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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.

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.

“When the church fails to [speak the gospel], it fails to say the thing that it alone is capable of saying.” 

Fleming Rutledge’s book Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ aims to put death back at the center of the Christian faith. Not death in general, but the death of Christ. According to Rutledge, any number of inadequate (and occasionally untrue) themes have displaced the crucifixion at the center of the Christian faith. We say, “God is love.” That is well since the Scripture affirms it. It is a true, yet incomplete sentence. God does love you, yet we have to make sense of the God whose love involved the sacrificial death of his Son.

Making the love of God the totality of our proclamation means that rather than preaching the evangel (“good news”) we are preaching the proto-evangelion (“pre-good news”). God’s love is important, even foundational to the ways in which He interacts with his created order. Yet, God’s love must be paired with God’s wrath against sin, and other important dogmatic themes in order to actually preach the gospel.

In dealing with the death of Christ we acknowledge to the world that difficult things are normal–that far from being the exception, the cross is the rule. In a broken world we suffer, we lack easy answers and problems often seem (and actually are) intractable.

The church doesn’t exist to peddle easy answers for life’s most superficial problems. Such a church doesn’t have Christ–the dying God–for its head.

Jesus did not bring the church into being for the purpose of providing you a pleasing worship experience, a memorable and photographable vacation-like mission trip, or to simply baptize the American dream in either its leftist or right-wing manifestations.

The church introduces creation to reality–a reality that is deeper, older, vaster than the aggregate of our sense experiences. We see, in the words of Saint Paul, “through a glass and darkly.”

Instead in and through the church, Christ extends to the world the invitation to come and die–to come a meet the dying and rising Christ in the Word and in the Sacraments.

In the laying down of our lives we find the freedom that comes from returning God to the very center of reality, the place from which He never moved. In truth all creation is exerting massive energy in the vain attempt to suppress the truth and sustain the illusion that there is no God.

When the church fails to say this, it fails to say the thing that it alone is capable of saying.



America is having problems with the Bible at the moment. Political liberals and conservatives seem to be cherry picking verses in order to justify their own assumptions.

In just over a week there have been marches against the inauguration of Donald Trump, for the rights of women, for the sanctity of human life, and against Trump’s order to halt immigration from several primarily Muslim countries.

The Bible was present in all of these protests in some way, shape or form.

What do we make of this? For one thing, it goes to show that the Christian faith remains a vital part of American culture. The faith we Americans collectively espouse is, as Ross Douthat has pointed out, largely a heretical blend of Christianity, individualism, and moralism. This isn’t anything particularly new. Nathan Hatch’s The Democratization of American Christianity pointed out how even in the early Republic, this uniquely American blend trumped the classical Calvinism that came across with the early settlers.

Here are five guiding principles about how to employ the Bible in addressing actions taken by the government of a nation-state.

  1. The Bible is the rule of faith and practice for the Christian church. It is not, strictly speaking, binding upon the civil magistrate.
  2. The Bible does, however, point to laws of nature that are beyond it. Those laws of nature are binding upon all people everywhere. They are discoverable by the use of reason guided by tradition. However, in our current context these laws will remain disputed.
  3. The purpose of the state is to punish the evildoer and to protect its citizenry. This may include limiting refugee resettlement and immigration.
  4. In extremis, the church may petition the civil magistrate by appealing to scripture and reason. Generally speaking, however, the church’s purpose is not to be conflated with that of the government. See Westminster Confession XXXI:iv.
  5. It is an abuse of Scripture to use it in such a way as to contort it to fit a preconceived political purpose. If you wish to make a political point, make it. I’d prefer that you not cherry pick scripture in order to do it.

All this isn’t to suggest that I am in favor of the draconian measures the Trump administration has enacted (which have been blocked, incidentally, in federal court). My point is that Christians must be cautious in how we handle the Bible and apply it to policies enacted by the secular state.