Here at 9Marks, one of our favorite books on pastoral ministry is Colin Marshall and Tony Payne’s The Trellis and the Vine. The main idea is simple: in the disciple-making work of Christian ministry, the real growth that churches should pursue is the growth of the vine (Christians); growing the church’s trellises (administrative structures) is important only insofar as it helps the vine to grow.
If Marshall and Payne are right, and we think they are, there are some clear implications for what kinds of staff a church should look to hire. For instance, it just might be a good thing for your second hire to be a trellis-builder: an administrative pastor.
Certainly this is not the right course of action for all situations, but I’d like to raise a few of the advantages of an administrative pastor for your consideration.
YOUR FIRST HIRE: A FAITHFUL PREACHER
The matter of first importance is to find a man gifted by God to preach the gospel and the whole counsel of Scripture, since God always saves and sanctifies through his Word. Like the apostle Paul, we have to be committed to letting everything else fail—if it has to. The preaching of the gospel and the Scriptures is the only thing that must continue (e.g., Acts 20:18-24).
That means, if a church can only hire one pastor, it should be a man gifted by God to preach the gospel and the Scriptures.
YOUR SECOND HIRE: CONSIDER AN ADMINISTRATIVE PASTOR
Nevertheless, vine growth in a church becomes easier and more efficient with good “trellises”—strategy, structures, processes, tools, and communication. Such trellises both steward our resources and relationships and promote supernatural, gospel growth.
Since my conversion thirteen years ago at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the vital importance of this trellis work in Matt Schmucker’s service as Mark Dever’s administrative pastor, and now I have the privilege of working with Jamie Dunlop, the current executive pastor, who serves the church in this same way. I’ve seen up close all the details, pastoral demands, prayers, and work that are required to run a church through my own experience of serving as Clifton Baptist Church’s administrative pastor.
Often, preaching pastors make their second hire a general-duty associate pastor. The idea is that this man will help with teaching, counseling, worship, adult education, and children and family ministries. These matters are vital to a church’s ministry, and it’s important for a pastor to get help in these areas. Yet often, an administrative pastor is not considered a key part of the team. Or if he is, the role is not considered a pastoral one. I believe this oversight has hindered much vine growth. A man who is both a pastor and an administrator best understands the nature of vine growth and stewards the trellises appropriately, because he approaches them pastorally.
This brings us to why I believe a good second hire for a pastoral team is sometimes an administrative pastor—a man who is qualified as an elder/pastor and as an administrator. As I said before, this may not be the right course of action for every church, but I’d like offer it as one possibility.
Why should the administrator be a pastor? He should be a pastor because much of the job, from the big-picture (e.g., strategy and organization) to the small details (e.g., budget line items and members’ meeting agendas), requires sound theology, pastoral discernment, regular communications, preaching and teaching, strong, servant-hearted leadership, and humble, loving diplomacy. And he should be gifted in administration, organizational strategy, and communications because his job requires him to define, build, and manage the organization and its infrastructures—the strategy, processes, tools, and people affected by the church and its ministries.
NINE MORE REASONS TO HIRE AN ADMINISTRATIVE PASTOR
Here are nine more reasons why your church might benefit from making the administrative pastor the second hire:
As the man who brings the Word of God, the preaching pastor is the natural vision and voice of any church. Nevertheless, every vision and strategy requires someone to come behind it, to drive the planning and discussion, to think through the practical details, and then to implement the nuts and bolts of it all. This takes a lot of time, patience, biblical knowledge, pastoral discernment, and hard work. This is what a good administrative pastor does in conjunction with the other pastor(s) of the church.
You might have seen the portrait of Charles Spurgeon that has a couple of men hidden in the shadows of the background. Did you notice the men in the background? The portrait serves as a gentle reminder that Spurgeon was able to minister as he did and have such success, in part, because he had such men in the background. Most, if not all, good ministries and ministers will have such people.
2. Organization and Infrastructure
Typically, strategy consultants say that an organization will only succeed to the extent that clear processes and tools are in place to build, support, and maintain that organization and its strategy. Now, gospel ministry is different because true growth comes supernaturally through the gospel. Still, there is an important stewarding of our natural resources which churches must consider in building the trellis. And this is the job of the administrative pastor. An administrative pastor’s job requires that he build and maintain processes and tools for all the parts and pieces of the church. These nuts and bolts may include:
- managing the church’s building(s) and property;
- overseeing the logistics for the regular schedule and events of the church;
- managing the administrative tasks, personalities, and details of the church staff, membership process, church finances, meetings, important church documents, and so on.
The clearest strategies and the most effective processes and tools will fail without good communication and teaching. Much of the responsibility for communication falls to the preaching pastor and elders as a whole, but the administrative pastor sits in a special position and can therefore serve as the glue that holds together the church leadership, the non-pastoral staff, and the members of the congregation. A good administrative pastor sees all the details that make up a church body and its organization. At the same time, he will, by God’s grace, maintain an eternal, Christ-centered, gospel-saturated perspective.
Practically, this will play out in the way that he communicates to all the parts of the church and diplomatically ensures that all the parts hear and understand one another. He will lead the pastors in communicating effectively to the congregation and taking advantage of the regular means of communication. Especially in a congregational polity, an administrative pastor will be very helpful in teaching and leading the congregation through important, unclear issues.
4. Member Care
A good administrative pastor will see needs among the congregation that others are not aware of. With pastoral discernment, love, and empathy, he will be able to act on behalf of the church so that they are faithful to care for one another. For example, he will assess needs and help build an effective deacon structure to cover those needs.
5. Staff Care
A good administrative pastor practically cares for the staff. For example, do they have adequate health insurance, compensation, and housing, along with a comfortable work environment? Further, he can act as a liaison between the church staff and other leaders. A good administrative pastor understands that while businesses are profit-driven, churches are relationship-driven. This is a much harder task to manage.
6. Stewardship and Finances
Much theological insight and pastoral discernment go into making a church budget and managing a church’s finances. Further, the ongoing accounting needs of a church require a man who is organized, efficient, above reproach, and trustworthy. A good administrative pastor manages and stewards a church’s resources faithfully. He uses wisdom in appointing a competent, like-minded treasurer. And he ensures that money counting and other financial processes are transparent, biblical, and effective.
7. Teaching and Discipling
An administrative pastor should have the gift of teaching. Therefore, he should be able to serve as an elder and assist in the regular teaching, discipling, and mentoring of the local church. Further, he could train and mentor other men who feel called to such a position.
8. Corporate Witness
Our God is a God of order, detail, and beauty. While a church’s physical appearance should not be the basis of our strategy for church growth and evangelistic outreach, it can subtly help or hinder a church’s witness. A good administrative pastor will put up attractive, unpretentious signs, landscape the grounds, ensure the building and grounds are safe and comfortable, work hard at informing visitors so that they can find the restrooms or other parts of the building, and so on. Such attention to practical details will encourage the community and attract the notice of visitors.
9. Glory of God
In many ways, the work of a good administrative pastor should go unnoticed. That is, if he’s doing his job well (with God’s blessing), the church should run smoothly and without too many bumps along the way, and all the while he’s standing in the shadows.
And such good work, attention to detail, and faithfulness in many small tasks will provide a solid platform for the preaching of the Word in public and private, bringing glory to God. In short, the faithful teaching and ministries of a biblically healthy church can be wonderfully enabled and enhanced by faithful management, stewardship, and administration.
Ryan Townsend is executive director of 9Marks.
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