For the past number of years I have been working with churches and coaching pastors, attempting to help them establish better management practices. What I found, over and over again was the fact that ministers have been trained to be theologically competent, and be able to navigate the scriptures and craft understandable sermons. But when it comes to managing people these otherwise very competent ministers did not have a clue as to what to do. Seminary had not prepared them. Seminars and workshops had been spotty at best (if secular presentations, these workshops didn’t understand the complexities of the church organizational world).
So here these ministers were, lost and alone, attempting to navigate the very tricky church world waters without a compass or a chart.
The Church World: A very complicated organizational picture.
I have consulted with many types of organizations: government agencies, private non-profits, construction companies, high tech firms, large corporations. I am convinced that the church offers one of the most confusing, if not the most confusing, organizational structure. How can we navigate this structural challenge?
The Family/Business/Faith Community Conundrum: What generally makes church life and functioning so very confusing is the fact that, like no other organization in society, church encompasses the people’s expectations of family, business, and community. Each of these elements must be held in tension, and each must be understood clearly, or else confusion will ensue. Because churches are in fact families, and those who work on staff are often church members, the emotional impact of what occurs has profound effects throughout the church organization. As an example, our country is going through a distressing economic time that has greatly affected churches. Many church staffs have been downsized. Unlike in the secular business world, a church staff member being downsized often experiences, “My family just threw me out.” The congregation chorusing, “You can’t let go of Suzie, she’s family!” The personal and organizational repercussions can be seismic.
As a family: the clergy are perceived as parents and congregants as siblings. Church members feel as though they are coming home, and therefore have particular idealistic expectations as to what they will find, and how they will be treated. When paid staff members are also church (i.e. “family”) members, the expectations rise beyond the average business employee.
As a business: churches have organizational considerations that require the principles of business. People are hired to do particular types of work according to their individual skill sets, performance standards are established and maintained, salaries are set, and work is accomplished and evaluated. When work falls below par, accountability kicks in and people may be fired for poor performance. When there is a budget shortfall, considerations as to staffing needs are prime considerations.
As a faith community: churches are also spiritual communities. Members manifest certain gifts, bear the burdens of one another, and generally become intentionally involved in one another’s lives to the betterment of the individual and the building up of the community (“body life”). Unlike the above two models, community members have no assumed hierarchy (“neither male nor female, slave nor free”). There is mutual accountability, with no one being more privileged than another.
As a volunteer organization: wrapped around the above three organizational models is the world of the volunteer. Volunteers can be a wonderful addition to any organization. In fact, they are the life-blood of the non-profit world. But they need specific considerations. How do you hold a volunteer accountable? How do you effectively motivate a volunteer? These are just two of the gnawing questions that leading in the church world involves.
Unfortunately, as often happens, these separate functions become confused. When business considerations are handled with family patterns, problems arise. Likewise, if faith community and family aspects are treated as business it becomes institutionalized. Not that there are always clear demarcations between each of these areas. These models must always be appreciated and negotiated. This is the often-overlooked starting point: recognizing which model is (or should be) in operation. Why not take time to review issues facing your church, and figure out which model each issue requires? It will bring new focus and clarity to your leadership tasks.