An empowering model for church organization
Do you remember the call from God that resulted in years of study for the ministry? Do you remember the thrill of ordination? Vowing to be as strong as Peter, as forceful as Paul, as loving as John, and as faithful as Daniel?
Yet, what happened? That early ideal vision of the ministry somehow dissipated in the face of the daily challenges of life. Add to all that,financial struggles, the seemingly endless juggling of time for family, sermon preparation, and ministry in general, and it is no wonder our ideals are often shattered and so many ministers burn out.
When beginning my first pastorate, I tried independently to solve all problems brought to my desk. It was exhausting and frustrating. Through my desperate prayers, the Lord led me to the Moses’ model as outlined in Exodus 18:13–24.
Moses, also, was overwhelmed with work when his father-in-law, Jethro, confronted him and, in effect, asked, “Why are you working yourself to death?” Jethro then suggested Moses select godly leaders and empower them. Moses successfully followed Jethro’s advice.
Inspired by the idea of dividing labor among church leaders in order to lighten my ministerial load, I began to experiment with leadership models. Through trial and error, I have devised one that works for me. While I recognize that the model will continue to evolve, its value is worth sharing.
This leadership model will work for any size or multiple congregations. Four defining elements must, though, be implemented: (1) a pastoral staff/ administrative team; (2) elders’ oversight team; (3) central, visual, yearly school/churchwide calendar; and (4) visual ministry flow chart outlining the church’s organization.
Developing a pastoral staff/administrative team
In our model, the pastoral staff/ administrative team meets weekly and includes the pastor(s), church secretary, head elder and assistant head elder, church school board chair and principal, facilities/maintenance person, and, if you have one, minister of music. (I realize that not every church has someone in each of these positions.)
In developing a pastoral staff/ administrative team, the key word is team. Regardless of the size and mission of the congregation, no pastor can effectively organize and administrate a church alone. Jesus, our Example, appointed 12 disciples to share the burden of His ministry. Following Jesus’ method, I’ve found that a team approach to church administration works best. In fact, the majority of necessary administrative details required to successfully operate the church are handled by the weekly pastoral staff / administrative team. Situations and problems that, alone, might take many hours to solve, are often quickly resolved by the team’s ideas, suggestions, advice, and action.
During the weekly pastoral staff/administrative meetings, the team prays together, plans weekly and special worship programs, strategizes for evangelism, and problem solves church-related issues. For example, maintenance problems, members’ concerns, and use of building requests are handled in the weekly staff meetings.
Church schools can create challenges in pastoral ministry, especially when communication between pastor, principal, and school board chairman breaks down. By having the school board chair and principal on the pastoral staff / administrative team, we are able to more effectively work together to coordinate calendars, discuss and resolve challenges of students, parents, and facility use.
An elder’s oversight team
A feature of this model includes the expanded role of church elders. They perform their regular elder duties, plus oversee two church ministries. Church ministries are defined as “programs that target groups with a specific intent and goals.” Examples include Sabbath School ministries, children’s ministries, the church school, women’s ministries, men’s ministries, community services, Pathfinder ministries, and so forth. The nominating committee appoints the ministry directors, and then one elder is appointed to oversee two ministries. The number of appointed elders is determined by the number of church ministries.
I used the one elder/two church ministries ratio in both multichurch districts as well as in a small congregation. Even in my first district with 40 members, where the active ministries consisted of Sabbath School, community services, deacons, and deaconesses, we had three elders. The elders and I were the pastoral staff / administrative team. The first elder served as overseer of the other two elders; the second elder served as overseer of the Sabbath School and community services; the third elder was overseer for the deacon and deaconess ministries as well as church operations and maintenance. Regardless of the size of the church, when elders are empowered with the responsibility to oversee church ministries, they recruit, “talk up,” and praise their ministry directors and the ministry, and enthusiasm causes the church to prosper and grow. There is a temptation to lead a small church informally with very little planning, without a “fixed” yearly calendar, and with the pastor as “boss!”
In this model, each ministry director reports directly to the elder assigned as overseer. Each elder is empowered to problem-solve and handle the issues pertinent or specific to their ministries. If they are unable to handle a problem, or if a problem involves multiple ministries, they first contact the head elder and try to find a solution. If the overseeing elder and head elder cannot solve the problem, the head elder then brings it to the leadership team for discussion and solution (though, admittedly, this strategy works better in a large church environment than in a small one). This frees the pastor from constantly dealing with the many problems that arise in multiple church ministries and places responsibility for leadership on members selected by the nominating committee. By equipping and empowering the elders, the church has a greater opportunity to flourish spiritually and grow numerically.
Because elders play such a crucial role in the success of this model, I have encouraged the church to use three steps in the elder selection process.
1. Consider each candidate’s spiritual gifts and personal characteristics and then match them to potential ministries.
2. Prayerfully submit the candidate to God.
3. Present the candidate’s name to the appropriate committees.
I visit the elders and spouses to review the ministries that the elder will coordinate. I never try to persuade a candidate to accept the role. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. The candidate may have questions, which I answer at this time. If the candidate feels the Holy Spirit’s call, their name is then submitted for final action.
In this model, the pastor must not override the elders. If a difference of opinion exists, then the pastor and elders, during their bimonthly meetings, should pray and discuss the situation until they reach an agreement. I use this consensus-agreement method because I have learned that each elder usually represents a percentage of the church membership. With a problem solved by consensus, the elder with the previous concern then explains the decision to the church members closest to him, and many problems and conflicts are avoided. Also, when the elders are unanimous and enthusiastic about a program, the rest of the church will most likely support it.
Creating a central, visual, yearly church calendar
A large block, erasable, two-year calendar hangs on my office wall. The calendar remains as a crucial part of this model. All events, programs, and ministry functions of the church and school are placed there with planning written on the calendar 12–18 months in advance. At the beginning of the year, all ministry directors add their functions to the calendar and make sure that no other ministry has signed up for that date. Ministry dates are claimed on a first-come, first-served basis, and one ministry may not conflict, timewise, with another. Once completed, the calendar is typed and bound, with a copy distributed to each church board member and ministry leader. It lists all church and school upcoming events, programs, and meetings as well as Sabbath morning worship service speakers for the year.
When pastoring in a multichurch district, I used one calendar with both church activities and worship service speakers listed. We met together and each church presented their dates. Where a conflict existed, we worked it out before the calendar went to press. This way the leaders of both churches knew the upcoming events in each district as well as the scheduled speakers.
Every ministry director provides the pastoral staff with their ministry plans for the year. These plans, with their accompanying dates, are then placed on the master calendar. Making the calendar an integral part of pastoral leadership prevents last-minute floundering for special music and speakers as well as provides the basis for the year’s projected advertising of church events to the community. By using a published yearly calendar of events, the members are able to plan for, anticipate, and become excited about programs and “talk them up” in the community.
A visual ministries flow chart outlining the church’s organization
To help members understand the function of different ministries, a ministries flow chart depicts how the church ministries relate to each other as well as who is in charge of, and responsible for, each ministry.
The ministries flow chart has proven invaluable as a quick method for orienting all church members, assimilating new members, and drawing visitors to become members. This chart has become a helpful tool that displays to new members the various ministries in which they might serve. It helps in overseeing— ministry elders and department directors know whom to call when a person shows an interest in a ministry. By this chart being displayed on the church bulletin board and published in the church directory, all may be aware of how the church is organized and operated. Regardless of the size of the congregation, the ministries flow chart becomes a valuable tool. (The figure below shows the ministry flow chart of the Charlotte, Sharon Church.)
This model has worked wonders for my church and ministry. The details will have to be worked out in each setting; the principles, though, behind this method are crucial for helping you run your church as smoothly and effectively as possible. At the same time, this process could spare you from burnout and, who knows, as it helps bring success it might even rekindle some of the fire from those early and idealistic years of your call and ministry.
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