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June 29, 2015

© 2015 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Many who serve in church IT are frustrated because they don’t feel the support of their church leadership. This is more common than one might believe, and there are reasons for it! Let’s talk about it, and find the path to freedom and, hopefully, to joy in serving.

The Dilemma
I talk with many who serve their church in an IT role, and some talk of their frustration in that role. “The staff doesn’t follow the policies I’ve put in place, and that even includes the pastors!” I have heard that statement– or one a lot like it– many times. And quite often the IT person feels hurt to the point of looking for another job so they can get out of working in the church environment.

But serving in the church should be a great source of joy, peace, and spiritual satisfaction! Where’s the disconnect?

Cause and Effect
There are some common causes of this type of corporate dysfunction. The most common one I see has to do with recognizing IT’s proper role in the church.

  1. Church leadership, specifically those at the pastoral or board level, are rarely IT experts. Accordingly, they lean heavily on IT to help them.
  2. IT is responsible to consult and inform church leadership and encourage them to make good IT policy decisions regarding budgets, security, system use, etc.
  3. IT is then responsible to enforce the decisions leadership makes, whether those decisions are wise or unwise. And this is where IT often crosses a line that causes a domino effect of frustration on both sides of those relationships.

Quite often IT sets policies it believes are necessary rather than relying on leadership to set policy. Sometimes it is because leadership won’t do their job in this area; sometimes it is because IT wants to protect the church and leadership from the effects of the poor policies leadership made. And sometimes IT wants to protect leadership from poor decisions they might make that will not sustain a stable and reliable IT system. Most often, though, leadership won’t make the policy decisions that need to be made, and instead delegate those decisions to be made at a lower level.

That is when IT’s policies begin to break down; staff– even at the pastoral level– won’t adhere to IT’s policies. Thus the statement by an IT Director that staff won’t adhere to “the policies I’ve put in place.” But it is not IT’s place to set policies; it is leadership’s responsibility. Wise leadership asks IT’s opinion and recommendation as it sets policies, but the policies must originate from them.

The transition from IT setting policy to leadership setting policy can be challenging. The first step is to help leadership and IT recognize the problem and agree to do things differently. That is humbling for both sides, but good leaders recognize their shortcomings and rely on their team relationships to accomplish more than either can alone.

The second step rests in the hands of leadership. They may choose to set no policies, set policies that aren’t good, or set policies that are good. It is not up to IT to shield leadership from potential failures in this area! IT needs to carry out the policies leadership sets.

  • No policies. No policies will result in a breakdown of the system in a year or two. This failure will increase team frustration and system costs, and lower productivity. Eventually leadership will realize that some policies must be set.
  • Poor policies. Policies set without IT’s input will likely be not much better than no policies. I’ve seen churches where the non-IT staff drove the policies leadership set, and those policies usually have the same result as having no policies because they were established based on the recommendation of those who are not IT experts and lack appropriate perspective.
  • Good policies. When leadership asks for IT’s recommendations and sets policies accordingly, better policy decisions are made.

What happens, though when leadership sets policies and some staff– and maybe even some pastors– don’t adhere to them? Those are technically violations of leadership’s policies, and should be enforced by leadership with the assistance of IT rather than by IT alone. In the beginning leadership will be tempted to make policy exceptions, until they realize that many exceptions is, in effect, no policy. During this time IT needs to be humbly supportive and consultative, and never play the I told you so card.

There is great freedom in a ministry environment where leadership fulfills its role of setting IT policy! IT no longer feels that everyone ignores their policies, because they are not IT’s policies! And leadership no longer feels like IT is fighting against them because IT is acting on their behalf! And when someone complains about a given policy, they are directed toward leadership rather than IT feeling frustrated.

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