By Bishop Mike Rinehart
You won’t build a very strong church without organization.
You walk into the doctor’s office and it’s dirty. The office staff are disorganized. They have forgotten you are coming. When you enter the exam room, the nurse can’t find the sphygmomanometer. (Look it up.) The doctor suggests you need a surgery that he will perform. What is your confidence level?
I don’t care how gifted the doctor is, if the office is disorganized, bad things are going to happen. I attended one patient in great pain. As the pain became unbearable, I pushed and pushed the staff for an answer. As it turned out, the anesthesia was wearing off, and the staff had forgotten to administer pain relievers. Maybe the anesthesiologist recorded it wrong in the book. Maybe it was a shift change, but their disorganization caused a great deal of pain.
I not only want my doctor to be gifted. I want her to have the leadership skills to recruit, train and manage a crack administrative team. If not, the wrong medications will be administered. Or there will be contraindications that will be missed.
You may be the best musician in the world. Or pastor. Or youth worker. But if your church is disorganized, bad things will happen.
I got on the plane and the molding was coming off. The seat cushions were worn. The plane looked old. Sure, it was an airplane in the fleet of a developing country, but it did not instill confidence. If they didn’t maintain the interior well, had they maintained the engines well? The flaps? The landing gear?
Perhaps I shouldn’t, but I look for signs when I get on a plane. And when I walk into a church. If they can’t develop a system to keep the pews tidy, pencils sharpened, brass polished, get rid of last week’s bulletins, pull out the dead flowers from the front beds, or get in a congregational report to the synod, do they stand even a remote chance of being organized enough to manage a medium-sized church? Will they be organized enough to coordinate preaching, music, art, children’s ministries, and Bible studies? Is it even possible that they can have a moderately complex way of tracking and interfacing with visitors?
Still another example
In my neighborhood they repaved a portion of the street. Then a few weeks later some other trucks came in and tore it up as they replaced (or installed) some sewage pipes. It seems the road people were not communicating with the MUD people. After they put in the sewage pipes, more trucks showed up and they repaved the road. Your tax dollars at work.
Even when lack of planning, communication, and coordination is not dangerous, it is nevertheless inefficient and costly. Churches are no different. We deal with human resources. I once asked a group of office volunteers to collate and staple a document that we later found out another staff person had already distributed. I wasted these people’s time.
And yet one more
You’re going to build a twenty-story building. People on the top floor will be somewhat invested in the building not collapsing. Do you want a contractor who is a) not so organized, b) somewhat organized c) highly organized? Does it matter what material is used in the studs and how far apart they are? How about the integrity of the concrete in the foundation? Do you care if the electrical wiring is put in to code? Plumbing? Does it matter? I mean, after all, it’s just a building right?
Jesus says in Luke 14:
28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 29Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, 30saying, “This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.” 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.
Jesus is not speaking in favor of building codes, but rather addressing the cost of discipleship. Nevertheless, he sees that the truth about quality and planning is so obvious that he can use it as an example. What he really is saying is, no decent tower-builder starts without a well-thought-out plan. No decent general goes to war without a strategy conceived from soup to nuts. Mixed metaphor, but you get the point.
Sometimes I get the impression that God’s work can be shoddy. We don’t have to plan. The Holy Spirit will take care of it. Like there’s something super-spiritual about “winging it.” We use the Holy Spirit as an excuse for sloppy behavior. We’re like the student who doesn’t study, but then asks God for an “A” on the exam, and then is unhappy when the miracle does not occur. If we want effective, mission-driven churches, we will have to be effective, mission-driven leaders. Every farmer knows that God gives the growth, but the sower still has to plow the field and sow the seed, and walk the beans, and detassle the corn, and bring in the harvest.
Some things to consider
1. Now, you don’t have to be the organizer, unless of course, you are the administrative assistant. If you are the youth worker, or pastor, or organist, your gift may not be in administration. No worries. Just find someone who has that gift and partner up. Listen to that person. Submit to that person. They will make you look good – better than you are.
2. Don’t feel guilty about sharing the grunt work. It was a revelation to me, as one who is comfortable in front of people, that not everyone wants to be on the stage. Some people dread being the center of attention. They would much rather offer a supportive role. There are those who would much prefer to organize the behind-the-scenes stuff that you desperately need to move the ball down the field. They’ll send the invitations, organize the meal, clean up afterwards. It gives them joy to help the team thrive without having to step up to the microphone. Learn to recognize these people.
3. Then listen to them. While you’re out there dreaming castles in the sky, they’ll be saying, “Um, we need three weeks to prepare that, and the event is next week.” Listen to them. They will keep you from getting egg all over your face.
4. Dance. In time, the team gels. You don’t go to the organizers and tell them what to do. They tell you. Melissa, my office manager, came to me and said, “Last year you sent out thank yous to all the synod assembly key leaders. Here are copies. Do you want to do this again? It’s time.” My reply, “Um, yes! I do. I was just thinking of that…”
In Romans 12 Paul says,
6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Verse seven says those with the gift of ministry should minister. Some translations say those with the gift of administration should administer. The Greek phrase is εἴτε διακονίαν ἐν τῇ διακονίᾳ. Diakonia. Serving. Those gifted in service should serve.
Verse seven, midway through, says the leader should lead with diligence. If your gift is leadership, you should be diligent. The Greek phrase is ὁ προϊστάμενος ἐν σπουδῇ. Proistay–mee means “superintendent.” Spouday means to means “to strive earnestly” for something. The dictionary says diligent means “steady, earnest, energetic effort.”
I’m glad Paul recognized both of these gifts. I tend to think of leadership and administration differently. The leader motivates and directs the group to move from A to B. Leaders are called to move people. Administrators or managers organize people. The leader sets the direction, the administrators or managers organize the troops to make it happens.
Someone once described it to me like this: The manager organizes the troops to cut through the jungle. The leader climbs up the tree and says, “Wrong jungle.”
Paul rightly recognizes that the church’s work requires people of varying gifts. A healthy church needs leaders, administrators, helpers, servants, soloists, preachers, givers, comforters, prophets and so on. If the comforters kill the prophets, we’re out of luck. If the dreamers kill the bean-counters, or vice-versa, we will be much the poorer.
So here’s a call to organization. Now’s the time to think through the Fall. When will you have confirmation classes? New member classes? What will the sermons cover? September 11 falls on a Sunday, how are you going to handle that? (The Gospel for 9/11 is the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.) Lots of parables this fall: Sermon series that brings in seekers? How will you organize people for Bible study? Prayer? Service? Who can carry that water? Will you incorporate FISH priorities? How will you encourage people to visit your church? How will you interface with them faith-fully when they come? How will you splash the fall ministries? What musical ensembles will you have? When will your fall stewardship campaign begin? When will you hold Christmas services? What will Advent look like? October 4 is St. Francis Day: A blessing of the animals? Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday night. How will that impact Sunday morning worship in your context?
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Let the leaders lead with diligence.
No one builds a tower without first sitting down to do a little planning…