Last year we waited anxiously for Hurricane Irma to make landfall, not knowing what the damage would be or how devastating the impact might be to our community. Luckily, the storm moved inland long before it got to the Tampa Bay Area and it was much weaker. But for our church, it was a wake-up call. We recognized we were completely unprotected in the event of a major hurricane. In fact, before the storm, I took some pictures of our facility in case we lost everything in the storm and needed proof for the insurance claim.
What we decided to do was purchase and install fabric hurricane shutters. Supposedly it can withstand major impact without damaging the window, but I'm too nervous to try it with a baseball. Hopefully the money we spent to have the shutters made and installed is wasted, that we never have to set them up in the anticipation of a major hurricane. But just in case, we wanted to be protected.
We can never assume our ministries and leadership is perfectly safe. We have to make sure that we have protection in place for not only the health of our churches but also our faithfulness to our calling. I want to suggest seven ways to protect your ministry:
1. Be Above Reproach Financially - I'll say this as nicely as I can, if you're a pastor, stay away from money. Don't take people's offerings for them. Don't monkey with the safe. Don't touch cash at the fundraiser dinner. Don't have access to the financial records. Do everything you can to make sure you're not touching church money. It's not yours. It's God's. Yes you should see giving reports, but never the name of the person giving. You should know your church's financial picture by reviewing reports and P&L statements, but you should never be seen taking church money. Turn in your credit card receipts and expense reports on time, accurately, and with full integrity.
2. Don't Steal Other People's Messages - Relevant Magazine surprised social media with a story about a church in Colorado openly advertising they want a pastor who preaches other people's sermons. Here's the thing, if you see what someone else said or read how another pastor or scholar interpreted a passage, you have not only a moral obligation but a professional responsibility to give credit where it's due. Sadly a friend of ours shared about confronting their pastor about lifting entire pages from a book in a sermon, and the pastor and church's response was ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. As a pastor, whenever you stand and teach you are giving the impression that you have adequately prepared, that the time the church has compensated you for has been spent in reflection and study. When we plagiarize, we are not only stealing from the original author but also from our church, and by proxy we're robbing God. Don't think it's a light issue. Give credit. Give a name. If you can't recall the name of who wrote it, Google it. If that doesn't work, simply say that you've read or heard elsewhere. Don't pass off someone else's words as your own.
3. Don't Sacrifice Your Family for Ministry - As a pastor, you have a primary obligation to your family. Your church can find another pastor. You are not irreplaceable there. You are irreplaceable at home. Your kids can't just bring in another Dad. Your wife can't bring in another husband. Protect your family time, not at the expense of your faithful ministry, but because that is your ministry. One lie we buy into often in ministry is that we are the center of everything, so we have to be at every meeting or attend every function. You don't. And you're not. Learn to say no on occasion. Make family meals and your children's activities and ball games a priority. Don't let your kids resent ministry because the church gets your best and they get (barely) leftovers. Don't let your wife feel like the church is your mistress.
4. Be Faithful with your Work Time - Protect your ministry by making sure that you are spending the time you need in order to faithfully fulfill your ministry. You don't need to be a workaholic who is distant and removed at home. But you also can't play golf all the time because you're "on call." I love the idea of scheduling your time so you can budget and block what's needed for sermon prep, counseling, administrative responsibilities, meetings, and other obligations. It helps if you're ever questioned about how your time is spent. It's also a matter of integrity. If you're being paid "full time" in ministry, you're expected to work at least 40 hours. Some seasons will be 60 hour weeks, others will be 40-45. But you can't shirk your work time and then expect volunteers to work a full job and then sacrifice their time at church. It's easy. Write it down on your calendar. Your computer & phone have one. Use it.
5. Protect Your Integrity - A lot of criticism has been levied recently about the "Billy Graham Rule" on how ministry leaders interact with the opposite sex. But it's important to make sure that you're above reproach. At the end of the day, what matters is that you've made sure you've not put yourself in a position where your integrity could be in question. However you do that is between you, your church, and your spouse. But you need to make sure you have protection in place.
6. Do Background Checks - Something far too many churches fail to do is run a basic background check on prospective volunteers. Unfortunately we no longer have the luxury of settling for someone being "known" to volunteer, especially when they have contact with minors. If cost is an issue, Lifeway has a great discount where you can have a strong check done for $10. It's money well spent. Don't let anyone, no matter who, volunteer with minors who hasn't completed a background check. Also, it's possible to search statewide sex offender databases along with the background check. We have a report generated when a sex offender moves into our area, in the event they visit our church so we can ensure our children & youth are safe but also for the offender to have the chance to worship without compromising his probation.
7. Staff Well - The final way to make sure that our ministries and leadership are protected is how we hire and staff our churches. Whether you want to admit it, whatever happens in the church will ultimately end up on your desk or in your face. Hiring the right people is critical, and I have a whole chapter devoted to that in Dream Teams. We have to make sure that we're bringing on board, and keeping on board, the right people in the right positions. Part of staffing well means not only hiring but evaluating, coaching, training, and equipping well. If your staff isn't adequately prepared to do what they have been asked to, that falls back on you. So make sure that you have clear expectations for the staff, that job descriptions are accurate and updated, that accountability measures are in place, that evaluations will not only be expected but welcomed, and that constructive feedback is a good thing.
What would you add?
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.