Discipleship Requires Management as Much as Leadership (Why Pastors Can’t Neglect Church Operations)

Pastors manage churches as much, if not more, than leading them. Making disciples requires pastors to be involved in the day-to-day operations of a church.

If you’re not willing to manage a church, you’re not qualified to lead a church. Should pastors be involved in every task? No. However, every pastor should have some involvement in the daily operations of church life. Shepherds—by God’s design—are among the sheep. Why is it tempting, and dangerous, to neglect the task of management?

It’s tempting to neglect operations. Operations take time. Few people see operations in the church. Anyone who has served on staff at a church knows a whole other world 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 most of your church will never see the operations does not make them 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 be 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 administer this supervision properly 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 most significant management holes in the church today. Even the most senior leader at the most prominent church should know the finances well. If you cannot read a basic budget, 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. 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 what happens in the pulpit; it also involves executing. Execution does not occur without management. All church leaders must manage. Pastors are shepherds. And shepherds manage sheep.

Posted on April 15, 2024

As President of Church Answers, Sam Rainer wears many hats. From podcast co-host to full-time Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church, Sam’s heart for ministry and revitalization are evident in all he does.
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  • Jason Borton says on

    So as a senior leader of a church who really sees the need for operations, but has had very little training in creating frameworks or even knowing where to start. Could you point me to some resources that would help me get equipped for operations.

    • Sam Rainer says on

      Jason, I wish these kinds of things were taught in seminaries! Frankly, I would start with project management, and there are many good free training videos (e.g. YouTube) on how to use programs like Asana or Monday.com.

  • David Woolverton says on

    Hey Sam! Excellent points! Do you guys have a template for employee performance reviews that you find effective?

    • Sam Rainer says on

      David, thank you! Yes, I have an example. Feel free to email me at [email protected], or even better, drop the question in Church Answers Central if you are a member. The community there I’m sure has other examples too.

  • Larry Teasley says on

    As one who graduated during the height of the “Church Growth Movement,” I was taught and I embraced the notion that management was anathema, and that “leadership” was the preferred paradigm. Management was the inferior model for ministry because it so easily led to a maintenance mindset and mediocrity in the practice of pastoral ministry. I’ve come to realize how inaccurate that notion is. Leadership and management are not mutually exclusive and neither one is superior nor inferior to the other. Lately I’ve compared it to flying with a commercial airline. As a passenger, I hope my pilot has the necessary leadership skills to enable takeoff effectively and land safely and accurately. (I want to know my pilot will land the plane where I want to go.) But I also want my pilot to manage the flight well enough to handle turbulence, emergencies, weather issues, and maintain speed and altitude. The pilot must be both a leader and a manager. So, also, the pastor must be both leader and manager. And so, that is what I strive to achieve in my own ministry.