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Elders & Deacons: Partners in the Gospel

Elders and Deacons

Jesus is the King and Head of the Church. He is the church’s leader and its Chief Shepherd. The church belongs to Jesus, exists for Jesus and is under the authority of Jesus. In God’s sovereign plan and under his authority, he chooses men to serve as elders and deacons to lead, guide, serve and protect his church.

So the question becomes, what’s the difference? The office of elder is an office of teaching and rule. The office of deacon is an office of service. In practice though, it’s less about different roles and more about starting point, as the above illustration demonstrates. The elder typically starts by assessing spiritual needs in people’s lives and moving toward meeting physical needs. The deacon, on the other hand, starts by serving people, moving to a place of teaching people how to grow in maturity as a means of helping them grasp the spiritual implication of the practical assistance provided.

Example: Say a couple’s marriage is struggling and they are falling behind on their bills. Let’s see how the elder and the deacon are likely to respond, starting from the distinct perspective of their respective office.

The elder may begin counseling the couple, assessing their selfish motivations, areas where they are pursuing their own desires rather than seeking to pour the gospel onto the spouse. Out of that counseling and assessing the spiritual needs of the couple, the elder may learn that the couple is having financial problems that are contributing to the marital discord. At that point, the elder may move to provide assistance in meeting the financial problems of the couple.

The deacon, conversely, may start by helping meet the physical needs of the couple: helping with the rent or paying the couple’s electric bill. The deacon, then, started by serving the practical needs of the couple… but not ending there. The deacon then asks diagnostic questions such as:

  • How did you get into these financial difficulties?
  • Is this a one-time challenge or likely recurring? If recurring, what lifestyle changes must the couple make?
  • How is your marriage doing? Are these money problems getting between the two of you?

The elder may start with counseling or teaching a class and move to helping with practical needs. The deacon may start with the practical needs and move to counseling or teaching the couple about Godly approaches to money.

While the starting point may be different, good eldering and good deaconing both require engaging the spiritual and the physical needs of the congregation. And, when done well, they will join hands as partners in the process…

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7 Rules for Effective Strategic Planning

roundtablemeetingEveryone loves being part of a creative process where ideas are flying and your team hits upon “the” idea. And most of us have also been in a room where one comment shut down conversation completely and deflated the whole creative process. Good planning environments reinforce creative brainstorming, while reducing the number of comments that slow the team down. Here are the 7 rules (in no particular order) I use when leading strategic planning to ensure that the creative juices flow and that conversation doesn’t get stunted.

Rule #1: Yes, and
The first rule of improv comedy is “yes, and.” The idea is simple: instead of rejecting the suggestion of a teammate, you accept the comment and build off it. No using “no” or “but.” Example: If someone says the ball is blue, no responding with “No it’s not, it’s green.” Instead, you add on and say, “yes, and it bounces very high.” It works in improv comedy… and it works in strategy planning.

Rule #2: 4 score and 7 years ago
This is the no speeches rule. Ever been in a meeting and someone goes off for 10 minutes about, well, you don’t even remember because you stopped listening a minute and a half in? In a brainstorming environment, you may need to clarify your suggestion, but a “no speeches” rule should control for the person who wants to prove his point and why he’s right… and it will probably eliminate some rabbit trails as well.

Rule #3: More, more, more
In brainstorming, quantity of ideas matters more than quality. Get the ideas on the table. There will always be opportunity later to go back and eliminate or refine ideas. But make sure you get them on the table first. The more the better. My dumb idea might be the spark for your brilliant idea… but we’ll never know if my dumb idea gets shot down too soon.

Rule #4: No killer phrases
Few things will shut down the creative process faster than a killer phrase. “We’ve never done it that way before.” “It’s too expensive.” “We tried that before and it failed.” Those are all the same thing: killer phrases. Actionability is important… but not until later in the process.

Rule #5: 100/80 rule
Rarely is 100% unanimity possible. And rarely is it even worth pursuing. To be honest, unanimity in a vote probably means someone compromised or gave in, not that everyone is content with the decision. Make consensus, not compromise, the goal. Make the goal that 100% of the people are 80% satisfied. That means that everyone got something they wanted or think is the right course of action, but no one got it “their way.”

Rule #6: You can’t handle the truth
Creative processes need absolute, brutal honesty. They also need kindness. Encourage people to be forthright and not hold anything back, but to do so in a way that is addressing the issue, not attacking the person. So facilitate honest communication, but make it about the topic at hand. Don’t ever let people attack one another. Truth with kindness. No attacking.

Rule #7: All involved
Make sure that everyone is involved in the process, specifically inviting those who are more naturally quiet or reserved to participate. In most environments, there are a couple of people who talk even when they have nothing to say, and others who hesitate to talk even when they have something profound to say. If you notice someone who is not speaking up, turn to the person and say, “Jen, what’s your thought on that?” Some people are verbal processors and need to speak to bring clarity even to their own thoughts and others who are internal processors whose insight might be lost without specifically asking for it.


Well, there you go. When I lead a strategic planning process, I always start by going over these rules. Trust me, it’s worth the 5-10 minutes to establish these helpful ground rules. And hey, if you want to have some fun with it, give everyone in the room a soft, squishy ball. If someone breaks a rule, everyone else gets to peg that person with their ball. Not only is it a playful way to reinforce the rules for effective strategic planning, it also creates a natural way to acknowledge and move past sometimes awkward or off-putting comments from a member of the team. Then everyone can get back to work… together.

 

8 Core Competencies for Church Staffing

I have adapted three criteria – character, competence and chemistry – from Bill Hybels to determine who the “right” person is when looking to hire a new staff member at the church. While character and chemistry are relatively simple concepts, competence is much more challenging to put into practice. What competencies (skills, abilities and gifts) are the right ones?

Using The Talent Management Handbook by Berger and Berger as a reference, I developed a competency-based model of employee evaluations for Covenant Life Church, the church where I serve as Executive Pastor. We identified 8 competencies that we thought were absolutely crucial to us as a church. Let me step through those briefly, along with the definition we articulated for each…

  • Action Orientation: Targets and achieves results, overcomes obstacles, accepts responsibility, establishes standards and responsibilities, creates a results-oriented environment, and follows through on actions. Marked by a “do what it takes” attitude.
  • Communication: Communicates well both verbally and in writing. Effectively conveys and shares information and ideas with others. Listens carefully and understands various viewpoints. Presents ideas clearly and concisely and understands relevant detail in presented information.
  • Creativity/Innovation: Generates novel ideas and develops or improves existing and new systems that challenge the status quo, takes risks, and encourages innovation.
  • Mission/Goal Orientation: Possesses the ability to define issues and focus on achieving workable solutions consistent with fulfillment of church mission and consistent with the church’s ministry process.
  • Interpersonal Skill: Effectively and productively engages with others and establishes trust, credibility, and confidence with others.
  • Leadership: Motivates, empowers, inspires, collaborates with, and encourages others. Develops a culture of cultivating people (both staff and volunteers). Builds consensus when appropriate. Focuses team members on common goals.
  • Teambuilder: Knows when and how to attract, develop, reward, and utilize teams to optimize results. Acts to build trust, inspire enthusiasm, encourage others, resolve conflicts and develop consensus in creating high-performance teams.
  • Technical/Functional Expertise: Demonstrates strong technical/functional proficiencies and knowledge in areas of expertise, as defined by the employee’s job description. Consistently does the right thing by performing with reliability.

Now, not every organization, or even every church, would identify the same competencies as important. While this may be our list, yours may be a little different. In fact, I’m almost sure your list would be different from ours. The crucial issue, as it pertains to staffing, is to clearly articulate those competencies and let them guide you in the hiring process.

Covenant Life Staff Evaluation System: To see how the above competencies are evaluated, read through our entire evaluation system.

 

Interact: What competencies are most important in your organization?

First Who, Then What: A Philosophy of Church Staffing

First, get the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive it” (Jim Collins, Good to Great, p. 41).

First…                                                                                           Then…

The core of my staffing philosophy: Fill the bus with the “right” people. Collins goes on to say, “If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we’ll figure out how to take it someplace great” (p. 41). Build the team of all the right people and then watch to see the great things that team can do.

So, the question becomes, who are the “right” people? How do we define “right”?

The Right People: Character. Competence. Chemistry.

These three C’s (character, competence and chemistry) are adapted from Bill Hybels in Courageous Leadership and form a solid foundation for determining the “right” person.

  • Character: I want people of integrity in whom I have confidence in the person’s walk with Jesus Christ.
  • Competence: I want people who are already making huge contributions and demonstrating their gifts and abilities in big ways. More on this in the next post.
  • Chemistry: I want people who are cultural and relational fit with me and our team.

Honestly, putting this into practice is tough. It’s much easier to identify a hole and then look for someone to fill it. It’s much tougher in practice to actual go about finding the right people and then figuring out where they serve. But without a doubt, it’s worth the effort. Find the right people. Then find their seats on the bus. Then get the wrong people off the bus. And then watch your team’s productivity explode.

Interact: What’s your philosophy of staffing? What criteria do you use to determine who the “right” person is to hire?

Bridging the Gap

Today I am in Tennessee doing some consulting with the children’s workers of a church here. This church, like many churches, offers a great assortment of children’s programs. Unfortunately, these programs don’t speak to one another. All churches want to see the children and families reached by their soccer league or other outreach ministries connected to the worship and discipleship ministries of the church? So why doesn’t it happen?

Barb Wagenfuhr of First Pres Colorado Springs often talks about “mind the gap.” That is, there is a tendency for church programs to become compartmentalized, all doing their own thing. The result? A gap that prevents people from taking the next steps of faith and next steps of involvement.

Aware of that gap, the challenge becomes, how do we bridge it? Toward that end, here are 5 strategies for inviting people to cross the bridge and take the next steps of involvement in your church and in their spiritual lives.

  1. Program – As the program itself is designed, plans are included to incorporate sharing the Gospel, devotions, or encouraging someone to take the next step.
  2. Prayer – Ministry Head/Leaders bathe all efforts in prayer.
  3. Promotion – Targeted advertisements inviting people to the “next step” of church involvement.
  4. Personal Relationships – Life change happens best within the context of relationships.  Encourage leaders in the specific program or venue to build relationships and personally invite their friends, family, and neighbors to follow Christ.
  5. Party – Pursue opportunities to celebrate what God is doing. Festive environments have a primary goal of cementing memories from the ministry, as well as presenting the Gospel.

Interact: Where are the gaps in the ministries of your church? What are you doing to bridge the gap?

*Special thanks to Damon Cinaglia and Sherry Bitler who helped me develop this paradigm.

Beware the power trip

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

I read this verse this past Monday morning – the day where I was starting my second week as an XP. I have worked hard both personally and professionally for me to arrive at this point as an XP, a position that I believe fits my passions, gifts and call quite well.

But there are two temptations that God used this passage to reveal to me. First, there is the temptation to think that I’ve earned this or that I deserve it. Yes, I have worked (and will continue to work) hard to excel in my pastoral ministry. That does not, however, mean that I deserve this new position. God has seen, for the glory of his own name, to move me into this position. This is about him, not me. And second, with a staff now entrusted to me, I must be aware of the temptation of power. This position carries with it positional power to make decisions. I must walk in humility, trusting those around me and as their servant, helping them to succeed.

Yet, for both of those temptations, the antidote is to remember the overwhelming grace that has been extended to me in Christ and to consider others better than myself. “God, please, make me a student of those around me and give me the humility to lead as a servant. And through my ministry, I pray that you will be pleased to grow your kingdom and make your fame known to the ends of the earth. Amen.”

Interact: What area of life are you tempted to wield power instead of humbly considering others better than yourself?

5 Christian Nonprofit Board Governance Trends

The Q1 issue of Focus on Accountability, a publication of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), included an article entitled Five Board Governance Trends that looked, as the name suggests, at some trends in Christian nonprofit board governance. Here is their list…

  • Trend 1 – Boards are focusing on God-honoring results
  • Trend 2 – Board are being strategic about strategy
  • Trend 3 – Boards are conducting annual CEO assessments
  • Trend 4 – Boards are evaluating their own governance effectiveness
  • Trend 5 – Prospective board members are becoming more diligent and cautious

Great list. Each of those could be an in depth discussion of their own. But no line in the article stuck out to me like this paragraph…

“There is a new breed of board prospects. They often limit board service to just one board at a time. They expect every board member to be a generous donor. They are accepting the fiduciary and spiritual responsibilities of nonprofit ministry board service, but only if the CEO and the other board members are crystal clear about roles and responsibilities. They want the board to have its act together. They expect high integrity – especially for those tough calls, like firing a CEO (emphasis added).

Serving on the board of a nonprofit is a great privilege. It is also a high calling and carries with it tremendous responsibility. There are stewardship responsibilities. There are governance responsibilities. There are strategic responsibilities. And, for Christian organizations, there are spiritual responsibilities. Unfortunately, for all the responsibilities that accompany such a position, the accompanying authority is often found lacking. Maybe there is a founding pastor or leader whose influence is so deeply ingrained into the culture of the ministry, that challenging his authority is unacceptable. Maybe the board has never determined how the ministry’s staff and board will co-exist, answering the most basic question of “Who does what?”

Regardless of how the organization has operated in the past, its future must be governed by a board that takes seriously its call to lead. The staff reports to the board – even the pastor, CEO or president of the ministry – reports to the board. That means policy governing the direction and ethical conduct of the ministry must be overseen by the board. That means the board must conduct annual performance reviews of the ministry leader. And it means that board must have the authority to, if necessary, remove that leader from his/her position.

The great opportunity of a board of directors is the power of plurality – when the board speaks as one to lead the ministry. And as boards speak as one, and with authority, the ministry will benefit and God will be honored.

Interact: What forces fight against board members truly having the authority to carry out the responsibilities of the board?