In my first parish I handled not only the care of souls but all the support services as well. It was a great help in succeeding locations to have some clerical assistance.
In the mission congregation I served, church meetings, midweek services, and youth instruction happened in the family room on the lower level of our home. Once each week a volunteer came over and did the printing for Sunday morning on a donated mimeograph machine. Leaders at that mission told me early on I needed to focus on preaching and the Word of God while they provided these essential volunteer services.
Some years later I was called to a large suburban parish with a Christian day school, a full complement of classroom teachers, principal, youth worker, two pastors, three administrative assistants, and a parish administrator. I went the full gamut from serving a flock that could fit in my living room to one that filled a large sanctuary twice over on a Sunday morning.
I can confidently tell you that no matter how simple or complex the setting, the challenge always remained the same: to keep the main thing the main thing, to not allow the tail to wag the dog, to keep the focus on the divine means of the Holy Spirit by which alone the church is built and nourished: the gospel and sacraments.
I can also confidently tell you that the degree of attention and planning involved in management/administration expands with the size of the church.
This can easily intrude on both the quantity and quality of your distinctly pastoral duties. Savvy and spiritually mature lay leadership can help evaluate the need for support staff to ensure that, just as in the Jerusalem congregation, those who serve in Jesus’ name don’t set aside prayer and the ministry of the word to wait on tables.
Ministry and administration belong together. Yet they are not interchangeable; the latter serves the former. Don’t get this mixed up and set aside the one thing needful to be busy and preoccupied with many other things.
Only the ministry of the gospel and sacrament feeds and nourishes Christ’s flock and cares for their souls; this and this alone remains primary. Everything else, as helpful as it might be, is secondary.
But it takes planning to keep your priorities in order.
What’s your church administration plan?
You know that planning is involved in every human venture. From managing your household calendar to going on a family vacation, it all takes a certain amount of planning. The more people involved and the more complex the project, the more planning is needed. This is just common sense.
Now hear me clearly on this. I’m not implying that you can make your church grow through the planning process. The operative power for the church’s life—whether in evangelization or the care of souls—always remains the Holy Spirit working through his means.
In my dad’s farming operation he knew that the operative force in his crop or animal production was not based on his strategies, planning, management, or hard work. Horticulture and animal husbandry are rooted in the forces of God the Father’s creative power; a combination of the plant and animal genetics built into his creation and nurtured by sun, soil, and water. In a very real sense, my father was merely a manager of God’s good creation. He didn’t cause the growth; he merely managed it. But he worked vigorously to manage it well.
I think that’s the posture you and I need when it comes to leadership, administration, and planning as pastors. We’re not the creators; we’re only the managers. We can’t cause the growth or success of our congregation or ministry any more than my dad could produce a corn crop or raise quality beef, pork, or chickens. He simply managed what God created. So do we.
The church is God’s own creation, the holy bride of Christ created and nurtured by the blood and water that flowed from his crucified side. You and I as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries merely manage his good gifts in order to faithfully serve the sheep and lambs of Jesus and to gather his other sheep into his fold now and eternally.
This post is adapted from Church Leadership and Strategy: For the Care of Souls by Harold L. Senkbeil and Lucas V. Woodford. The title and subheads are the additions of an editor.