Pastor's Pastor

Pastor's Pastor: Is your church organization trustworthy?

Pastor's Pastor: Is your church organization trustworthy?

James A Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association.

Recently I sat down with a group of colleagues to discuss how to build trust. We divided our work into two topics: (1) the qualities of a trustworthy individual and (2) the qualities of a trustworthy organization. Whether conference or congregation, the characteristics that, we believe, are hallmarks of a trustworthy church organization include:

Leaders who lead. Visibility of leadership, both in defining the mission and targeting desired outcomes is vital. Typically, followers will not rise above their leaders in either vision or accomplishment. Wise leaders remember even their ceremonial role, which places them at the forefront of organizational functions to represent, to recommend, and to reaffirm progress.

Agenda agreement. Is the mission apparent, understood, and agreed upon throughout? Can each team member readily explain the purpose of the organization? Can they succinctly describe what they are about? Do those who shoulder the day-to-day work comprehend the issues, and are they as committed to the mission as administrative leaders? If not, the question must be Where has leadership failed? not What do the followers lack?

Consonant values. Do the organization's activities reflect the values of the denomination? Is there dissonance between what the mission statement says and how the work is carried out? Do scriptural principles mark the decision-making process more than expediency or crisis management. Is the organization on course for the long view or merely reacting to the urgent at the expense of the important? Do those who interact with the organization readily recognize it as a spiritual entity?

Process focused. Does the organization seek harmonious consensus rather than merely winning a vote? Are decisions implemented through a process of discussion, lively debate, searching prayer, and respect for the opinions of other viewpoints? A trustworthy organization will view the process to be as important as the product. In fact, when followers are expected to endorse and implement the decisions that are made, it is fair to state that the process is the product. Followers will "buy in" when their participation in the process is recruited by more than lip service.

People matter. A trustworthy organization encourages expression of both cognitive and emotive feedback. Both the rationale of the decision as well as the needs and responses of the team members are important. An action may be correct, but have such negative repercussions that the end result invalidates the decision.

Competition downplayed. The achievement of long-term mission is more important in trustworthy organizations than the attainment of short-term objectives. While there is nothing evil about goals in and of themselves, team members are better motivated by their cooperative participation in reaching mutual objectives than by constant comparison with the accomplishments of other workers. Too many of us are more competitors than we are colleagues, and our clergy and laity leaders alike reflect this stance.

Individual initiative recognized. Trustworthy organizations acknowledge the contribution of those individuals whose service may seem ordinary or often be overlooked. The mechanic who maintains the engines is no less vital than the captain who sets the course for the ship. A pat on the back from the leader, a word of praise for a job well done, or a sincere "Thank you" for extra effort will keep workers motivated far longer than the effort required to affirm that individual. A kind acknowledgment is more motivating than overtime pay.

Appropriate reward system. Scripture speaks of those to whom much has been entrusted and from whom much is, therefore, expected. Jesus told parables of different rewards for different levels of performance. Our one-size-fits-all method of financial remuneration tends to breed mediocrity more than it encourages excellence. While no one should enrich themselves at the expense of the mission, neither should others be encouraged to sloth because they will be remunerated equally regardless of performance.

Joint ventures encouraged. The more that leadership can inspire team members to pool their knowledge, talents, ideas, and resources, the better that process will serve the mission. Whether conference office departments or local church committees, urging cooperation without prescriptive micromanagement encourages creativity and reduces competition.

Leadership accessibility. Wise leaders are readily available to their team members, especially those who are expected to implement the organization's programs. In fact, vision is more readily "caught" by association with leaders than "taught" by mandates or edicts. Such open access demonstrates the trust leaders have for their team and, in turn, enhances the trust of workers for their leaders.

Creativity rewarded. Those organizations that encourage appropriate risk-taking and provide an environment where bold initiatives can be attempted will see increased creativity in areas that might have been assumed dormant. Trustworthy organizations protect the freedom to fail while striving for a laudable goal and thus encourage new ideas, new methods, and new ventures.

Consistency. Although trustworthy organizations avoid being "stuck in a rut," they do experience a keen sense of history that affirms God's leading in the past and anticipates heaven's blessings for the future. Mixed signals are reduced when appropriate reference is made to the past decisions that have led to the present position on current issues.

Spiritual gifts valued. Whether for departmental leaders of the conference or union or those in the local church, it is essential to value and utilize the different gifts among your team. Not everyone has the same gifts as administrators. Not everyone has the same creativity quotient as those who devise new concepts and programs. The temptation is to devalue those gifts that differ from ours and to overestimate the value of those individuals who are "just like us." Each member of a working force must be valued for his or her unique abilities to move the Lord's work forward within assigned roles. Likewise, leaders who affirm the importance of their different team members rather than constantly debating their value will unleash a freedom among their worker team to serve in new and better ways.

Appropriate evaluation. Rather than something to be feared, evaluations that are planned, open, and interactive actually motivate the team to better service. Effective evaluations are based on predetermined criteria for measuring performance and focus on learning from the recent past to inform future plans. Few workers will resent being evaluated if they have participated in establishing the criteria by which their work is measured.

Forward focused. Finally, trustworthy organizations are more interested in tomorrow than today. Little energy is expended to maintain the status quo. Such organizations have a firm grasp on the potential growth of God's kingdom, and their thoughts, prayers, plans, and programs are intentionally geared toward the triumph of God's love.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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James A Cress is the secretary for the General Conference Ministerial Association.

November 1997

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