Managing the Vision: Deacons and Elders

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Tracking the successful implementation of ministry is not free from criticism. For some it just appears too much like a business approach. While for others the discipline of tracking is just another thing they do not have time for. For most churches and small Christian not-for-profits it is not done at all, or if it is, it is done poorly. This article will outline some basic principles that will greatly increase organizational accountability in achieving the vision and mission of the organization.

Why Establish Reporting Around Goals

Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century churchman, had this to say about metrics in the church,

“I am not among those who decry statistics, nor do I consider that they are productive of all manner of evil; for they do much good if they are accurate, and if used wisely, it is a good thing for people to see the nakedness of the land through statistics of decrease, that they may be driven on their knees before the Lord to seek prosperity; and, on the other hand, it is by no means an evil thing for workers to be encouraged by having some account of results set before them. I should be very sorry if the practice of adding up, and deducting, and reporting on the net result, were to be abandoned, for it must be right to know our numerical condition. It has been noticed that those who object to the process are often those whose unsatisfactory reports should somewhat humiliate them.

The fact is, you can reckon very correctly if the figures are honest, and all circumstances are taken into consideration if there is no increase, you may calculate with considerable accuracy that there is not much being done…”

Charles Spurgeon articulates very well what years later management guru Peter Drucker articulated as the Five Key components of a healthy Performance Measurement and control System.

  1. Setting realistic, measureable expectations/outcomes.
  2. Thinking through ways to continuously capture measuring information.
  3. Developing strategies and tactics capable of accomplishing clearly defined expected outcomes.
  4. Monitoring/tracking feedback from actual results.
  5. Taking corrective action when there is a deviation between actual and predicted/planned results.

Ministry by Christian organizations and churches involved in sustainable community work has also taught us much about how measureable expectations should be set within the context of healthy principles. One of the best articulations of these principles has been done by the Lupton Center at Focused Community Strategies. Their principles are:

  1. Mutuality – God is already there! How do we discern what God is doing and come along side of that?
  2. Participatory – All people are God’s Image bearers! How do we recognize and build on the gifts of our members as well as those we seek to serve?
  3. Holistic – Practicing integrated ministry! How do we ensure that we address the spiritual when the ministry may be speaking to physical needs?
  4. Engages the Mind as well as the Heart! – How do we make sure that we help without hurting?
  5. Measures Impact – Accomplishing the Vision/Mission! How do we ensure we are moving towards our desired future?

Without applying these principles ministry cannot remain focused. It becomes dependent on the perceptions of the strongest personalities or the whims of the current committee. These principles can be summarized with three P’s.

  1. Pray. This is the discernment, listening to members and community stage.
  2. Partner. Learn from and work with those who have your values.
  3. Practice. Utilize the principles of good planning and community connectedness.

A Model

This Sample of Church Goals is an example of how one church has established their goals and developed a reporting mechanism that allows them to regularly monitor progress for the direction they have set. The Elders are responsible for Reaching In and Reaching Out outcomes and Deacons are responsible for Reaching Out and Reaching Across outcomes. While there are management tools that are more sophisticated and would include all of the activities related to each objective, a simple format such as this is extremely helpful in guiding the work plan. It is critical that accountability for follow up is established. Accountability can be in the form of a standing committee of Council, Council itself, or a designated staff person. Not establishing accountability is the most common reason good planning fails to accomplish the vision that was set.

Deeper Accountability

Establishing the outcomes is one important aspect of accountability. Monitoring all aspects of organizational life is critical to good management. Many not-for-profit organizations use an approach called policy governance to ensure that all aspects of an organization are being held to the highest possible standard. For a full introduction to this approach www.carvergovernance.com is a great site to dig more deeply into this model. Good accountability establishes four areas where tracking and reporting needs to be in place. The four areas with their sub categories are:

  1. The Key Goals or Outcomes
    1. Defining the ministry context.
    2. Defining the cost.
    3. Setting the outcomes based on vision.
  2. Role of Senior Pastor/Staff
    1. The treatment of congregational members, community partners, and program participants.
    2. The treatment of any staff, and what staff can expect.
    3. Financial planning, budgeting, and reporting.
    4. Protection and acquisition of assets.
    5. Succession planning and leadership development.
    6. Compensation and benefits.
    7. Communication with and support of Council.
    8. Expectations related to gender equity, racial equity, abuse prevention, disability concerns.
  3. Defining the Relationship of Senior Pastor/Staff to  Council
    1. Unity of control. The Council speaks with one voice or not at all.
    2. Accountability to Senior Pastor. This policy defines how the Council relates to staff through the Pastor
    3. Delegation to Senior Pastor. This policy spells out how authority is delegated to the Senior Pastor.
    4. Monitoring Performance. This policy spells out how the Senior Pastor will be evaluated including what the Senior Pastor is responsible for and when it is due in terms of reports to the Council.
  4. Policies for Clear Accountability
    1. Governing Style. This policy articulates the management values Council wants to operate by.
    2. Council Job Outputs. This policy establishes the Council’s functions as well as its accountability to the membership.
    3. Council Member Code of Conduct. This policy establishes expectations ranging from avoiding conflict of interest to as well as how they will conduct themselves with each other and with the membership.
    4. Council Committee Principles. Under policy governance committees should be kept to a minimum. This policy spells out how and when they will be used.
    5. Cost of Governance. This policy puts in place the budget considerations for Council costs such those for meetings and trainings

All four areas are reviewed regularly by the Council of the church in a time frame that is appropriate to the specific area. For instance, financial reporting on income and expenses should be done very regularly, while seeking feedback from membership on their appreciation of ministry may be a yearly report based on a survey.

While Policy Governance can drill down to a number of levels of complexity for large organizations, an introductory approach for most churches is enough to allow them to track appropriate aspects of organizational life so that the system functions as a healthy whole.

Summary

This process may seem daunting, but working through it can prevent misunderstanding and the establishment of a healthy structure where there is mutual accountability between the church Council and the Senior Pastor. Clear boundaries and expectations prevent confusion and conflict.

The key to working this through starts with prayerful discernment asking what God is already doing amongst the church membership and in the community. Establish key strategic foci around this discernment process. Then walk through the policy governance process steps. The first time through the policies might be very straight forward and simple. The key to implementing it successfully is to build a review process into the meeting structure of the Council so that the policies are constantly in front of the Council. Council can agree on what policies should be reported on quarterly, which semi-annually, and which on an annual basis. Reporting on Key Goals should be done at quarterly or as often as the Council chooses to meet. If policy governance is done well quarterly meetings should be sufficient.

So remember the Three P’s. Pray, Partner, and Practice

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