Identifying Your Church’s Disclosure Culture (part 2 of Disclosure v Discovery)

Last week’s post appealed for us to all to disclose rather than be discovered. As discovery of certain issues in one’s life (particularly church leaders) really limits the positive outcomes in a church context.

For the notable national Christian leaders who have been “discovered” in the last couple years for their sinful ways, I wonder how the outcomes could have been different if they would have disclosed (before the sin patterns progressed)?

While sin and the evil one are powerful persuaders for nondisclosure, I also wonder if there was something in the churches they served that implicitly or even explicitly said, “If you disclose…you’re gone…so conceal well”?

Most of us as church leaders don’t want to have hard conversations. So, we often turn a blind eye and keep from investigating the stuff we sense is off in one’s life. In these cases, we’re simply delaying the inevitable and becoming (somewhat) complicit in allowing a person’s life to disqualified from serving in ministry.

Culture check-up

How you respond to these will likely correlate with the likelihood of staff ministers disclosing something before it’s too far gone to rescue them or without collateral damage to the church…

Do you have built in accountability systems?

Is there a systematic time for a supervisor to ask questions about their life? Spiritual health? Their struggles? Can staff expect someone will be inquiring about their soul? About their time with God? About their marriage and friendships?

Are you intentionally investing in holistic care?

Many of us are intentional about developing skills related to our team’s ministry work (presentational skills, time management, relational skills, continuing education). But how are you equipping them to become more like Jesus?

Minister haven’t arrived spiritually; they too need development.

Do you provide resources? Do you encourage and provide time for them to be a participant in a group or Bible study? Do you encourage spiritual retreat days? Sabbaticals? Our development of ministers should include equipping and expecting them to grow like Christ. If you think your ministers should be beyond needing your church to make sure they’re growing toward Christ, then I believe you’ll ultimately be disappointed.

Do you have a history of handling these hard issues well?

When people have made mistakes (sinful or just errors)—how has your team seen you handle them? Would they say your response was holy? Could they tell you sought out Biblical and Holy Spirit guidance before responding? Did they see you keep your mouth shut when others were begging for gossip? Did the see you restore people to ministry roles when the situation allowed for it? Did they see you care for person even if you had to end their employment?

Has your staff ever heard your pastor or key leader admit mistakes? A sin?

If fulfilling James 5:16 sounds completely aspirational and never modeled within your church, then disclosure will be minimal. I get it…the pastor confessing sin to other staff could be problematic. But do staff know the pastor does have a person(s) where James 5:16 happens? Does everyone have accountability? If there’s no transparency, it’s a breeding ground for concealment. And at some point, discovery.

We want or churches to be healthy. This means our church’s leaders need to be healthy. Their health will be aided by a healthy church and leadership culture (I’m reading a great book on this, Paul Tripp’s Lead).

Let’s shepherd all of our church, including its leaders.

p.s. I’m not a counselor. But I am a pastor. And if you need to disclose something without any strings attached or without me being connected to your church, I’m willing to listen. Sin thrives in darkness and concealment, so if I can serve you, reach out (Brian@wellspringchurch.com).

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Disclosure v. Discovery

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Habitual sin? A one-time gross misjudgment? An addiction?

Disclosure is better than discovery.

Is that mindset a part of your church’s leadership culture?

At some point in my ministry career I began to have the conversation with prospective staff ministers about errors they may make or systematic sins they might be concealing. And on behalf of the church, I’d remark something like…

When you disclose it (said issue) to us versus us discovering it, the road to you remaining with us on staff and helping you is much easier. Either way, we will graceful, but grace abounds more in disclosure rather than our discovery.

I’d go on to make comments such as-

  • If we know about it and know before it’s gone too far, the possibility of right-standing is greater
  • Even with disclosure, I cannot guarantee you’d keep your job, as there are several factors. But you have my personal commitment to walk alongside you and get you the help needed
  • While discovery on our part doesn’t mean we limit our understanding nature or preclude righteous outcomes, it does speak to your intention and a pattern (of sin, concealment, repetition)

This conversation happened as one of the last conversations before a decision point of someone joining the staff. I wanted them to know we took things seriously that could harm them, others in the congregation, and the name of Christ. I wanted them to know our staff’s culture was committed to graceful responses and we had systems to help mitigate these kinds of things before they happened (next week’s blog).

I recall scenarios of both disclosure and discovery. Each one required Biblical examination based on the issue and its response. Each one required the Spirit’s power in them, and us as church leaders, to respond effectively.

Some of oops moment(s) were acknowledged as wrong, confessed and the road to right-standing began with safeguards for them and the church. Others were fireable-on-the-spot occurrences. Yet, with as much grace as possible. Others meant a reduction in job duties, or a timeout (“administrative leave” in many fields) until we could understand more and discern the best course.

Just having the disclosure v. discovery conversation is not enough. It requires a plan. It requires resources to help. But maybe more than anything, it requires a culture within your church’s leadership that creates trust so people would disclose and not fear ungraceful punitive-minded treatment.

Thoughts culture and system to help create a disclosure environment is for next week’s post.

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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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