Lessons From: A Pastor’s Toolbox

Holmes, Paul A. (ed.). A Pastor’s Toolbox: Management Skills for Parish Leadership. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014.

A Pastors Toolbox Image 081817

Several authors from the Catholic church contributed to this resource book for pastors. The purpose of the book was to provide Catholic priests the tools they need to manage their parish. Regardless of the denomination, there is much that can be gleaned from this helpful book as it relates to church administration, effective leadership, and efficient ministry. No part of this book sets it apart as a strictly-Catholic book. To me, it’s usable for any church in any denomination.

One author, Robert Stagg writes in chapter 2, “When it comes to being an effective pastoral leader, I believe there are three overarching responsibilities we all have: One is to be keeper of the vision; two, selecting a staff; and three, assessing the needs of the parish.” (Toolbox, 22) An effective leader must be able to set and implement the vision of the organization, determine the staff needed to reach that vision, and regularly evaluate if the organization is on target for the fulfilling the vision.

From another perspective, Maria Mendoza writes, “Remember, administration is not about winning a prize for having the best practices and procedures in place. It’s about supporting the mission of the parish. That’s what your overriding goal should be.” (Toolbox, 42) While Mendoza’s insights were helpful, I did find it interesting that out of all that she could have addressed in her chapter, she chose to focus on financial accountability in great length. She could have said so much more as it relates to how effective administration supports the mission of the church.

This statement from the document “Co-Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord,” in which the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is refreshing, “Best organizational practices are consistent with Gospel values.” (Toolbox, 50) When administration is done well, it does not stifle the ministry, but actually upholds the values of the Gospel.

In chapter 5, we find ample discussion about evaluation and feedback as it relates to personnel. (See also p. 171 of Toolbox) See my post about evaluation and its importance for effective leadership.

Zech writes in chapter 7, “Let’s start by agreeing to a basic premise: the church is not a business. We do, however, have a stewardship responsibility to use our resources as effectively as we possibly can to carry out God’s work on earth.” (Toolbox, 73) He is correct. The Church is not a business, however, we cannot discount that a part of the local church operates like a business. And, if that part of the local church that operates like a business is not done well, then chances are that they effectiveness of the ministry will decline.

While chapter 7 focuses on best practices for church finances, chapter 8 looks at the importance of fundraising. Robinson writes, “The activity of fundraising is not a distraction or a contradiction to ministry but should be seen as an effective and profound ministry in itself.” (Toolbox, 86-87) As Henri Nouwen stated in his book, A Spirituality of Fundraising, “From beginning to end, fundraising as ministry is grounded in prayer, and undertaken in gratitude.” (Toolbox, 92) The criticism I would make about this statement is that generosity is not only about fundraising, but also must be rooted in making disciples. When we are making disciples in the church, then generosity becomes more and more a way of life for us.

One last chapter in this book that is relevant to my project is chapter 9, “Pastoring and Administering a Mission-Driven Church.” This chapter reminds us that good administration supports, enhances, makes more effective the mission of the church. Without good administration, the mission is nearly impossible to accomplish.

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Part 3: Running Well with Policies and Procedures

Today I ran in the first of eight races that I plan to run this year. It was a fun one – Hot Chocolate 15k/5k (I did the 5k). Part of me is attempting to run these races because I want to challenge myself to keep training. The other part of me is running because of the SWAG (stuff we all get). The SWAG for this race included a hooded sweatshirt, as well as a hot chocolate mug at the end. So, how did the race end for me? Well, I was 1,403rd out of 5,992. To break it down, I was the 567th male out of 1,465. For my age (35-39), I was the 83rd male out of 193. It was a nice run, but I have a long way to go before I’m running well.

As mentioned in Part 2 of the Policies and Procedures posts, while policies and procedures are clearly different in purpose, they both have a place in the Church and that place is to help the Church run well – this means effectively and with great efficiency. Just like wearing loafers to a 5k won’t help you run well, when there are no policies and/or procedures in place, the Church cannot run well because of a gaping lack of clarity. As Welch explains, “Unplanned, disorganized activities are meaningless; thus, as administrators, we should orchestrate our leadership toward the end of productive output.”[1] That is, when the activities of a church, such as its policies and procedures, have no direction and are not clear, those activities lack purpose. Our job as leaders is to set the direction and to bring clarity into the organization. The end goal of our work is life change because of Jesus Christ, but also that work should be accomplished. Since policies and procedures are specific in action and direction, they have a place in the ministry of the church. There are two major reasons that policies and procedures provide efficiency and effectiveness.

The first reason policies and procedures have a place in the church is that they provide assistance to the leaders. Welch explains, “Policy and procedure statements offer significant assistance in the management and administration of the church or organization.”[2] Leaders gain because the policies and procedures become guides for operation. They communicate how business is done within the organization, provide information for the church body, and become training material for new staff and volunteers.[3] Leaders further gain because the policies and procedures turn “recurring problems into routine processes.”[4] When a problem occurs multiple times, a procedure is written to give step-by-step instructions for staff to resolve the issue when it occurs again. This allows all leaders the opportunity to focus on and resolve major issues.

The second reason policies and procedures have a place in the church is that they provide clarity. Welch additionally points out that, “Policies and procedures present to both those in the church and those outside an atmosphere of order, business, and sense of purpose.”[5] Clarity is achieved when there is order. By nature, policies and procedures are orderly. Through their orderliness, a sense of satisfaction and fairness is achieved. This results when all points are considered and unbiased decisions are made. Strong policies and procedures do not favor a particular group of people in the church, but seek to benefit every person through stated facts. Clarity is also achieved when there is a sense of purpose. Policies and procedures are the product of a well-defined mission and vision for an organization. The mission and vision state the purpose of the church. Policies and procedures are intended to guide the church to reaching its mission, thus they give a sense of purpose.

Effective leaders run the race well. To do this, it’s important to understand that policies and procedures have a place in the Church. They are not to be feared because of their rule-like nature, but should be embraced because they provide the leaders assistance and bring incredible clarity, not only into the Church, but into any organization.

[1] Ibid., 30.

[2] Ibid., 59.

[3] Ibid., 60.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 59.

Part 2: Understanding the Difference Between Policies and Procedures

The world watched the United States this week. It watched us transfer power to a new president. It watched our cities fill with hundreds of thousands of people for the women’s march. It watched former President George W. Bush struggle with a rain poncho. It watched the gift exchange faux pas between our First Ladies. The United States was on stage this week and to post here about the difference between policies and procedures seems trivial. Alas, I move forward in my mission to show the world why the Church needs to pay attention to how it operates on a daily basis.

As a church grows, policies and procedures become the infrastructure needed for continued growth. That’s because well-written policies and procedures direct the steps of each employee in an organization. For example, when a children’s ministry classroom reaches capacity, a volunteer should be trained on what steps to take to alleviate the situation. When a procedure is in place, the volunteer has been given the tools for such a moment of high capacity classrooms.

The terms “policies” and “procedures” can be confusing. So, before establishing a place for them in the church, it would be helpful to define the differences between the two.

Policies differ from procedures in that they are specific in direction. By definition, a policy is, “a command decision from top management to perform in a specified manner.”[1] The decisions from the church leadership regarding performance are various and numerous. These decisions may be made by the highest level of authority for the entire organization or may be made by ministry directors for specific ministry areas. Additionally, the policies not only direct the staff, but also the volunteers. Policies guide the entire organization and its people. An example of a policy might be, “Church ABC will be governed by an elder board.” This decision made by the church leadership dictates how the church will operate in a specific way.

Procedures differ from policies in that they are specific in action. Procedures are “guides to action rather then guides to thinking. They detail the exact manner a certain activity will be carried out—a chronological listing of what must be done and by whom to get the job done.”[2] Procedures provide step-by-step ways by which a task is accomplished. While a church may be governed by an elder board (policy), the board elects new members each year by way of congregational vote (procedure). Another example may be found in the processing of the weekly offering. A team of volunteers counts the offering taken in by the church by following procedures starting at step one until they reach the final step. The procedures for counting the weekly offering guide the volunteers as to exactly how the money is to be accounted for.

While this topic won’t make headlines this week, effective leaders know the importance of policies and procedures for the church. The local church leads more effectively, its ministries are run more efficiently, when staff, volunteers, and others know what they are to be doing and how it’s to be done.

Questions for Thought:
– Think of 3 to 5 policies that you have in place in your organization.
– What are the procedures for those policies? Are the action steps clearly articulated?

[1] Welch, Church Administration, 25.

[2] Ibid.

Part 1: Policies and Procedures for the Church

My college education provided me with a Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Technology. It was my dream to be a doctor some day, that is, until I took organic chemistry. I nearly failed the class. I was bummed, but knew that I still wanted to be in the medical field, so I redirected my studies to medical technology. Using that degree, I worked in three different hospitals over the course of 10 years. I learned a lot during those years, but one thing I learned (and depended on) was the importance of policies and procedures. No test was run on a machine, no work was done, without first consulting the procedures manual. If we didn’t follow those procedures, our work would fail. We would be ineffective.

As I studied for the ministry, worked in various churches, and networked with other pastors, I learned that churches are shy in the area of policies and procedures. For many churches, these manuals just do not exist. It’s no one’s fault. A pastor doesn’t go to seminary to learn how to write procedure manuals. It’s not the pastor’s job. However, it’s apparent that churches need someone to focus on these. These manuals become recipes for efficient leadership because they provide clarity, direction, and instruction to get things done.

Obviously, the Bible wasn’t written to argue that churches need to have policy manuals, but we see examples of policies and procedures in the Bible. The Law of the Old Testament is filled with policies and procedures for the people of God. An example of this includes the observance of the Passover Lamb. The policy stated by God was that an unblemished lamb was to be sacrificed once a year in obedience to the Lord. The procedure for how this was to be accomplished was outlined for the people in Exodus 12.

As we flip to the New Testament, a great example of the importance of policies and procedures is found in Jesus’ explanation of the cost of discipleship in Luke 14:28-33. In his desire to illustrate the cost of discipleship, Jesus considers how men would plan to build a tower. He says that the first step for building a tower is to take into consideration the costs associated with such a project, (v. 28). If the builder does not take this first step, then he will not be able to complete the project. Similarly, a king must first determine if he has the manpower to take on another nation in war, (v. 31). Again, the downside of not following this first crucial step is failure.

I may have belabored the point, but that was not my goal. Simply, I wanted to give examples of how policies and procedures were used even in Bible times. This is the first of three posts about policies and procedures. My argument is that these tools will help ministry leaders have a clear picture of where they are going and how to get there. They are tools that will help us to be not only efficient, but effective, leaders. In the following posts, I will explain the difference between policies and procedures, then I will describe the place for them in the church.

Structuring Your Church Staff

Effective leadership in the church structures staff to be effective. This can be achieved simply through a well-planned organizational chart. The goal of an organizational chart is to define three areas for the personnel: authority, roles, and responsibilities. How the chart does this varies between organizations, but three common structures may be found in most churches. These are also the models found in Scripture. Each chart is organized by style versus church size or personnel functions. [1]

The first basic type of staff organization is a centralized structure. [2] In this model, one person functions as the chief administrator. He is the sole person that all staff persons are responsible to. This is an authoritarian/dictator approach to leading an organization. An example of this is found in Exodus 18. This is the structure Moses was following when Jethro warned him of burnout. Moses was God’s appointed man, so he was trying to do all of the work himself. If Moses continued to operate this way, the fate of the nation of Israel was at stake. A church following this structure has a senior pastor who has all the authority, establishes all of the roles of the staff, and determines all of the responsibilities of each person. While this structure has proven itself effective over the years, it has its faults. For one, it limits authority to one individual, while an effective leader chooses to distribute responsibility to other leaders.

The second type of organizational structure is known as the non-centralized structure. [3] As its name implies, the non-centralized structure has no central line of authority or responsibility. In this model, each staff member relates to each other equally. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he reminded them that the Spirit appointed every believer in the church to take on specific responsibilities, (1 Cor. 12). His guidance was that no position was greater than any other, but that all are equally important. For those churches who follow this model today, a lead pastor may be in place, but only as an advisor to the rest of the staff. In this model, authority is disbursed to every staff member, the roles will overlap, and responsibilities will be shared. The health of this structure is the sharing of authority and responsibilities. However, the danger of this model is the possibility of miscommunication, poor relationships, duplication of efforts, and wasting of resources. It may be an effective structure, but it’s definitely low in efficiency.

The third model of organizational structure is known as the line organization. [4] In this model, a leader is defined, but leadership is delegated downward through lines of authority. Portions of responsibility reside at various levels within the organization. This structure defines supervisors and direct reports. When Jethro discovered how Moses was attempting to lead Israel with a centralized structure, he suggested to him this line organization approach. This would prevent Moses from experiencing burnout since responsibility was divided among other leaders. Some groups of people were headed by leaders of thousands and others by leaders of hundreds until the smallest group. For those churches using this model today, there is a sense of ownership by all staff members. The structure identifies needs and eliminates duplication. Authority is shared throughout the structure, while the senior pastor has ultimate authority. Roles are clearly defined, such as, senior pastor, executive pastor, youth pastor, worship pastor. Responsibility is shared throughout the organization. This model is highly effective and highly efficient.

The first two structures for organization do not allow for an effective and efficient use of personnel and resources. However, the third model, the line structure, is best suited for the church organizational structure. The authority and responsibilities are shared, while individual roles are clearly defined. While each model offers some advantages, this third model is ideal. And, even though the structure for organizations may vary, Welch writes,

The church organizational structure should continue to pattern itself after the traditional matrix or line format. People need policies and procedures with a defined workflow. Personnel should be directed through their work by job descriptions not only for accountability but also for responsibility. [5]

When the workflow is defined, as in the line structure, people can work better and are more suited to function as leaders. They are given a clear understanding of what needs to be accomplished to move the organization forward. When the personnel are clear at what they are supposed to be doing, they are equipped to guide others under them in their responsibilities.

[1] Welch, Church Administration, 70-72.

[2] Ibid., 70–71.

[3] Ibid., 71.

[4] Ibid., 72.

[5] Ibid., 73.

Organizational Structure in the Bible

The God of this world is not a God of chaos, but a God of peace (1 Cor. 14:33). Though He moves to and fro throughout the world like the wind, He is intentional and structured. We see His desire for structure throughout the Scriptures.

One clear example of this is in the book of Exodus. Moses was called by God to lead the people of Israel. (Ex. 3) One of his responsibilities as leader was to help the people know the statutes of God and His laws, (Ex. 18:16). However, when his father-in-law Jethro visited with him, he observed that Moses was taking on too much work. He saw that Moses attempted to meet the needs of the people by himself and feared that he would get burned out (v. 17). He instructed Moses to continue guiding the people, but to do that by way of overseers, trusted men who would manage smaller groups of people, (v. 19-23). These men would decide smaller matters, but the larger ones they could bring to Moses. In the end, this system of organization would make it easier for Moses.

Much like Moses’ structured leaders for the nation of Israel, an effective leader and an efficient church understands the importance of having a clear organizational structure with defined authority, roles, and responsibilities.

Let’s Call It Business

The Church is the bride of Christ (Eph. 3:23-24). That statement in itself communicates the significance of effective administrative leadership. While the Church is technically defined as a spiritual body of believers, in many aspects the local church operates much like a business. The problem is that many local churches either do not have administrative systems, or if they do, they have weak systems, in place to operate the business side of the church efficiently and effectively. When these systems are lacking, the impact is felt most immediately by the church’s staff and volunteers. In fact, a lack of administrative systems (1) prevents staff and volunteers from being able to lead well – ineffective leadership; (2) hinders the communication of the gospel; and (3) results in poor shepherding of the people of the local church. If the local church is going to “succeed” in today’s world, its leaders must become adept at business practices. Effective church leadership doesn’t just case vision, but gives attention to the details of running an organization. David Pollock stresses the importance of such systems,

The operation of the church is, in many respects, quite similar to that of a business. Even though the local church is not in business to make a profit, it is still a business—the Lord’s business. Therefore, to have the respect of the community in which is serves, and thus an effective testimony, it is essential that churches use good business methods.”[1]

An effective church leader doesn’t only see vision-casting and preaching as necessary to the missional impact of the local church, but also sees the administrative details as necessary to the mission. A bankrupt church is not a church, cannot impact its community, and reflects poor stewardship of its resources. The effectiveness of your church is dependent upon the effectiveness of your administrative systems. Stop ignoring the work of the back office. Let’s call it business and let’s do a good job at it.

[1] David R. Pollock and Larry Burkett, Business Management in the Local Church, New Edition edition. (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 1996), 13.