- Make a list of every single congregational ministry — even washing baptismal garments and hiring the janitorial service. I mean: every single thing that is being done or ought to be done at your church. It could easily reach 100 ministries if you’re a good observer — especially if you talk to the women. (You’ll be astonished at the huge number of unofficial, off-book ministries the women are running all on their own. They will fear becoming “on book” because they really don’t need to be told how to do their jobs.)
- Eliminate the ones you don’t need to be doing.
- Take the rest and aggregate them into 12 or fewer “departments.” These don’t need to be be equal in size or budget. It’s more about the dynamics of how your church really operates. Any job big enough to have a full-time, paid minister needs its own department.
- Do not go over 12.
- Do not go over 12.
- Do not go over 12 — because 13 people can’t engage in a conversation. It’s too many.
- Eight would be better.
- For many churches, it would look something like:
- Worship (chaired by the preacher or, if you have one, the worship minister)
- Adult education
- Finances (church treasurer)
- Building and equipment
- Church plants/foreign missions
- Benevolence for members and non-members
- Pulpit (if you have a separate worship leader on staff)
- Involvement of new members/Lost Sheep/small groups
- Ladies Bible class (food for bereaved and sick, countless other ministries)
- One of the elders sits in to (a) make clear that the team is not usurping authority, (b) the elders are kept informed of what’s going on, and (c) make certain the elders and team don’t work at cross-purposes by accident.
Now, it’s far more important that you have the right people rather than the optimal organizational chart. In fact, putting the wrong person in will mess everything up pretty badly. And this means you’ll have to put some women on the committee. If your church won’t allow that, then the effort is doomed, because your church, like every church, has women who play essential ministerial roles.
In most churches, the preacher naturally acts as chair, but this isn’t essential. Whoever the chair is must be willing to have on-the-table discussions about job performance by any team member. Obviously, there will be cases where discretion dictates having a hard discussion in private, but this is a mutual-accountability group designed to relieve the elders of having to take their time to hold ministers accountable. If the teen minister won’t submit to the group, hire a more mature, most Christ-like teen minister. The same holds for all other positions.
Do not yield to the temptation to rotate the chair among all members to avoid any sense of someone having authority over the rest. Again: it’s about giftedness. The church treasurer may be the greatest treasurer on the planet but not gifted to chair the group. Let the Spirit be the Spirit — and don’t try to outsmart his work among us. Leadership is a gift that not everyone possesses. And pushing for pure equality not only defeats the Spirit’s work, it reveals a difficulty in submitting.
If the real concern is the choice of chair, then the group should talk about the choice of chair, not the procedure for selecting the chair. (Procedural arguments are nearly always disguised arguments over substance. If someone says, “We should rotate the chair,” the correct response is, “Why are you unhappy with the man (or woman) chosen to be chair?” Then you can talk about the real issue.)
Meet monthly and —
- Coordinate everyone’s efforts; claim spots on the church calendar.
- Do the budget and change the budget as needs change.
- Recommend congregational goals for the elders’ consideration. For example, I’d have the mission and vision statements worked out here for the elders’ approval.
- See to the training and equipping of the volunteers and ministers.
- Hold each other accountable for their job performance. See Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team for the best advice on doing this. This step CANNOT be skipped. If you’re not willing to submit to your peers and to hold each other accountable, you aren’t qualified for the team — or any position of leadership. Many people — including many preachers — think conflict is unhealthy. The truth is that unexpressed, unresolved conflict is unhealthy. Pretending to agree when you really don’t is unhealthy (and dishonest). Talking through disagreements as adults is very healthy. A meeting without disagreement is a waste of time and speaks ill of everyone’s perception of the spiritual maturity of the others.
- Grant permission for changes and innovations (other than doctrinal and worship matters). That is, if the teen minister wants to start going to summer camp and he needs budgeted money or permission to hold fundraisers, he doesn’t go before the elders. He comes to this committee, and they make the decision. The elders only get a report after the decision is made. The teen minister has no right of appeal to the elders, and the elders should not even hear the complaint.
- Communicate! The Ministries Team becomes communications central not just among each other but for the entire congregation. They make sure the necessary announcements are made timely and frequently. They have charge of the church bulletin, email, etc. to the extent needed to do their jobs.
- Work diligently not to silo the departments but to work together toward a common goal. Share ideas. Brainstorm. Dream. Together.
- Train. In fact, the Ministries Team might charge someone with finding good literature and doing regular training on their duties.
The ministers will be tempted to meet for coffee on Mondays and make decisions that really ought to be made by the Ministries Team. They should not do this — and should be held to account to the group when they do it anyway. It’s a breach of trust. One of the goals of this system is to get lay leaders involved (even prepared to be elders one day) and to give ownership to the members. If the ministers try to game the system, they’ll destroy all that. If they can’t wait for the next meeting to have a decision made, then (a) they need to get organized so they can ask timely and (b) email is an option for the rare true emergency.
Now, with this done, the elders’ list of duties shrinks quite a lot. It could become as brief as — (a) doctrinal questions, (b) permission giving regarding worship changes/innovations, (c) supervision of the preacher, and (d) pastoral care (with much of the pastoral work shared with the full-time staff and several committees, among others).
That’s still a very considerable list, but it’s doable. The first list ((a) through (f)) was nearly impossible. And the volume of decisions that most elderships attempt to handle all by themselves is downright delusional.
One final note: The elders have to be comfortable ceding this much authority to the Ministries Team. If they aren’t, they need to clearly draw a boundary between what is and what isn’t Ministries Team business in advance. We’re not setting up a bicameral system with a House of Representatives and Senate. Rather, very few items should come before both the elders and the Ministries Team — or else we’ve just created a layer of bureaucracy and we’ve not freed the elders from any work. We’ve likely given them more.
Therefore, if the elders have an activist personality, and want to handle some of these functions, either scrap the plan altogether (there are other ways to run a church) or decide in advance what the elders keep for themselves. Don’t let someone say we’ll just “play it by ear.” Therein lies futility, frustration, and anger. Decide in advance. Write it down. Communicate it.
Finally, if the elders wish to be freed to focus on other matters, they should make a habit of rubber stamping Ministries Team recommendations. If the elders insist on re-studying the mission statement or vision statement, then the Ministries Team will feel that their time was wasted and the elders will not have saved any time. Resist the temptation — or set up a different system.