Posted in Executive Pastor

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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Filters when Management and Ministry Face Off

What’s your decision filter when you have pastoral responsibilities and leadership responsibilities that are in tension?

Can what’s best pastorally for your church not be what’s best for managing your church?

I’ve blogged tips before to help ministers fight through some of the non-preferred management tasks that typically accompany their ministry work. But this is less about tasks and more about creating a decision filter. A decision filter that can help us choose between pathways that are pastoral in nature and pathways that lean toward leadership and management.

At some point, most ministry leadership positions will put you in a place where seemingly the most pastoral thing to do is not the best thing for management of the church and its resources.  And it could be they seem at opposition.

Executive vs. Pastor

Not too long ago, I began to think through and articulate this tension using my position’s title of “Executive Pastor.” There’s a lot in my job that requires “executive” thinking and decisions. Yet, much of my job also requires “pastoral” work and decisions (luckily for me there are people I work with who are called and competent in both areas and it’s them who carry out a lot of the ministry work). And sometimes these parts of my job (title) are in tension.

For example’s sake, this tension could surface with a staff member who’s woefully underperforming. The executive side sees the need to move swiftly toward a termination plan. Whereas the pastoral side wants to pause and extend extra grace. The executive side considers how this underperformance may be impacting their teammates. How their underperformance means underperformance for the church’s ministry. Pastorally the consideration goes to the person’s family who is active in your church and what the decision could mean to their “church home.”

My pathway for solving the executive-pastor tension…

All my executive type decisions need to go through a pastoral filter. But because of job responsibility, I can’t ignore the sound management responsibility. Yet there are times when a good decision for the executive side never gets made because the pastoral side weighs more.

In other words, I’ve determined, all my executive decisions must go through my pastoral filter. But I’ve learned not all my pastoral decisions will pass muster in my executive filter.

There is work our church does that does not make that much sense in an executive world. We invest resources in things that don’t show high return. Not only a dollar return (we are nonprofit), but also not an equitable return on spiritual things based on what spiritual energy was put into them. So why do we still do some of these? It’s simple, we feel called by God to do it.

So yes, you and I need to allocate resources of money and manpower in the most efficient way possible (executive). We want our church’s efforts to go further faster for the Kingdom. But we must remember God’s economy is not ours. So yes, make decisions for both the “executive” and “pastor” roles of your work. But make sure all decisions go through the pastoral lens. It’s the pastoral lens which is defined by scripture, has an eternal Kingdom in my mind, and the great commission.

As for me, I’ll count my calling to serve Christ in the local church a loss if anyone would say of me “He’s a decent executive, but he’s poor on the pastoral side.”

Does your ministry or management filter carry the most weight?

Are you ensuring church decisions are getting pushed through your pastoral filter?

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A Better Question In a Performance Review

 

Do you want to know how your team really feels about their job? Your church? Or perhaps even how they feel about you as a supervisor?

Knowing how your team “really” feels is critical to for your supervision, their development, and the success of your team (church).

If you want to know the right answers, you have to ask the right questions. Even in a good performance management system, the important questions can get lost among all the other small ones.  How your team members really feel is what I’ll refer to as the last 2% (that term is not unique to me and I’ve blogged previously on the “last 2%” concept). The last 2% is what you want to make sure you communicate (or have communicated to you) in your staff reviews.

I’ve found one question gets me the most helpful and transparent information from those I lead. It’s simple, has two-parts, and has begun some very informative conversations in review meetings I’ve had with staff (sometimes in writing, other times verbally):

  • What is it I’m doing as your supervisor that’s helping you complete the goals we’ve set for you and in your day-to-day job activities?
  • What is it I’m doing as your supervisor that’s hindering you from reaching all your goals and can get in the way of you doing day-to-day job activities?

3 Rules of Engagement when asking this question:

  1. Listen to their feedback. Don’t defend.
  2. Ask clarifying questions.

In any scenario where you’re trying to elicit a response, frame your questions in such way that assumes the person has feedback. It’s the difference between:

“What feedback do you have for me?” and, “Do you have any feedback for me?”

If you assume there‘s feedback, you’re more likely to get feedback.

  1. Be trustworthy.

Even if you ask the right question and they provide you honest (last 2%) feedback, it’s only good for one try – unless you listen to their feedback and affect change based on it (or at least explain why you may not). You can’t hold their input over them (especially if it’s negative).

If you listen and don’t punish people for their feedback, they’ll be more likely to give it to you in the future.

I encourage you to try this out at your next review meeting. I believe you’ll be a better supervisor because of it.

P.S. I believe the two-part question fits nicely into a performance management system with formal reviews, but it can still work in informal settings with those you lead.

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