Q&As

Fr Brian Lucas on Boards and Advisory Councils: Issues and Challenges

Thursday October 4, 2018

Fr Brian Lucas is a priest of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney ordained in 1980 after briefly practising law as a solicitor in a commercial practice in Sydney. Since 2016 he is the National Director of Catholic Mission (the Pontifical Mission Societies in Australia). 

Fr Brian Lucas

You can hear more from Fr Lucas at the Religious Law Conference, being held on Wednesday 21 November at the Pullman Sydney Hyde Park, 36 College Street, Sydney.

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Fr Lucas recently to discuss key challenges and opportunities facing the sector today. You can read the full Q&A below.

How would you briefly describe the current state of religious administration?

There is a great deal of variation in resources and skills among those responsible for church administration. There are very sophisticated structures in place for the larger denominations and the entities within them, whereas for others that rely only on volunteers they can find themselves in difficulty with more complex issues relating to charity law and governance.

Are there any roles of Church advisory councils and boards that you think are sometimes misunderstood or overlooked by those on the councils and boards?

One of the main issues is the drift by advisory boards into executive or management functions.

Is it clear cut what statutes and constitutions govern Church advisory councils and boards?

One of the issues that confront some bodies is the lack of clear documentation as to roles and expectations and some operate without any formal mandate or outside the strict terms of the documents that established them.

What’s a common mistake you see some Church advisory councils and boards make?

A common mistake is to drift into executive or management functions, or to feel inferior to an executive board (“we are ONLY advisory”) or to devalue the worth of advice that is given, especially in instances where that advice is not followed.

What role should church governors play in running an effective Church advisory council or board?

There should be a clear statement of role and expectations and the meetings should be well resourced with proper agenda papers and supporting documentation, as the basis for respectful listening.

What’s a hybrid board and what are some of the pros or cons of using such a structure?

This is a body which has constitutive document that indicates the areas in which it gives advice and what delegated executive functions it has. The advantage is that the one group of experts can provide strategic advice while also having within the group the skills to execute certain delegated functions. The disadvantage is a risk that the distinctive roles are misunderstood or confused.

How can dysfunctionality arise in a Church advisory council or board and what’s one tip to prevent or deal with such dysfunction?

Leaving aside any dysfunctionality that arises from individual personalities, structurally there can be confusion as to roles and expectations and the fundamental tool for avoiding this is clear documentation and systematic and thorough induction of members.

What are some of the trends and developments you see ahead in the area of religious administration?

One of the trends is likely to be the law relating to charities and tax becoming more complex with more reporting expectations, and the demands of NFP governance will become more significant and in larger entities there will be a demand for greater professionalism.

More about Fr Brian Lucas:

Fr Lucas’ previous appointments include General Secretary of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in Canberra (2002 - 2015), Financial Administrator and Secretary of the Archdiocese of Sydney (2000 - 2012), and he spent 15 years as archdiocesan media spokesman. He was a Director of Catholic Church Insurances Limited (2003 - 2015). He was a founding member of the Catholic Church Professional Standards Committee from 1989 - 1999. From 1999 - 2016 he was a member of the Australian Taxation Office Charities Consultative Committee. He was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2001 and undertook a course of study and research in pastoral communication at the Gregorian University, Rome. Fr Lucas has post-graduate academic qualifications in law, jurisprudence, general studies and theology. He is an adjunct professor of the Australian Catholic University. He is a co-author of the Church Administration Handbook and the author of Pleasing to God - The Call to Church Administration, as well as numerous academic journal articles in the areas of child welfare law, ethics, media practice and church administration.

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