Raising the Bar in Tough Times

In this uncertain economy, with so many churches scrambling to reduce expenses, the role of the church administrator inevitably will come under the bright light of scrutiny. Because of this uncertainty, church administrators need to spend time reflecting on ways to showcase—and increase—our value to the churches we serve.

Nearly half of the 1,168 churches surveyed by Your Church magazine earlier this year indicated giving at their churches was on the decline (click here for the full report). Personnel costs usually consume between 45 percent and 60 percent of a church's budget, so that makes it fertile ground for reducing expenses. And as a senior pastor or key decision-maker looks across the staff, the cost of the church administrator might appear more tempting a fruit to pluck off the vine than other staff positions because the perception is that the administrator does not have the direct impact on ministry that other church positions offer.

The administrator usually doesn't preach, doesn't counsel, doesn't meet with new families, doesn't lead programs, or possess nearly as public of a face as other staff members. It could be suggested, albeit incorrectly in my opinion, that a church could release a church administrator and not see a direct impact to the ongoing ministries of the church. That kind of reasoning is wholly short-sighted, but perhaps understandable in tough economic times like these.

That's why we must demonstrate our value and find ways to further expand that value, not just to lessen the likelihood we'll lose our jobs, but also for the far more noble desire to increase our impact in Christ's Kingdom. We want to become more valuable because we can and, because in so doing, we'll gain the fulfillment that comes from knowing we have made a difference in our world through the Gospel.

The role of church administrator is one of efficiency and productivity. It allows the church organization to function smoothly and effectively. It involves processes and systems that indirectly, yet significantly, impact the people we serve in our churches. The church administrator often works behind the scenes to ensure resources are wisely and efficiently used. The church administrator also creates and implements policies and systems that promote harmony, decrease ambiguity and confusion, and allow for greater productivity and impact toward the church's mission.

Here's how to showcase these very important qualities and raise the bar even higher:

First, understand the ways we can increase our value to the church in general. As administrators who oversee the church budget, we have a breadth of information that allows us to leverage our value to the church in ways that others cannot:

• For instance, nobody knows the budget better than we do. Create value by making sure that the budget is combed regularly for ways to decrease expenses, spend money more efficiently, and increase productivity within the church's resources. Our expertise in that area, managed proactively and missionally (not reactively and bureaucratically), can create critical value for our church.

• Develop rapport with volunteers. Our role easily can take us out of the flow of ministry to the point that we are not regularly interacting with, and relating to, the volunteers who serve as the backbones of our churches. Get out of your office, get to know people, show up at events, and support and encourage people. Allow others to see you as one of the leaders cheering them on in their volunteer ministries.

• Volunteer and impact people! Do something outside the scope of paid responsibilities. Help in the nursery, teach a Sunday school class, lead a Bible study, or volunteer with the landscaping crew. My wife and I lead a ministry to newlyweds. It's not in my job description, but it helps me to contribute my own time and gifts toward the mission of the church—to impact people. By doing this, I'm no longer a "bean counter." I'm in the ministry trenches along with everybody else, volunteering my own time to see God do something awesome.

• Look for voids to fill. What ministry isn't working the way the leadership would like? How can we fill a need in the church that isn't being met?

• Voluntarily expand your job description. Take on new roles. What new responsibilities could be added to our plate to increase our contribution to the whole? Can we absorb the responsibilities of the internal accountant, doing payables, payroll, and so on? Can we assume the responsibilities of network administration, perhaps freeing up money used for outside vendors? Be creative and willing to stretch yourself.

• Be a self-learner and develop a diverse skill set. What can we learn that will be of value to our church? What skills can we develop for an expanding role? Skills and proficiencies like PC repair, desktop publishing, simple web design and programming, network administration, and others can be picked up (sometimes at no cost) from a local adult vocational school.

• Be willing to assume more administrative functions. At General Electric, where I spent 12 years, a supervisor managed 20 to 30 people with only one secretary. Develop the ability to do your own administrative work and rely less on secretaries.

• How about public speaking or preaching? I know many people who joined Toastmasters just to help them develop the ability to speak well in public. The next time your pastor is away, perhaps you can step into the pulpit.

Second, increase our value with the staffs on which we serve. Unfortunately, I hear too many stories of how the administrator is viewed as the "kill-joy." We're the person who says "no" before the associate pastor finishes his sentence. Our responses are too predictable: "It's against policy," "It's not in the budget," or "It's too big of a liability," among others.

We should strive to be seen by our staff as allies. We want to be part of the solutions—part of the creative processes that bring dreams into reality. We want to enable ministry, not control it. Here are some ideas on how to do this:

• Be a mentor and a coach. Many of us took our roles as second careers, meaning we possess seniority over other staff members. We've been bankers, entrepreneurs, executives, and managers, and we enjoy organizational experience and relational wisdom that can help younger staff members. Because of those qualities, we bring a breadth of experience that allows us to mentor them in helpful ways. Many books cover the generational collisions taking place in many of our churches as Millennials join our staffs. As a friend and a coach, our contributions will improve the overall health of the staff.

• Be a problem-solver. Modern leadership theories point out the value of a leader who identifies and removes obstacles standing between employees and their goals. We must stay close to our staffs in order to understand their frustrations and the obstacles they are trying to get beyond. Find creative ways to help them. A person who can help remove obstacles to effective ministry will become both very popular and a valuable part of a church staff.

• Be a stabilizing influence on the staff. As church staffs become a colorful collection of varying personality types, ages, and generational values, we can serve as agents of grace, stability, and encouragement to staffs. We can be a positive force, bringing people together, building cohesiveness, and keeping the focus on the big picture. We often are looked upon as the seasoned professional who has "been there before." Use this to bring a sense of calm.

Third, we should look for ways to increase our value to senior pastors. In many churches, the relationship between the administrator and the senior pastor already is a close one. The two typically work closely and cooperatively together. There is a collegiality needed that goes beyond the pastor's relationships with other staff members. Yet even in that unique dynamic, we can increase our service and our value to the lead pastor:

• Assume unwanted responsibilities. Look for responsibilities that the pastor dislikes or struggles to accomplish. Most pastors love to preach, but as George Barna says, "Leadership, for most pastors, is just one of those unfortunate duties they must endure as part of the deal that allows them to do that which really turns them on—preaching and teaching." Look for the things that crowd the pastor's schedule, the things that drain his or her energy, the things that they wish they could avoid. What can you pick up? Consider things like organizing staff agendas, scheduling baptisms and baby dedications, meeting with parents, tracking hospital calls, and recognizing birthdays. Regularly converse with the pastor, asking what can be done to relieve their schedule.

• Become a planner. Most pastors are not planners. They value those who can help with planning in the short term and the long term. Be proactive in planning future events, setting goals, and tracking goal achievement. Maintain a calendar and help keep the pastor ahead of the planning curve so that he or she looks good to the staff and board.

• Anticipate change and prepare for it. Change is difficult to manage, as evidenced by the hundreds of books written about how to successfully manage change. When a ministry transition is coming, be proactive and map out the steps required for successful implementation. Again, most pastors appreciate help with planning.

• Understand the pastor's vision. Pastors are challenged by getting the staff to understand and coalesce around the vision. Pastors sometimes wonder, "Does anybody get it?" We should sit down with our pastor and express our desire to be one of their greatest advocates in casting vision and encouraging buy-in. We must get to know how they feel and think so that we can accurately support them among staff and church members.

• Make your pastor successful. Every leader values someone committed to their success. The role of a church administrator is largely to steer the ship in the direction set out by the pastor. It is a supportive role. Be loyal to a fault. When the pastor clearly understands that our goal is to ensure the successful execution of their vision, our value exponentially increases.

• Ask for a performance review. We need to understand the pastor's expectations for us and our position. How can we hit a bullseye that we cannot see? A review of some kind will help us to see our performance through our pastor's eyes. Get a clear understanding of expectations and then commit yourself to go beyond.

Finally, work to keep growing personally and professionally. A person who is a learner, who is inquisitive about new ideas and new ministry trends, ways to innovate, and ways to accomplish goals creatively will be very valuable to any church. We cannot afford to stagnate in our professional lives, and perhaps even more importantly, our spiritual lives. We must grow closer to Christ so that our journey of faith grows in its influence on the world around us. Here are some ideas:

• Stay productive, work hard, and seek fulfillment. Set clear goals, put in good hours, make progress, and recognize your own quality efforts. Be positive, and be emotionally, spiritually, and relationally healthy.

• Evaluate your situation. What are your options? Can you take a salary reduction? Can you afford to work less hours? Can you take fewer benefits? We should be prepared for a variety of scenarios where we might be able to make personal sacrifices or adjustments in the short run to maintain the viability of our position.

• Network with others. It helps to widen our perspectives by understanding what's going on in other churches. Our situation is probably not unique. Networking can help us emotionally and professionally by exposing us to other possibilities.

• Make a great contribution. No matter what might happen, the church is still the bride of Christ, and the local church is the expression of that relationship. Regardless of what happens in society, or how our church decides to deal with financial pressures, we can work every day for the accomplishment of God's glory through the church.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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