accountAssessment 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 editrather 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.


-Rev. Renee Ruchotzke, Central East Regional Group

About the Author
Rev. Renee Ruchotzke
Leadership Development Consultant, Central East Regional Group (CERG) of the UUA. I have a vision of Unitarian Universalist congregations being led by thousands of diverse, spiritually mature and passionate people ready and willing to spread the good news of liberal religion.  I believe ministry is best when shared between lay and professional leaders. More information about me can be found on the UUA website.
  • Mark Bernstein

    Great message, Renee. Recently I had a conversation with representatives from several congregations around the topic of metrics. We agreed that not all aspects of congregational life can be quantified. How do you, for example, quantitatively measure the degree to which members have been nourished and inspired by Unitarian Universalism; how their spiritual journey has enriched their lives?

    • vitalleaders

      Great point, Mark!

    • Sean Hale

      Well … Unity St. Paul does an annual congregational survey that asks questions just like that. Here at 1st UU Austin, we’re taking a similar approach. Our most recent congregational survey included questions like,

      Please rate (from 1-10) the degree to which you currently:
      a. Feel a sense of belonging to a religious community within the church.
      b. Feel a sense of belonging to a community outside the walls of the
      c. Believe your actions contribute to the well-being of the church.
      d. Live out your religious values in the world.
      e. Have an appreciation of your own talents and gifts.

      I take Renee’s posting a bit differently … to not confuse the means with the ends … or the measuring stick with the ends. To keep clear that the objective is to nourish souls, or whatever, not to get a higher score. That the data is not the be all end all, or the final word.

      I also take her to be warning that any system, Carver governance or traditional UU governance, or whatever, can fail if not implemented correctly. Like most other things, they can really be a disaster if not done right. However, we should take pains after such a failure to determine why it failed … was the system inherently flawed or did the practitioners make one or more fatal mistakes?

      • vitalleaders

        Thanks for sharing the questions you use, Sean! They really seem to ask people to reflect on their own participation, which I love!