There are few things as controversial, in many circles, as church organization. It’s because many denominations associate how they’re organized with religious or spiritual principles. And they associate modifying the polity (form of organization) as spiritual heresy.
I was glad John Kaiser took the challenge, though, in this book, “Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission.”
Allow me to give you the executive summary of the book.
The problem with many churches and organizations is that they’re organized based upon control rather than trust. For example, in many churches, there is a church board that is comprised of ministry leaders. The pastor usually chairs this board that sometimes meets once a month. If a particular ministry leader wants to do something for his ministry, he brings it to the board, who then votes up or down on it. If a pastor thinks that something needs to be done, he usually brings it to this same board for “approval.” If the board accepts it, it moves forward. If not, the idea dies.
Do you notice the inherent issue with this form of church organization? In this model ministry is tied to administration. We ask people, who are perhaps very gifted in their area of passion in ministry, to also make administrative decisions that affect everyone else. And we’re asking people to make decisions based upon issues that they might not be familiar with. Of course, the purpose of this model is supposed to be accountability.
John Kaiser presents a different model, which interestingly enough, he calls the “Accountable Leadership Strategy.” He uses the metaphor of a soccer field to explain this model.
In soccer, the rules are clearly delineated. There is a field that constitutes the “in play” area. Outside of that the ball is “out of bounds.” On either end of the field there are goal posts as well. You also can only use your feet/legs to kick the ball. You can’t use your hands, etc. These rules are agreed upon before hand by the soccer governing boards.
So what strategy does a coach use in order to help his team win? Any strategy he wants. As long as he’s following the rules, he can work with his team to develop the strategy that he deems best.
Are you seeing any parallels to church organizational life?
Let me cut to the chase a little more quickly. In this book he presents that there should be three levels of leadership:
A church board, whose role is governance.
A pastor, whose role is leadership.
And a staff, whose role is management.
“The position played by the board is governance. Accountable to the board is the pastor, who plays the position of leadership. Accountable to the pastor is the staff, which plays the position of management. Staff in this book refers to the managers of ministries in the congregation without regard to employment or compensation status. Accountable to the staff are the various ministry teams, through which the members of the congregation lay the position of ministry” (p. 47).
For the purpose of governance, the role of the church board is to help set up broad agreed-upon policies that help to provide direction and accountability for the pastor.
“Tom Bandy calls it proscriptive thinking…’Proscriptive thinking requires the board to think negatively in order to empower mission positively.’ John Carver refers to it as proactive constraint in his book, Boards that Make a Difference. ‘The board has neither the time not the expertise to state everything that should be done. It does have the sense of values necessary to recognize what should not be done. The principle is simple and, perhaps more than any other principle, enables excellence in governing…A few simple, well-placed boundaries in the congregation can provide the pastor and staff with an abundance of freedom and resources to fulfill Christ’s purpose for his people” (p. 63).
In essence, this is the system as presented in the book.
Personally, I think it’s a genius model. There is accountability at each level of leadership and there is also ample room for freedom. The board hires the pastor. The pastor hires and selects his staff. And the staff lead the ministry teams. The board can’t tell the pastor what to do or how to deal with his staff. If the pastor isn’t doing a good job, the pastor is accountable to this board.
Listen to what John Kaiser says, “If an activity is not illegal, unethical, imprudent, or unbiblical, the board has no legitimate interest in forbidding it to the staff and the people working with them in ministry” (p. 68).
I think a model like this could revolutionize many churches. And by the way, growing churches have already been organized like this for a good while.
So what do you think? How could something like this change an organization for the better? What are the possible dangers of a system like this? Push back some.
[image by ewiemann]