Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Organized Pastor -4

The Filing System--part 3: Church Files and Meeting Minutes.

My other discussions on files have been pretty extensive and complicated because of the amount of information filed. This one is not the case.

I have one meager file drawer where I keep work/church related items. So I have in it minutes from meetings, like the Elders meetings. I also have stuff from Boards and Committees I serve on outside the church. I save records of email--if I happened to make a hard copy--and counseling notes from sessions here.

I have a complete binder for everything related to Victory Valley Camp, where I serve on the Board. So in seconds, I can find budget, planning, minutes, and contracts.

If I ever go through a complicated situation--like counseling, or a series of events that involve difficult meetings such as church discipline--I make a file and keep a record of dates and events. Hopefully I'll never need it, but if I do I have it.

This are organized alphabetically--general to specific. All the items in this file are specific to activity. What I mean is that I have an "Elder" file that has minutes and action items. But anything that relates to theory and principles must go under topics. Why? Because want to be able to get work activity and progress quickly.

About a year ago, the Board of Victory Valley Camp, where I volunteer as chairman, went through a process of writing by-laws based on Carver's Policy Governance. So under Topics: I have generic info on board leadership and policy governance. This is stuff applicable to multiple settings. But in my "Church/work" I have the actual drafts and final copies of our unique policy governance. I also had to keep track of some difficult decisions as it related to policy governance--so there are records in there as well. Yes--I keep what I can on computer, I'll discuss that later. But hard copies, where needed, need to be filed.

Why do I have 'three' filing systems?
This may seem bizarre to some, but it works for me. I don't have to scan a massive list of labels just to find elder minutes. There is one small drawer with work items. This helps me keep track of things. When ever I start looking for something the process is simple: what kind of information is it: Biblical exegesis, topic, or work? It will take a little longer to find a topic but at least it is not cluttered with work items or unrelated issues.

Part of my solution developed in college. There I did not have 'minutes' from meeting. I had Biblical books and Topics. When I was first a pastor, I need other files from meetings and I just didn't have enough to really integrate them into my "Topics". So when I planned a mission's trip I had files on information to share with my committee but I found it didn't clutter my normal files. Since then I have made a conscious effort to keep my files separate. I have long since thrown out the files on that specific mission's trip but they never cluttered up my "Topics" some of which are files I have kept and developed for 10+ years.

This helps me quite a bit when I am chairman.
If I have an article on theory, I think we should read--I know where it is.

If I want to see the minutes from the previous meeting it helps me. I can easily keep track of action items. One other piece of advice I've found: whenever you have a meeting, if you are the chairman sit down after the meeting or first thing the next day, and make the agenda for next time. This helps you make sure you carry items over. It helps you organize your notes and keep track of action items. You will not forget to put on the agenda what you promised to do. It hold you accountable.

Furthermore, once you start the electronic file, whenever you think: "we must discuss this at the next meeting" you can add it to the agenda in 30 seconds. If you wait until then to draw up the agenda you won't do it because it was a random thought. I used to just make a sticky note for this--but I often forgot to look at all my sticky notes on my desk when it came time to prep for the meeting. I usually didn't miss stuff, I don't think anyways--but I spend too much time prepping for meetings. Now I pull the file, review what I added and then think if there is anything else that we need.

If your meetings run on a yearly schedule, like we do for VVC, it makes it even easier because all you have to do is add any abnormal business. I'll talk more about how I organize and record random thoughts and use post-it notes. But for now suffice it to say: the right information has to go to the right place. Making the agenda as soon as the last meeting is over is helpful.

The Files Help with New Work
If I have some new marriage counseling to do, I won't have to study the issues afresh--say on conflict resolution or peacemaking. I will pull the files on marriage, with some essays on marriage helps. I will pull the stuff I have on conflict resolution and peacemaking. Then I will start a new file under "church work" for the couple I am counseling. If I take notes during there meeting, I file them. I record what I gave them and what we talked about. If I give them resources, I copy it out of my topics. Thus, I am prepared but at the end of the session: topics go back to topics to be reused when the need arises. Hopefully, the file of the specific sessions doesn't get opened again if the counselling is successful. Either way I can track progress, remember issues I've delat with all while keep these isolated from resources I will reuse in diverse settings.

I hope this has helped you in some way. My filing system is probably a bit strange at first but I hope you will find it effective. If you have any suggestions please leave comment. The important thing about organization is not the theory but the practice. What I mean is, all the organization theory with detail and complexity doesn't mean squat if you can't maintain and consistently use what you have with little effort. It has to come naturally in the executive. It has to work for you but be explainable.

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