Staying People Centered and Purpose Driven

Without both of those elements, no church strategy can succeed.
Administration does not keep me from people. It is people. It doesn't prevent my serving them; it gives me a way to serve them.
—Leith Anderson

Administration is the aspect of ministry that many pastors love to hate. Among the many pastoral duties, administration consumes the largest amount of time—40 percent. Yet, according to studies, pastors dislike administration more than any other task.

Sometimes I hear a fellow pastor say in frustration, "I hate administration!" or "I hate management!" Usually one of two reasons follows.

The first is, "It keeps me from people. I want more time with people and less time with administration."

The second is, "It keeps me from doing what I'm really supposed to be doing as a minister."

I understand the feelings behind these statements, but I have come to view administration in precisely the opposite way.

Administration does not keep me from people. It is people. It doesn't prevent my serving them; it gives me a way to serve them. Designing the bulletin, for example, is not simply completing a duty; it is designing the bulletin to enable people to worship God. Every administrative task, no matter how routine, is based in helping people.

Nor does administration detract me from my purpose. As a pastoral leader, my purpose is to enable this church, this particular group of God's people, to fulfill its mission. How can I help people fulfill their God-given mission apart from administration?

Management can be perceived as a binding activity or a freeing one. It can be viewed as hindering the mission or helping to fulfill it. Management becomes a positive thing when it is people centered and purpose driven.

Keeping It People Centered

Virtually all management issues deal with people. At our Monday staff meeting, for example, perhaps 75 percent of the time is spent talking about individuals. The staff discusses, "What are their gifts? How can we minister to them? How do we keep them from burning out? How do we discipline them?" One person could say that sitting in a meeting for two and a half hours is administrative work. But another person could say that the same meeting is spent planning for the spiritual growth of people. Both people are right.

Managing is ministering to people. In fact, it's difficult to think of any administrative duty that is not people centered.

Every Sunday, for example, people who attended Wooddale Church registered their attendance. On the back of the registration cards, many wrote comments or questions about the service or church. Every question received a response from me or another pastor, either in writing or by phone. That required a lot of time. That could be perceived as administration, but I prefer to consider that as teaching, an opportunity to instruct people on why we worship as we do. I don't see that as significantly different from a hospital call or visiting someone's home.

Some people say, "I hate going to committee meetings. There aren't going to be any committee meetings in heaven." In response, we should ask, "What are committee meetings?" They are people getting together around a task. There are going to be many things like that in heaven.

The elders at Wooddale Church told me repeatedly that a highlight of their month was the board meeting. Why? Because the other elders supported them and prayed for them. Together the elders conducted the business of the church, but they loved their time together. Sometimes it was hard to get them to leave the meetings.

Management is not simply pushing papers. It is ministering to people.

Keeping It Purpose Driven

Readers of In Search of Excellence learned a lot about 3M. One reason 3M is Minnesota's premier corporation and an industry leader is that it has a tight, dominant corporate philosophy. Peters and Waterman wrote that 3M operates under a clearly stated purpose that makes the company what it is. But beyond these basics, the managers allow a great deal of entrepreneurial freedom.

At Wooddale Church we tried to reproduce that same strong sense of purpose and freedom. We repeated the purpose of the church in documents, in church services, and in groups and classes. The purpose of this congregation can be summarized in one sentence: "The purpose of Wooddale Church is to honor God by bringing lives into harmony with him and one another through fellowship, discipleship, and evangelism." The church was structured to fulfill this purpose. We have boards for fellowship, discipleship, and evangelism. Each year we held three weeks of special activities: one for fellowship, one for discipleship, and one for evangelism.

Beyond this central purpose, we granted freedom. For example, Wooddale's adult congregations (like adult Sunday school classes) vary greatly. Each could choose its own social events or the amount of teaching time during a session. The board of elders did approve the teachers of these congregations, but the character and practice of each group was shaped by the group members themselves. This freedom, which lay people appreciated, did not work against the succinct congregational purpose. Rather, it wouldn't have been be possible without it.

A clear church purpose also gives direction and momentum to pastors. Many pastors are driven not by a purpose but by preaching, based on the old notion that people are called to preach. But as a pastor, I am not called just to preach. I am called to help this church fulfill its God-given mission. If that mission requires that I preach, I will preach. If it requires me to do something else, I will do something else. Knowing the mission and purpose of this congregation helps me to determine where to invest my energies.

What does it take to develop a people-centered, purpose-driven congregation?

Here are several suggestions, clustered in two broad responsibilities: (1) concentrate on critical tasks, and (2) streamline structures.

Concentrate on Critical Tasks

Several elements are involved when we concentrate on the critical tasks.

Communicate the philosophical base. People need to understand the premises from which the church is operating. They want to know why the church is doing what it is doing. That takes consistent communication over a period of time.

One of the wisest things we did at Wooddale was to develop a six-week course in leadership. A leading lay person, Austin Chapman, and I taught the course to groups of ten to twelve people selected for their leadership ability or potential. Every six weeks we invited a new group and taught the course again. After a couple of years, virtually every leader or potential leader in the church understood why we were doing what we were doing. They had read the same books and now approached congregational leadership with some common assumptions. From this base, the leaders have been able to make better decisions and earn trust from the congregation.

Put the best people in the areas of highest priority. The immediate needs of a congregation do not remain static. During the early years of a pastor's tenure, a great deal of energy may be spent in recruiting staff or developing structures. Those tasks monopolize time for a while. Once they are complete, or when needs change, completely different priorities may emerge. The role of the pastor is to identify the immediate priorities and place the most competent people there.

The place for a congregation's best people is not necessarily on the governing board of the church. It is wherever the most pressing priority of the church lies. When a church has a small board and lean structure, people can be moved to where they are most needed. When they understand that the task is a high priority of the church and uses their gifts, they love serving in this way.

One of Wooddale's most competent leaders, for example, didn't hold any position. We realized Wooddale had a responsibility to serve as a teaching congregation to other churches interested in growth, so I asked him to develop a program for that. He did. Then our music minister, though gifted musically, needed assistance in creating a strategic plan for music staffing and education. This same lay leader headed that project. When Wooddale was considering planting a church, and he is involved in planning for that. The church benefited by having this person free to move to critical areas, and frankly, he enjoyed it.

Allow people to remain in areas that utilize their gifts. Many churches do not allow someone to serve in one position for more than three years in a row. The practice is designed to protect the organization from bad leaders, but often it has the effect of taking people who have good judgment and removing them from positions of leadership so they can no longer exercise their gifts. If people are gifted in leadership, why prevent them from using that gift? We drafted a compromise that allowed elders to serve consecutive two-year terms for up to ten years. The church is only helped when people are allowed to serve in ways that utilize their strengths.

Listen to people and use their complaints. 3M is known worldwide for its innovative research and development, which has led to products such as Post-it Notes. What is the number-one source of ideas for new products for 3M? A team of brilliant product engineers?

No. Customer complaints.

Would that churches would emulate that technique and use complaints constructively rather than get defensive. Complaints at Wooddale have proven a good source of ideas. For example, people complained about clogged parking lots, so we put up signs that say you must turn left when you drive out of the lot. A simple change, but it has made Sunday morning more enjoyable for many people.

When the final plans for our second building were presented to the congregation at a business meeting, somebody said, "If you're downstairs, it's a long way to get to the stairwell. Why don't we put in another stairwell?" We could have ignored the complaint. After all, the plans had been drafted by excellent architects and reviewed and commented on previously. But it was a great idea, so we told the architect to draw in another stairwell. Now that the building is constructed, we realize that it never would have worked without that stairwell. One of the manager's tasks is to listen to people and try to use those comments constructively.

Streamline Structures

In addition to concentrating on critical tasks, streamlining structures also helps us stay people centered and purpose driven. Here are the principles we use to keep structures sleek.

Subordinate structure to action. It doesn't take much organization to run a church. Yet frequently I talk to people in churches that literally have more positions than people to fill them. That doesn't make sense. There is no value in organization for organization's sake. I disagree with the approach of getting people into the church by putting them on a committee or into a job. I think that's an anti-ministry philosophy.

What the church needs is for people to be involved in ministry. Whatever structures will enable that are needed, but beyond those, organization only hinders. We need lean structures that focus on action, that free people for ministry. We tell people repeatedly that ministry is more important than being on a board or committee, even when that board is making decisions about your area of ministry.

A few years ago a young executive in the church came to me and said, "I was approached to be on the evangelism board. What do you think I should do?"

She clearly had the gift of evangelism. She was bringing more people to the Lord and to the church than perhaps anybody else at that time. I said to her, "Kathy, it would be absurd for you to sit in board meetings when what you're good at is winning people to Jesus Christ." She was relieved to hear that she didn't have to give up evangelism to join the evangelism committee.

Use task forces rather than committees. A task force keeps structures lean because it disbands when its task has been accomplished. Standing committees, on the other hand, continue whether or not there is a pressing need for them. When a task force is established, it is given a single purpose, budget, and deadline. We tell people, "Your task is to solve the parking shortage by May 1." Or, "Your mission is to find someone for this position by the end of the year." When that mission is completed, the task force disbands, and its members are free to move to other areas of need.

Select accomplishers rather than representatives. I attended a conference given by the American Management Association where one speaker made a significant point about college trustees. "When you pick trustees or regents for a college or university," the speaker said, "there is only one characteristic you are looking for: good judgment. You are not looking for people who are rich or people who are powerful; if they have money and power and bad judgment, they'll ruin the institution. But if they have good judgment, they'll figure out a way to get the money and the power."

A similar principle applies when selecting people for boards or committees. In members of a pastoral search committee, for example, what qualities are needed? Really, only one: competence to find a new senior pastor. But often churches select people for such a task force based on representation. The church looks for someone old, someone young; a male, a female; a black, a white; someone rich, someone poor; a newcomer, and an oldtimer. But the group could consist solely of 18-year-old women if each possessed the judgment needed to select a new pastor. What counts is the ability to get the job done, and appointments should be made accordingly.

Avoid "leadership only" positions. Committees become more effective and realistic when they are involved in implementing the decisions they make. Few things are worse, for example, than a Christian education committee's making decisions about the Sunday school and handing them to the actual teachers. When CE committee members also teach a Sunday school class, they make better decisions, because they must carry out the decisions made. In short, nobody's ministry should be exclusively in governance.

Limit the size of decision-making bodies. Many churches, especially large ones, have boards that are quite large, sometimes with as many as twenty-five people. The rationale is, "We need a larger board because we have a larger church, and we want to be more representative." But a larger board is not more representative; it is less representative.

In reality, the maximum number of people that ought to be in a decision-making group is approximately eight or ten. Once a group gets larger than that, it develops, formally or informally, an executive committee of two or three people. So groups larger than ten don't distribute the decision; they restrict it to two or three.

Create "linking pins" in the church organization. A large church in the East had two boards with parallel power but no link between them. The deacons had the power to call a staff member, and the trustees had the power to fund the position. Eventually, the deacons unanimously called someone as youth pastor, but the trustees unanimously refused to pay his salary. There was no choice, then, but to go to the congregation, which was immediately polarized because it had to choose between two groups of leaders.

Because of painful scenarios such as these, it is wise to provide "linking pins" throughout the organizational structure. A linking pin is someone who serves to connect two groups. At Wooddale, for example, the senior pastor was the linking pin between the board of elders and the pastoral staff. I was a member of both groups and could interpret the concerns of one to the other. The trustee board chairman was also an elder. The chair of a trustee board subcommittee was also a member of the trustee board. In this way, no part of the organization operates independently of the rest.

Keep the constitution accurate and flexible. The constitution can play an important and positive role by clarifying policy. The pastor ought to master the constitution and become expert in the rules that govern the life of the church.

I am committed to playing by the rules embodied in the constitution. For example, when I came to Wooddale, the constitution stated that everyone must abide by the terms of the church covenant, which included abstinence from the sale and use of alcoholic beverages. Several leaders realized this provision hindered the congregation from reaching people who needed Christ but chose to drink in moderation. But the congregation lived by that rule until they later voted to change it.

Constitutions need to reflect accurately the beliefs and practices of the church—and be changed if they don't. After our annual meeting one year, I said to one person, "We really goofed this year because we didn't change the constitution."

She responded, "How could you possibly change the constitution? There's nothing left to change."

I said, "Then it must be time to start changing it back to the way it used to be." A constitution is not a static document, but a dynamic one that reflects the changes in the organization. Then it can clarify procedures for a congregation and minimize confusion.

Many churches do not regard the constitution as dynamic, of course, and they resist changes to it. Even in those situations, a pastor can do things to make the document less restrictive. One way is to use terms like normally. For example, our constitution said that we will have worship services every Sunday. No church in Minnesota has worship services every Sunday, because on a few Sundays every year, snow makes it impossible to get to church. Technically, canceling worship would be breaking the provisions of the constitution. So we have changed our constitution to say "We will normally have worship every Sunday" and thus have provided for the exception to the rule.

Another way to take the constitution seriously and still be able to react to changing church life is to establish groups for handling unusual circumstances. Our constitution had spending limits. But suppose a missionary calls us and says, "I have a member of my family who is critically ill; we need to charter a jet ambulance and get her out of this country within the next four hours, or she will die. We need fifteen thousand dollars." To fulfill the request might involve breaking the rules of the constitution. So we established a crisis-management team, people of good judgment who will dedde such cases.

The Challenge of Change

While helping a church become more people centered and purpose driven, a pastor will encounter several obstacles.

One is people's natural resistance to change. Change, even positive change, creates stress. When a church goes from an inadequate to a wonderful building, for example, there is still the pain of leaving behind the old building, even though the move is a positive and a good thing. And change comes more slowly for churches that do not have a tradition of change.

A second obstacle is that many pastors have not had positive administrative models. They know how to preach, but they have not had as much exposure to, or experience in, church management. We all tend to dislike things we don't know how to do well. The first few times I traveled overseas, for example, were unpleasant, because I didn't know where to check in or how to get my seat assignment. But once those elements are figured out, travel becomes more enjoyable. Similarly, administration becomes more enjoyable as we develop experience in it.

A third obstacle to a people-centered, purpose-driven ministry is lack of time in a congregation. In my early days at Wooddale, I requested a baptismal robe that cost approximately seventy dollars. My request was turned down. Twelve or thirteen years later, however, when Wooddale was in the midst of a building program, a custodian pointed out to me that the design of the platform would put a large gulf between me and the congregation. I called the vice-chairman of the building committee and said, "I am not willing to preach with all the instruments and musicians between me and the people." The plan had been approved, and the concrete had been poured, but he said, "Fine." The plans were changed.

A dozen years before I couldn't get a seventy-dollar baptismal robe, and now, while a building was partially constructed, they were willing to change it. That's because they had grown to trust me. The manager of any organization needs to understand that it takes time to win authority that allows for significant change.

People Centered and Purpose Driven

Sometimes people ask, "Should the church be run like a business?"

The answer is that the church ought to be run correctly—with a commitment to people and a passion to fulfill the church's mission. Then people will learn in the church how to run their businesses.

One Sunday night I got a telephone call from a church member who works at Honeywell Corporation.

"I'm going into a job interview for a higher management position," he said, "and here are some of the questions I'm going to be asked. Everything I know about management is what I've been taught at church. How would you answer those questions at Wooddale? That's the way I want to answer the questions at Honeywell."

I was gratified to realize he felt the church had taught him something about organizational life.

Administration does not have to be perceived as a drain on ministry. Rather, once the church's primary mission is established, management is essential to free the church to fulfill that purpose.

Leith Anderson is president of the National Association of Evangelicals and former pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.

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