The Managerial Hurdles to Church Work

Sam Rainer

August 20, 2008

Much debate exists in the academic world on the difference between managers and leaders. Some say the leader position and the manager position are mutually exclusive – managers are concerned with how things are accomplished; leaders are concerned with what is accomplished. Others see overlap between the two roles. Regardless of the technicalities of the debate, much church work must be managed. And this work can become a hurdle for the church leader without proper management.

In doing some reading for my PhD, I came across a great selection on the nature of managerial work in organizations. When I read Gary Yukl’s chapter on this subject in Leadership in Organizations, it resonated with me regarding the church. So I’ve adapted his section for leaders within the church. Listed below are several managerial hurdles for the church leader. This list is not comprehensive, but it shows how the management of work itself can become a hurdle for leadership. Perhaps it will connect with you as it did with me.

The pace of requests is frenzied and unpredictable. Pastors and church leaders receive a ceaseless amount of requests for information and guidance. These requests range from the vitally important to the mundane. They come in the form of authorizations for critical ministry decisions or non-essential matters of church facility operations. The difficulty arises when the leader becomes so inundated with requests, that he or she can no longer discern what is primary, secondary, tertiary, or totally imprudent. In this scenario the leader ends up fixing the squeakiest wheel.

The substance of work is disjointed. The sheer variety of tasks involved in ministry can become daunting. Church leaders will go from counseling someone on serious personal issues to calling the air conditioner repairman. The disjointed nature of ministry work can make the leader lose sight of the true vision of the church.

The work can become reactive. Sometimes pastors and church leaders can feel more like firemen than gospel workers. They react to “fires” in the church because of the gravitational pull of immediate needs. Clearly, some situations require leaders to put a hold on everything. The problem, however, surfaces when this reactive management mode overtakes and detracts from the proactive planning necessary for leading God’s church.

Decision-making and planning can become too incremental. Rarely are decisions in the church made cleanly and distinctly within a specific timeframe. Rather, decisions evolve over time and across many segments of the church. Autocratic leadership seldom benefits the church, but prolonged decision processes can become an emotional drag on a leader. As a result, the leader spends an inordinate amount of time managing and assuaging the emotions of others.

Leading and ministering within the church is a privilege. And the ever-changing culture makes for exciting ministry opportunities. It is my hope and prayer that I lead through the challenges rather than simply managing the work.

5 comments on “The Managerial Hurdles to Church Work”

  1. Jeremy Johnston says:

    Just because you have done the reading already please leave us some suspense for when we get to that part. The interesting part is to balance Yukl with Heifetz and try to determine how to make decisions based upon the stresses of organizational demand and the pressures of determining the authority that you possess as a leader. Be careful going to Florida.


  2. daniel d says:

    Hey Sam. Enjoying your posts. Oddly enough I live in Florida and was just up in Indiana last week. Road trip from Jacksonville to Goshen, IN. They say there is more than corn in Indiana but I’m not so sure…

    Will have to look you up and say hello when we make our way down to Sarasota (have family near the Amish area in Sarasota).

  3. Sam Rainer says:

    Jeremy – there really isn’t all that much suspense in organizational leadership.

  4. Sam Rainer says:

    Thanks Daniel! Let me know when you’re in the Sarasota area.

  5. Adam says:


    I came across a book in the local bookstore called Vintage Jesus? wondering if you have read it or know of others that have and what do you think.

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