What a glorious day Easter was! All over the district, churches were at their best. The music was well prepared, the sermons were carefully crafted and inspired, the sanctuaries looked beautiful, and there was gracious hospitality in abundance. Are there any more hopeful words than those of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!” I suspect you were on a high for the rest of the day.
But guess what? It’s now Monday morning. The church has to be cleaned, visitors need to be contacted within the next 24 hours, ministry shares can now be caught up after a great Easter offering, and you have to work with a committee chair to prepare the agenda for a Monday night meeting. But before you can tackle any of that, all of the papers, piles, files and desk clutter that you’ve neglected during Lent are staring you in the face. There’s nothing like paperwork and administration to bring us back to reality.
No one I know ever wants to spend time shuffling paper, even those of us who are naturally organized. We call it administration, which is far more than filing. However, the most recognizable Christian symbol for administration is the 8½ by 11 sheet of white paper. Administration is seen by many of us as a waste of precious time: time that we could use to do more important things like visit a shut-in, write our sermon or unload a Gleaners food truck.
According to The Book of Discipline, the four primary responsibilities of a pastor are word, ORDER, sacrament and service. Ordering the life of the church is right up there with preaching, baptizing a baby and taking communion to a shut-in. As the chief executive officer of the church, you are charged with creating an infrastructure in your congregation that facilitates vital ministry. There is a spirituality of administration. When churches are well-organized, committees function smoothly, staff and members are empowered to use their gifts to the fullest, and pastors are free to focus on their strengths.
When pastors, staff and church leaders do not pay attention to order, effective ministry is hampered. We all know how frustrating it is when meetings last three hours instead of one, details continually slip through the cracks, communication is haphazard, buildings are not cared for, youth compete every Sunday to find the most typos in the bulletin, and great ideas are enthusiastically agreed upon but no one is designated to follow-through. Consider the following scenarios which I’ve already experienced in our district churches.
- Joe has been asked to chair the missions committee. However, he has not received any training, he has no experience running a meeting, and there is no clear understanding on anyone’s part of what the committee is supposed to do. The result? The Missions Committee is completely non-functional and hasn’t met all year.
- You’ve finally assembled the perfect staff: a secretary, worship leader and Christian education director. However, the pastor and SPRC have not established a system of support and accountability for staff. The result? Staff members feel isolated and underappreciated and eventually resign.
- You plan wonderful programs and events for your congregation but neglect to advertise and communicate effectively. The result? No one shows up, and people are discouraged.
- A child is left unattended in the nursery, which is a direct result of the lack of a child protection policy. The result? The parents are furious and are looking for another church.
- Mary Jo sent you a letter expressing concern about an incident with her son in the youth group. Unfortunately, the letter got lost in that stack of paper which is still on your desk. The result? By the time you unearth the letter today, it’s too late. Mary Jo has left the church because she never received a response.
- You spend two hours looking for a book you need for a presentation. The result? Because you waited until the last minute to prepare and wasted so much time looking for the book, you were not at your best.
You’d be amazed at how simple and intentional administrative changes can make a big difference in the life of the church.
- Develop a system to handle paper so you don’t end up sorting through piles 10 times before you decide what to do with it.
- Have a written agenda for every meeting. Never wing it.
- Continually train your leaders!!
- Systematically evaluate all programs in the church.
- Think through how you communicate to the congregation via newsletter, bulletin, email, web site, etc.
- Respond to emails, phone calls and letters within 10 days.
- Make sure all information leaving your office and the church is proof-read.
- Ensure that your church has policies and procedures in place before you need them. Necessary policies and procedures for all churches include sexual harrassment, emergency response, child protection, staff personnel handbook, complaint procedures and money handling procedures.
Inevitably, someone will say: “But administration is not my gift. I am not a detail person.” That’s okay, but it’s not an excuse for failing to order the life of the church. One of the marks of an effective leader is recognizing both our strengths and growth areas and then finding and empowering others to care for the areas where we are not gifted. Remember, the church is the body of Christ, composed not just of one but of many members. Let others help you!
Our desk is not the only area of our life that needs to be de-cluttered. But you already knew that because we went to Bishop’s Day on March 1.
Who knows? One day you just might discover that administration is kind of fun!