Transforming Church Team Blog
resourcing leaders…reenvisioning the future

Part 1: An Introduction to Church Management

Dr. Jim Osterhaus

For the past number of years I have been working with churches and coaching pastors, attempting to help them establish better management practices. What I found, over and over again, was the fact that ministers have been trained to be theologically competent, and be able to navigate the scriptures and craft understandable sermons. But when it comes to managing people (and many of the ministers with whom I am now working had multiple staffs, and are in fact managing mid-sized businesses), these otherwise very competent ministers did not have a clue as to what to do.  Seminary had not prepared them. Seminars and workshops had been spotty at best (if secular presentations, these workshops didn’t understand the complexities of the church organizational world).

So here these ministers were, lost and alone, attempting to navigate the very tricky church world waters without a compass or a chart.

The Church World: A very complicated organizational picture.

I have consulted with many types of organizations: government agencies, private non-profits, construction companies, high tech firms, large corporations. I am convinced that the church offers one of the most confusing, if not the most confusing, organizational structure.

The Family/Business/Faith Community Conundrum. What generally makes church life and functioning so very confusing is the fact that, like no other organization in society, church encompasses the people’s expectations of family, business, and community.  Each of these elements must be held in tension, and each must be understood clearly, or else confusion will ensue. Because churches are in fact families, and those who work on staff are often church members, the emotional impact of what occurs has profound effects throughout the church organization. As an example, our country is going through a distressing economic time that has greatly affected churches. Many church staffs have been downsized.  Unlike in the secular business world, a church staff member being downsized often experiences, “My family just threw me out.” The congregation chorusing, “You can’t let go of Suzie, she’s family!” The personal and organizational repercussions can be seismic.

As a family, the clergy are perceived as parents and congregants as siblings. Church members feel as though they are coming home, and therefore have particular idealistic expectations as to what they will find, and how they will be treated. When paid staff members are also church (i.e. “family”) members, the expectations rise beyond the average business employee.

As a business: Churches, especially those with multiple staffs, have organizational considerations that require the principles of business. People are hired to do particular types of work according to their individual skill sets, performance standards are established and maintained, salaries are set, and work is accomplished and evaluated. When work falls below par, accountability kicks in and people may be fired for poor performance. When there is a budget shortfall, considerations as to staffing needs are prime considerations.

As a faith community: Churches are also spiritual communities. Members manifest certain gifts, bear the burdens of one another, and generally become intentionally involved in one another’s lives to the betterment of the individual and the building up of the community (a.k.a. body life). Unlike the above two models, community members have no assumed hierarchy (“neither male nor female, slave nor free”). There is mutual accountability, with no one being “more privileged” than another.

As a volunteer organization. And wrapped around the above three organizational models is the world of the volunteer. Volunteers can be a wonderful addition to any organization. In fact, they are the life blood of the non-profit world. But they need specific considerations. How do you hold a volunteer accountable? How do you effectively motivate a volunteer? These are just two of the gnawing questions that managing in the church world involves.

Unfortunately, as often happens, these separate functions become confused. When business considerations are handled with family patterns, problems arise.  Likewise, if faith community and family aspects are treated as business it becomes institutionalized. Not that there are always clear demarcations between each of these areas. These three models must always be appreciated and negotiated.

The Struggle

So what’s the toughest part of managing in the church world? I guess each one reading this will have a different answer. Someone said that being a pastor is similar to being a stay-at-home mom. Both positions have a whole host of differing functions. None of these functions relate to any of the other functions (preaching, visiting, counseling, chairing meetings, managing staff). And there is usually no one there who tells the pastor what to do, in what order, and at what intensity.

The books all say that managing has to do with people. And yet most pastors that I coach feel so totally unprepared. “How to work managing all of these people into my schedule?” one pastor I coach questioned.  “I’m beginning to think that if I’m not careful, I’ll turn into a glorified paper-pusher. These people think I’m the smartest person in the room, so they come to me with all their questions. So I guess you could say I’m a bit confused as to what I really need to be doing here to be successful.” He was the senior pastor of a staff of a dozen people (not quite big enough to hire an executive pastor). All senior management responsibilities fell to him, and he was frankly overwhelmed.

I told him we’d  have to do two things:  lay a foundation as to what good management practices are supposed to look like. Then look at all of the realities you as pastor now face that are pulling you away from being the manager you hope to be.”

One complaint I constantly hear is about denominations (and it doesn’t matter which denomination we’re talking about). The complaint goes something like this, “I sure wish my denomination would give me some help when it comes to managing all that I face.” It’s not just the denominations. The organizational world in general has a great deal of difficulty knowing how to select and train managers. It’s as if the manager position is seen as just another cog in the organizational wheel. The irony is that managers are at the very center of organizational functioning. These folks are critical to making sure the mission of the organization gets accomplished. And then the expectations placed upon ministers get thrown into the mix. It’s a recipe for trouble.

What I’d like to do in the next several months is lay out some general principles of good management. The place to start is with self-understanding  I did that a few months back when we talked about our internal competing values, so I won’t repeat that aspect. Do review though). I’ll next look at the basics of management. We’ll look at how adaptive and technical issues tend to confuse people. We’ll talk about change and conflict and building trust.

Hopefully you will find this to be helpful.

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One Response to “Part 1: An Introduction to Church Management”

  1. This is a great blog sir. Thanks for posting. yes, being a church manager or having a role of a Pastor is not been always easy, it such taking care of babies not tens of babies but hundreds and thousands of babies, and i really thank God for these Pastors that despite the fact that the Pastors are skeptical sometimes they have able to have portrayed their role as manager in the church.


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