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Risk Management By Persuitti, Bushnell, and Rice


Christian Leadership AllianceRisk Management: It’s vital for your ministry.

By Peter A. Persuitti, Phil Bushnell and Dr. James A. Rice ~

Think of risk management as a prudent, informed enabling of the ministry that is the lifeblood of our building Christ’s kingdom on earth. Risk management is “vital”. In fact, the word vital derives from the Latin Vitalis, which pertains to life or life-giving. Protecting our people, assets and reputation is indeed life-giving. It is a manifestation of stewardship in the 21st century.

Leaders can access so much more today about risk management and the church. This reality makes its way to the trial room. Take a group of millennial jurors and they will ask “can you Google it?” and if so, then you should have known!

Imagine today having volunteers work with children without a background screening clearance! While this activity may not prevent an incident, we understand the importance of it as a “duty of care” element of our stewardship.

“Duty of Care” has become front and center as a litmus test of our stewardship. With the passage of time and the advances of knowledge and technology, the bar continues to be raised in terms of what we as church or as a ministry need to be concerned about and even focused on. Anything short of it could lead to a charge of negligence or breach of duty.

What is striking is that while secular forces have been the primary driver of our stewardship response, we must take back this control and proactively affirm our call to stewardship as a cost of discipleship.

Regulatory Issues

There is no question today in the 21st century that our exercise of religious freedom is threatened. Living out our beliefs can put us in a precarious position of risk if we don’t take all the necessary precautions: rewriting our facilities usage policy, refining our job descriptions and staff oversight and development, safeguarding the personal data of our constituencies … you know what we mean. The threat of an emerging post-Christian culture makes risk management ever more relevant and vital to our thriving in a secular world. As little as 20 years ago, no one would ever imagine launching a suit against the church. Today we are targets. Don’t let the Affordable Care Act (ACA)-related responsibilities or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules or even the most recent Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requirements get ahead of you.

Moral Conduct Issues

We also must address the sexual misconduct crisis. What we see today is not just a church issue; it is emerging in schools and is prevalent in families as well, perhaps most pervasive there. This is a critical risk management issue requiring vigilance and bold action by the church to protect the innocent and vulnerable, and to live out the vital role we play in society. It is a great opportunity for the church to re-emerge as a leader in the public square. So what does this look like in regard to our faithful stewardship, and how can we succeed in this life-giving pursuit?

Four Ideas to Consider

1. Stakeholder-based Awareness

Our charge now is to empower and equip all of our staff, leaders and the broader faith constituencies, including volunteers and those we serve. See something, say something; from uneven sidewalks to improper behaviors to unsafe facilities. We are fortunate to have technology to help us educate and sustain these reminders, and thus we should excel at recognizing aberrations and kinks in our armor. Just imagine responsible congregants taking pictures of inappropriate situations and reporting the evidence. Yes, we are all soldiers for Christ.

2. Community-wide Engagement

Acts of violence focused on the church are at an all-time high since Carl Chinn, a nationally known security consultant, began tracking them in 1999. We need to tap the talent of our broader community, beginning with first responders. They are here to help us think through scenarios, respond to incidents and educate our staff, leaders and constituencies. They have time and they have hearts! Talent and volunteer management has a strategic long-term purpose.

3. People Are Our Treasure

One of our most important assets is our people. Attracting and retaining good, mission-driven people is vital to the sustainability of our ministries. However, given the ever expanding and increasingly complicated regulatory environment in the area of employee benefits, we are tasked with maintaining comprehensive total rewards programs that meet the needs of our diverse workforce without running afoul of the many regulatory traps. Missteps in compliance with the ACA, HIPAA, FLSA, and so on can result in significant penalties, impacting our ability to sustain our ministry. Using available tools to mitigate and manage this risk should be part of our everyday practice.

4. Mediate Versus Litigate

We can’t escape the secular world in which we live, but we can use proven new tools to confront the challenges. Whether it is in response to a misconduct allegation or a harassment claim, imagine if we could bring healing to the process of harm through mediation by listening and resolving. We would indeed be engaging the secular world with faith-inspired social justice and a humanity that is restorative and risk reducing. Risk management is vital to our church thriving in the 21st century.

Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. ~Genesis 2:15, NASB

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Peter A. Persuitti, ABD, is managing director of the Religious Practice for Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. (corporate, Chicago-based). Phil Bushnell leads Gallagher’s benefits expertise in the religious sector (St. Louis-based). Jim Rice, Ph.D., FACHE, is managing director and senior advisor of governance and leadership (Minneapolis-based). Today’s post is an excerpt from the 2016 Winter edition of Outcomes magazine.

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