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Power in the pew

Light Bulbs

Michigan Conference Lay Leader Anne Soles, uses concepts from ‘This Old House’ to talk about the remodel necessary to move to a Single Board Governance model for more administrative power.


ANNE SOLES

Michigan Conference Lay Leader

The host of This Old House was in the basement looking at the 60-year-old wiring of the house going into a rebuild. Well done for its time with ceramic protectors in key places and beautifully executed connections.  And coming down.  Hair dryers, video games, electric toothbrushes, dishwashers —and the age of the materials said it was time.

If you have ever lived in a house (or a parsonage) with one outlet per bedroom or a bathroom made over from a closet, you know the difference between functional and quaint. And if you watch This Old House or Fixer Upper, you know the outcomes will be wonderful. And stylish—and probably our family would have it cluttered by the end of the day.

Now we consider This Old Conference Part III. The Michigan Conference and many local churches are in rebuild. In other articles we looked first at new tools.  The Design Team gave local churches (at least) five new positions for local church help: children’s programs, lay leadership, young adult programs, multi-cultural programs and youth. Second, we looked at laity tools:  spreadsheets, cookie sheets and everything in between.

Now we look at building plans. Picture Kevin O’Conner and Richard Thretheway in the basement. Local churches, districts, and conference agencies are working towards Single Board Governance. Here is the 10 second video clip.

Before you start, you need a vision that isn’t stashed in a file cabinet. This Old House or HGTV begin each construction with an evaluation and a vision. For a congregation this is hard work. A new structure, however, stands on this foundation.

Single Board Governance has several working parts: The Council, staff and a flock of ministries. The role of the pastor must vary by the size of the congregation and the gifts of the pastor. The pastor is at the heart of the structure.

The Council or leadership team tends the vision. They do not need to meet often (quarterly is suggested). They do need to hold the authority and the congregation’s trust and permission to maintain, evaluate, defend and pursue that vision. Speaking as the church, they are Trustees, Staff Parish, budgeters all wrapped in one. Members of the Council do not represent an interest or a group in the congregation. The Council does make policy.

Staff handle daily and weekly tasks that keep the church running. The pastor, administrative assistant, treasurer, janitor, music director, youth worker—the list gets longer with a larger church. The staff keeps things running. They meet regularly and carry out policy. And not all staff is paid.  

Ministry is the heart of the church. Traditional ministry like Sunday School (or after school programs, Vacation Bible School, or pre-school) and new ministries (adult day care, tool time, church in a diner) emerge from the passion and calling of members. Ministries need encouragement, support and, sometimes, some pruning. A church needs a place for new ministry to happen in response to the community, gifts and talents and a nudge from the Holy Spirit. Managing this flock is the tricky part.

The pastor is the shepherd. A pastor with good administrative gifts will assemble and organize, calendar and keep things running. When the pastor is quarter-time or changes every few years, the church may need a lay “shepherd.”  The point is, to know your needs and your strengths. This can work, and the smallest churches can create the most effective ministries.

The Council works to see that ministries are linked to the vision they tend. Single Board pays heed to the larger vision, and we have not always had that perspective with our old wiring. Such focus adds power to grow and change.

Working together, trusting to prayer and consideration, we can achieve this remodel. When Moses came down from the mountain with “new rules,” the followers were melting down gold. When Jesus came back to the disciples after praying in the garden, the followers were sound asleep. Changing Ad Council to Single Board is only a minor version of those challenges. You can get overwhelmed.

In the “every day” the questions come thick and fast. Who is doing coffee hour? Should we use Pay Pal? Where are the kids? How can we know who is having surgery, needs transportation? How do we fix asbestos? Should we do something with the parsonage bathroom? A good “traffic cop” is needed to send these questions to Leadership Council, staff or a ministry.

Pitfalls: There are several common wrong turns with Single Board Governance.

  1. If you send all questions, large or small, to the church leadership council, they will bog down, micro manage, waste everyone’s time and lose sight of the vision.
  2. If you rely on the pastor to take charge of everything, new ideas may wilt, and the pastor may burn out.
  3. If you don’t keep the congregation and friends up to date on changes, confusion and a yearning for the old order marches in. You may need a “do-over”.  No penalty, not fault.

In short – no pun intended—we need to rewire. Our church, our district, our conference needs more places where someone can “plug in.” We need a wiring diagram so that the energy is always flowing. We don’t want everything on the same circuit. And we don’t want to blow a fuse.  

With this core in place, the church comes into its own, reaches for its potential and serves God through its ministries. Each congregation is different in response to the people, the place and the time. And to God’s calling. Care for the elderly, a single mother’s support group, a choir or praise band, partnership with school for kids in need, hospitality center for the homeless … the list is as endless and diverse as our 800 congregations.  Let your light shine!

And speaking as laity, go check the fuse box, consider insulation, pay the electric bill.  And rejoice!

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