Mavericks on the payroll?

How the established church views and deals with those who are controversially innovative.

Paul Cone, Ph.D., was head of business administration, graduate, and executive programs at the University of Southern California.
Lawrence Downing is senior pastor of the White Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.

Pastor Joe is a dynamic and creative leader. Through his charismatic personality and the ability to relate with his congregation, it has more than doubled over the past four years. He conducts two services each Sabbath, as well as a Friday night prayer and praise service. Under his leadership the congregation has formed a specialized ministry staff, hired a music/worship coordinator, a drama coach, and a small musical group.

Then the congregation learns that the church bank account is overdrawn by more than $58,000. The money has not been properly accounted. Pastor Joe is terminated. Pastor Jim's congregation has been very successful in making the worship service come alive. People drive for miles to attend. Students from the nearby academy and college have made Pastor Jim's church the "in" place for young people. His preaching emphasizes vision and relationship.

His concern is for his local ministry. "The mission fields," he tells his congregation, "are doing better than we are. It's time we keep our money close to home, fund our own needs. The North American church is the mission field today." He has let it be known that people can direct their tithe to the local congregation.

The church split when the conference relieved Pastor Jim of his pastoral duties.

The above two accounts have been played out in Seventh-day Adventist churches in North America. Church administrators have not always appreciated the innovating and creative pastor. Those who do not fit the traditional ecclesiastical role are not always welcome. At the same time, administrators are charged with the responsibility to maintain control and follow established policy. If they start making exceptions here and there, the floodgates could open and chaos ensue.

What, then, should administrators do with Pastors Joe and Jim? Does the church have a place for the "maverick," and if so, how can administrators successfully manage it so the creative person will maintain a positive relationship with church leadership? How can administrators enhance the creative individual's successful ministry?

Role of the maverick

The adage goes, "When two people always think alike, one is unnecessary." How true. Most change and progress are started by a few who think differently.

In the business world, 90 percent of the innovations are developed by the 10 percent of the employees or by small businesses. In the religious world, a Martin Luther, a John Calvin, or an Ellen White change the way the world thinks. Daniel, Joseph, and Jesus Himself were each written off, at one time or another, as mavericks.

Of course, organizations thrive on stability, tradition, and assured results. Managers like stability. It is essential for administrators to exercise control; this is proper management. But what happens when administrators exercise their power of control only after an event has brought undesirable ends? Effective administrators practice control before, during, and after the event. They do this through personal plans and review, professional training, and allocations of resources to research and development (product, people, method).

Before-the-event control includes: strategic and operating planning; organization by project and teamwork; careful selection and placement, rewards (both psychological and financial) for good performance, not penalties for bad performance.

When the above components are in place, successful administrators put the dollars where the payoff is greatest: people. People are the only resource that grows more valuable over time.

Successful corporations allocate 9 to 12 percent of their total revenue annually for resources and development. These companies spend their budgeted amount in increments, so that it is evenly distributed over time. People should be trained to respond to found needs and to positive peer pressure.

Capitalize on the potential excitement generated when new ideas are successfully implemented and plans fulfilled.

Terminating the "best and the brightest"

Creative and innovative people frequently are a management challenge. Managing creative people may at times be like trying to shepherd a herd of cats. At the same time, creative people are essential for an organization. When these brightest and best pastors are terminated, the impact can be devastating. The negative fallout that follows pastoral termination is not confined within geographical boundaries.

Within the context of the Adventist Church, the three major components necessary for successful ministry are maintaining a positive relationship between (1) the pastor, (2) the parish members, and (3) church administrators. A glitch between any of these components threatens the whole.

A recent Ministry article proposed that vision is the key to congregational revitalization. The visionary pastor seeks to implement his or her vision only to find it is incompatible with established policy. Result: (too frequently) pastoral discipline or termination.

The local congregation is financially impaired. Many churches have no funds available to carry out specialized ministry or projects. We do not have the resources to compete with the other local churches. Subsidies for education, and funds passed through to higher organizations, take inordinate amounts of money from the local congregation with little return, aside from the pastor's salary. In some cases, less than ten cents on the dollar actually goes to the designated project. The rest is consumed in administrative expense. Solution: keep more funds in the local church; do not send them on. Result: (too frequently) pastoral discipline or termination.

Generally accepted observations

What are some answers? First, it should be affirmed that there is advantage to diversity among a work force. An organization is strengthened when there exists a mix of personalities and skills. Progress and change come from nonconformists, not the majority. Survival demands innovation, new approaches, and new methods. Leaders will have the power to think (plan creatively) and do (execute creatively).1

It is important that service organizations attract and keep creative and innovative people. Unless this occurs, the organization is doomed to fritter away into dogmatic irrelevancy. We can, and often do, gear ourselves to affirm the status quo and thus accept mediocrity as normative. The innovators challenge and change this rule.

Since innovation is one of the significant functions of managers, it is important that the innovators, especially in a service organization, are nurtured and retained. Without them, the organization really does stagnate and become irrelevant. Competent managers will provide an environment that will enhance the gifts the creative person brings to the organization and seek ways to ensure that the creative person functions in ways that are consistent with, and beneficial to, the purpose and goals of the organization. It is a team effort, with each party sharing equal responsibility but each having a separate role.

Leaders and change

Some of the most difficult questions leaders face relate to change: what to change, when to change, what not to change, and how to successfully manage change that occurs.

No question, organizations change. Yet do they do it by intention or by default? Successful leaders initiate change by intent, mediocre leaders by default. Ministers who initiate change are frequently viewed as suspect, or worse, heretical. Some have paid a high price for their bold ventures.

On the other hand, change for the sake of change is irresponsible. Making changes without doing your own strategic planning is a high-risk venture. Management has the responsibility to see that change takes place within the context of, and in harmony with, the organization's set of values. The effective leader is one who has the ability and willingness to articulate this value base clearly and consistently to those on the organization team.

Whenever change in the parish is considered or implemented, it is to be consistent with the church's basic values and teachings. Unsurfaced and unresolved value differences and conflicts will undermine processes, stifle motivation, and instill overt and covert divergent perspectives on goals, programs, and policies. The resulting dysfunction between administration and pastors will be a continual source of problems, waste, mistrust, and inefficiencies.

Dynamic operating control

Control is one of the most sensitive issues within the church today. Control is not a matter of technique or power. Control begins with the selection of top-quality managers and employees and then providing them development opportunities and a favorable administrative climate. Self-control by competent people in an organization structure consisting of small teams or groups that assist the individual to perform better, is the desirable operating-control goal.

People work well when they have opportunity to interact with their peers. Peers, more than others, have earned the right to sand off the rough edges, to challenge ideas, proposals, or current behavior. In the present Adventist structure, we do not provide opportunity for consistent, quality, or intentional peer interaction. More often than not, peer interaction is discouraged. We are set up to be competitive, distrustful, and isolated.

Adventist clergy are basically formally accountable to no one. Theoretically, we answer to the president. In practice, this is a reality only when a problem exists. Until then, we are most often on our own. The establishment of a peer group guided by designated and trained leaders will go far to establish accountability and head off crisis situations before they blow up.


The center for action is at the parish, the local church level. When the creative powers of the church are directed toward the parish, then and only then can we expect to experience dynamic, creative, and positive change. When the parish becomes the center for creative action, the brain drain that has siphoned off or excluded our bright est and best has the potential to reverse. It is our recommendation that we have innovative people at the parish to develop creative strategic operating plans that are submitted to the administration for approval and have those at the parish level work with a team to implement the plans to achieve superior performance.

Only this way will the Pastor Jim's and Joe's talents be used to strengthen the church as a whole instead of siphoning away precious talents and people, as well as building a wall of distrust between administration and the pastorate.

1 Ellen G. White, Education (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1903), 17, 18.

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Paul Cone, Ph.D., was head of business administration, graduate, and executive programs at the University of Southern California.
Lawrence Downing is senior pastor of the White Memorial Seventh-day Adventist Church in Los Angeles, California.

October 2002

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