Why pastors neglect managing

Sam_Rainer_HeadshotsFEWe’ve made the distinction between leadership and management too stark. Are they separate? Yes. Is there much overlap between them? Absolutely. Is there such a thing as a pure leader, one who never manages? Maybe, though I struggle for an example. Is there such a thing as a pastor who never manages? Absolutely not.

Let me make a bold statement: If you’re not willing to manage a church, then you’re not qualified to lead a church.

Any church leader who would delegate all managerial roles to others is reckless. We push back on management principles because most of us think of bloated bureaucracies, or worse, Bill Lumbergh. Should every senior pastor know what to do with a “PC LOAD LETTER” error message on the printer? Probably not. But without good management, followers will end up in a field going medieval on the malfunctioning printer. Lots of churches have printers that don’t work, so let’s explore this temptation.

It’s tempting to neglect operations. Operations take time. Operations are seen by few people in the church. Anyone who has served on staff at a church knows there is a whole other world that occurs on the campus during the work week. Air conditioning units must be serviced. Rooms must be organized. The offering deposits must be made. Does a senior leader need to do these operations? Obviously not. But every senior leader should be knowledgeable of — if not the author of — the system of operations that keeps the church running. Operations make discipleship possible. Just because the vast majority of your church will never see the operations does not make them any less important.

It’s tempting to neglect tasks. Tasks don’t complain. Tasks don’t need counseling. Undoubtedly, we all have things on our “to do” list that do not involve people. It’s tempting to neglect tasks because people should have the priority. Some leaders enjoy doing certain tasks. Other leaders enjoy managing others who do the tasks. All tasks are managed, not led. You lead people and manage the tasks. And all church leaders must manage tasks. Why? Without managing tasks, you will ultimately neglect the people.

It’s tempting to neglect supervision. Leadership involves people. You don’t lead inanimate objects. The chair doesn’t listen, but the person in the chair does. Supervision of people is a component of leadership that involves management. How many people on staff can take a vacation during Spring Break? How does your church handle health insurance for the staff? What is the process of accountability with group leaders? These questions involve management and require supervision. It’s tempting to neglect them because the immediate reward for properly executing supervision is small. However, the potential downside of failing to properly administer this supervision is enormous.

It’s tempting to neglect finance. Most churches do not expect pastors to know spreadsheets, cash flow and budgets. It’s tempting and easy to claim ignorance. I believe it’s one of the largest management holes in the church today. Even the most senior leader at the largest church should have a working knowledge of the finances. If you cannot read a basic budget, then you should not be in a senior leadership position in a church. It’s dangerous — and I would also add negligent — to know nothing of the finances. Your leadership becomes dependent on the people who manage the finances. Leadership should never depend on management. Should questions arise about finances, you will be responsible for answering them. The deer-in-the-headlights-look is typically not well-received.

Neglect management at your peril. Pastoring a church is more than teaching; it also involves executing. Execution does not happen without management. All church leaders must manage. Pastors are shepherds. And shepherds manage sheep.

Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (rainerresearch.com), a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog, samrainer.wordpress.com, where this blog post originally appeared.


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One Response to “Why pastors neglect managing”

  1. Sean Hale

    Thank you, Sam, for this article. We’ve begun discussing this issue within our denomination … basically, how to prevent a church’s administration from being a third wheel (or worse a third rail) and instead make sure it is the third sturdy leg of the church. I suspect that too many churches have a chair with two strong legs (clergy and lay leadership) but because of a weak third leg, they’re unstable and remain far from reaching their full potential.

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