“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Or so I’ve heard. That is a truism that is all too true in many a church, where “squeaky wheels” set an agenda of anxiety, reactivity, and whim, while the church as a whole flounders to find its course.
What today’s church must have are guiding principles to provide accountability and to help steer the church through the often tumultuous waters of modern ministry. When a church and its staff have a sense of boundaries within which to operate, they can more easily focus on the vision and goals of ministry.
Good News – Some of the Work Is Already Done
The good news is that, while few ministry professionals are thoroughly trained by their graduate schools and seminaries for the administrative tasks of ministry, there are some areas in which the regulatory environment is already established. The most obvious example comes in the area of church finance, where many accounting standards and other fiscal practices are prescribed by law. Likewise, of high importance are legal and ethical standards relating to the management of personnel and for interactions with children and youth.
In addition to standards established by law, many denominational resources are available to assist the local church in establishing sound best practices, particularly in administrative areas. Click here for an example of guidelines for a local church finance committee from the United Methodist Church.
More Good News – There Are People Around You Gifted for the Work
Face it – most church professionals are not particularly gifted or trained to manage the regulatory environment. But there are lay people around you who are. The strongest church leaders are those who are adept at drawing upon the gifts of the people around them, especially if they can call upon people whose gifts complement their own. When they can do that, they find more time available to them for the work of ministry, more time to spend with people, more time to spend cultivating and nurturing disciples, and maybe even more time to spend with their families.
But There’s More to It – To What or Whom Are You Accountable?
You’re right – there is more to ministry than simply managing the regulatory environment, more than following all the rules, more than avoiding the pitfalls of, even inadvertently, breaking the law. The Church is called to something higher and is answerable to something bigger.
As a pastor, I always loved it when I got to gather with the children during worship for a children’s sermon. Whenever I would ask a question, I was never sure at all what kind of answer I was going to get. But after awhile the kids figured out that the number one answer to one of my questions was going to be “God.” The number two answer… well, you know the old story – the preacher asks the kids, “What’s furry, gray, and has a bushy tail?” And Johnny answers, “Well, it sounds like a squirrel to me, but I know the answer is ‘Jesus.’”
“God” would be the big answer here. Our ministries are definitely accountable to God. In fact, our whole lives are accountable to God. That is a matter of being a person of faith. Everything that we are, everything that we do is accountable to God.
But What About Your Church’s Ministry?
Sure, your church’s ministry is accountable to God, but how is that ministry accountable to God today? How is that ministry accountable to God in your particular place? How is that ministry accountable to God regarding the people who are around you?
Now, I am not trying to get all “denominational” here, nor am I trying to say that one way is more right than another. But I do want to lay out some possibilities upon which you may draw:
- Scripture is a great place to start. And for some churches, that is all they want. Scripture does give a treasure trove of wisdom and guidance, even when applied to the modern context. In it we even have local church situations addressed (in the letters of Paul) that can apply to today’s church.
- Denominational structures or judicatories may guide and provide supervision. This won’t apply to all churches, of course, but denominational associations may provide resources and standards that supplement or help to interpret the guidance of scripture. In addition, certification or licensing of ministry personnel by denominational groups can further verify the calling, suitability, and preparation of candidates for ministry, as well as supervision of pastors in the field. These denominational groups may also provide publications and resources for the local church in various areas of ministry.
- Accountability to one another. Different churches do this in different ways. In some churches clergy are accountable to laity. In other churches laity are accountable to clergy. In others clergy are accountable to elders or mentors or one another. In yet others laity are more actively involved in congregational discipline. Each of these systems has its ups and downs, but these are mostly downs if the system is not clearly stated and widely communicated.
But what about your church specifically? To what are you accountable?
- No doubt about it – Ministry Architects is a scripturally-based Christian company working to bring innovative change and healthy systems for the good of God’s Church. At the same time we firmly believe that every church needs three foundational documents to which it is accountable:
- Mission Statement – a clear concise statement of what the church understands to be the nature of its work and being. When that statement is clear and widely supported, the church has a measuring stick by which to measure all of its ministries. Most, if not all, of the work of the church should reflect something of its stated mission.
- Core Values – a list of defining values that will be characteristic of how the church operates. Again, ministry activity may be checked alongside the core values to assure that how the church conducts itself is in accordance with whom it has stated it feels called to be.
- Goals toward which the church is moving – typically three-year goals that reflect the cutting edge growth areas that are a part of the church’s vision of itself in days ahead, goals that are aligned with the church’s mission.
We find that when churches operate their ministries, holding them accountable to these big things, they become the best that they can be, and they become the Church that God intended them to be.
Your church gets to decide to what and whom it is accountable. Maybe it decides that just being accountable to God is enough or that being accountable to scripture is enough. Maybe it decides that it will just limp along responding to the latest and loudest squeaky wheel.
Or maybe… just maybe… your church will put in the work and effort that it takes to get a clear picture of the course to which it is called. If you do, and if you hold yourselves accountable to it, you will be on a better course toward being the Church that God had in mind.
If you want to explore more about what this looks like, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to spend some time helping to plot your course.