It's Not All About Preaching: Why Pastors Need to Care about Administration
Our church’s pastoral interns give several hours each week to assisting our administrative staff with various tasks, and they sometimes struggle. When confronted with shoddy work, however, I’ve not infrequently heard something like “OK, so I’m not very gifted with admin. But I’m going to be a pastor, right?”
Interesting question. Do pastors need to care about administration? The classic passage in the New Testament about the division between pastoral and administrative work is Acts 6:1–7. In this passage, the apostles tell the church to select deacons to organize care for widows so that they can “devote [themselves] to prayer and to the ministry of the Word.” Yet in the Ephesian church, who assembled the list of eligible widows? Timothy, their pastor (1 Timothy 5). That example, plus the very fact that elders are often called “overseers” (Acts 20:28, 1 Tim. 3:1, Titus 1:7, etc.) would suggest that there is an administrative component to pastoring. To be sure, not every pastor is equally gifted with administration, just like not every pastor is equally gifted with counseling.
HOW PASTORS ARE INVOLVED IN ADMINISTRATION
So in what ways should pastors be involved in administration? Consider these four answers to that question.
1. Pastors set the tone for administration.
What are the goals for administration in your church? In some churches, administration is too efficiency-minded, crashing through pastoral concerns in its attempt to get things done. Elsewhere, sloppiness and carelessness is excused since it’s “ministry,” even though shoddy work defames Christ (Col. 3:23).
In the Jerusalem church, it was the apostles who defined the right goal for administration: to preserve the preaching of the Word and the unity of the church. Similarly, the pastors in your church should also set the tone. They do this in the type of administrative staff they hire, in how much money the church sets aside for administrative tools, and in the goals they set for administrative volunteers. For example, when our church launches a new diaconal position (our deacons coordinate specific ministries, like a “deacon of childcare” or a “deacon of parking”) an elder works with the deacon to determine what their goals are, often using Acts 6:1–7 as a guide.
2. Pastors identify pastoral implications of administrative tasks.
We see this point in 1 Timothy 5. Deacons may have administered the widows list but the more pastorally sensitive question of which widows qualified to be on that list was the pastor’s job, at least by the time 1 Timothy 5 was written.
You can imagine many similar questions in your church. What’s the right balance between building security and being open to visitors? How important is it that the congregation be visible to each other as you design your new meeting space? Should a divisive church member lead the ministry to international students? These questions involve tasks that are both largely administrative and highly pastoral.
That leads to two important questions: (1) as a pastor, are you familiar enough with the admin functions in your church to anticipate pastoral issues like these? And (2) do the staff and volunteers charged with managing these functions know to direct pastoral questions to a pastor?
3. Pastors oversee money in the church.
When Paul raised money to help the impoverished Christians in Judea, he also designed the accountability system for the money. In Paul’s words, “We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man” (2 Cor. 8:20–21). If this was worth the apostle Paul’s time, then surely it’s worth yours!
In particular, consider two ways that pastors should be involved in overseeing the use of money. First, pastors should ensure that someone they trust has reviewed the financial controls the church is using. After all, if something unethical happens, most in the congregation will assume that the buck stops with them (literally). Second, pastors should ensure that the money spent in the church budget is going to worthy causes.
4. Pastors communicate.
As a pastor, be on the lookout for administrative issues that have a pastoral dimension. Make sure you’re the one speaking with the church about those things. I think there are three categories of administrative issues that warrant pastoral communication: (1) issues that affect your unity as a congregation (e.g. in some churches, the color of the carpet); (2) issues that touch on what makes a church a church (e.g. how many people should our new building seat); (3) issues that provide opportunities for pastoral instruction (e.g. what should we do about the recent slowdown in giving).
HOPE FOR ADMINISTRATIVELY-CHALLENGED PASTORS
If you’re cringing right now, I can sympathize. I don’t want this article to be one of those “and a pastor also has to be an expert in X and Y and Z!” articles. So let me leave you with two pieces of help if you feel you’re administratively-challenged.
1. You can lean on others.
Especially in categories two and three above, these are things you need to ensure get done, but you don’t need to be the one who does them. Those who assist you may have the title of deacon, or they may simply be administratively-minded and want to help. Either way, no matter your level of giftedness in this area, you should lean on others.
2. You can grow.
I’ve been impressed watching our pastoral interns over the years. Many of the “administratively-challenged” become quite capable administrators. How? Not mainly by reading books or by attending seminars, but simply by working to shepherd well because good shepherding will stretch some administrative muscles. Being an overseer is part of being a pastor, so we shouldn’t be surprised that God’s call on a man to pastor is often supplemented over time with gifts to administer.