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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

31 May '08

Guiding principles that impact ministry decisions

Posted by T.J. Addington in missional clarity


In a prior post I gave an example of guiding principles that can actually guide ministry decision making.

I liken guiding principles to the channel markers that one encounters when piloting a boat in inland waterways. The green and red buoys that mark the channel are there for one reason: to keep you and your boat safe. They tell you that as long as you stay inside the channel, you are in safe water. If you choose to leave the marked channel, you are in unsafe water. It amazes me how many would-be pilots think they don't have to stay inside the channel and find out the hard way that shallow water or shoals are not good for their boat's hull!

In the same way, an organization's guiding principles are designed to delineate the safe water or channel that everyone is to say within, If you review ReachGlobal's guiding principles from a prior post you will see that they delineate how we do what we do and provide concrete guidance to all personnel as to how they must approach their work. They are prescriptive in nature and measurable. Supervisors can dialogue with personnel on how well they are living by the guiding principles and hold them accountable if they choose to ignore them.

Many organizations have values that are so general they provide no real guidance and are ignored. I asked the president of an organization recently what the guiding principles or values of his organization were and he could not even remember them. Obviously they were of no help to him or others.

Guiding principles serve several key purposes that are central to a healthy organization. First, they allow you to define for all personnel the core commitments that you want everyone to live by. For instance, in our organization, 'team' is a non-negotiable commitment and our guiding principle makes it clear that all personnel work in a team context. It is not an option and the guiding principle makes it clear.

Second, taken as a whole, guiding principles allow you to craft the kind of ministry culture that you want to permeate your organization. When all of your personnel are living by the same set of guiding principles, you start to get significant alignment.

Third, they keep your organization in 'safe waters' by clarifying those things that are non-negotiables. By doing so, you prevent the unintended consequences of traveling outside the channel markers into unsafe waters.

To get to clarity on guiding principles you can ask yourself these questions:
-What are the non-negotiables that apply to our whole organization?
-Around what things must we have absolute alignment by everyone on the team?
-What are the principles, that if followed, will keep our organization in safe waters?
-If we had to describe the most important principles of how we do what we do, what would they be?

To be meaningful, guiding principles are not merely a phrase or word but should include and explanation of what the word or phrase means in your organization. That way they can truly guide behavior.

A well-chosen set of guiding principles also gives your organization permission to choose certain courses of action. One of our guiding principles is that "We measure results." That sends a strong message to our personnel that we are committed to seeing measurable results in our ministry and that everyone in the organization must be productive vs. busy. What we measure is important, but the ability to measure is ensured by the guiding principle.

Well-written guiding principles are not only the channel markers for the ministry but they empower personnel to make decisions that are consistent with the principles. They provide both empowerment and accountability.