Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Responsibility without authority

In his excellent book Winning On Purpose: How To Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission (Convergence Ebook Series) John Kaiser writes,  "When a congreation has a bureaucratic structure, either by design or default, it assigns responsibility to its pastor but divorces that responsibility from the authority needed to fulfill it.  So the formula is responsibility minus authority, and the result is an organization that may appear safe but is certainly ineffective...The pastor of this congregation fuctions merely as an employee."  There is nothing more frustrating that to be assigned responsibility but not given the authority to fulfill that responsibility.  Unfortunately, that is exactly where many pastors live.

As I meet with pastor search committees to help them find their next pastor one of the desires I nearly always hear from this committee is the church wants a pastor who will grow their church.  Six months later I see these same people standing on the brakes doing everything within their control to stop the changes that will be needed to reach new people with the Gospel.  Folks, it doesn't get any more dysfunctional than that.  Not only is it dysfunctional, it is also the definition of hypocritical.  The church says the right words but their actions are the exact opposite, and that is hypocrisy.

This does not mean that I am advocating that the pastor be given ultimate power to do whatever he or she chooses.  I am advocating that the church leadership and the pastor work together to identify the direction God wants to lead the church (See yesterday's blog post.) and move in that direction.  I also believe that the pastor must be given great authority to lead this movement of the church while remaining accountable to the leadership.  The role of the lay leaders here is to provide the parameters beyond which the pastor may not cross.  These parameters will include the core values and bedrock beliefs of the church.  With the parameters in place and a clear sense of where God is leading the church, the pastor must be free to lead and the congregation must be willing to follow.

This will often cause great discomfort for some because they have never travelled this way before nor have they submitted to any pastor's leadership.  Some may refuse to make the journey, and that is OK.  We worry too much about people who threaten to leave the church if things don't go back to how they used to be.  You want everyone to take this journey with you, but some may choose not to go.  Let them leave.  They are a hindrance to your church fulfilling the vision God has for your congregation.  God's vision always leads to life; the vision of the naysayers leads to death.  As long as the pastor is leading the church in the fulfillment of the vision the church agreed has come from God and remains within the parameters of the core values and bedrock beliefs of the church he or she must have the authority to lead. 

Periodically, the church leaders will want to evaluate the pastor's leadership in this journey.  Here is where a pastor evaluation becomes helpful.   Most pastor evaluations I have seen are extremely subjective and are not based upon vision and the purpose of the church but upon the unwritten expections each person has for the pastor.  In my opinion, such evaluations are worthless and do nothing to advance the ministry of the church.  The only helpful evaluation of the pastor's ministry will be based on previously agreed upon objectives and goals that the pastor and leadership have determined are critical for him or her to achieve if the church is to be successful.  Each of these outcomes must be measureable to ensure helpful evaluation.

It is also important that the leadership have the pastor's back during this time of transition in the church.  Critics will rise up to accuse the pastor of neglecting his or her duties.  The lay leadership must remind such critics of the primary tasks they have asked the pastor to assume.  Others in the church must step up and assume some of the maintenance tasks that too many pastors have been required to do in the past.  Changing people's expectations of the pastor meeting all their needs will not be easy but is the responsibility of the lay leadership if the pastor is to lead the church towards a fresh vision.

The churches Kaiser describes in the above quote will make up many of the 80 percent of the church in North America that are plateaued or declining.  Frankly, there is little hope of most of these churches turning this around unless they are willing to give their pastors the authority to lead them to the new place God has for them.  I encourage you to read Kaiser's book.  It really does provide an organization model to help your church succeed in its mission.

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