I remember reading Deep and Wide: Creating Churches Unchurched People Love to Attend a while back. it was a great read! I loved how Andy Stanley addressed the need; when developing policies, processes, and procedures; to think in terms of guidelines, rather than strict, black and white decisions when dealing with people issues with staff and the church at large.
In chapter 4, Just As I Ain’t. Andy Stanley describes the challenge of dealing with the tension between truth and grace. He goes so far as to say that documenting policies in the church is not necessarily the right answer. Instead, each situation or decision should be considered according to its own specific circumstances.
Andy readily admits that his church is neither “fair” nor “consistent,” which is often the objective of written policies. He specifically refers to benevolence. Here’s a quote from the chapter:
Do we have guidelines for benevolence and things of that nature? Of course. But they are guidelines. Not hard-and-fast rules. We have virtually no policies and lots and lots of conversations.
The “guidelines” are applied to each case, but the guidelines allow for financial help in some cases and not in other cases. The thinking that “If we do it for one, we must do it for all” is rejected. Is this “unfair?” You bet. But, that’s OK.
If you’ve been around here (Executive Pastor Online) for a while, you know that I’m a big believer in “policy and procedure.” However, I agree with Andy that most policies should be written more like “guidelines,” meaning they are not “hard and fast,” loaded with absolutes. Rather, they state the “purpose and objective” of the policy it’s intent and outline general guidelines/principles that are in place. There’s lots of room for “case by case” decision-making.
I would add that there are plenty of areas in the church where policy can be much more hard and fast. Financial practice, for example, is pretty straight forward and relatively easy to implement strict and consistent processes and procedures. Another example might be policies and procedures related to many of the “operational readiness” areas of the church.
I think there can be a pretty clear distinction made between “people processes” and “non-people processes” as it relates to this topic. People processes should be much more guideline oriented and non-people processes should be more hard and fast. It makes sense that when people are affected by decisions there needs to be much more room for consideration of circumstances related to specific situations. Non-people processes … not so much.