Apostolic oversight groups (created ostensibly to provide ‘accountability’ to others) who don’t create policy documents to govern their own behaviour and enable evaluation by the wider church…may in so doing reveal that they aren’t themselves seeking to be truly accountable.
BUT: Policy (+Holy Spirit and relationship) = mutual accountability = godly and objective evaluation = the potential of a Spirit led, nimble and growing organisation.
Without clear policy, the question that such groups are happy with just the semblance of accountability for themselves remains. Without clear policy, and the public commitment to implementable direction it brings, they usually fall back to operating merely as pastoral support groups for leaders who need to somewhere to turn outside their own small neck of the woods. Not, in other words, as true apostolic teams.
One of the first things a truly trustworthy and accountable leadership group will do is create publicly available policy which enables people to see transparently how their own performance, relational choices and actions can be evaluated (goals and steps). Then, to reveal how they intend to evaluate progress. And then to regularly implement that evaluation and to publish the results of that evaluation. Why would an organisation seeking to implement biblical imperatives of mutual accountability not do this? Every other secular organisation does. And yet many independent and baptistic churches and groupings can ignore this vital function altogether.
Yes, it requires money and time to be put into good governance. And even the creation of a specific role to ensure ownership of the commitment. But it’s worth it!
‘Relationshipism’ can be as destructive as institutionalism: Covenant as a biblical theology of the need for good policy and good relationships.
The resistance to creating policy is a result of anti-institutional thinking, which is a Gnostic heresy and ultimately a rejection of the Word. ‘Relationship’ is elevated over ‘covenant’ theologically…”it’s all about relationships” becomes a sacrosanct principle…as if good relationships can exist without submission to the Ten Commandments, the commands of Christ and the Haustafeln (which are all policies, if you will – scriptural policies). Feelings and instinct take over; emotions and ‘keeping hold of the relationship’ become the controlling factor in decisions about discipleship and direction. This is in opposition to Christ (Luke 8:21).
When relationship is idolised rather than covenant, nepotism and rudderless lack of traction result. When relationship is idolised rather than covenant, engaging as a change agent becomes threatening because no routine and mutually agreed systems are in place to legitimately offer new ideas…and the conversation is always treated as being a personal attack.
When relationship is idolised, what really happens is that relationships internal to the church
are prioritised, but relationships outside the church
The idolisation of relationships over institution (“relationshipism” or “nepotism”) is as deadly to church life as the idolisation of institution over relationships (“institutionalism”). Covenant is the biblical concept and theology that places the two in healthy – and continually evaluated – dialogue.
I am not saying that organisational policy is as important as the Ten Commandments. But it is the natural contextual outworking of a well-functioning church, given the relational model…covenant…that scripture models. Ignoring the principle of policy is to ignore the template of scripture for the flourishing of our relational life together.
Evaluation as a time of celebration and lamentation = healthy contemplative spirituality.
How does this evaluation happen in scripture? One way is through regularly repeated days of communal celebration and remembrance…annual feasts…the biblical mode of evaluating covenant. These feast days have also been sidelined in independent circles. We have embraced the idea of being accountable to scripture for our personal lives, but rejected the mode and even the ethos of being accountable to scripture for our organisational lives together. Could we re-institute these feast days as creative ways to evaluate our lives together? And weave in robust organisational feedback and evaluation processes? This might release powerful practices of celebration and lamentation as we respond to the work of God in the world…and us.
How can organisational change happen when we don’t have robust evaluation?
In the long-term, how can change-agents (and the whole body can and should be legitimised as change agents) bring legitimate change to an organisation without a consensual, publicly-owned baseline written policy, with aims, objectives and budget goals? And the ability to honestly assess these against the true needs of the day? Such institutional practices are healthy. Otherwise, all is but conjecture, half-remembered organisational memory, guess-work and instinct. Works for some personality types in leadership…but not for effective body-mobilisation. Not for the purposive life of the People of God outlined in scripture to be light to the nations.
Without concrete policies to govern their own behaviour, those who provide oversight cannot be mutually accountable to the wider church, because there is no formal mechanism for evaluation of their work or the future needs of the organisation. This in turn makes it almost impossible to bring change to the system. Nice and safe for the overseers! But potentially a great recipe for us all to end up stuck under the pomegranate tree.
How do the trustees or congregation of an independent church with spiritual authority vested in leaders that do the same thing (well) for 20 years supposed to encourage those leaders to change if they don’t want to, or don’t see the need, or don’t have the gifting, even if for the benefit of the wider system? Only if those leaders have had the humility to put in place evaluation processes that might eventually see the need for their role and office to be less privileged. To suggest that someone’s calling and presence (or even performance) maybe doesn’t need to be as strongly privileged for the next season is considered the ultimate anti-relational move. Ironically, when the crisis becomes acute, the relational damage caused by such ostensibly pro-relational practice is often devastating (church splits, leaders ‘shunted out’, up-and-coming leaders not given space to express their gifts etc).
Is the lack of evaluation linked to leadership personalities and the elevation of particular offices?
The following is only an argument to privilege all the the offices equally, not to denigrate the pastoral gift.
Certain personality types often strongly drawn to (and over-represented in) pastoral ministry are often the most averse to developing policy, which they mis-portray as tedious admin and institutionalism. In fact, it is a critically important and life-giving function of organisational pastoral care which, done well, can avoid any number of individual pastoral disasters which leaders otherwise spend huge amounts of time clearing up. How much of our workload of pastoral care is in fact created by the very people who deliver that work because they avoid the very structural, discipleship and systems work that would create cultures where their work is far less required?
In this sense, we may have a system run by pastors that, in the dysfunctionality they themselves create by avoiding good systems practice, creates the conditions whereby they themselves are needed. Pastors always see more pastoral care as the most important thing.
Could it be that by finally privileging other ministries as highly, and by creating functional systems and policies, we might find a tangential benefit overall (from a pastoral perspective) as the root causes of the damage are addressed? Rather than merely privileging those who relieve the symptoms? If we actually grow churches rather than merely pastoring them, will we avoid all the pastoral damage of churches in decline that seem to so require pastors to care for them?
Interestingly, the pastoral office remains the most structurally privileged and rewarded of the 5-fold ministries of almost every denomination in Scotland (Christendom mindset), apart from maybe the Pentecostals…who have gone further than anyone to encode 5-fold systemically. And who are the only denomination that are growing, and are experiencing the pastoral and morale benefits of this experience.
Equations for healthy and unhealthy organisations
Policy (+Holy Spirit and relationships) = mutual accountability = godly and objective evaluation = the potential of a nimble and growing organisation = faithful reflection of covenantal theology.
BUT: lack of policy = no true accountability to the whole body = no godly objective evaluation = static, risk-averse, ‘relational’ but rarely covenantal or dynamic organisations = idolatry of relationships (relationshipism).