The Pastor as Church Administrator

HARTZELL SPENCE sets forth the essential qualifications of the minister in the following way: "To be worth his salt, a preacher must be sincerely pious, narrow to the point of bigotry in his private life, a master politician with both his parish and the higher church organization, and a financial juggler just one step up the heavenly ladder from Wall Street. Above all, he must have a quick wit, the courage of a first-century martyr, and a stomach that will not complain of meager rations. . .

-member of the faculty of the Department of Religion at Columbia Union College at the time this article was written

HARTZELL SPENCE sets forth the essential qualifications of the minister in the following way: "To be worth his salt, a preacher must be sincerely pious, narrow to the point of bigotry in his private life, a master politician with both his parish and the higher church organization, and a financial juggler just one step up the heavenly ladder from Wall Street. Above all, he must have a quick wit, the courage of a first-century martyr, and a stomach that will not complain of meager rations. If he possesses these qualities and a wife who will neither offend anyone nor out shine her husband, he is eligible for a country parish." 1

Additional qualifications are needed for the urban parishes and higher of fices. "An unimpeachable respect for his own ability, the oratorical fire of Savonarola, the organizational genius of a minority politician, and, if possible, a couple of sons studying for the ministry. If, in addition, he is adept at flattery, he may eventually become a bishop." 2

If such a standard were to become the professional norm for the ministry, then the aspirant for the ecclesiastical cloth might weigh himself in the light of the expectations and be "found wanting"! Notwithstanding, many ministers feel and are sensitive to the pressures of a "perplexed profession" 3 straddling the horns of the ministerial dilemma: priority of task.

In Samuel Blizzard's study of ministerial roles, the ministers ranked the traditional roles of preacher, pastor, and priest as the most important and rewarding functions, while administration ranked next to last. On the other hand, when the ministers re ported how much time was actually spent in the various functions, administration topped the list.4 Most ministers are not satisfied with the disproportionate amount of time given to administration. Yet they realize that administration is important.

In this article I propose to deal with two issues. First, a proper understanding of the meaning and values of church administration, and second, a proper relating of this function to the pastor's total ministry.

Church Administration Theologically Oriented

Church administration suffers primarily from two abuses, namely, a misunderstanding of its essential nature and a perversion of its potential values. Some pastors become frustrated because they perceive administration to be mere mechanical procedures and methods, a necessary evil in an otherwise "spiritual ministry." Others go blindly "using" people for the sake of statistical goals and "busyness."

However, administration does not have to contribute to the "virtual paralysis of self-preoccupation, the organizational sclerosis, the hardening of the institutional arteries." 5 At its best it becomes the way the church renews itself for its work of ministry.

Perhaps the key to the administrative dilemma is to be found in the minister and his concept of administration. Administration is not oiling ecclesiastical machinery or spinning wheels of organization, but it is the body of Christ equipping itself for mission.

When church tasks proliferate or become traditional or routine, it is salutary to hold them up under the light of Christian understanding and examine them in terms of ultimate gospel goals. In the true sense, church administration is actual involvement in the accomplishment of gospel goals, and it must be judged, evaluated, and clarified by Biblical realities.

Surprisingly, there is a Biblical basis for church administration. The New Testament church organized to perform its ministry in meeting the needs that arose in the church and in the community. The "bishops" or "overseers" were the respected appointed leaders of the churches. The term episkopos, usually translated "bishop" or "over seer," may well be translated "administrator." "Bishop" was probably synonymous with "elder" or "presbyter" in many instances.6 His functional role is, according to Luke, to feed and lead (Acts 20:28).

Church administration must never be perceived as "secular," in contrast to the "spiritual" ministries of the pas tor. Rather it is the spiritual oversight of the church, with a view to leading God's people to "grow up in Christ" in the very performance of the church's ministry.

The ministry developed in the New Testament on the basis of needs (see Acts 6). Its development was characterized by function and flexibility. There is no "blueprint" nor organizational chart available in the New Testament. Attempts to bring order to its activities were made from the stand point of the practical. Changes were made to fulfill need, not to create of fices. The main things to be noted about the administration of the New Testament are the flexibility of its structure, the genuineness of men's trust in God and love for each other, the awareness of the church as a Spirit-filled community, and the ever-present "functional" approach. Administration is not a fixed, static method of doing things, but is closely related to ministering, or serving.

Essentials for Spiritual Administration

If spiritual values are to be realized in church administration certain basic presuppositions are necessary.

1. There must be a proper under standing of the nature of the church and its ministry, for the pastor's ministry is the church's ministry. The church is first of all a spiritual fellow ship of redeemed persons.7

2. A proper concept of personal values is necessary for the realization of spiritual goals in church promotion. Administration is not the psychological manipulation of people to achieve statistical and mechanical ends. It should be related to the growth of persons who have been called by Christ, who loves them for their own sakes.

3. A sound philosophy of activity is essential in the church. There are two extreme views concerning activity in the church the philosophy of "activism," which assumes that mere busyness in the church is a sign of spiritual progress, and the philosophy of "passivism," which assumes that quiet contemplation and withdrawal from the world is the answer to the world's needs.

4. In the pursuit of spiritual goals in church administration the proper relating of techniques to motivations is necessary. In an industrial age there is a tendency for the church to take the cue from business administration in the pursuit of its task, viz., the "success" motivation, the managerial executive, the organizational loyalty, the mass productivity, the statistical quota. The church cannot pursue its spiritual goals by "uncritically importing the techniques of the business corporation." 8

5. There is also the necessity of seeking for depth communication if we are to realize spiritual values in church promotion. Church promotion is more than a bold and gaudily colored head line in a special issue of the church bulletin or a more-or-less brief, dramatic commercial sugar-coated with a few pious phrases and "sandwiched" in between the call to worship and the singing of the morning anthem. Rather it is the communication of the gospel, the sharing of the kerygma with hungry hearts.

Church Administration and the Minister

There is a need for the pastor to relate his own attitudes to the administrative function of his ministry. All functions of the church's ministry call for personal oversight worship, evangelism, missions, teaching, stewardship of giving, indeed, the total stewardship of the whole of life. After all, not only must the hungry sheep be fed but they must also be guided and sheared and kept within the fold.

In order that the pastor may properly relate in this comprehensive sphere, we will suggest three features vital to successful administration.

1. Bringing Creativity to His Task. Fresh insight and the adventurous spirit are important personal ingredients if the church is to avoid becoming "a coffin drifting against the rugged rocks," as William Bone expressed it. History teaches that the bane of every church is crystallization and conformity. Individual initiative is a quality without which creativeness cannot long live.

The pastor will make a place for creative planning in his work schedule. Dimock declares that "no one can organize others until he has successfully organized himself." 9 The pastor should have a definite sense of time stewardship, as Sangster has urged. 10 A worthy program and effective promotion demand creative study and planning just as good sermonizing and planned worship.

In the process of creative planning, the pastor and other leaders of the local church should keep a wise balance between the use of their own ideas and the helpful ideas obtained from outside sources. He who refuses to utilize other people's ideas will soon become impoverished in his own ideas. On the other hand, he who swallows vast amounts of material from outside sources without masticating and assimilating it into his own thought processes will likely suffer from promotional indigestion. The use of materials, from whatever source, calls for selectivity and personal appropriation by the group involved if a program is to come alive.

2. Sharing the Leadership. A lesson can be learned from the business executive concerning the delegating of responsibility, not to mention the initiative of Jethro recorded in Exodus 18. Too many ministers have an Elijah complex, "And I, even I only, am left," when it conies to delegating responsibility to others. The business executive operates with an understanding of the "arithmetic of executive leadership." He knows that he can multiply by dividing. He can increase the efficiency of his work by delegating as much responsibility as is practical.

The best leadership in the church is a shared leadership. Such a concept is not without theological precedent, since the New Testament does not divide the saints into the "clergy" and the "laity." All are servants, ministers (diakonoi) of the Lord.

A good executive selects competent and qualified people and helps them clarify their duties and responsibilities. He delegates responsibility to them, and shows faith in their ability to carry through successfully their accepted assignments. He concentrates his attention upon the growth of the persons and the development of leadership. He knows how to enlist the help of people.

3. Providing Authentic Personal Leadership. The pastor must also provide authentic personal leadership. Henry Van Dyke once declared that the world moves by personality. All of the great currents of history have flowed from persons, he said.

A leader must always be authentic in his personhood. People will rally about the pastor who is genuine in his motive and spirit, and who shares an earnest enthusiasm. Unless the fires of a holy zeal burn within the pastor it is not likely that the fires of concern will be kindled upon the altars of other hearts.

The authenticity and strength of pastoral leadership are, of course, discovered in the pastor's sense of ultimate dependence upon God's power. Recognizing the limitations of his own magnetism, regardless of how many or how few his gifts, he will seek wisdom from above, which brings illumination, discernment, judgment, and spiritual power for effective leadership.

Pastor Functions "Pastorally"

A Christian parish is certainly not something that one runs like a locomotive; it certainly is not administered like a corporation. The pastor does not play the role of boss or commander in the sense that he exercises power over people or manipulates them. Nor is he the "executive" of the organization in the sense that he runs the show by sheer adroitness and power of influence.

There is no clearer way of describing the role of the pastor as leader than to say that he functions "pastorally." He gives his people leadership that is pastoral in spirit and concern. Together with his flock he stands responsible under the Word of God, the highest authority in the church. The terms authoritarian, democratic, and laissez faire are not appropriate at all, although, under the right conditions, all three types of leadership are legitimate and effective if they are exercised in harmony with Biblical principles, for the welfare of the people, and in relation to specific needs.

When persons are viewed as cogs in a machine the project or program usually gains the priority over the persons involved, and their real and felt needs are ignored. When the pastor confuses ends and means and forgets that his primary consideration is always what is happening to the people in terms of growth in faith and service, he may attempt to put the welfare of the machinery of the church ahead of the welfare of its members.

It is almost trite to suggest that the proper pastoral leadership will serve to make the welfare of the organization and of its members one and the same thing. Success fever, however, may short-circuit the proper objective of diakonia, and the pastor may seek his personal success in a smoothly operating system of boards and committees, becoming an "organization man" who, having forsaken the view of his people's "being the children of God," worships the idol of "doing the work of the church."

Pastors may become either popes or puppets. A "pope" usually carries his responsibility quite heavily. A "puppet" will carry it quite lightly. Pastors may become either funnels or bottlenecks. As funnels they fulfill their rightful purpose of pouring in the grace of God. As bottlenecks they dam up the channels of grace, stifle growth, and choke off service.

Although the pastor's professional equipment may include enough grasp of the ways and means of the organizational processes, and the dynamics involved in leading people toward realizing the purposes of the church, his strong and optimistic faith in the power of the gospel in the lives of people will breathe new life into the people he leads. His burning conviction as he works with God's church will transmit assurance, enthusiasm, and value to every activity. His readiness to serve will inspire service, and his goal will give meaning and direction to the people.


1. Hartzell Spence, One Foot in Heaven, The Life of a Practical Parson (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1940), p. 9.

2. Ibid., p. 9.

3. H. Richard Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry (New York: Harpers, 1956), p. 48.

4. Samuel W. Blizzard, "The Minister's Dilemma," The Christian Century, April 25, 1956.

5. Robert Clyde Johnson, "The Posture of the Church" in Robert Clyde Johnson (ed.), The Church and Its Changing Ministry (United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., 1962), p. 2.

6. Thomas M. Lindsay, The Church and the Ministry in the Early Centuries (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1902), pp. 145f. See also Titus 1:5-9.

7. See S. A. Newman, "The Ministry in the New Testament Churches," in Duke K. McCall (ed.), What Is the Church? (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1958). See also Emil Brunner, Harold Knight (trans.), The Misunderstanding of the Church (London: Lutterworth Press, 1952).

8. W. H. Kirkland, "The Organization Man and the Ministry," The Christian Century, LXIV (April 23,1958), p. 493.

9. Marshall E. Dimock, The Executive in Action (New York: Harper and Bros., 1945), p. 1.

10. See W. E. Sangster, The Approach to Preaching (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1952).

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-member of the faculty of the Department of Religion at Columbia Union College at the time this article was written

November 1975

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