The New Testament’s First Administrators
Pastoral ministry comes with many hardships, including administrative challenges. It’s part of the calling to be “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Cor. 4:1; cf. 2 Cor. 11:23–33).
I’ve had my fair share of admin challenges over the years. They’ve often come unannounced, demanding immediate attention. In 2008, the stock market plummeted the week I moved to Atlanta. Giving declined when the church was over a million dollars in debt. Most support staff resigned within three months of new pastoral leadership. I had to figure out the church’s operations with a notebook of outdated instructions. At one point, the sewage backed up into the children’s hall on a Sunday morning. And most painfully, in my tenth year, the financial assistant was caught embezzling thousands of dollars.
These types of challenges and countless others, big and small, can leave pastors discouraged. And this may be no fault of their own. Their church may have unrealistic expectations that they preach excellent sermons and oversee the facility. Some pastors become disgruntled because they have ministry misperception. They think ministry runs on two rails that never intersect—pastoral and admin. When the admin crosses the pastoral, they’re frustrated because it interrupts the “real” ministry of teaching and discipling.
Administrative challenges are not new to pastors and churches. In the first century, the church in Jerusalem experienced botched administration during its infancy. And the apostles’ solution to appoint servants (let’s call them the New Testament’s first “administrators”) is instructive today. From Acts 6:1–7, I want to show how good administration is a priceless service to both a church’s health and elders’ leadership.
ACTS 6:1–7: THE NEW TESTAMENT’S FIRST ADMINISTRATORS
Throughout Acts, Luke summarizes how the gospel spread: “the Word of the Lord continued to increase” (Acts 19:20; cf. 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 28:30–31). But something always threatened the church. As soon as it was birthed in Jerusalem, corruption and persecution tested its commitment (Acts 5:1–42).
In Acts 6:1–7, the apostles faced a new challenge. They struggled to care for widows as “the disciples were increasing in number” (v. 1). And with limited time and energy, the apostles couldn’t tend to benevolence and word ministry (vv. 2, 4). Both were important. But they were too much for one group. As a result of poor administrative oversight, disunity broke out among the members (v. 1). No longer were they of “one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32).
The apostles were also at a crossroads. They couldn’t forsake their primary calling. They were commissioned to preach the gospel, not “serve tables” (v. 2). But caring for widows and restoring unity were critical to the church’s health. Love and unity were at stake if “serving tables” wasn’t given due administrative attention.
In God’s providence, the apostles came up with a plan. They asked the church to pick out godly, wise men to administer the benevolence so they could devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word” (vv. 3–4). The congregation saw the wisdom in this: “what they said pleased the whole gathering” (v. 5; emphasis added). They “chose” seven men and set them before the apostles to be commissioned to service (v. 6). The church kept word and mercy ministry in proper relationship.
The seven’s administrative ministry was a significant undertaking. They were entrusted with restoring unity that was fractured along cultural lines between Hellenists and Hebraic believers. They needed wisdom for problem solving. Their solution couldn’t run roughshod over the pain of a widow who was hurt from being neglected. The church was comprised of thousands of believers. It was a high cost if they didn’t properly administer the daily distribution. A poor administrative solution would deepen the fissure. They were dealing in relational capital essential to a church’s health—love and unity. So they had to be full of the Spirit.
Whatever means the seven used to meet the need, the Lord blessed it. Luke wrote, “The Word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (v. 7). The administrative challenge of a growing church’s benevolence ministry ultimately didn’t distract from the gospel. The seven’s service proved to be a priceless gift to the apostles’ ministry and church’s unity.
LESSONS FOR OVERSEEING ADMINISTRATIVE CHALLENGES
There will be administrative challenges when believers covenant to love and provide for the needs of one another. Instead of pastors begrudging these challenges, they should find ways to oversee and utilize members to meet them. Here are some ways they can do this:
1. Find qualified, gifted servants.
Acts 6 is as a good paradigm for separating the responsibilities of elders and deacons. Deacons are to safeguard the church’s unity by meeting physical needs so elders can devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
Pastors are often overwhelmed with admin demands because they’ve undervalued the office of deacon and members’ gifts of service. They’ve taken on too much responsibility for physical needs that should be met by deacons and members. Qualified, gifted servants free a pastor of many burdens by ensuring members are cared for and ministries are coordinated.
It blesses pastors to have servants who eagerly keep Word ministry central. A servant’s instinct should be to relieve the pastor of admin burdens and members’ physical needs so he is well prepared to preach. They should ask, “What tasks might we do so Sunday School teachers have excellent lessons? How can we coordinate volunteers so children and youth teachers are ready to engage kids with the Word? Are the right people managing the finances so our elders are free to minister Scripture to members personally?” Finding qualified, gifted servants helps to ensure the Word remains central and physical needs are met.
2. Identify the pastoral implications of administration.
Not all admin responsibilities have pastoral implications. If the AC goes out, someone needs to get it fixed. But if it goes out and the church has to figure out alternative arrangements for gathering, a pastor or some elders should think through pastoral implications of those arrangements. The pastoral concern in Acts 6 was relational disunity caused by broken administration. The seven’s solution had to aim to restore unity.
Pastors should care about their church’s administrative operations. They should know them well enough to identify their pastoral implications. This is especially true of communication, finances, and facility renovations.
Take finances, for example. Treasurers and deacons can present helpful and informative financial reports at member’s meetings. But are these reports about more than finances? I believe so. They’re opportunities to set a pastoral tone and provide biblical instruction about giving and a church’s priorities. So it’s good to have an elder give the financial report and any pastoral implications.
3. Delegate with direction and encouragement.
Delegation entails the humble recognition that no pastor is omnicompetent. He needs others. And his church may be full of members with diverse gifts willing to help (1 Cor. 12:4–11). They support the elders’ leadership and are happy to serve “wherever is needed.” They just need a job with direction and encouragement.
It’s a pastor’s responsibility to explain why a ministry needs coordination. Why should members use their time and energy? What’s the purpose of overseeing administrative tasks? If members understand the elders’ vision for a ministry, they’ll often happily employ their gifts to meet it. Their hands are strengthened to serve when given clear direction.
Members also need encouragement. I often tell support staff, “Your job is to equip and resource members for ministry in the church.” Sometimes the best encouragement is to provide people the right tools for the job. An encouraging word from a pastor also goes a long way. Administration usually goes unseen and underappreciated. So a “thank you!” or “I praise God for your service!” will encourage their hearts.
Satan is cunning. He’ll use any means necessary to threaten a church’s commitment to preach the Word and maintain unity. His weapon of choice may even be a poor admin process to subvert a church’s commitment. And yet, God’s Spirit gives his church every sufficient gift for her good, including the priceless service of good administration.