by Dennis Kendel – Board Chair, Faith Lutheran Church Saskatoon
As individuals we have opportunities to continue learning throughout our time on this earth. Some learning occurs through structured educational programs that confer upon us some credential or certificate. Other learning occurs through life experiences. Learning through life experiences is often described as “the school of hard knocks”. We get to choose if we will seek to learn something from the “hard knocks” we encounter during our life journey. It is generally wise to strive to learn all we can from the “hard knocks” we encounter.
The very same observations can be made with respect to organizations. Organizations can choose to learn from the “hard knocks” they encounter or they can choose to ignore the valuable lessons embedded in these experiences.
On June 28, 2018 the LCC ABC District and all LCC members incurred a “hard knock” when the Alberta Securities Commission (ASC) published a notice of hearing naming two of our church organizations and five church leaders as respondents. The respondents cannot ignore their legal obligation to participate in this hearing process.
However, what about all the other LCC clergy and lay leaders across Canada? What about all of the ordinary LCC members who do not serve in any formal leadership roles in our church? Should we ignore this process because it is embarrassing or because we don’t think it has relevance to us? Or, should we strive to become fully informed about this process and its implications for our church at large? Should we seek to learn from this process and apply those lessons to our future walk together as brothers and sisters in Christ? I sincerely hope we will choose to learn from this experience.
What Can We Learn from This Experience?
I believe there are valuable lessons to be learned by every member of the LCC from this experience. In addition, there are some very vital lessons for all clergy and lay leaders in our church.
The overarching lesson for all of us is to seek to know the truth and to speak truth to one another, even when it is uncomfortable to do so.
Let’s first consider how this lesson applies to persons in leadership roles in our church. Service in any leadership role often confers certain powers but it also obligates one to accept certain responsibilities and accountabilities. There is always risk of harm when leaders embrace the powers of a leadership role while ignoring or minimizing the responsibilities and accountabilities that come with it.
The language in the ASC Notice of Hearing is quite instructive on this point. It notes that designated leaders of our church had the power to determine how ABC CEF funds would be used. However the ASC asserts that these leaders “knew or ought to have known” the risk implicit in certain decisions they made about the use of these funds. Their duty of accountability to the individual investors obligated them to be fully truthful with the investors about those risks.
It is important that we understand and accept all the implications of the “ought to have known” allegations contained in the ASC Notice of Hearing.
Any person who accepts a leadership role must exercise “due diligence” in respect to knowing the impacts of his/her action or inaction. There is a responsibility to be informed about the matters one is managing and the impact of one’s decisions on other people. Persons who do not understand and accept these due diligence responsibilities should not seek or accept appointment or election to such leadership roles.
Perhaps the most powerful lessons for all of this from this “hard knock” experience are around the issue of accountability.
There is no leadership role on this earth that is devoid of accountability. It is vital that all leaders understand and accept what they are accountable for and to whom they are accountable.
However, leadership accountability is a two way street. Those of us who are “followers” have a duty to hold our leaders accountable to us.
For leaders who serve in elected leadership roles, the ultimate moment of accountability is if and when they seek re-election. However followers should not be passive in expecting and requiring accountability from both elected and appointed leaders on an ongoing basis.
So, how can and should we hold elected and appointed leaders accountable in our church?
The most fundamental accountability tool is the prerogative that every follower has to ask questions of a leader and expect informed truthful answers.
If you have questions about any issues for which a leader is accountable, never be afraid to ask questions. At all times be civil and respectful in your communications with leaders, but do not be hesitant to ask questions that may cause them discomfort. Responding effectively to uncomfortable questions is a fundamental precept of leadership accountability. The most significant impediment to leadership accountability is unhealthy and inappropriate followership deference to leaders. That can be particularly problematic in churches where the historical culture is one that expects deference from lay persons to clergy leaders.
Lay deference to clergy in respect to ecclesiastical matters should not be confounded with clergy leadership in non-ecclesiastical domains. For instance, clergy serving in leadership positions involving the management of invested funds warrant no special deference from those who entrust them to be truthful about investment risks. Clergy serving in such role have due diligence obligations and accountability obligations identical to lay persons serving in such roles.