Ministry leaders need the freedom to lead and the accountability to do so in line with a mutually agreed upon direction and toward mutually agreed upon goals.

Note: This is part two of a series on accountable leadership in the local church. You can read part one here.

I love soccer. I’m a big fan of the English Premier League and love it when the World Cup rolls around every four years. Soccer–also known as “the beautiful game”–is a very different sport from tennis. They have different equipment, different ways of keeping score, and different rules.

When you play a sport it’s important that you understand, and agree upon, the rules. I grew up in England. When I was a kid I was invited to play softball with some Americans.

When it was my turn to bat, I stood at the plate and swung at every pitch. I missed some. I made contact with others. The only problem was that most of my contacts I “pulled foul.”

My frame of reference for batting games was, at the time, cricket. There is no such thing as foul territory in cricket. The batsman can hit the ball behind him, in front of him, or to either side–it doesn’t matter.

Every time I hit a ball (foul), the opposing team would tell me I couldn’t run to first base. They’d act like I hadn’t legitimately hit the ball. No one thought to explain to me that the white lines along first and third base mark the area inside which the ball can legitimately be hit. It was very frustrating!

Every time I hit a ball (foul), the opposing team would tell me I couldn’t run to first base. They’d act like I hadn’t legitimately hit the ball. No one thought to explain to me that the white lines along first and third base mark the area inside which the ball can legitimately be hit. It was very frustrating!

-Jeff Gissing

Perhaps you’ve had an experience like that in leadership. Churches regularly have a pastor who thinks she’s playing softball, a board who thinks they’re playing tennis, and members who think they’re playing checkers.

It’s a recipe for frustration.

The beauty of the accountable leadership model is that it effectively gets everyone on the same page and playing the same game. It provides a common language to describe the who, what, where, when, how, and why of ministry. In other words, it establishes clarity.

Guiding Principles

In order to move toward implementing the accountable leadership model, the board needs to work to establish three things:

  1. Mission principles = these principles define the object of the game. They prescribe for the Lead Pastor what outcomes the church exists to achieve. It’s important to know if success means getting a ball into the goal or getting around the bases.
  1. Boundary principles. The boundary principles are the rules of the game. They define the sort of actions that, if taken, will be penalized by the board. They provide the only limitations the pastor must work with in order to achieve the mission. Any means that fit within the boundaries are acceptable.
  1. Accountability principles. These are the principles by which we keep score or measure success. They define for the board’s process of governing. They involve how the board relates to the congregation, the board itself, and how the lead pastor relates to the board.


(Example only)

Mission Principle [Why we exist]

In order to glorify God by bearing much fruit, XYZ Church exists to lead people into a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ. We exist so that people in Wheaton and its surrounds will become committed disciples of Jesus Christ.

Boundary Principle [Why is off-limits]

The Lead Pastor shall not cause or allow any practice, activity, decision, or organizational circumstance that is unlawful, imprudent, unethical, or unbiblical or which contravenes the Bylaws of this Corporation or the Constitution of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.

Accountability Principle [Who does what]

The responsibility of the board before God and in accordance with the Constitution of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians is to see that XYZ Church, through the leadership of its Lead Pastor, (1) achieves the fulfillment of its Mission Principles, and (2) avoids violation of its Boundary Principles.

Adapted from winning on purpose

Accountable Leadership Model – Roles

  1. The board plays governance – their chief role is to discern the mind of Christ in terms of the specific ministry that God has for the congregation. This discernment is reflected in an annual plan.
  2. The pastor plays leader – the pastor leads the staff and ministry team leaders in the advancement of the goals. The pastor inspires the board, directs the staff, and teaches the congregation.
  3. The staff (volunteer or paid) plays management – the staff manage members who engage in the hands on ministry. The staff manage the operations and ministries of the church as directed by the lead pastor and in accordance with the guiding principles (above).
  4. The congregation plays ministry – they are the hands of feet of Christ blessing the community!

The chief benefit of this model is clarity. An added benefit is accountability. Most churches struggle to hold their lead pastors accountable for leading well. The result is that there are 101 views of the pastor’s “performance,” mostly based on individual perceptions and biases. This sets pastors up for failure and it also hurts churches too.

How the lead pastor is evaluated

  1. The lead pastor writes measurable goals each year that correspond to the board’s mission principles. The board gives final approval of these plans through an acceptance process.
  2. At the end of the year the board evaluates how well each goal was accomplished (i.e., exceptional accomplishment, significant accomplishment, minimal accomplishment)
  3. Each year the board rewards achievement or requires a performance plan for improving minimal achievement.

Congregations need clarity about why they exist, what they’re trying to do, and who is leading the way

When you’re in seminary, you take a class called “Polity” (Presbyterian Polity, Baptist Polity, etc.). The class introduces you to the processes by which congregations and denominations make deliberations and decisions.

Then, when you go to be ordained, you have to take a written exam in “polity” to make sure that you learned all about the processes in seminary and can apply them to a real life situation. I think my polity exam asked me how I’d handle an embezzling treasurers or some such hypothetical. I had to answer the question with specific reference to the Book of Order.

Presbyterians have tended to focus on the process than whether the process produces a good result. Process is important, but it’s not the same thing as leadership.

I’ve found that, regardless of church size, the most important thing that contributes to effectiveness in mission is clarity. Clarity about who does what. Clarity about who is responsible to whom. Clarity about how to act when you disagree.

Many church members think that they have clarity.

To some extent they do, but it’s usually the case that they are clear about what they think and they’re clear that everyone else agrees with them. It’s never fun to be around when church members discover that other people see an issue differently.

Our churches often lack clarity because the board (session) often thinks of itself as an aggregate of the congregation responsible for advancing the interests of certain parts of the congregation. Some forms of presbyterian polity even encourage this.

However, the purpose of the session is not to be a representative democracy. The purpose of the board is to discern the mind of Christ with respect to a particular congregation. It is to answer the question: what ministry niche does God have for us?

No church is for everybody, all churches are for somebody.

To that, the board and the pastor need to work in partnership to discern the answer to that question. And then the pastor needs to be freed to lead the church in pursuing the mission.

The best model for do this is, in my view, the accountable leadership model proposed by John Kaiser in Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in their Mission (2006).

The following is a brief summary of the concepts that undergird the book.

Mission: Why does our congregation exists

When I served a church in Bethlehem (PA) we were clear about our mission. We said it almost every Sunday: Know God. Love people. Serve the world.

It’s simple. It’s memorable. It’s shareable. We wanted to advance that mission by through our purpose which was: introducing people to Jesus Christ so that he can change their lives.

At the end of the day, there are only three options on why our congregation exists:

  1. It exists for us (inwardly focused)
  2. It exists for others (outwardly focused)
  3. It exists for both

If we choose “both” we will tend to focus inwardly first because that is the easiest thing to do. There are so many needs in the life of a congregation that, without being intentional, we will spend all of our time, money, and energy trying to meet those needs and ignoring the outside world.

The church then becomes a support group and not a mission outpost.

If we choose “others” we will find that our needs are also being met. If we prioritize outreach and mission we’ll find that through our service to others we find our own needs being met. As members give their time, talents, and money to advance the mission of blessing the world, they find they have enough to meet the needs of church members too.

It’s like exercize. The more you exercize, the greater your energy. And you eventually find that you can both run and get all the things done around the house, whereas you once felt you had to choose.

Mission: why our congregation exists

Our mission shapes two other things:

  • Vision: what our community and our congregation will look like in 3-5 years if we accomplish our mission.
  • Structure: the arrangement of resources (people, facilities, finances, etc.) for accomplishing the mission. 
  • Values: what we think is important. How we manage our resources reveals our true values.

Three structural paradigms

There are three tendancies when it comes to organizational culture:

  1. Bureaucracy: high responsibility with low authority = safe, but not effective.
  2. Authoritarian: high responsibility with high authority = effective, but not safe.
  3. Accountable: high responsibility with high authority and high oversight = safe and effective. 

Bureaucracy is safe because there are a lot of people who have to sign off on a decision before it is enacted. It’s ineffective because the more people who are involved in a decision the lower the accountability for the decision itself and the slower the time to enact it. Think of your local DMV. Did you enjoy your last trip there? I didn’t think so.

Authoritarianiusm is effective (you get things done), but its not safe. It’s not safe because there is no accountability for the decision-maker. How do you know the right issues are being addressed? Are they being addressed in the right manner? In the authoritarian system it’s my way or the highway.

The accountable leadership model offers an alternative. It’s effective because the leader has the authority to make decisions without a lot of red tape. It’s safe because there are guard rails–decided in advance–that ensure that the leader doesn’t overstep the bounds. It’s also safe because every decision is made within the context of a mutually agreed-upon goal/s adopted by the board or session.

In my next post, I’ll take a look at the nuts and bolts of the accountable leadership model and what it can look like in the life of a congregation.

Resource: John Kaiser, Winning on Purpose: How to Organize Congregations to Succeed in their Mission (2006).

Christians who want to meaningfully address their diverse communities are going to have to address white Christian nationalism

“I’ve met the enemy and it is us.”

I had to write an essay on that quote when I was in high school. I have no idea what I said, but the quote strikes me as timely today. A week after the deadly insurrection at the United States Capitol, it’s become clear to me that the single biggest barrier to effective witness to the gospel today is us.

In a jarring post, Thomas McKenzie argues that to many in our post-Christian culture “evangelical” is dangerously close to being associated with terrorism just as many associate Islam with terrorism. And he notes, it is with good reason:

It’s about time for us Christians—especially those of us who are theologically evangelical—to recognize that we’re in this situation right now. The majority of terroristic violence and death in America since 9/11 hasn’t been committed by Muslims or Communists or Antifa, but by White Christian Nationalists. On January 6th, we yet again witnessed something that can well be described as Christian Terrorism.  

Thomsas McKenzie

Chances are that as you read that paragraph, you grew angry. I get it.

I’d like you to set that anger aside and consider what MacKenzie is saying. Reluctantly–and indeed with great sorrow–I have to admit that he’s probably right.

Please note, I’m not saying–and neither is MacKenzie–that voting for Donald Trump makes you a white Christian nationalist. He notes:

Over 74 million Americans voted for Trump in 2020. A large percentage of them identify as Evangelicals. I am convinced that the vast majority of these are intelligent, good-hearted, patriotic people. They are not terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. In fact, in a recent survey, 82% of people who voted for Trump said they opposed the actions of the terrorists who stormed the Capitol building. 

Thomas McKenzie

At the same time, the events of the last week–indeed of the last four years–show that there is a small minority within Trump supporters who are inclined to idealogical extremism.

These people, and their beliefs, are enemies of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

White Christian Nationalism is one of the most deadly diseases of the soul that I’ve encountered in my 27 years of ministry. It’s false, destructive, and evil. It may well be the single greatest hindrance to the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus to the unbeliever in this generation. Why would any unbeliever want to join us right now? Why would a good-hearted person look at this terroristic train-wreck and want to get involved? Come, Lord Jesus!

Thomas McKenzie

We have a challenging road ahead of us!

What comes next?

January 12, 2021

Congregations need help to discover what their new normal will look like

COVID-19 has changed everything. That might sound like hyperbole, but it’s not. Just over a year ago, I there were a bunch of things that I never thought would be part of my life. Things like working from home most of the week, recording worship services on my iPhone, having my kids give a weekly saliva sample for COVID surveillance, wearing a face mask in public, and ordering groceries from Instant Cart. Those things weren’t part of my life then. They are now.

All of us have experienced changes to our way of life since the pandemic began. It’s easy to think that when it’s over–whatever that means–things will go back to normal. We want that–we think we do, anyway. It’s not likely to happen. The single biggest change over the last year has been to make “home” the center of our universe.

Before 2020, many of my neighbors and I spent less than seven waking hours in our homes each now. Most of us, today, spent most of our waking hours in the house. It’s our office, our restaurant, our gym, our accomadation, and even our church. That’s not going to change even after the pandemic ends.

This raises some really significant questions for congregations who want to be wise stewards of their resources and intentional about reaching their communities. Congregations cannot base their future plans on what things were like prior to the pandemic. Things won’t ever be the same.

In planning for the future, congregations need to figure out how members, friends, and their neighborhood or community is likely to behave after the pandemic is over.

There are three options based on an article in the Harvard Business Review:

  • Sustained behaviors – activities that are likely to return to their pre-crisis state.
  • Transformed behaviors – activities that will continue, but with fundamental changes.
  • Collapsed behaviors – activities that are unlikely to continue at all.

We can illustrate these different types of changes by looking at the travel industry after 9/11. After the attacks, people immediately stopped flying and staying in hotels. Over time, however, those activities resumed. Hotel owners needed a plan to “make it” through this short-term disruption until things normalized. This is an example of a sustained behavior.

When people resumed their business and personal travel, they did so under new security protocols. Those changes in security are transformed behaviors. Travellers began to get used to removing their shoes prior to going through security. They adjusted to whole body scanners. These measure were inititally disruptive, but in the end, travellers overcame them.

Other behaviors went away almost completely, collapsed behaviors. Curbside bag check-in. Carrying coffee through security. If you made your living as a Sky Cap or owned a coffee shop on the departures level, you probably don’t now.

The question for congregations is: which of our ministry models from before the pandemic, will collapse?

Not all of our ministries will collapse. Some will be transformed significantly.

My take-away is that congregations need to identify collapsed minstries and make plans to let them go. The name of the game is keeping ministry simple.

With the transformation that is happening in ministries like worship and small groups, congregations need to intentionally muster their resources to invest in meeting these new challenges so that they can continue to be effective for the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 2:1-12



I’ve always been interested in the Kings and Queens of England. 

Growing up in England, I had a genealogy on the wall of my room that followed the succession of the throne of England from Alfred of Wessex to Queen Elizabeth II.

You probably don’t know much about the Kings of England–and possibly you don’t particularly care–but one of the interesting things about the line of monarchs is that they rarely go straight.

Actually, that’s true for all of us. 

house on green landscape against sky
Photo by Pixabay on

All of our family trees have strange twists and turns in them. It’s part of what makes the holidays so special, right?

Well, these twists and turns come to have really big significance when you’re talking about who gets to rule a nation or an empire.

And the twists and turns that take place in the line of kings and queens often come about for a couple of reasons. The first is that a king fails to have, in the old days, it was a son. 

Well, if the king doesn’t have a son then he has no one to inherit the throne and the throne will move to the next branch of the family. Maybe the king’s brother or sister has a son and he can ascend to the throne.

The second reason is if the king has too many sons. Perhaps he doesn’t have a son with his wife, but he has a bunch of other sons with other women. It happened all the time. 

These illegitimate children were sent off to monasteries to get them out of the way, btw. That way they couldn’t interfere with the family’s plan for who’d be the next monarch.

Well, if you have several children of the king with varying women and no legitimate child then these other children can make a claim to the throne. And, in some respects, the biggest thing a claimant to the throne needed was popular support.

It gets even more fun when you consider that somewhere like the United Kingdom is actually three nations–two kingdoms, England and Scotland, and a principality, Wales–under a single monarch, today, but centuries ago there were separate holders of the thrones. 

Charles Edward Stuart–also known as Bonnie Prince Charlie–claimed the thrones of England and Scotland. 

He’s also known as “the young pretender.” He was a pretender because even though he had a claim to the throne, others had a stronger claim.

And across the history of nations there are individuals who have claimed the throne who have had questionable right to it. 

They’re called “pretenders” or “usurpers” because they’re pretending to be something they aren’t in reality or they’re attempting to stop the legitimate monarch from sitting on the throne.

The story of the Magi is a story of a true king and a pretender. 

Herod the Pretender

The first main character we meet is a Herod. Herod was a false king. He was a usurper, a pretender. 

Herod was a ruler that the Roman Empire allowed to be King because he was committed to looking after their interests and playing by their rules. 

He was from southern Israel near what is modern day Jordan and Egypt. There’s some disagreement on whether Herod practiced the Jewish faith. Some say he did; others claim it was just a fabrication for the benefit of the Judeans.

At the time of Jesus’ birth, Herod was old and wiley. You know the sort. The sort of political player who, at 70 years of age, knew all the best ways to get rid of enemies and competitors. 

He’d spent his life gathering power from the Romans and extracting wealth from the Jews. He had no intention of being compromised by the birth of a Messiah, a real “King of the Jews.”

You see, the Jews themselves *hated* Herod. They knew he was not their king and that had clawed his way onto the throne by power and by violence. And he planned on staying there till the very end.

The Magi

Sometimes people on the “outside” of a situation can see things more clearly than those close to the situation. That’s part of the reason why you called me as your transitional pastor. I can see things that you yourselves cannot see because you’re so close and invested in the life and ministry of this fine church.

The Jews had been expecting a Messiah for ages. Given that God’s deliverance of Israel in the past had included parting the Red Sea, sending plagues upon Egypt, sending food from heaven, and guiding them by means of a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day, you really can’t blame the Jews for being caught off guard by the birth of a child in Bethlehem.

And yet, the Magi–these strange figures who travel from afar to greet the new-born king–seemed to be completely aware of something that the jews themselves were confused about.

Jesus is often confusing. God’s ways are often perplexing. And its largely because of our own lack of attention or our own wrong assumptions that we miss how He is working. 

What little we know of the Magi, tells us that they were priests from the ancient Kingdom of Persia, modern day Iran. They read the sky–that is, the stars–and learned from them that there was a new King of the Jews. 

In what might be called by some a slightly indelicate move, it appears these Persian priests show up at Herod’s door and ask for this replacement. Well, that’s awkward.

You don’t have to be a historical scholar to realize how Herod received the news. He checks with his advisors and they tell him that there is evidence that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem.

Not good news for Herod. So, he comes up with a plan.

You see, 

  • When a pretender is on the throne, he won’t part with it without a fight.
  • Pretenders always get others to do the dirty work for them.
  • When you discover a Herod go as far in the opposite direction as you can.

Jesus the Always King

Jesus is the true King. He sits on the throne and he was born to it. Anyone else who sits on Jesus’ throne is just an imposter and a pretender. 

Anyone else on the throne is bad news.

A throne is a seat for one. Only one can sit on it. Throne’s aren’t for sharing.

When we let someone other than Jesus sit on the throne then we commit spiritual treason. We allow a usurper to take our savior’s place and it will not end well.

The Main To Do

  • In 2021 let your only resolution be to let Jesus be the only one who sits on the throne of your life. 

Why It Matters

  • A pretender will always let you down. 
  • A pretender doesn’t care who gets hurt.
  • A pretender will tell you what you want to hear rather than what you need to hear. 
  • A pretender always is always looking out for number one, and when he or she discovers that you can’t help him get what he wants, he’ll throw you under a bus as quick as can be.