Processes vs People

I’m continuing in my new transitional role here in a situation where the long-term pastor has left and we’re currently in the assessment phase. I usually carve out the first three months as the assessment phase which looks at the history, the current reality, the demographics of the church and the community, and the ministry health. I actually just rolled out a survey on the basic level of church health; a simple survey just asking for feedback from the congregation on all the different areas of ministry. 

This assessment phase we block out the three months for it just to make sure we’re not rushed and we’re not jumping to conclusions, but right away I start to notice trends and patterns in the life of the church. There are two things that I’ve noticed here and find interesting. 

One is a great absence of documented systems and processes and procedures and schedules. It’s one of the least documented places I’ve been around in a long time, and yet despite that, the things that need to happen are happening. There are systems in place, they’re just not documented and things are going well. 

We’re in the nomination committee process right now with the annual meeting coming up, and annual reports are being produced. I have realized that the reason why this is all happening is there are these undocumented systems and processes in the hearts and minds of very committed, long-term people in the church. There are several people in leadership and serving the church who’ve been in the church for 40 years. I don’t know if there’s any longer than that, but I know of several for 40 years. 

In fact the lady who works in the office, two days a week volunteer doing just general secretarial stuff, she’s 82. She’s got lots of energy, knows what needs to happen and she makes it happen. I noticed without any direction from me or anybody else she sent out a memo to all the ministry leaders calling for their annual reports, letting them know when they needed to be in and it just it just kind of happens. She gets it done. 

I noticed in my first few days in the office I would hear this weird clicking-clicking-clicking sounds like a typewriter. And sure enough, I discovered there’s an electronic typewriter that she uses from time to time. Every now and then I’ll get a little memo on my desk that’s been done with a typewriter. I haven’t been in the same room as a typewriter in a lot of years, but that’s what she likes to use for some tasks, and she gets the job done. 

Now I know that part of my role in this transitional context is to document the processes and make sure that it’s transferable. We use the phrase “hit by a bus” and if someone gets “hit by a bus” or they, for some other reason, can’t do their work or their ministry role, it needs to be transferable. It needs to be easily picked up by someone else without a crisis, without a complete drop-off in some system or process that is essential. 

So I want to document and get these processes official on paper, but at the same time, maintain that long-term committed culture of people that they have in this church. Ideally in a good church, in a good ministry, we want both. We want clear processes and systems and we want good, long-term, committed people. So I’m not going to let the people kill off the processes or the processes of the people. I also don’t want the process and systems of either to crush this commitment and this long-term engagement and ownership of the church ministry. 

Take a look at your ministry, if you’re in ministry right now. Do you have good clear systems and processes and do you also have long-term, committed people who make it happen, whether from the internal process or from the external process? We need both and I’m so grateful I find myself in a context where we have the one, and it’s going to be very easy to establish the other. 

Press on. 

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