Congregations as human systems develop their own ‘ecologies’. Such systems demonstrate complexity because they are communities that possess many different kinds of relationships. The longer the system exists, the greater the complexity because ‘tradition’ accumulates and varied expectations become operative. The number of people who truly understand and know all of the pertinent history information diminishes over time. New leaders arise who “knew not Joseph.” Policies become outdated, but still remain ‘official’. Ways of doing things become entrenched. Before too long formal and informal confusion begins to impede the ability of the system to thrive in healthy ways. Clarity becomes then a vital and life-giving antidote to the threats that confusion holds. Where clarity is stifled, stuff gets done through informal channels, rather than with the transparency provided by good policy, well-defined authorization, and clear lines of accountability.
How does this confusion find root and like pernicious mold generate ‘rot’ in the system?
- Lack of clarity fosters lack of accountability.
- Lack of clarity hinders effective communications.
- Lack of clarity generates unnecessary conflict that saps energy and fractures relationships.
- Lack of clarity puts things out of alignment, causing the system to go astray because it loses focus on the mission.
- Lack of clarity allows empire-building to go unchecked.
- Lack of clarity wastes or misapplies scarce resources.
- Lack of clarity perpetuates ineffective programs.
I could continue to add elements, but I think you get the picture. Lack of clarity becomes exceedingly harmful to a congregation in a whole variety of ways and at multiple levels. It’s a toxic element that impedes congregational health. It can result in your best leaders (paid and volunteer) deciding to serve elsewhere.
In one sense the determination to create and sustain clarity describes an essential operational value for a church board chair. If advancing the congregation’s mission is the most important priority for a church board, then organizational and operational clarity become key factors in the achievement of that goal. For example, if the church board is unclear about the role that a lead pastor plays in the strategic leadership of the congregation, then this lack of clarity will hinder the accomplishment of the board’s outcomes because the board lacks clarity about whom it made responsible for implementing strategic plans for each outcome. This lack of clarity prevents the board holding the lead pastor accountable for assisting the board in reaching its goals.
Or consider the damage that lack of clarity creates when it comes to financial planning. If the church board is unclear about its goals, then how does it know what resources have to be gathered and expended in order to move the mission forward? Financial planning becomes financial guess-work based upon traditional expenditure patterns. Fund-raising lurches from one immediate urgent need to the next.
Or what happens when the lead pastor resigns? If a church board lacks clarity about the congregational vision and outcomes, then how does it know what gifting, experience, and skills the next executive leader will have to bring into the congregation in order for its mission to be advanced? Lack of clarity about such matters runs the risk of turning the selection process into a popularity contest or a selection based upon which candidate can present one really good sermon during the candidating process — hardly a sufficient basis for discerning an effective leader.
I observe that lack of clarity often occurs because church leaders fail to pay sufficient attention to good communication. Church board chairs usually guide the board in developing proposals for new initiatives that the congregation will be evaluating. The chair works hard to bring the board to consensus and achieve a good decision. However, the chair sometimes forgets how much communication had to occur within the board over a number of months in order for the board members to discern direction. And then the chair is surprised when congregational members are not so enthused about the idea, because they only have one page of information and limited time in which to decide whether or not to support it. In other words boards frequently fail to make a sufficient effort in communicating their good ideas to the congregation and as a result initiatives do not get supported. Lack of clarity in communication figures into such frustrating circumstances more often than not.
On a positive note, effort expended to generate clarity does pay dividends, and often more quickly then one might expect. When a lead pastor knows clearly what the board’s expectations are for him/her and provides the authority and resources necessary to fulfill those expectations, then job satisfaction will show immense improvement.