Administration and Ministry

Clergy leaders in the large church must come to terms with the idea that administration is a form of ministry. Those who cannot understand administration as ministry quickly burn out in the role, always frustrated as they try to get administration “out of the way” so that they can get back to the real tasks of ministry.

I often work with senior clergy on the tasks of staffing and supervision. I’m struck by how often leaders fall into the trap of thinking that supervision is only something that you do when things are going poorly.  They believe that if people would just do what they are supposed to do, then senior clergy could spend less time providing administrative oversight and more time doing “real” ministry. The seasoned senior clergy leader generally comes to see that the work of supervision is sacred work that takes sufficient time to do well. They come to understand that they will always spend a significant portion of their time (at least 30%) on the task of staff supervision. They have the choice of spending that time in a reactive way (putting out the fires that emerge around poor supervision) or they can learn to spend that time proactively, guiding the strategic direction of the staff team. Crafting a culture that supports collaborative and accountable performance management is holy work that the senior clergy leader must do. In fact, there are aspects of that job that only the senior clergy leader can do.

In the book, “All for God’s Glory: Redeeming Church Scutwork”, Louis Weeks writes insightfully about the role of administration in pastoral work. 

“Church administration is exceedingly complex.  It consists of obvious tasks: making and keeping budgets; planning and assessing programs and activities; organizing worship and work efforts; enlisting officers, teachers, and staff, as well as dismissing those who cannot effectively carry out their responsibilities.  But is also consist of subtle and systemic perspectives, for good planning makes for excellent worship and nurture; mission and witness are inextricable from effective organization; deep, trusting partnership among pastor, staff and lay leadership are built on keeping promises and meeting responsibilities.”

Many senior pastors of large congregations believe that they must either adopt a Chief Executive Officer Mantle, or reject that mantle as ill suited for leading the church. Many still want to think of themselves as pastors first, but recognize that their role usually doesn’t lend itself to pastoral kinds of activities. All senior clergy leaders grapple with how to appropriately engage in pastoral care for their size congregation, and how much time to spend on preaching and teaching.  Even pastors within a year of retirement will often articulate their as yet unresolved struggle about whom to engage in personal care. The choices that must be made always come with a measure of guilt and grief, as pastor’s yield to not personally knowing the individual challenges and triumphs of their congregants. Most struggle with ways to combine their responsibility for the business of the church and their pastor’s heart for the people of the church.

 What have you learned about managing the tension between administration and ministry?

Photo Credit: nuts and bolts by maxpower

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