Administrators: Playing with Calculators or Building Up the Body of Christ?
Every year I go on a retreat with administrative pastors from like-minded churches. And every year, Alex Duke (9Marks editor and my coworker at church) makes fun of me. “ What are you guys going to do? Pull out your TI83 calculators? Look at a bunch of spreadsheets together?” Ha ha ha.
Jokes aside, the average member of my church (and I’d assume other churches as well) does not have a good idea of what an administrative pastor actually does. Vague thoughts of building maintenance or paying the bills are usually what people have in mind. Sure, we often handle those things or supervise someone else who does. But being an administrative pastor is much more than that. At the end of the day, good administration is necessary for a healthy church.
What’s Administration—and Who’s Good for It?
What is administration? Likely, one of the first things we think about when we hear the word administration is government: “Under my administration…” or “This administration has done….” Has the church today co-opted this word? I don’t think so.
The word can be translated a few different ways: administering, leadership, or even governing. In other words, it involves leading or guiding. The apostle Paul also lists administration as a spiritual gift (Rom. 12:8 and 1 Cor. 12:28). The Holy Spirit has equipped some people in the church in this way so that they might build up the body of Christ.
So how do you know if you are gifted for administration in the church?
I’ve seen many people from different backgrounds succeed in administration, but one common characteristic seems to be an ability to focus on details. Detail-oriented people often find their way into administrative roles. Sometimes this characteristic is indicative of someone being supernaturally gifted in administration. In this case, and like other gifts, administration can be nourished and improved. There are naturally gifted teachers and preachers, but even these people can improve their gifts and skills by practicing them and learning from others.
What kind of board game player are you? Do you like to jump in and learn as you go? Or do you want to open the manual, read the rules, and understand them before you play? I would guess that many administrative pastors belong to the latter group. We can call this the “board game rule of thumb.” (Administrative pastors are also often very creative!) Often, church administration is not unlike playing a very complex board game. I’m not talking about Settlers of Catan. That’s just a gateway board game. My eight-year-old can play that. I’m talking about Agricola, a real board game. Of course, leading a church in the area of administration is not a game. The people are real, and the stakes can be high. And how you administrate can either harm or help.
Why Good Administration Is Important
Administration is not only biblical; it’s necessary. It might not be your thing, but it can’t be ignored. Someone needs to know all the rules or policies and be able to administer them correctly. Without clear rules (a constitution and accompanying policies), a group of individuals is likely to fall into either tyranny or anarchy. The church is no different.
Therefore, I’d argue that an administrative person is one of the most critical positions a church can hire. As a lead pastor in a small but growing church, you’re often faced with the question of whom to hire first. Should you hire someone to help with worship gatherings? Should you hire someone to handle missions or discipleship? It depends somewhat on the skillset of each lead pastor, but I would argue that the first hire generally should be someone who can help in administration. This is especially true if the lead pastor is not gifted in administration.
Of course, administration and policies cannot simply be taken from one church and plugged into another. Administrative structures and policies vary from church to church. This is because policies are regularly created in the wake of a problem to prevent the problem from coming up again. Regardless of having first-hand experience with a problem or not, policies for things like handling money, child safety, and appointing leaders are necessary. Introducing a new policy is a wisdom issue. Hopefully, you’ll have a plurality of elders to help you make these decisions, but it often falls to those in administration to lead the way.
What does someone involved in administration actually do? Everything from handling finances to building upkeep and renovations to the oft-overlooked development of various church-related policies. These three tasks may seem tedious, but they’re extremely valuable to a healthy, happy church.
You may not be able to find chapter and verse to demonstrate their importance, but even the early church found similar issues popping up. For example, Acts 6 features an administration issue. There was a dispute in the church, and with it came potential division and distraction. The Greek-speaking Christians felt neglected relative to the Hebrew-speaking Christians. The apostles stepped in to create a new team of servants to address this issue. Many believe they were the first deacons. These servants helped to preserve the church’s unity by way of their administration.
It’s no different in our churches today. Sometimes unforeseen problems arise, and we must react. Problem-solving is at the heart of good administration. In my experience, being trained as an engineer has often proved helpful in church administration because engineering school is basically four years of problem-solving. Seeing problems in advance and creating systems or policies to avoid them is a big part of my job. Reacting to problems and figuring out how to solve them is just as important.
I would wager that many churches learned valuable administration and problem-solving lessons over the last couple of years. I doubt that many churches had pandemic policies in place before 2020. Did your church create any new policies during the pandemic? We can debate the merits of having a livestream and whom you should allow to watch it if it’s not public. But how many churches started a livestream during the pandemic and now can’t figure out how to turn it off or at least limit who has access to it? Without a policy for its use, there will always be a tendency toward what’s easiest. Once the livestream has been started, it’s easy to just keep it going because turning it off will require hard conversations. “Are you saying that you don’t want people to hear the gospel? That’s unloving. That’s limiting your reach.” Maybe. Or maybe you need to have a challenging conversation with someone, so they will start coming back to church, where people gather in person. This is just one example of what it looks like to think through a problem and come to a solution that seeks to love and protect the flock.
Good administration and good administrators are a gift from God. Don’t neglect these gifts just because they seem boring or nerdy. That may be true, but God has given these gifts to build up and protect the unity of the church.