Pastor as Administrator (of Word and Sacraments?)

jesus_shepherdWhat is a pastor to do? To be sure, there is something about serving a congregation. But in what capacity? By what means? In what role? Pastors are constantly barraged by increasing expectations (spoken and unspoken) of what a congregation thinks they are supposed to do.

Historically the imagery of a pastor’s work has been that of a shepherd tending his sheep. It stems of course from Jesus’ words about being the “Good Shepherd who will lay down his life for His sheep” (John 10), as well as Jesus’ command for Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21). However, congregations now days think of themselves as different animals, or more likely, not even as animals at all. Organizations and incorporations are more likely. As a result, they have increased (or changed) their expectations and demands of what a pastor should be, very often moving beyond what was ever originally and biblically meant to be a part of “feeding sheep.”

Over the last 50 years or so a historic shift in pastoral identity has been slowlyc-e-o creeping into the church. It has changed many congregations’ view of what a pastor or least a “good pastor” should be. Many willingly or unwillingly expect that a pastor should have corporate CEO like administrative abilities. However, for Lutherans, the theological practice and purpose of a pastor is to administer the Word of God—enact it, preach it, teach it, and give care with it (seelsorger)—as well as rightly administer the Sacraments (baptize and commune).

I do think these remain the underlying assumption by most (Lutheran) congregations. But depending upon the size and shape of congregations today, it is very often treated as more of a side note. Perhaps that’s due to the modern nature of the beast (be they sheep-like or not). Many present day congregations have placed the organizational leadership and day to day administration of the organization to the forefront of pastoral responsibilities.

To be sure, it is one thing to administrate and organize how the numerous souls of a congregation will be spiritually cared for. But it is another to administrate congregational budgets, building projects, and be boss over multiple staff. In short, one can be a great pastor (seelsorger) but a lousy leader and “boss.” One can profoundly feed sheep while also being profoundly ignorant of what makes an organization tick. And more times than not, what gets the attention of congregations today is a pastor’s ability to be a good leader. True, they do at least want him to be an adequate speaker, if not entertaining and relevant preacher. But why is that? How have congregations come to expect and even demand those qualities from a pastor? There isn’t much by way of biblical evidence.

leadershipBut please understand, I’m not saying organizational leadership and administration are not important in today’s congregational makeup. In fact, I would say just the opposite. Many congregations have suffered from poor leadership (whether from pastor or laity).

In fact, leadership and administrative ability was and is an absolute must at both of the congregations I have served. The first one I served as an associate pastor of 3,300 people with a parochial day school attached, forty-five staff members all together, and an annual budget of $2.4 million. At my second (and current) congregation, I serve as the Sr. Pastor of 820 members and an accompanying grade school, with sixteen staff members all together, and an annual budget of $880,000.

Without question I need to be aware of the organizational makeup of the congregation and school. Mission, vision, and strategy long range planning are essential to maintain organizational cohesion. Seeing the big picture, noting the details, balancing budgets, understanding staff strengths and weaknesses, overworkedanticipating voter meeting reactions and board meeting backups come with the turf. My point is that administration of this kind is in and of itself enough to be a full time job. Add the full range of pastoral care of souls and the administration of the Word and Sacraments and such pastors are often at loss to fulfill their other vocations of husband and father, let alone find time to catch a decent night’s sleep (or do some recreational reading or blogging).

However, as of late there is increasing push back against this expectation occurring among some of the younger generation of pastors. By some standards I might be included in this age group (I have been in the ministry just months shy of 10 years now). Nonetheless, I will readily admit I fell into the belief that it was either learn how to lead and excel at administration or die. And I paid a heavy family, emotional, and spiritual price for it. However, I think I can say that I am on the other side of things now thanks to a wise Father Confessor and mentor, time in the ministry, simple life circumstances, and a profound experience with DOXOLOGY (The Lutheran Center for Spiritual Care and Counsel).

But my question is does it have to be this way? Is this what being a pastor in the 21st century has come to? More and more pastors are saying no. And they are to be commended for trying to restore a more adequate biblical view and historic role of a pastor. However, what I also see happening are congregations that misunderstand or receive this pushback as arrogance and clericalism. In other words, such pastors are asserting their true biblical role as a shepherd leader, but somehow doing so in a way that comes across with an air of arrogance and defiance. This is, of course, counterproductive and has created any number of unsettled congregations and pastors, as well as unemployed pastors and shepherdless congregations.

seek patienceSo what is to be done? I do not think there is any easy solution. In short, teach, love, come alongside, and instruct both pastors and parishioners. Using patience and the art of careful and tactful instruction, particularly on the distinction between secular “power” and spiritual “authority” within a congregation, can help both pastor and parish understand the difference and make a difference.

According to pastor and scholar John Kleinig, secular power is a limited commodity while spiritual authority is unlimited. Power is obtained by disempowering someone else while authority only grows as others are authorized to act with it. Thus, the authority of a pastor to be a pastor in the biblical sense comes only from Christ’s authorization of him to be pastor on behalf of the congregation; whereas the power to be a leader and administrator of an organization comes from the power of that particular congregation’s governance structure.

As Kleinig notes, “The worst thing you can have is a pastor who operates with power rather than authority.” This is because a pastor operating on “power” means he has disempowered someone else, which then creates power struggles, and will inevitable smack up against other “power” players in a congregation and create political factions. But a pastor who operates on “authority” brings the authority of Christ to heal and thwart spiritual affliction, administer the Sacraments and enact God’s Word to forgive and retain sins.

Think about it. How many voters’ meetings and church divisions are over power struggles rather thanPower_Struggle issues of spiritual authority? The inability to recognize the difference between the two fosters much unrest among our pastors and our people.

In the end, my hope is for congregations to see the need for pastors who operate under Christ’s authority and not their secularly created power structures. And my hope for pastors is that they will not crave earthly power but be content with the authority of Christ. When this happens, pastors are free to more fully engage in the feeding of sheep rather than trying to tame the beast, while congregations will be free to see their pastor as a an undershepherd of Christ rather than a CEO of their organization.

As always, this blog endeavors to thoughtfully and collegially talk about the mission of the Holy Christian Church and what it means to be authentically Lutheran, while “discipling all nations” in the 21st century. For those willing to enter the fray, I welcome your constructive thoughts and reactions.


Rev. Woodford


4 responses to “Pastor as Administrator (of Word and Sacraments?)

  1. Pastor Greg DeMuth

    Six years in Pastoral ministry, now – with 12 years as a DCE. I am blessed to say that my current congregation has several talented indigenous [lay] leaders. Some would say we’re ‘old school’ Lutheran from the point of view that my people actually expect me to be their pastor…not an administrator or CEO. I fully recognize this to be the exception and not the rule. Our lay leaders are skilled in decision-making and temporal affairs of the Church. Its also fair to say that my congregation is about half your size with no school.

    This doesn’t exempt me from admin and leadership, but gives a degree of support that lessens my burden. An important part of my work is to support and advise these leaders – helping them to keep the purpose of the Church in the forefront of their thinking. We just completed a capital fundraising campaign to support needed renovations, for example. Our leaders did the lion’s share of the organizing, while I spoke to Grace-centered stewardship. It was a wonderful cooperative endeavor and sorting-out of roles.

    I don’t propose a one-size-fits-all solution here. But, I do recognize that selecting and developing positive lay leaders is a vital piece of the puzzle that allows me to be a shepherd and feed Christ’s Lambs. Some pastors struggle with negative leaders [POWER STRUGGLES] or those empowered beyond their ability to lead. I’m convinced that what they need is NOT a pastor worried about outmanuevering them or staying a step ahead, but a shepherd that builds a relationship with them and wins them over. This takes time. It’s exhausting. Sometimes you get nowhere. But this approach is a genuine manifestation of a shepherd who pursues and restores.

  2. Good thoughts. I would also suggest that much of what is framed as “vision casting” can lock we pastors into ways of thinking that has little to do with meekness, and much to do with control. Giving leadership without needing a specific application or results from our people can actually free us up to give up the slavery of control, In turn, it can free us up to develop and empower people who are capable or who with training can become capable.

    That being said, it is frustrating to see what we think “needs to be done” laid aside by those that seem to be more informed by the values and structures of the Kingdom of this world. It is a developing discipline to lead responsibly while leaving the results to the work of the Holy Spirit (I wish to report I have a long way yet to go!!).

    I am reminded of a statement made by Eugene Peterson in his book “The Contemplative Pastor” (because I am lazy, I will paraphrase) “When a pastor comes to a church he/she does not bring the Holy Spirit or God with him/her as if He is not present and working in the church’s life, God is already at work in some way in that body….the role of the pastor is to get in line with what God is already doing (and wanting to do) in that body”

    Christ’s Peace to All,

    Father Tom Reeves

  3. Rev. Gerald Heinecke

    Is it possible that a significant part of this problem is that a congregation refuses to actually entrust the called pastor with the office of the keys. For the congregation really wants to retain all “voting rights” for herself? Don’t let the pastor really forgive sins in private confession and absolution, only do it in the generic way within the worship service. And we certainly cannot allow him to retain a sin that someone is unrepentant for, let’s vote on it instead….as I heard someone say a couple years ago, we hired him we can tell him what to do.

    How do we fix this problem of power/authority? As you correctly stated, by proper catechesis and for that I say thank you to you for such a good blog!

  4. anonymousladyperson

    Many people don’t think the pastor works very hard. They want him to punch a time card and show them the fruits of his labor. That’s kinda hard to do sometimes…they don’t understand. I don’t know how to change that. Have a “take your council members to work” day? Anyway, if they don’t see this administrative/program planning/management stuff going on full time, they don’t know WHAT he’s doing in between Sundays…

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