Why Pastors Neglect Managing

Sam Rainer

October 16, 2013

We’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.

17 comments on “Why Pastors Neglect Managing”

  1. This is a good post Sam. I may actually share it in a future post with some of my own thoughts on the subject. I’m a leadership guy…and that’s primarily my blog theme…but you are right. In fact, it’s not good leadership unless you’re also making sure things are being managed well.

    I would say we have bents towards one or the other…leadership or managing, but either one we have requires some attention to the other. You can’t manage effectively without some leadership…and vice versa.

    Thanks for a thought provoking post.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Thanks Ron. And I agree: People in positions of influence tend to lean towards either management or leadership. Feel free to share on your blog.

  2. David Coggins says:

    I teach leadership, management, administration at a Baptist college, and I have used the idea I read or heard somewhere, not sure where, that management/administration is like household chores, no one likes to do them, they aren’t glamorous, but if you don’t pay attention to them, they pile up and then you have a mess. I am curious Sam, do you think church leaders are violating qualifications of leadership when he writes to Timothy that elders must be able to manage (administrate) his own household in order to be able to manage the church?

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      David, I believe every pastor should manage the church. Some will be more gifted administrators than others, obviously. If the attitude of the pastor is one of unwillingness to manage (home or church), then I do believe they are outside biblical guidelines.

  3. Randy Mann says:

    Thank you for this post. I am leading our staff through Mohler’s “The Conviction to Lead.” Just last week we read through his chapter on “Leaders are Managers.” I, too, believe this is an important, and often neglected, reality in local church ministry.
    Thank you for your ongoing service to pastors and local church ministry.

  4. Dean Deguara says:

    A hands off the managerial wheel approach leaves someone else driving the organization. I have discovered that the person behind the wheel usually has their own ideas and makes their own decisions which ultimately leads a team going in a different direction. A senior pastor should never be surprised about important matters.

  5. Nice post this morning. Well done.

  6. Wade Givens says:

    Great article Sam and I agree wholeheartedly. If you don’t manage you can’t lead. Everyone will eventually tire of the disorganization that comes from a lack of management.

  7. Deborah Wipf says:

    Excellent post – thank you for bringing this up. The financial reports, facilities upkeep, technology upgrades, and hiring practices may not feel like front-line ministry but they definitely support ministry.

  8. I agree that there should be active management. I think annointed Pastors that can do the job of Pastoring and be an expert administration is rare. There are people with special gifts and the body of Christ should function in their gifting. There are people who specialize in administration, and accounting. Let them do their jobs and bring reports to the Senior Pastors. There are Pastors that are very successful with limited education. They have the anointing and touch of God on their lifel I did not hear to many people talk about the anoint to shepherd, the anointing to preach, the anoitnting to oversee. So Pastors are anointed to oversee but not be expert accountants.

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