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Becoming the best-run organization in town.


Editor's note: Today's post is a guest post by Teller Emmer, Graduate Apprentice for our campus ministry at the University Church in Malibu, CA on campus at Pepperdine University. Teller served as an intern with our ministry two years ago before spending a year as a missionary in China. He returned to us in 2016 to serve in a leadership capacity. You can hear more from Teller by following @tellerwhat on instagram or by contacting him at teller.emmer@pepperdine.edu.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Catalyst West conference at Mariner’s Church in Irvine, California. The opportunity came with the chance to hear from all sorts of speakers with all sorts of backgrounds, but the presenter with the most powerful message for me was Andy Stanley. Andy is the head of North Point Ministries in Georgia, a network of churches that foster an attendance of over 30,000 people every week, with over a million sermons and leadership lessons accessed weekly as well. The following post is what I took away from one of Andy Stanley’s messages about the value of a well-run church.

“The local church should be the best-run organization in town.”

This is how Andy Stanley, leader of North Point Ministries opened his presentation to over 3,500 ministers and ministry leaders at the Catalyst West Conference in Irvine last weekend. I perked up at the statement because our own ministry at the University Church of Christ at Pepperdine is in the middle of a structure change with the goal of tighter, more effective communication and accountability in leadership. I’d love to be part of the best-run organization in town! Churches often struggle with finding the balance between being a home for community and Christ’s love and being an organization with a budget, employees, and work to do. This has historically led to ministries falling on one of two sides of the line; either making poor financial decisions due to communication struggles and a lack of accountability or being run as a corporate office with the bottom line being the three B’s: bodies, budgets and buildings, hanging the message of Christ’s love and the community that comes as a response out to dry. What Andy proposed is that the church thrives best when both needs are met and offered a few questions to help church leadership structure their ministry to be the “best-run organization in town.” Here they are.

First, is what’s happening with your staff worth bringing to the rest of your church? Are your employees finding love and fulfillment in their work, growing in their love for the Lord and knowledge of Him as a result of working for your organization? Are they becoming better people and better leaders while accomplishing the tasks that are required of their roles? If not, it may be time to think about the way you can change your office from a machine run by mindless work to an organism that churns out leaders worthy of being followed. A good place to start is communication. In a healthy organization, everyone is convinced everyone is essential. No one has their job so that they can sit back and hide in mediocrity, not really accomplishing anything and taking home a paycheck they haven’t earned. Those jobs are poison to the workplace, and poison on the budget as well, but unfortunately, they are all too common in churches and businesses alike.

Is this preventable? Is there a way to get everyone on the same page and hold them accountable to their tasks without turning the office into a lifeless mill of productivity and killing the joy and meaning that should fill the office? You bet. In a healthy, thriving organization, everyone should know and immediately be able to answer three questions:

What are we doing?

Why are we doing it?

Where do I fit in?

The first two questions should have the same answer no matter who you ask, at any level of leadership, from the head pastor to the volunteer who sets up the chairs on Sundays. The third should be unique to every person but clear and accomplishable. Maybe you as a leader of an organization can’t answer these right now. If that’s the case, I’d bet the entire structure under you struggles to see the vision you have for your church. Maybe you know the answers to these, but haven’t communicated them aloud or only to your upper-level leadership. Same problem. Only if everyone understands these answers and is on board to accomplish the resulting goals will an organization thrive in a way that is both spiritually and economically successful.

What are we doing?

Answering this question in a way that makes your day-to-day goals clear and accomplishable can be tough, but is worth it. The time it takes to think up an adequate response to this question will be vastly outweighed by the time and money it saves later on when making decisions about both large and small issues. When everyone knows what we’re doing, most decisions are pre-decided. All it takes is a comparison of the issue at hand to the knowledge of the organization’s goals and the majority of issues will be pre-solved. The answer to the what-are-we-doing question can come as your mission statement or a similar encapsulating statement that can be applied to most situations your organization will face. If your ministry’s priority is to help transform lives through intergenerational relationships, why waste time and money on events and functions that don’t serve that goal in any way? If your goal, like North Point’s, is to provide a service that unchurched people love to attend, every decision will be compared against that and gauged on that universal scale. Knowing what you are doing, what you’re good at and why your ministry exists is the first step toward tightening up your organization’s flow.

Why are we doing it?”

This is so closely tied to the first question that I’m not going to spend much time on it. This needs to be clear to everyone who has a part to play in your leadership, so that the importance of what we’re doing doesn’t get lost. Again, the answer to this question will be the same no matter who you ask in your organization. To use one of Dusty’s favorite Nietzsche-via-Victor Frankel quotes just a bit out of context, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” The importance of the why behind your ministry is something that, when established clearly in the minds of everyone you are partnering with, will help the organization stay on a path moving toward the goal.

Where do I fit in?”

This is the only question that will have a unique answer no matter who you ask. Off the bat, this looks like it could be answered by a job description, but that’s not what we’re shooting for here. The question “where do I fit in?” asks more about the responsibility a person carries that the job that person does. It is a question of how the tasks the person does enable the people he/she works with to do their jobs effectively. It asks why a specific person in a specific role is vital to the organism. When employees and volunteers lose sight of their importance to the organization, it is easy for them to sink to meet the bare minimum requirements and hide in that grey “not really accomplishing anything but sort of there and a part of the ministry in some capacity that isn’t really clear to them or anyone else” zone. That zone is where productivity goes to die. In order to keep his employees out of this abyss of meaninglessness, Andy Stanley came up with “responsibility statements” for everyone who directly reports to him, and required everyone else to do the same. These are the one sentence statements that describe the larger reason behind the roles employees have in their context, and provide a metric for measuring success at the end of the day. They are specific to individuals and painstaking to develop, but are a valuable tool for clarity and accountability in any organization. I have asked my superiors to develop one for me, so I can put it up at my desk and ask if I’ve done what was asked of me every day.

I’m excited to keep this conversation going with my ministry team, to see if we can become the “best-run organization on campus,” and give everyone who works with us a sense of belonging and purpose so that this will be the best job they’ve ever had.


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