Administration,  Church,  Ministry

Towards a Healthy Church – The Three-Legged Stool

In this week’s post, I want to highlight the three-legged stool. First, let me give you a little background.

One of the reasons that I chose to focus on Christian Education (and, as a byproduct, Church Administration) is the pragmatic nature of administration. Of course, in any discipline or field of study, unknown variables exist, but in the realm of the church, the spiritual element is impossible to measure. That is not bad – in fact it is GREAT. If we could accurately, and fully, measure the work of the Holy Spirit, then we would no longer need God, because we would be God. But, for some of us who are more practically minded, it is good to have measurables. And the area of church administration can have, and should have, certain measurables in place. That fact is the essence of this series. In a blog that focuses on living in the world, not of the world, we must still have some functionality in place to ensure our living is proper.

Without a doubt the Bible is the most important document in the church. The church is the people of God and the Bible is the Word of God. Thus, the people should be focused upon the Word of God. However, we live in a world where no one perfectly interprets God’s Word, and many interpret a very different meaning than was intended, and thus, having other documents in place can provide clarity for the church in carrying out her ministry. In the coming weeks, I will focus on a few different types of documents in this blog, but today I want to tie the importance of these documents together.

Some of you will be familiar with the idea of the three-legged stool. Many individuals and organizations have used the image for a variety of reasons. The premise is that all four elements of the stool are important. The stool has three legs, all of equal length, and a seat. If anyone one of the elements is missing the stool is ineffective for its purpose. For instance, if one leg is missing, then the stool will collapse. Or if the seat is missing, then sitting is a challenge (at best!). The imagery of the stool works well, and the three-legs is good because it is really the minimal amount of legs to make a stool functional. The seat is critical as that is what we most consider when thinking about the stool, but without the legs, and without the legs being securely fastened, the seat loses its full function.

For our purposes this week, let me repeat, the most important document that a church needs is the Bible. In fact, a church can function without any other documents. The Bible is paramount. Unlike my description of the stool in the previous paragraph where the seat needs the legs to fulfill its ultimate purpose, the Bible needs nothing to serve as the seat, at least as it relates to other documents. However, as I also mentioned above, for a church in today’s world (particularly the western world) to function best, having other documents in place provides clarity (internally and externally) for the church in how it operates. With this idea in mind, let me share what documents can represent the legs and how they can support the seat (the Bible).

The first leg is the Constitution and Bylaws. These documents are truly two separate documents, but they are usually found together because they reveal how the church operates at a fundamental level. I will cover the difference between these documents in next week’s post, but one reason for their importance is that they can show how the Bible is interpreted by the church and who has the authority to make those interpretations. As I have already mentioned twice above, in our world today, it is critical to have this explicitly stated so that a church can protect her ministry.

The second leg is the Policies and Procedures. These documents are also two separate types. The policies reveal what is important to the church and the procedures reveal how the policies will be kept/enacted. Although these two documents are not as imperative as the Constitution and Bylaws, they are important. Unfortunately, some individuals use these ideas too legalistically – replacing the Bible with man-made philosophies and desires. Of course, the same can, and should, be said of the Constitution and Bylaws.

The third leg is Job Descriptions (and Team Descriptions, if desired). I have covered these documents in the two preceding weeks, but the reason for their importance is that someone has to do the procedures to carry out the policies, and the descriptions share what is specifically required of the servant (in task, and perhaps, in character, depending upon the role).

Finally, the seat is the Bible. A God-honoring church will develop her Constitution and Bylaws based upon God’s Word. Likewise, the policies and procedures should be focused on serving God and bringing Him glory which will also be reflected in the descriptions for each position. At the risk of redundancy, the Bible is the only document needed, but the reality is that for a church to function at all, some ideas of what the church believes, how it will function, and who will serve in various ways, are all considered. When these ideas are not written down, the ambiguity will often lead to misunderstandings, conflict, and division.

Therefore, I highly recommend the development of each of these types of documents. Furthermore, I recommend that the documents be developed with the Bible in mind and a goal of bringing glory to God. In the next few weeks, I will share some fundamental differences between these various documents, and provide some guidance for what might be included in each.

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