Sunday, August 07, 2016

Seminary PL18: Church Position Descriptions

How do you decide who does what in your church? Last week we looked at various structures of church governance throughout the centuries.

This is the fourth post on church management in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this seminary series, first I did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the eighteenth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).
1. Chances are, the general structure of your church is going to be a given. If you pastor a Methodist church, for example, there are standard committees and positions. Although large Wesleyan churches have done some creative things with church governance, there is still a standard structure in the Discipline, the manual for Wesleyan Church polity.

Another overall given are the "outcomes" of a church, as we have repeatedly mentioned. A church will worship. A church will (hopefully) participate in God's mission. There will be proclamation and discipleship. Individuals will want counsel and fellowship. As a church grows in size, some of these functions will become ministry staff positions.

The management and administration of a church can also grow into staff positions. Who will handle the church finances? Who will handle the church's communications and records? Who will oversee the church's facilities and property? As the church grows, who will help administrate the details and manage projects for those whose attention is steadily drawn toward concerns on a larger and larger scale?

2. So church structure probably has some major givens and the outcomes of the "church system" have some major givens. A third factor is the result of strategic planning, which becomes a church-determined given as well. Here I mean the mission, vision, values, and goals of a local church, determined in a church's strategic planning.

These certainly affect the responsibilities of the staff and volunteers of a church. We should remember, by the way, that much of what happens in a church is not done by individuals in official or paid positions, but by volunteers. In some cases, the specific vision and goals of a church can result in specific positions.

3. In most cases, it is important to define clearly what the job of each staff person is. On the one hand, a clear description of the person's position tells them how to use their time. What is their focus? What stands or falls as his or her responsibility? What does he or she have authority to do? How will he or she know if they are succeeding or failing?

The question of lines of authority is important as well. Who are your "direct reports"? That is to say, who reports to you? Who are you the boss of? Who has the authority to hire or fire someone? What are the criteria by which a person might lose the job?

In general, it is best for each individual to report to one specific person. Sometimes a person has a "solid line" to one superior and a "dotted line" to another. In such cases, the solid line is the direct report, the direct boss, so to speak. It is possible, however, that it will not be within that person's authority to hire or fire them.

"Chain of command" helps reduce chaos. That is to say, a staff person should hesitate to skip their immediate superior to deal with someone higher up the chain. This sort of "end round" can get them into problems with their immediate boss.

4. Having said such things, a thriving organism seldom fits in rigid boxes. In Good to Great, Jim Collins has a chapter titled, "First Who... Then What." This chapter will annoy the bureaucratically minded because he suggests that a great venture doesn't know exactly where it is headed until it knows who is in the room. "You need the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus."

This dynamic suggests that, while there are general positions you might hire for (e.g., outreach director), the specifics of that position are best tailored to the strengths of the specific individual you hire. Then when you hire the next position, you should take into account the weaknesses of the existing team and try to hire someone who complements them. Support staff can be hired with a specific view to maximizing the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses of a particular person.

The static view, that sees jobs in the church as boxes into which a new person has to fit, is thus a starting point for hiring and creating a "position description." But if you want a church that functions on a "great" level, position descriptions will change a little, depending on the team you have.

5. By all means it is best to hire the right person to begin with rather than have to let someone go. I also deeply appreciate those churches and Christian organizations that try to find a place for someone who just isn't working out in the position he or she is in. However, at some point the mission (and finances) of the church may require letting someone go for the greater good.

This should be done with grace and love. But it is better to have a brief time of difficulty than prolonged agony, even decline for the church. There is a time for a pastor to leave. There is a time for staff to leave. There should be clear reasons and good documentation. It should not be done on a whim or in a fit of anger.

6. 1 Corinthians 12 suggests that different individuals have different roles to play in the body of Christ. God's gifts don't come in rigid packages. A church that functions in a thriving way will work like the body, with different parts doing different things in harmony with each other. When one blood vessel gets blocked, the body works around the blockage.

So if a crazy structure seems to be working for a particular church, why fix what doesn't seem to be broken? A certain personality with a penchant for symmetry can organize an organization right into decline. But most of the time, clear organization is a great help to thriving.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 19: Leading Healthy Teams

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management

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