Fish out of water

In honor of Independence Day, this week’s posts will have to do with the concept of freedom in ministry. This post is the third installment.

Ministry environments offering more freedom ironically tend to have fewer staff dumpster fires. They actually provide more accountability. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Responsibility for the ministry itself provides intrinsic accountability without introducing the great variable of “accountability”: personality conflicts. If it’s awful, I deserve to be held accountable and I know it. When someone else is in control, it’s too easy to blame others. The clearer the lines of responsibility are drawn, the more accountability is clearly applied.
  • A blind spot of high-control systems is a lack of accountability for the elders/board. In free systems, there is enhanced accountability for the board. More precisely, there is less under the watch of those who have no accountability. If a board/elders are over everything, and no one can hold them accountable, then there is no accountability anywhere in the church system. What you have are available scapegoats for those who should be held accountable for the decisions they make.
  • Freedom every day helps ministers avoid temptation to foolish and desperate decisions like ministry Hail Marys and the dreaded, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission” decision.
  • Time, training, and experience held by the minister (not typically the board) lowers the chance of catastrophically poor decisions some boards make in seasons of personal fatigue, lack of knowledge, or lack of ministerial experience. This obviously doesn’t mean a the minister will always make the right decision. I am suggesting their worst possible decision may not be as bad. That may be faint praise, but it is praise nonetheless.

Lastly, before you hire someone with the promise of freedom in ministry, make sure you are clear as to what “freedom” means in your church. I’ve found that “freedom” in some churches is actually like a ministry half-way house. It’s a feaux freedom. Certainly, it’s better than maximum-security prison, but isn’t really that free.

Undoubtedly, some readers are wondering, “What about accountability?” That’s a far easier question to answer than “What about freedom?” Answer the freedom question first. Then, answer the “accountability” question. Freedom brings with it intrinsic accountability, and it is easily bolstered with other appropriate measures. Accountability brings with it no intrinsic freedom and tends to push back attempts at increased freedom.