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Shepherd of the Flock – Managing Risk in Ministry
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By Arthur F. Blinci, ARM, eMBA  - Vice President, Chief Risk Management Officer
 
                  “So guard yourselves and God’s people.  Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood… I know false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come among you after I leave, not sparing the flock… Watch out!” – Acts 20:28-31  New Living Translation

Paul’s counsel to the Ephesian elders is clear as a pastor you are called to be a shepherd of your congregation.  Whether you are a senior pastor with many years of experience or just starting out with your first church this is a responsibility which cannot be delegated away to others.  On the other hand, it is a task which you as the pastor cannot achieve alone; it requires a team effort with the ministry leaders of your congregation.  Solomon reminds us, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in a multitude of counselors there is safety.” – Proverbs 11:14  New King James Version   As the pastor you direct the congregation’s vision, you give leadership to its mission and set the example that others will follow.  You also need to have the foresight to protect the church from preventable or unnecessary losses. This is your role as the shepherd of the flock.

Pastors are trained in theology, taught the proper methods of homiletics, evangelism, witnessing and member visitation.  Often times the practical training in how to operate a church and manage the risks associated with its ministries are overlooked or left to be learned through practical on-the-job experience.  This is very unfortunate since the “wolves” of unexpected tragedy can strike at any time!  A pastor can never be off-guard to the dangers that can disrupt the ministries of your congregation or destroy your personal reputation and career.  As the congregation’s spiritual leader consider these words from Dr. Ken Blanchard, co-author of the book Lead Like Jesus:
         “It is the job of a leader (pastor) to create an environment where people feel safe and supported and ready to do the best job possible in accomplishing key goals. This responsibility is a sacred trust that should not be violated. The opportunity to guide others to their fullest potential is an honor and one that should not be taken lightly. As leaders, we hold the lives of others in our hands. These hands need to be gentle and caring and always available for support.” [1]
 
This is why understanding the risk associated with the ministries of your church is vitally important to its success and safety of your congregation.  Let’s look at how ministry leaders can apply a “Three S” model by using biblical risk management principles to help achieve safe and successful Christ-centered ministry in their community.
 

 
TRUST the Foundation
Let’s begin by looking at the role your church has within its community.  Churches are valued as a place of trust by families and the general public in your community.  Parents believe when they bring their children to your church there is an expectation their child will be safe and properly supervised during ministry activities.  Church members also believe that their church is a place where they can safely share their joys and sorrows with fellow-believers and enjoy the warmth of Christian fellowship.  We also invite others from the community to join us through evangelism, vacation bible schools, community services and other outreach ministries.  Your church is a beacon within the community. This establishes a high expectation of trust and increases the standard of care to which its ministry leaders will be held accountable. 
These standards of care may include:
  • Faithfully upholding the best interest of others and your community at all times.
  • Respecting ethical and moral boundaries at all times.
  • Staying informed and abiding by local laws, ordinances and codes that govern community life.
  • Creating a safe environment for both members and community guests.
  • Exhibiting a life of honesty and integrity by abstaining from personal financial gain or conflicts of interest in dealing with members of the congregation or community.
As the pastor and shepherd of the flock it is your responsibility to assure these standards are recognized and followed.  This is the foundation on which your reputation and goodwill is built on a daily basis.  Ask yourself the question – Does our community view the Seventh-day Adventist Church as a trustworthy neighbor?   If it does – faithfully guard this reputation from harm.  If not, what is causing the lack of trust and how does it impact your congregation’s ministry and reputation?

The Servant – All pastors and ministry leaders are called to be a servant.  Jesus taught the principle of servanthood as his two disciples argued over who would be the greatest.  “But whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28  New King James Version  “As godly servants, we must look past ourselves and see others.  We exist for the sake of others.  His church exists for the sake of others.  Leadership is not selfish; it is service for others.”[2]  As servants we view the world and our responsibilities differently by looking out for the interest of others first.  “It is important for us to ask ourselves the question, “Am I a servant leader or a self-serving leader?” because a heart motivated by self-interest looks at the world as a “give a little, take a lot” proposition.  People with hearts motivate by self-interest put their own agenda, safety, status and gratification ahead of that of those affected by their thoughts and actions.” [3]  Being willing to be a servant is critical if we are to safely manage the risks associated with ministry.

The Shepherd – The metaphor of the shepherd is found throughout the pages of scripture.  Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-14) to convey the principle of one who knows and is willing to protect his flock from harm.  If we look at the shepherds role, we can easily see the work of a risk manager.  “A shepherd is a person who protects, guides or watches over a person or group of people.” [4] 

Just as scripture reminds us: “As the shepherds watched their flocks by night” (Luke 2:8) so the work of a shepherd can be shared with other ministry leaders.  A pastor cannot efficiently do this job alone since no one can be in all places at the same time, even in the smallest of churches.  Invite all ministry leaders to share in the work of keeping your congregation safe.  Consider appointing a church safety officer to work with your ministry leaders and church board to identify hazards along with evaluating ministry plans before they are approved and implemented.

Talk about safety; take time to conduct a self-inspection of your facilities. Identifying risks and potential hazards that could cause harm to members of your congregation can be found in many ways.  It could be that broken handrail on the front steps leading to the sanctuary door or ripped carpeting that needs to be replaced.  It can also take the form of poorly planned supervision for a church outing or using unsafe equipment during a ministry activity.  Each of these risks are preventable but it requires the watchful eye of the shepherd to make sure appropriate safety measures are part of your congregation’s culture.

The Steward – Good risk management requires each of us to be faithful stewards of everything the Lord has entrusted to our care and keeping.  This includes our time, talents and resources.  In the ministry life of Paul we find him practicing this very principle of stewardship.  “Leadership is inseparably connected to stewardship… everything that he (Paul) had inherited or acquired was part of his leadership resource bank for the execution of mission.  Modern leadership theorists now recognize that leadership is nothing if not the intentional deployment of one’s influence for the advancement of the mission of the organization we serve.” [5]  How well is your church managed?  Do the maintenance practices in caring for your church property honor God by keeping the Lord’s house in good repair.  Have the resources of your congregation been properly accounted for and managed in keeping with faithful stewardship principles or are funds needlessly lost due to poor planning or wasteful spending.  These are tough questions that require your leadership as you work with the church board and ministry leaders.  Remember, Jesus has entrusted his resources to us here on this earth.  “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; you have put all things under his feet.” – Psalms 8:6 New King James Version.  We each will be held accountable on how well we manage that which has been entrusted to our care.  “After a long time the Lord of those servants came and settled accounts with them… His Lord said to him, Well done, good and faithful servant.” – Matthew 25:19-30 New King James Version.  May we each use our talents to manage ministries as a faithful steward.

The Results – Safe Mission Driven Ministries
Undertaking the leadership of a pastor requires commitment and dedication.  This requires watchfulness to be sure the congregation is on course with its mission.  Often times the church tries to be all things to all people.  As a faith-based community we have a very difficult time saying this is an undertaking or ministry we cannot safely engage our congregation.  Carefully plan and evaluate all ministry opportunities.  Ask yourself these questions:
  • Does the congregation have the right people who can properly manage the task?
  • Is adequate funding readily available to provide proper support?
  • Has sufficient detailed planning taken place to understand not only the opportunity but also the associated risks with the proposed ministry?
Lack of proper due diligence can cause the church to be very vulnerable to possible loss or accidents.  It is during these situations the pastor must step up and fulfill their duty as the chief shepherd of the flock.  This can be very difficult, it may not be the popular action – but if the church is unprepared disaster may surely follow.

The good news, you are never alone.  By following these four principles you can build a strong foundation based on trust.  By working together you and your ministry team will grow stronger by being a servant as you work for others.  Now your responsibility of being a shepherd can be shared with others as you work together to protect all members both young and old from harm or danger.  By careful planning and prudent execution of your ministry plans your congregation will become faithful stewards of the mission to share the gospel message in your community.  But wait there’s more, the Lord has promised – “For He Himself has said. ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’  So we may boldly say: The Lord is my helper; I will not fear.  What can man do to me?” – Hebrews 13:5-6  New King James Version.   As we cooperate with our Lord and one another, a culture of active stewardship will be developed within our congregations and your ministries will be safe and Christ-centered!
 
[1] Ken Blanchard, Situational Leadership®II – The Article, 2001, Ken Blanchard Companies, pg. 2. 
[2] Skip Bell, Servants and Friends. Andrews University Press, 2014  pg. 354.
[3] Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, Lead Like Jesus. W Publishing Group, 2005  pg. 40.
[4] Shepherd – www.dictionary.com
[5] Leslie N. Pollard, Servants and Friends, Andrews University Press, 2014  pg. 315.