"Edit"ability vs. Accountability
Assessment: "Edit"ability vs. Accountability

Assessment of a congregation's ministry is a very important aspect of religious leadership and is one of the roles of a Committee on Shared Ministry.  We often use the term "accountability" as in "accountability to mission" to describe the purpose of such assessments. The word "accountability" can be problematic because of it's relationship to the precise nature of the accounting profession and does not create space for grace or the movement of the spirit that happens in faith communities.  In his book Organic Community: Creating a Place Where People Naturally Connect, Joseph R. Myers suggests that using the term "edit-ability" might be a more accurate way of describing how congregational leaders can stay true to mission:

An accountant's way to reconcile is through precise conformity to rules; reconciliation comes by way of compliance. Accountants are concerned with reconciling you to a list a desired behaviors. An editor is less concerned with compliance than with communication. Sometimes this means going against rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation. A good editor want the author's voice to be the best it can be and thus enforces rules only when they help the author to be heard. An editor reconciles not to rules, but to the reader.

(Of course, we still want accountability for fiduciary responsibilities like finance and safety policies.) When it comes to ministry, the approach of the editor rather than the accountant has consistency with our Unitarian Universalist theology that assumes that people have a goodness that can be developed rather than a sinfulness that needs to be corrected.  It emphasizes the grace and relationships that are embodied in our covenants. This should result in an ongoing conversation about how we are serving our mission and continual adjustment to programs and other ministries in response. This difference is an especially important understanding for congregations that operate under Carver-Style Policy Governance® where ends statements and compliance reports have the hazardous potential of displacing covenantal dialogue that organically serves the larger purpose of the church. 

About the Author

  • Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) has served as a Congregational Life Consultant in the Central East Region since September of 2010. She serves congregation in Northeast Ohio and Western New York. She is part of the LeaderLab Design team providing Leadership Development resources and other trainings to congregations.

For more information contact conglife@uua.org.

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