  1. Facilitate a circular interactive process in order to ensure that involved constituencies are always part of the process.
    • A circular interaction process is a continuous loop that sends message, solicits input, incorporates that input, then revises the message and continues the process.
    • We see this as a preferred mode of operation for all aspects of the organization (planning, public relations, fund-raising, etc.) encouraging shared involvement in the leadership process.
  2. Maintain a balance between the needs of the organization and the needs of employees and volunteers.
  3. Act in partnership with districts, denominational agencies, and ecumenical partners.
  4. Pursue simplicity, clarity, and focus in order that we have structures and functions appropriate to our resources.
  5. Act (voting board members) as fiduciaries who empower staff as stewards of the mission of the church.
    • A fiduciary is both morally and legally accountable to present and future generations as a steward of the church.
    • We see this in keeping with our historic understanding of the church; each member is responsible for the whole, and the whole is responsible for each member.

II. Composition of the Board

The General Board shall be composed of twenty members called by Annual Conference. These members shall be representative of the various interest and geographical areas of the Church of the Brethren. Fifteen members of the Board shall be called from geographical areas (interpreted as districts) of the church; five members shall be called from the church at-large.

Of the fifteen members called from geographical areas, no more than one shall come from any one district at a given time. The five members at large may come from any where in the Church. No more than one member shalt come from one congregation nor more than two from one district at a given time. However, when a member moves from one district to another, he or she shall not he replaced on the Board until his or her term expires even though the transfer creates a situation where there are more than two members of the Board from one district or more than one member from one congregation. At the conclusion of the term for a district representative on the General Board, the district will not be eligible to have a person called as a geographic representative for another three years.

In addition to the twenty called members, there shall be six ex-officio members of the Board. These shall include the president and the dean of Bethany Theological Seminary, the moderator and moderator-elect of Annual Conference, the president of the Brethren Benefit Trust, and an observer/consultant from the American Baptist Churches USA, each of whom shall serve in a consultative, non-voting capacity on the General Board. Any individual who becomes moderator while serving as a member of the General Board shall resign from the Board and be replaced by another who will serve the remainder of the unexpired term. If the moderator-elect is already a member of the Board at the time of election, regular Board membership continues until the moderator’s role is assumed.

III. Qualifications of Board Members

Persons considered for membership on the General Board shall exhibit qualities of consecrated Christian living in the home, the Church and the community. They shall he persons who are committed to the mission of the church and conversant with issues of the day. They shall possess competencies needed in the work of the Board and he willing to give the major time and effort required for active participation in dealing with the concerns before the Board and the Church.

IV. Eligibility of Board Members

Any member of the Church of the Brethren who fulfills the qualifications herein set forth may serve on the General Board except persons employed by the Board, Brethren Benefit Trust administrative personnel, Bethany Theological Seminary administrative personnel, and administrative personnel employed by the district boards.

V. Organization of the Board

The entire Board shall be the responsible decision-making body in all major program, policy, and budget issues, with the functional activity of the Board facilitated through committees appointed as needed. The voting Board members will act on personnel matters. The Board may organize itself into whatever committees or task forces would most effectively utilize the expertise of the Board member and meet needs and functions as they arise.

A. Officers
The Board shall call a chairperson and vice chairperson from among the voting membership of the Board. The executive director shall serve as secretary of the Board. The Board shall call as corporate officers a secretary and a treasurer.

B. Standing Committee

1. Executive Committee
The Executive Committee shall be composed of the chairperson and vice chairperson of the Board; four members at large called by the Board; and the executive director who shall serve ex-officio without vote. The moderator, excepting when items of personnel are being considered, shall serve as an ex-officio member of the committee without vote. The functions of the Executive Committee are:

  • Facilitate the Board’s goal-setting and long-range planning, taking into consideration the counsel of the Mission and Ministries Planning Council.
  • Consider recommendations from the Mission and Ministries Planning Council.
  • Develop budget proposals and five-year financial projections for the consideration of the Board.
  • Consider all personnel matters and make recommendations to the entire Board. The Executive Committee may act on consultation of staff who report to a staff director.
  • Serve as a counseling agency for the executive director.
  • Carry responsibility for the fiscal operations of the Board.
  • Act for the Board between regular Board meetings on matters which cannot be deferred until the next meeting.

2. Mission and Ministries Planning Council
The Mission and Ministries Planning Council will he composed of the chair of the General Board, one General Board member called by General Board, the executive director of the General Board, one Staff director named by the General Board Leadership Team, Annual Conference moderator and moderator-elect, and two district executives named by the Council of District Executives (CODE). The district executives will serve alternating two year terms. The executive director of the General Board will chair this council.

The primary function of the Mission and Ministries Planning Council is to provide a continuous interface between the members, congregations, and districts with the ministries of the Annual Conference through the General Board. The Council shall receive and review ideas for new ministries and missions from congregations, districts; and Standing Committee. Through a process of discernment, the Council will then make recommendations to the Board. Discernment is to be through prayerfully studying the Scriptures listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit, and facilitating a means for listening to the voices of sisters and brothers in Christ.

C. Other Committees

To facilitate further the ability of the Board to handle effectively its wide-ranging responsibilities, it shall be authorized to enlist the services of task-teams and specialists. These ad hoc appointments shall be directly responsible to the Board through the Executive Committee.

VI. Tenure of Office

The normal term of office shall be five years. Board members shall not be eligible for a second term until two years after completion of a prior term of office, except that any person serving a part of a term of three years or less shall be eligible to be called for a second term.

VII. Method of Calling

Each year three members representing districts shall be called by majority vote of the Annual Conference delegate body in regular session. The Standing Committee shall nominate two persons for each vacancy. Each district will be represented on the General Board before any district will be eligible to have a representative on the Board again. The Conference secretary will ensure that the established rotation continues.

In preparing the ballot the Standing Committee, as the nominating committee of Annual Conference, shall evaluate carefully matters of basic qualifications; balance of representation in terms of gender, age and experience; current needs of the Board; ethnic and geographical representation.

VIII. Staffing

The General Board shall employ an executive director as its chief executive officer, a treasurer, and such other persons as are necessary to carry forward the program of the Board. For administrative purposes, staff will he assigned to functional groupings with common purposes or goals led by a staff director. The number and functions of these staff groupings will be determined by the Board.

The executive director and the staff directors will constitute a Leadership Team for the purpose of coordination of program planning, consideration of major program policy matters, clearance on staff operation, program administration, and evaluation of the organization. The Leadership Team shall secure, determine tenure, and terminate employment of staff personnel, subject to confirmation by the Executive Committee. Such action shall he reported to the General Board by the executive director

IX. Ecumenical Relationships

  1. A Committee on Interchurch Relationships shall be jointly constituted by Annual Conference and the General Board. The executive director will be an ex-officio member without vote.  The committee is accountable both to Annual Conference and to the General Board.  The committee will have the recording services of staff who will be employed by the Board.
  2. The General Board shall give careful attention to basic coordination and integration of ecumenical concerns in the normal course of the work of the Board.
  3. The General Board shall assign other ecumenical concerns, especially efforts to further local cooperation, to ongoing program areas as integral aspects of these efforts, using all the reliable channels of communication and implementation such as:
    • Counseling with districts and congregations on their relationships to councils of churches;
    • Ecumenical education;
    • Interchurch involvements of designated program areas on behalf of cooperative ministries;
    • Coordination by the executive director of all ecumenical staff relationships;
    • Faith and order studies and relationships to be related to the Committee on Interchurch Relations or other committees or staff, according to their nature.
  4. Representation of the Church of the Brethren to the National and World Councils of Churches shall continue according to present Annual Conference policy.
  5. The General Board shall initiate steps to develop budget as part of the denominational fund for the program of ecumenical concerns and especially for the work of the Committee on lnterchurch Relations and staff.
  6. The full membership of the Committee on lnterchurch Relations shall be recorded in the Annual Conference Minutes.

–Karen P. Miller, Interim General Secretary
–Katherine A. Hess, Board Chair

Action of the General Board:

Approved by the General Board at its March 10-11, 1997, meeting, for recommendation to Annual Conference.

Action of the 1997 Annual Conference:

Approved by the delegate body with the required two-thirds majority. Several amendments were adopted and have been incorporated into the preceding text.