Church administration is an organizational approach that translates the purposes of God revealed to church leadership into effective ministry that reaches the unique goals and purposes of the church. Administration is ministry, not methods; people, not paperwork; human processes, not inhumane policies. Good church administration is not just the stewardship of material things; it is also the growing of people. Church leaders involved in administration as a full-time role should never lose sight of the fact that ultimately the church is the people of God called together to minister the love of the Savior to a lost and dying world. Ministry is primary. Good administration facilitates ministry, not the other way around. Administration should always ultimately focus on people.
Most churches have either volunteers or staff members filling administrative roles. These cover the spectrum from volunteer treasurers or administrative assistants, to full-time Executive Pastors. In recent years, it seems that there has been a merging of business and ministry approaches to administrative leadership in the church. Since the late 1970s, there has been a growing integration of biblical principles into business literature. While there is a danger in adopting business principles in the church without discernment, business should more openly acknowledge the contribution of biblical principles that shape economics and business practices and the church should reciprocate in kind.
The challenge for administrative leaders in ministry is to understand that Christians do not live a bifurcated life. There is not a Monday through Friday world and a Sunday world. Biblical principles and Christian life demand that biblical truth transform and reform the world of business and economics. Ministry in the marketplace has for too long been relegated to the secular. The result is the denigration of those called to the marketplace, and the rejection of godly truth in the form of “business” practices. Ultimately, those called to the marketplace reject their call to go into “full-time” ministry as if that were the only way to be a real Christian. But that is the subject of another article.
Administrative Leadership—Three Elements
Certainly, administrative leadership has more than three elements that make up the sum total of the activities of the role, but the following three elements deserve emphasis. While most church business administrators use all these and more, they often have a personal style or skill-set that emphasizes one, to the detriment of an appropriate recipe.
As a science, administrative leadership involves procedures and techniques learned by study and experience that involve mathematics, psychology, business disciplines, and other technical skills. Too many pastoral leaders of smaller churches are mystified by the science of other disciplines. Pastors study theology and Greek, not statistics and internal rates of return. In larger churches, the domain of the “science” needed to administrate the larger ministry cannot rest strictly on volunteer committees. The ministry moves too fast, and is more specialized in approach. Every pastor and church leader must be exposed to the science of church administration, if for no other reason than to know that they need help.
As an art, administrative leadership involves interpersonal skills that yield relational sensitivity, intuition, and timing. There are times when administrative leadership comes from an intuitive level. You may find that years of experience begin to translate repetitive actions into a kind of instinct that leads to anticipation, heightened awareness, and an innate responsiveness to early signals. A rookie would think it is an art and it probably is. Beyond the wisdom and artistry of experience, there are times when your artistry is just pure guts—stepping out in decisive action based on incomplete information, and you are just going for it.
As a gift, administrative leadership is listed as one of the spiritual gifts in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12:28, variously rendered as “governments” (KJV), “administrators” (RSV), “workers of spiritual power” (Phillips), and “power to guide” (NEB). The Greek term in 1 Corinthians 12:28 “kubernesis” is the word for helmsman. Just as a helmsman steers a ship through potentially dangerous waters and follows a prescribed course, ministers serving in an administrative role help guide the congregation in pursuit of their unique mission. This image is an especially vivid picture of the Executive Pastor who is often the chief of staff and the number two leader in the church. Like a helmsman responding to the ship captain, the Executive Pastor responds to the Senior Pastor. The helmsman understands the ship.
The Administrative Leader as: Helmsman, Steward, Armor-bearer, Shepherd
The image suggested in 1 Corinthians 12:28 is that of the helmsman. Often in a sailing vessel there are many variables that, in combination, could spell disaster to the ship. Winds, tides, currents, shoals, weather, and crew can create a recipe for disaster for the ungifted. This image is and especially vivid picture of the Executive Pastor who is often the chief of staff and the number two leader in the church. Like a helmsman responding to the ship captain, the Executive Pastor responds to the Senior Pastor. Like the experienced helmsman, the Executive Pastor or administrative leader often must respond to the combination of conditions that challenge the progress of the organization. Skill and experience are crucial, but sometimes skill and experience must be subordinate to the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
To better understand the role of administrative leaders is to consider biblical images of administrative leadership. An administrative leader is like the steward of a household. The Bible has much to say about effective stewardship, and a good administrator is like a faithful steward who manages the household and business affairs of his master (Luke 12:42-47). As a steward of the household, we see from the biblical accounts that the steward is faithful to follow the master’s desires, safeguard the master’s property, handle the financial resources, and create a return on his assets.
Much can be said about the management effectiveness of a stewardship role, but many miss the importance of means as opposed to the ends. The images of stewardship in the Bible balance the bottom line of effectiveness with a sense of ethics and following a pattern of fairness and lawfulness. We cringe at the hardness of the steward who violates ethics when he takes pennies on the dollar from his master’s debtors and then demands full payment from his own debtors. Too often administrative leaders act like owners instead of stewards. God is the owner who prescribes the attitude and techniques leaders should use to manage His resources. He also is the one who reveals and enables leaders to reach His goals. We work His plan, based on His ways.
Yet another biblical image suggested in the role of administrative leadership is that of the armor-bearer. Often the administrative leader is following the direction of a Senior Pastor, and must be a brave encourager, carrier of the implements of warfare, and a protector of the one he serves. One of the characteristics of the armor-bearer is that regardless of the bravery and fortitude of the armor-bearer, the praise of victory goes to the owner of the armor. Thus, it is so with many administrative leaders who serve Senior Pastors. So it should be with all engaged in administrative leadership—the credit ultimately should go to Christ Jesus.
The last image from the Bible that is appropriate to the role of the administrative leader is that of a shepherd. This image brings to mind the protection of the flock, the healing and maintenance of the sheep, and the adequate pasture needed for the flock. One must only read Ezekiel 34:1-16 in order to understand these aspects in the light of God’s word. In many churches, the administrative function lacks the compassion and understanding of a shepherd leader. While an administrative leader may not carry the official role or title of pastor, their decisions need to have a pastoral element. Far too often, the Senior Pastor or pastoral staff spends time covering for an administrative leader who did not think about people from a pastoral perspective.
An administrative leader must be able to steer, manage, protect, and care for the ministry. With such a diverse set of tasks to master, involving skills not typically taught in seminaries, most pastors are ill-prepared for the onslaught of administrative tasks confronting them every day. Too often, pastoral leaders come to ministry lacking either the vision or skills of leadership. Lacking both could be fatal to the ministry they lead.
The vision to perceive a preferred future must be combined with the wisdom, determination, and skills to affect that preferred future. Just having vision is not enough; many have the vision and can understand the consequences of their actions, but do not have the will or the spiritual fortitude to implement those actions. Effective leadership combines vision with practical planning, the courage to implement, the skills to apply effective solutions, and the endurance to see objectives reached.