The P Conundrum: Practice, Procedure or Policy?

What is best for your church…a practice? Procedure? Or policy?

When a practice suffices, great. When a documented procedure is needed, do that. And save the policies for when those two aren’t enough.

Too often churches become policy-heavy and the result is slowed ministry and confused workers. Over-the-top policies become “red tape” that stifles ministry progress.

Yet, there are certain policies required by law (and we should obey). And even below the legal threshold, there are best practices* for putting some polices in place even when not required by law.

But many times where churches implement policies a simple stated practice would suffice.

Determining whether an issue should have an established (stated) practice, procedure or policy will depend on the frequency of its occurrence (which could mean church size) or the margin for error or inconsistency for a particular issue.

We often look to large churches to model what should be done in our (smaller) churches. Large churches may use policies to deal effectively and efficiently with the scope of their work. But, where a large church might deal with a certain issue 100 times a year, the same issue may only occur three times in another church, so, it doesn’t need the same treatment.

One church is right to have a policy which gives clear decisions and action. But the same issue for another church, a policy may be a mistake. Unless frequency or 100% consistency requires it, appreciate the ability and freedom to make decisions based on your unique circumstances.

When you place policies or procedures where a practice suffices, it leads to slow work, it frustrates the people enforcing the policy, and the people abiding by the over-the-top policy.

The differences and self-assessing which one is needed

  • Practices are most often “what we’ve done in the past.” They’re precedents and come with authority of current leadership. Practices give a sense of direction about an issue, but also communicates there can be flexibility and exceptions to it.
  • Procedures occur when less ambiguity is desired. The issue’s decision points might have multiple steps and a documented procedure is best. A documented procedure gives clarity about how a decision is made (assuming typical circumstances) and provides steps on how to get it done without a lot of interpretation by those involved.
  • Policies assume legal or fiduciary accuracy. Or it addresses an issue demanding straightforward behavior or outcomes. And/or, the issue happens with regularity, and it no longer makes sense to slow a decision by having to consider the uniqueness of a practice or procedure.

Policies protect the people (decision-makers). It removes the leader from having to use personal discretion or persuasion in deciding an issue. An effective policy will be the right way 98% of the time. There could be exceptions, but they should be exceptional reasons (such as, a pandemic…consider how many policies got [rightfully] upended in this time).

Scaling of the Ps

Most times it’s best to begin with a practice. And use that as long as it’s effective. But as the decision points grow in number or complexity, you’ll move to the procedure or policy stage. And when you do, you’ll have the experience of what content needs to be included in those procedure and policies.

Policies are great, if written well and wielded prudently. I’m pro-policy, but only after I determine a practice or procedure is sufficient.

* If you need the direction, there are “policy audits” or CPA reviews of “agreed-upon-procedures” that can be provided for reasonable prices to assess if any procedures or policies need to be modified or added.

Want examples, continue on—

Examples for what P stage make most since in typical church setting:

Licensing ministers: If this is happening 1-2 times a year, it could just be a practice. But if that number grows or to ensure fairness and standards each time, a procedure may be best.

Room reservations at the church: If you have a church building, depending on frequency of requests, at least a procedure is needed, and perhaps, a policy. And it could be, it’s a procedure for internal requests, but you have a policy for “outside request of usage.”

Whistle Blower complaints: Policy.

Credit card purchase review: Procedure and should move to policy as quickly as possible or as advised.

Guest baptizers or speakers: A practice might suffice. But if you’re getting requests more than once a year and the vetting of each situation or person needs to delegated or shared my multiple people, then a procedure that outlines your biblical understanding, along with other standards and expectations of the guest, than a procedure makes sense.

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Dings In Your Leadership

“Sudden braking…quick acceleration…distracted driving…high speeds.”

These are all areas I’ve been “dinged on” in the past weeks using my insurance’s app for monitoring safe driving. Theoretically, by using it and showing my insurance company how good a driver I am, I will receive a discount.

But the app’s feedback is quite humbling.

What if we had an app that “dinged” our ministry leadership in real-time?

Who gets real-time interaction with your ministry leadership and also has a way to record your ministry leadership dings?

Maybe you’ve been doing ministry and leadership for a long time and feel you’re beyond the learning curve—perhaps you’re ding proof.

Or perhaps, you’re like me and realizing my driving experience doesn’t make me beyond making driving mistakes.

What if after you led a meeting you got scores measuring your ability to stay on task? Your inclusiveness of others? Your clarity with the messaging? Or with a sermon…your clarity? Your adherence to the Bible? Your articulation of a clear next step?

I believe some real-time and unfiltered scoring could improve our ministry leadership.

Do you have someone you can count on to give you unfiltered feedback?

You’re going to have ask someone for it and ask for it in a way they know you really do want it and you really do expect some critical feedback (hopefully along with some positive feedback).

I realize this can (and should) be done in some sort of performance management system. But I’m talking about something simple. There’s something really helpful about the real-time and informal feedback like I’m describing.

With the driving accountability tracking I’m using my driving score is improving. Just knowing I’m being monitored and that I’m going to see the results has made me conscientiousness about my acceleration, my braking, and my “distracted driving.”

If you’re willing to be “dinged,” find your version of an app scorer and look to see how some mild adjustments can make you a more effective leader.

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Sunday Hustle or Sabbath?

Sunday hustle or sabbath? Are these mutually exclusive? It feels like it. Church leaders every Sunday (weekend) hustle hard to make your ministry excellent (or sometimes, just “covered”) and when the day is done, they can see the fruit of their work, but they never sniffed at having a sabbath.

I’ve been a proponent that if your Sunday is a work day that doesn’t allow you to prioritize the worship of God, and rest in Him, then you need to find another day or opportunity to do this. This may mean attending another church’s Saturday night worship or another gathering that takes place during the week.

Yet, I’m not convinced our “Sunday work” must be sabbath-free.

What would it look like for you to be faithful to your Sunday ministry work, but work in such a way that both internally and externally you are more at rest?

What would it look like to walk slowly through the commons area of your church space? To linger in a conversation even though the critical part of the conversation is done? To slip into the worship room for a moment, engage in worship, before returning to your important work down the hall?

I believe we can appropateily hustle for ministry’s sake on Sunday’s, adn still work in a way that reflects some sabbath practices. These can be good for our own soul, and also model “sabbath-ways” to those we lead. It can’t replace a more robust sabbath day for you, but these two can coexist in some ways.

Ways to achieve (partial) sabbath amidst the typical Sunday ministry work:

Get your work done during the work week. Many times, our Sunday hustle is not evidence of our hard work, it’s evidence of our lack of hard work during the week.

We’re having to squeeze in a whole bunch of conversations and copy machine work that could’ve been done during the week. We must work hard in our work week hours, so we can be present for the ministry work on Sunday.

Prioritize your time with God on Sundays (1:1 before you “work”). There may be a temptation to forego your 1:1 time with God knowing that you’re heading out the door to “do church.” But at least two things counter that: 1) you probably won’t’ have a lot of time to be still with God once you’re there, and 2) you have the opportunity to minister to people on Sunday like no other time during the week. And that opportunity requires us to be connected to God in a way that our ministry to others is an overflow of our connectedness to God.

Know what your “must do” Sunday tasks are and know everything else can be trumped to engage sabbath or ministry moments. I’ve written before about the importance of prioritizing what’s “must do” (required) tasks. You need to know what must be done and know that many other things can be dropped or at least delayed should a ministry moment present itself.  

Yes, we might have to stack all the chairs or lock up the building. But if we delay that five minutes so we can spend five minutes in meaningful conversation with someone, we’ll that’s sabbath behavior. Life doesn’t stop on Sundays. And it didn’t for Jesus, but He chose very carefully what took his attention on his sabbath.

Put to rest the desire for everything to go your way. Church leaders are committed. We plan pathways and outcomes we feel God will use. But sometimes our pathways will go awry. Or God may choose another divinely-created pathway. We must put to rest our controlling ways. Controlling everything is counter to a sabbath mentality.

Sundays are a work day for me. Yet, I believe I dishonor God and poorly model for those in my church when my work looks frenetic and absent a belief I trust a big God to do His work, His way. So, here’s to hustling sabbath-style.

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