Nicene Church Planting (Part 3): On Chorepiscopi and Org. Charts

There was an office in the church at the time of the Nicene Council mentioned in Canon VIII called Chorepiscopus. Chorepiscopi, meaning rural bishops, were structured over local Presbyters but under the Bishop and, naturally, usually located outside of major cities. There has been significant debate over whether Chorepiscopi were simply Presbyters who were in an administrative position over their peers (a pastor over other pastors) or whether they were full-on ordained Bishops who were serving the outlying areas of a large diocese under the diocesan Bishop (a bishop under another bishop). This Canon does not clarify this question and in fact church historians still aren’t sure which it was. Some think the nature of the office may have varied between locations and times—and that’s my point.

Church plants tend to start with a very fluid structure. There is you and (maybe) your spouse. That’s the org chart. Then you begin to add people in to serve in various areas and oversee tasks. Then they start to oversee teams who accomplish those tasks and maybe even have access to certain budgets. To make things more complicated, lots of people will be filling several different maybe even unrelated roles. Before long you look up and realize you have a church full of Chorepiscopi and no one knows who has responsibility for what and who has authority over whom and what the things are that no one is really responsible for. When this happens, the church planter is responsible for more tasks, more people, with less clarity.

There are many ways to structure the leadership, governance, and ministries of a church. Some planters may have structure dictated denominationally and some planters may have more freedom to implement structure as they see fit. Even if you are part of a denomination, in reality it can feel like headquarters is on the east coast while church plants are the wild, wild west and you’ll likely have a lot of freedom, at least in the early days. While there are many ways to structure, church planters must have one and make it sure it is clear and understandable to people who serve in your church.

This means that everyone who serves in the church should be able to articulate what they are responsible for, who they are responsible to, and what authority they have to fulfill their responsibilities. All too often in church plants people know either what they are responsible for or who they are responsible to but not both and very rarely do they know what authority they have.

Living out this principle will require you to have two main things in place:

  1. An organizational system that answers these questions; and
  2. A process that communicates it to your volunteers.

You might want to have a good old-fashioned org chart. I like charts. Being able to see the whole church on a single sheet of paper kept me from spending an afternoon banging my head on my desk many, many times. You might want to put together something more exhaustive like a handbook of ministries in your church that answers these questions. I would highly advise that next to every line in your budget you have a name of the person who is authorized to approve expenditures from that line.

Another great idea is to have a simple half sheet job description for every service role in your church that lists the answer to these questions:

  • Who am I responsible to?
  • What am I responsible for?
  • What authority do I have to carry out that responsibility?

For example, does your hospitality ministry director answer directly to the church planter or to a staff member or to another volunteer leader? What are they responsible to make happen both in terms of the big picture (make people feel super loved and comfortable) and the details (have 4 ushers scheduled and in place each week)? Do they have the authority to change the kind of coffee we serve? Sure. Can they change the church logo to something they feel will be more inviting? No, but they can suggest it to whoever they are responsible to. Do they have the authority to remove people from their ministry?

If people don’t know these things, then it’s a recipe for stepped on toes, dropped balls, and general chaos. More specifically your volunteers will do one of two things: they will either under perform because they don’t know what they are supposed to accomplish, how they might accomplish it, and who they can talk to about it along the way or they will over perform because think they are the boss of everything and can do whatever they want, whenever they want, to accomplish whatever they think their job title means.

You owe it to your individual volunteers to give them clarity about those three key questions, and your ministry teams will perform more effectively and more smoothly if everyone knows what they are responsible for, who they are responsible to, and what authority they have to fulfill those responsibilities.

What tools have you found helpful in keeping roles and responsibilities in a church plant organized? What “worst practices” have you witnessed that you would recommend others avoid?

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