This is the second part of a series on how church administration can be a ministry.
Administering for safety should obviously start with physical safety. But physical safety covers far more than one might think. If I were to develop a preliminary checklist to be used by ministers specializing in administration, I would include at least the following items:
- Emergency evacuation plans in place
- Regular safety inspections of building
- Building accessible to persons of all physical abilities
- All volunteers trained in basic safety procedures
- All employees trained in basic safety procedures
- All employees screened for criminal backgrounds
- Regular maintenance schedule for building
- Budget includes reserves for emergencies
- Sexual harassment policy in place
- Behavior standards policy in place
- Volunteers working with minors screened for appropriateness
- Standards of behavior for church life made clear
- Alcohol and tobacco banned or severely limited at all church events
Of course, this list is incomplete; every church will have to add to this list depending on its own unique situation. You will notice that this list covers only physical and, to an extent, emotional safety. And it should also occur to you that, for many churches, checking off the items on this list could occupy an administrative minister for well over a year!
Once physical and emotional safety has been adequately secured, the next step for the administrative minister is spiritual safety. “Spiritual safety” might sound a little vague, so I’ll try to define it more precisely. It’s easiest to start by looking at what happens when there’s a lack of spiritual safety.
In a church that lacks spiritual safety, individuals may belittle or even attack other individuals based on spiritual matters. In my tradition, Unitarian Universalism, this most often happens in the area of theology. Even though we are a non-creedal group with no set theology, individuals may feel that it is acceptable to attack those who may hold a different theological position. A classic example is when someone who holds to a non-theistic theology attacks or belittles someone who holds to a more theistic theology. In my tradition, this results a kind of pseudo-creedalism antithetical to our professed spiritual core and an attendant general lack of theological conversations. Other traditions, and other specific churches, may experience a lack of spiritual safety in other ways. But the net result of a lack of spiritual safety is that matters of religion and matters of the spirit are suppressed within church life, to the point where the church can lose all semblance of a religious institution.
A lack of spiritual safety also typically results in the same kind of anxiety that can result from a lack of physical or emotional safety. When you don’t feel physically safe in a church building, you may feel anxious because you feel as if you have to sit on the edge of your chair, ready to bolt in case something bad happens. When you don’t feel spiritually safe in a church, you may feel anxious because (metaphorically speaking)you’re sitting on the edge of your spiritual chair, ready to bolt in case you’re attacked.
As an administrative minister, how do I create an environment that is spiritually safe? Obviously, first you have to take care of the physical and emotional safety; if someone thinks they’re going to be hurt by the building, or sexually harassed, they’re not going to have any energy for matters of spirituality and religion. Assuming those issues have been taken care of, standard administrative practices suggest that spiritual safety can be addressed by training, logistics, and scheduling. Train key volunteers in how to address spiritual matters; in my tradition, small group ministry training or training in active listening would be good places to start. Next, schedule times and places where persons can address spiritual matters with the help of the trained volunteers. Finally, when a significant percentage of persons have been affected by the first two steps, look at how spiritual matters can be incorporated into every part of church life using those people who have been affected; thus, budget discussions should become spiritual discussions, which would become possible if even one or two members of the Finance Committee had participated in safe spiritual/religious discussions.
Not that creating spiritual safety of the kind I’m trying to outline is an easy matter. Like many matters pertaining to church administration, it requires constant oversight, management, and ongoing attention to niggling details.