Church Growth: Getting the Elders Out of the Way, Part 4

churchgrowthl.jpgLet’s consider the pros and cons of the Policy Governance Leadership Model as applied to churches.

Pros —

* The ministerial staff is given clear direction from the elders. They sit down and say (a) this is what we expect and (b) we will not undermine your efforts but (c) you must work within these boundaries.

Now, larger churches typically write job descriptions for their staff, but these are usually nearly useless. They tell the preacher to be a great preacher and teacher. They rarely define his role in leadership.

* The elders are forced to yield some leadership to the staff.

As a church gets larger, its leadership needs expand. And a church cannot grow beyond the skills and time commitments of part-time, amateurs so long as the elders retain day to day control.

This should be no surprise. As a church grows, the elders soon realize that the teen ministry needs a fulltime minister as part-time, untrained volunteers just can’t meet the teens’ needs.

And most elders let the teen minister run his ministry with great autonomy but within certain boundaries. And they hold him accountable for results. After all, the souls of our children are at stake!

But among adults, the elders feel entirely competent. In fact, they all had years of experience in adult ministry, and so they truly do know quite a lot. They are understandably reluctant to turn the adult programs over to the staff. Hence, the 45-year old preacher has less autonomy and authority than the 23-year old youth minister.

* The ministerial staff is held accountable for results. And for a church to grow, accountability is essential.

* The discussion leading up to the policies set by the elders helps bring the elders and ministers into accord.

Obviously, the staff has to be involved. If the elders insist that the church grow, then the ministers should be able to address with the elders barriers to growth. If the building is too small, the decision making process too cumbersome — whatever — the ministers will be forced to honestly help the elders confront the problems, as the ministers will find themselves accountable for results and must be certain that have the tools they need to succeed.

* The elders are forced to decide what’s most important. What will the preacher be accountable for? Great sermons? Or great growth? Or more volunteers for church ministries?

And I should emphasize that church growth is not always the vision a church should have. Some churches may be called to community service or to church planting or domestic missions (not that these are mutually exclusive). There are lots of possibilities.

Once the priorities are set, then other things are, by definition, less important. Hence, when a member complains that the preacher talks too much about evangelism and not enough about baptism, the elders have to back the preacher. They didn’t tell him to preach on baptism at least once a month and so they can’t fault him for not doing so!

* The elders are forced to think in terms of what the owner — Jesus — wants, rather than what the members, staff, or even the elders prefer.

* The church becomes purpose-driven. As the staff has been given clear direction as to what to accomplish, and as their raises — even their jobs — depend on their success, they’ll focus on what the elders want. The model thus makes it hard for ministers to pursue a personal agenda contrary to the elders’ vision.

* The elders (or most of them) are freed to serve in a more pastoral (shepherding) role rather than as administrators. In the typical eldership, most of the elders are not administrators by nature and would far rather be counseling and comforting members than reading trial balance sheets.

Those are pretty good pros. What are the cons?

* It’s really hard to actually articulate what an eldership wants and to delineate all the boundaries that need to be imposed. A decent plan will surely take many, many hours of drafting and redrafting. It would be, I think, a healthy process but an extraordinarily difficult one.

* In a Church of Christ, we expect the elders to be hands-on leaders. We are very, very uncomfortable with giving the preacher a great deal of discretion over church programs. The members will flinch at having a preacher with this kind of authority. (It’ll help if the church understands that the minister is not a “pastor” and has no authority at all other than delegated authority. He still answers to the elders.)

* As both an effect and a cause, we don’t really train our ministers for true church leadership (but then, we don’t train our elders either!) If the preacher isn’t a gifted leader already, he’s not going to become one just because the elders adopt a plan.

* Elders are used to being in charge. Members come to them for help with a problem and they are used to being able to help. It’ll be very hard for elders to say, “You have to talk to the preacher on that question.”

None of these are truly scriptural objections. On the other hand, not every church and not every preacher is a candidate for such a structure. Rather, I just think it’s a tool we need to have our church-leadership toolbox.



In response to Alan’s comment:


I love the website you cited! Really good stuff. For example,

The key quality factors Schwartz finds through his research are 1) leadership that empowers other Christians, 2) gift-oriented ministry, 3) spirituality, 4) functional structures, 5) inspiring worship, 6) small groups that apply the Bible messages to everyday life, 7) need-oriented evangelism, and finally 8 ) loving relationships. Schwartz surveyed 30 members of each of the 1,000 churches in the study, then used their answers to assign a “quality index” to each of these eight key quality factors.

What Schwartz calls “the most spectacular discovery” of his survey is this:

There is one rule, however, for which we did not find a single exception among the 1,000 churches surveyed. very church in which a quality index of 65 or more was reached for each of the eight quality characteristics, is a growing church.

In other words, as long as a church maintains a high level of quality in these key areas, it will grow — “all by itself.”

This finding yields two important implications for goal setting:

* We shouldn’t be adverse to numeric goals, but they should be tied to things under our control (quality) and not to what is ultimately under God’s control (quantity). So, instead of a goal to “have 3,400 by 2002” our goals will concern themselves with quality-for instance, that “80% of all members be engaged in a personal Bible study plan.”

* We should still monitor those statistics that before had once been “the goal,” but now become monitoring instruments. We measure worship attendance, for example, not to see whether or not we met our goal but to indicate whether our “work on the quality of church life has borne fruit.” If attendance isn’t increasing, we don’t have an attendance drive; rather, we look for quality factors — maybe it’s spirituality? perhaps inspiring worship? — that need to be improved so that growth can happen “all by itself.”

What really struck home with me was a lesson I learned for Joe Beam at a church retreat several years ago. Joe pointed out that in the business world, management experts teach businessmen not to focus on the bottom line (profits) but on what makes the business special. Thus, Nike might focus on helping people enjoy sports through great equipment rather than simply maximizing profits. This forces the business to focus on what gets them to profits, and reduces the temptation to cheat on quality or to price gouge to get there.

Just so, Joe taught us, a church has to focus on excellence in whatever makes that particular church special rather than simply trying to force growth. In short, you’ve reminded me of a lesson I’d nearly forgotten. (A future post will address this from a different direction, discussing each congregation’s “story.”)

This doesn’t contradict the model so much as add a very important step. The preacher (or staff) should be judged on those things that lead to growth, not growth itself. After all, the growth could be nothing but good luck in being in a growing neighborhood. Or the preacher might be blamed for failures entirely out of his control. “God gives the increase.”
And this is important for another reason. Even when a church doesn’t organize this way, even when the church gives very little thought to its management, the fact is that the preacher is being judged by the congregation and its eldership. However, when the standard isn’t stated, the preacher is likely being judged by as many standards as there are judges — none of which is known the preacher.

It’s far fairer to the preacher and far more likely to get something done if the elders will level with the preacher and say: this is what we expect and how you’ll be evaluated.

And if the elders would narrow that list down to a few essentials, the preacher is far more likely to get those few items done.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Church Growth, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to Church Growth: Getting the Elders Out of the Way, Part 4

  1. Alan says:

    I wonder whether the large first century churches were this "corporate". For example, what was the relationship between Timothy and the elders in Ephesus? Of course we don't have a lot of data, and the direct involvement of the apostle Paul is a significant difference from today's situation.

    One thing that bothers me is the connection between preacher pay and performance. I just don't want my preacher to be motivated by money. Paying the right salary is a little like brushing your teeth. If you don't do it, you'll have problems. But once you've reached the point of sufficiency, there's not a lot to be gained by going further.

    I also think that setting quantifiable measurable goals has a downside risk. You will get what you measure. So your goals have to be the right ones. If you measure baptisms but not fall-aways, you are likely to have as many falling away as being baptized. There are many other areas that are subject to being neglected because they are difficult to measure and quantify.

    Here's an article reviewing "Natural Church Development" by Christian Schwartz. He advocates measuring results, but managing what they call quality factors rather than directly managing the results. It's like farming. You don't make the plant grow. Instead you manage the environment around the plant, provide the water and fertilizer, and the plant grows all by itself.

  2. Jay Guin says:

    See the addendum I just added to the original post.

Leave a Reply