Asian church leaders need to commit to and promote principles of good governance and accountability for better stewardship

Posted on 12 November 2021
Participants of Asia Regional Consultation on ‘Asian Churches Building Good Governance and Accountability in Serving Humanity’  

The affirmation of the need for Asian church leaders to commit to and promote principles of good governance for better stewardship was the focus of a three-day consultation organised by the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA).

The Asia Regional Consultation, which was conducted online, was attended by 48 participants. Asian church leaders representing the CCA’s member churches as well as students of the ongoing Asian Ecumenical Institute attended the Consultation, held from 9 to 11 November 2021, on the theme ‘Asian Churches Building Good Governance and Accountability in Serving Humanity’.

The CCA organised the three-day programme for representatives from the member churches with a view to equip them with the principles of stewardship and accountability, so as to strengthen the systems for good governance within the church and to make the churches exemplary in their practices of leadership and servanthood, probity, honesty, integrity, generosity, and love.

In his opening address, the CCA General Secretary, Dr Mathews George Chunakara, stated, “Governance is a common concern in all aspects of life and society, and is also applicable to churches and all related organisations as well as institutions. Good governance is an emerging concern for the churches, and is to be strictly followed in Asia within a stringent environment, so as to fulfil the expectations of compliance with international standards of regulation; at the same time it is a fundamental Christian value. Governance must not be viewed as merely a concept with secular applications; it is highly relevant to and essential for churches to promote better stewardship.”

The CCA General Secretary further added that when the church leaders often point their fingers against bureaucrats and political leaders to challenge the prevailing injustices, corruption, and mismanagement of resources, they should also examine the fairness and quality of the systems and structures within their churches as well as their leadership styles before they speak out against the issues in politics and governance; it is a moral and ethical parameter to be kept in mind so that they may present their integrity and credibility as responsible church leaders.

“Churches in Asia must ensure that the spiritual dimension of governance is valued and recognised by secular societies, and for this to happen the churches and their leaders themselves must be role models,” said Dr Chunakara.

Rev. Dr Yusak B. Setyawan, from the Satya Wacana Christian University in Indonesia, in a presentation on ‘Biblical-Theological Reflection on Good Governance’, shared concepts such as ‘The Jesus movement’ and ‘The Kingdom of God and Ecclesia’, the theological inspiration for good governance.

“The creation narrative is the starting point of our rationale to build good governance. God created everything as good. This ideal of goodness cannot be maintained due to failed decision-making by human beings. This further leads to the emergence of sin, which is the tendency of misusing or abusing one’s power. Subsequently, we have ‘bad governance’ and ‘good governance’,” observed Rev. Setyawan.

Rev. Setyawan further elucidated that the Jesus movement emphasised the right of everyone to receive teaching and education, the equality of the leader and the followers, and the spirit of compassion that led one to serve others rather than one’s own self-interest. ‘Ecclesia’, too, was re-interpreted as wholeness and inclusiveness within and outside the community. Good governance, thus, became a means for the good of not just human society but also for the benefit of all creation (oikos).

Rev. Abraham Varkey, from the Christian Agency for Rural Development, conducted the session on ‘Christian Leadership Values in Management: Accountability and Stewardship’.

Rev. Varkey emphasised the role of the manager as a steward-servant leader, the importance of the personal growth of employees which was directly correlated with the growth of the organisation, and the incorporation of biblical values of love, honesty, integrity, and justice in all decision-making and actions. He further elaborated on the implementation of human rights standards and justice in the area of labour and employment.

“Realising human resource management through the lens of Christian values helps us to faithfully view our work as something entrusted to us by God and creates a healthy organisational environment that considers employees as the cornerstone of the organisation and as valuable assets rather than dispensable tools,” said Rev. Varkey.

The session on ‘Leadership Development: Human Resource Management’ was led by Marthen Sumual from PT Top Konsep Indonesia.

Human resource management was necessary to achieve organisational success through its people, who have hard and soft skills competencies which the organisation utilises for its benefit. The organisation is thus accountable to those who will be affected by its decisions and direction of action. The management of human resources was a continual process of good governance where each person is recognised as a valuable asset for the development and growth of the organisation, explained Mr Sumual.

In a presentation on ‘Goal-Setting: Developing Strategic Planning’, Anand Joshua, from the Christian Institute of Management in India, explained in detail about how strategic planning involved accountability, stewardship, compliance, responsiveness, and transparency. These factors needed to be considered as the mission to discern God’s plan and a sacred journey to listen to God’s voice. It also enabled the clear envisioning of goals and objectives with clarity and ownerships at all levels.

Mr Joshua subsequently pointed out that highly effective strategic leadership was grounded in the mission, vision, and core values of the organisation, effective communication and accountable governance; it was people-centred, shared ownership, and relied on feedback and learning.

Rev. John Asihua from Majelis Sinode of the Gereja Kalimantan Evangelis (Kalimantan Evangelical Church in Indonesia) in his presentation focused on ‘Code of Conduct: Assuring Safety at the Workplace’.

Rev. Asihua said that an institution’s code of conduct was a policy which outlined principles and standards that all members of the institution and others acting on behalf of the institution were required to follow. This policy was a reflection of the organisation’s mission and core values. He further outlined the benefits of having a code of conduct policy in place: it helped define the institution’s work culture, it set standards and expectations for the behaviour and work ethic of the members, and it established healthy relationships with external partners, given its transparency and clear definitions.

Rev. Ira Imelda from Gereja Kristen Pasundan (Pasundan Christian Church in Indonesia) led the session on ‘Complaint Mechanisms in Faith-based Organisations’.

“A church’s complaint mechanisms are based on its code of conduct policies and other rules and regulations. These mechanisms must be undergirded with the theological understanding of respect which creates an enabling environment for the safety of all members. Although churches tend to be reactive in cases of misconduct, such as corruption or sexual harassment, they must be proactive in the prevention of such incidents in the first place by having code of conduct policies and complaint mechanisms in place. Member awareness and education is an important part of this process,” declared Rev. Imelda.

The presentation on ‘Accountability of Financial Resources’ was delivered by Dr Sanjay Patra from the Financial Management Service Foundation in India.

Dr Patra shared two checklists for maintaining accountability at the personal level and the organisational level. At the personal level this included being familiarised with approval mechanisms, clarity of rules and regulations, application of internal policies to all, irrespective of organisational hierarchy, and elimination of favouritism. The organisational level checklist contained clear and straightforward budget monitoring processes and approvals, compliance with external grant conditions, establishment of and compliance with internal control systems, independence of external auditors, and qualifications of persons handling the organisation’s finances.

Prof. Dr Christoph Stueckelberger from the Globethics Foundation in Switzerland conducted three sessions on ‘Good Governance Leadership Models in Context’, ‘Analysis of Resources of Churches and Related Institutions’, and ‘Assuring Accountability Structures: Monitoring and Reporting Instruments’.

“Leaders are found at every level: from the local/congregational to the international. Leadership in good governance is characterised by integrity and an adherence to the set rules, rooted in stewardship, discipleship, and in the commandment of loving God, and others as oneself. Integrity changes the focus from ‘me’ (individual) to ‘we’ (community),” said Dr Stueckelberger.

Speaking of the assets of the church, he encouraged the attendees saying, “The main goal of asset-mapping is to discover the wealth of the existing diversity of resources, such as financial, organisational, spiritual, and human. The Church also has many intangible assets that remain underutilised. We must develop strategies for the efficient use and development of resources, just as the Biblical parable in Matthew 25:14–30 calls us to use God-given resources in the best way possible rather than complaining that not enough is available.”

Dr Stueckelberger, whose presentations were replete with numerous case studies and personal experiences, further shared different planning and monitoring instruments to help ensure the stability of the management structure.

“The goal of accountability, transparency, monitoring, and reporting is to build trust in the institution. Churches and related institutions must respect international reporting standards which are meaningful instruments of accountability and future planning, and not of exaggerated control. Reporting should be consistent with planning, monitoring, and evaluation steps,” explained Dr Stueckelberger.

At the end of the three-day Consultation, the participants discussed various opportunities in their contexts for the applications of the learnings from the different sessions and suggested steps for the establishment of good governance systems in churches. They also put forth recommendations for collaborative action for the way ahead. The participants further affirmed their commitment to good governance in their own capacities and resolved to adhere to such principles in their mission and diaconal work.

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