It’s All in the Details

detailsWe find ourselves in the midst of a season that holds both darkness and light in holy tension. During this season we seek to honor the paradox of a promise already delivered, a promise unfolding around us, and a promise not yet fulfilled.

 There is another tension that I often hear clergy leaders talk about at this time of the year. It is the tension between honoring the mystery and ministry of the season, and honoring the administrative detail that it takes to bring this season to fruition in the life of a congregation. That administrative challenge is especially pronounced in the world of the large congregation. Just this morning I read two blog entries from large church leaders who are trying to keep their focus on the sacred while tending to administrative overload. Susan Sytsma Bratt writes about Administration and Advent over at Fidelia’s Sisters and Jan Edmiston writes about the same topic at A Church for Starving Artists.

 Both authors suggest that the best way to get through the season is to deal with the administrative detail (or better yet to delegate it to someone else) without losing sight of the mystery. Both entries imply that there is a better body of work to be done that focuses on celebrating the sacred in the season, if you can keep the administrative detail from overtaking the mystery. I don’t disagree with their call to a balanced perspective during this most confusing of seasons. I honor the struggle. But I do disagree with their theological approach.            

 In the large congregation clergy leaders generally devote more than 40% of their time to institutional caretaking (i.e. administrative detail). A healthy approach to leadership cannot minimize or dismiss this portion of the role as somehow less worthy than the remaining part of the role, without diminishing the overall worth of the work, or the spirit of the person doing the work. We have to find ways to reconcile the sacred and the mundane, for ourselves and our congregations.

Carl Dudley, a pastor and professor who has been a longtime student of congregational life writes, “Through the lens of congregational studies, every act of administration is permeated with the motives and consequences of ministry.” Carl would not make a distinction between administration and ministry.

In All For God’s Glory: Redeeming Church Scutwork, Louis Weeks talks about how contemporary leadership of the congregation requires the exercise of creative, theological imaginations to frame administrative tasks. The church leader who plows through the administrative detail in the hopes of getting to the “real” part of ministry is inevitably diminished as a leader.

During this holiest (and busiest) of seasons, my prayer for you is that you will recognize the mystery and ministry within the details. I hope that you will find blessings in the administration itself, and that the mystery of the season will permeate every aspect of your leadership self. Peace.


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