In Praise of Administration

[Note: After a helpful conversation with a friend, I’ve edited this post to speak more clearly to the structure and organizational ministry in local congregations, realizing that “administration” is used in 1 Corinthians more to highlight the work of elders ruling in the church. Since the article was more focused on the organizational side of administration, I’ve made some word changes to reflect that.]

“I’m not gifted in organization.”

I’ve said that. Many pastors I know have said the same thing. When you hear a pastor say that, it may be an attempted excuse for why the life of the church is a muddied mess and something fell through the cracks, again. There’s often some truth to it. Not everyone is naturally gifted at organization and organizational leadership. And so, for almost a decade of pastoral ministry, I chanted the mantra in order to explain why our church calendar wasn’t up-to-date and why my expense reports were months late. It’s true that I’m not great at it. But the wider truth is that I don’t like to do administrative work, so I just don’t. 

It is also true that some in the church are more gifted by God in this area, but that can excuse poor congregational organization no more than having a pastor excuses us from having to know and minister the Word to others.

Properly executed, good structure and organization in a congregation is unseen but vital. It’s like your skeleton. You haven’t thought about your skeleton today, but it’s giving support and shape to everything you do. So good organization gives the necessary substructure to church life and the things that shape us eternally.

I’ve been able to see firsthand the blessings of this done well and the problems of it done poorly. Done well, hard work in this area keeps the congregation informed, and therefore keeps the congregation more involved. Poor organization, on the other hand, keeps the congregation in the dark and will greatly decrease involvement. I can’t count how many times early in our church’s life people were frustrated by last minute announcements and changes to the calendar (a calendar many didn’t know even existed!).

On a deeper level, good structure and organization is a way to help each church member feel loved and valued. A few years ago, I was working with a very small congregation during a time of transition. Despite being very small, it became apparent that the church family wasn’t on the same page about some very basic things: people were showing up to services that had been cancelled, others who had been in the church for over five years didn’t know how they could sign up to help clean, etc. The result was that many people often had their feelings hurt, and perhaps rightly so. Good communication and good planning go a long way to showing people how much you value them and want them to be involved. Poor planning presumes on people’s schedules and often communicates that you don’t value their input much.

Good organization is also vital to a church’s faithfulness and perceived faithfulness, especially in the area of finances. Caring for a congregation’s finances is an incredibly difficult and tedious job, but its importance could hardly be exaggerated. Running the finances well enables a congregation to be transparent and, ultimately, more generous with the gifts God grants. Poor financial administration tends to arouse suspicion, even where no sins have been committed, and lessens the church’s ability to be generous and responsive to need with their finances.

Before I end, allow me a public word of thanks. I’m very grateful to Immanuel RPC for putting up with some “lean years” while I fumbled about in these matters. They continue to be patient as we work to learn greater effectiveness in ministry. I’m also incredibly grateful to our secretary, Jean Bibby, whose help has, in unseen ways, blessed our church family in many ways. She has single-handedly made my work more joyful and more effective, too.

Some closing thoughts:

  • If your church family is well-run and everyone’s on the same page, thank someone. Whether it’s your pastor or another helper, someone is working behind the scenes. Be grateful. It’s hard work which rarely gets recognized.
  • If your church family needs to make up some ground in organization and structure, volunteer to help. Many pastors of smaller congregations are simply overwhelmed with their workload and would greatly appreciate someone volunteering to make the bulletin, run the facebook page, organize the church cleaning schedule, update the website, etc. How can you help?
  • To my fellow pastors: let’s stop making excuses, let’s work harder at this, and let’s get help. Be humble enough to ask your church family for help. Moses learned this lesson from Jethro, we can learn it from him (Exo. 18:12ff).
  • In today’s technological society, it’s probably necessary to use various tools and platforms for communicating to the congregation. If you make announcements only on Sunday morning, you should expect only about half to hear and remember that announcement. But if you put the announcement in the bulletin, in an emailed newsletter and on your church’s facebook page, you’ll get a lot closer to everyone getting the message. (There are other tools you can use to help you cover all these bases much more quickly.)
  • I’d love for others to comment with tools, tricks and ideas you’ve seen be useful in your church’s life.

9 Comments

  1. Pete March 16, 2016 at 9:03 am #

    Good stuff. I also have an effective and efficient administrator – very thankful for Autumn Butler. Makes life in the church much easier. And what you’ve written here is also true for the home. Bad administration in the home is disasterous for the family. Stress, debt, tardiness, anger, exasperation, etc can all result.

  2. Evelyn March 17, 2016 at 7:49 am #

    We are a very small reformed congregation of about 50 communing members. Our bulletin and email are our chief communicating tools.vwe are on SermonAudio. Our freebie website recently went down. Do you have suggestions on companies who build websites for small churches. I think we can maintain a site once it’s up. Can you recommend any other tools of communication? Is a FB page really helpful? Keeping info current and relevant takes a strong admin person, for sure!

    • Keith March 17, 2016 at 12:44 pm #

      Greetings Evelyn!

      There are a number of companies that advertise in the various church periodicals that do website building and can assist with maintenance if needed. My suggestion is to contact at least 3 local para-church or non-profit groups and see who they use and check them out. A word of caution; church websites must be excellent or one is better off not having one at all. When someone is in church shopping mode the first thing they do is check out the website (having a website is assumed). If the info is out of date, all template based, pages have “coming soon” messages, etc they will never, ever come visit.

      Internal and external communications need to include the bulletin, blast emails, text messages, website, pastor’s blog, Twitter, Facebook, and Periscope. I know that looks like a ridiculous amount and type of communicating but that’s what people expect now. Facebook along with our website is critical for us and has been an excellent way to inform, promote and direct.

      All the best!

    • Keith March 17, 2016 at 12:47 pm #

      I hit the send button and then realized that I left out an important bit of info:

      Don’t hesitate to spread the word around the church family about the need for more and improved online communications. There may be a family that would be willing to underwrite the costs and know of someone competent and trustworthy to actually do the work.

      I don’t know the demographics of your church family but don’t hesitate to contact your local high school. Ask the high schoolers in your church about it. I have seen some surprising and wonderful things happen when older teens are involved in “big church” responsibilities.

    • Zachary April 1, 2016 at 8:04 pm #

      Hi Evelyn,

      I’d like to put in a brief plug for squarespace.com. Our small congregation had a talented web designer who created our site initially, but when she left there was no one to keep it up-to-date. We tried out Squarespace, and found it to be an excellent and easy (and cheap) way to make a very professional-looking website for our congregation that looks good and is easy to maintain. That being said, there still needs to be someone with the role of making updates as needed, but as far as tools go, I would highly recommend it.

      Zachary

  3. Keith March 17, 2016 at 9:14 am #

    Thank you, a thoughtfully written article.

    I have been in church and para-church administration in a variety of capacities over the years, both paid and unpaid. Annual budgets varied from $120K to $6M. Staff sizes varied from 3 to 115. Church life cycles varied from slow death to maintain status quo to growth so fast it was like being in a catapult.

    One of the mysteries to me, even after all these years, is why the pastor(s) don’t utilize our skills and wisdom as much as they could or should. We are your collaborator and confidant, not your competition. We are a way to help you lead the church family. We are a way to help reduce the pressure on you, your family, and your ministry.

    I have said it many times and sometimes it was poorly received: “Pastors, in general, are not wired/gifted for excellent administration. Let us help you with that.”

    Sometimes we have to say “no” or “not yet” or “be very careful” but there is a reason and we will explain if you let us. Please don’t react with passive aggressive behavior or punish us. If you are new to this church family we are able to share “tribal knowledge” that can spare you some major grief or prepare you a pleasant surprise. Ask us!

    We are more than receptionists and typists.

    If you have read this far thank you for tolerating my rant; “I feel much better now doctor”.

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