Recently I had a chance to teach a class of Bible college students about church administration. As I was preparing, I spoke to a close friend of mine who had been an executive pastor at a huge church—and who now is the lead pastor at a large church—about the subject. He dryly said, "The number-one job of a church administrator is to keep the senior pastor out of jail."
That was, of course, a joke (I hope). The following 10 points are what I shared about administration with this class of up-and-coming church leaders. In 500 words or less:
1. Systems are not life, but systems are necessary to support life. Just like a skeleton does not live on its own but a living body must have a skeleton to exist, administrative systems don't live on their own, but they are necessary to support the life and vision of the church.
2. Know your personal administrative weaknesses and admit them…then get help. Too many pastors get in trouble for trying to be superman or superwoman, and forget that God has not given any one of us everything we need for effective ministry so that we will learn to rely on one another. This is why healthy, effective, gift-diverse teams are non-negotiable.
3. If you are the lead pastor, make sure you understand the finances of the church well, and then separate yourself as much as possible from being the one who handles the money. It's scary to me when the pastor is the only one handling finances or their spouse is keeping the books. Create redundant systems for accountability.
4. Err on the side of transparency (with your council, your congregation, etc.). A lot of leaders go down because they don't do this. In our church, our books are open to any member; that has only ever produced good will in our congregation, and it requires us to be ready with solid reasons for why we do what we do.
5. Learn to think through every detail and contingency before an event happens. Have plan A, B, and C ready. For example, before an event, know things like how many trash cans you need, where you are placing the trash cans, and where and how often you will dump the trash.
6. Keep notes and files for each recurring event and/or service. Review (debrief) after the event is done, and preview the notes before planning the event again the next year.
7. "Spend church money as if Leti Parker were with you, " said Mrs. Parker, who got saved late in life, was an old retired widow who lived on a small fixed income, but tithed faithfully.
8. Trustworthiness in finances and administration will release greater spiritual ministry and leadership through you (Luke 19:11-27).
9. Excellence in administration that supports the vision will make people in your organization happy and will bring glory to God (1 Kings 10:1-10).
10. Learn to clearly communicate where you are going, and as much as possible, release people to figure out how to get there. Others will come up with systems better than anything you could have ever figured out. Control freaks won't be able to lead this generation anywhere!
Randy Remington, the lead pastor at Beaverton Foursquare Church, told me to tell the students, "You won't go to hell for bad church management, but you will go through it." Let's be leaders who don't put people—or ourselves—through unnecessary pain because we have not thought well through administrative systems and structures.
This post first appeared on Tim Clark's blog PastorTimClark.com.
Tim Clark serves as the Supervisor of the Greater Los Angeles District of Foursquare Churches and has pastored three churches.