Sunday, January 08, 2017

Seminary PL32: Habits of Effective Administrators

This is the first post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the thirty-second post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post was about unifying a diverse congregation. This post begins the final section of this series on the pastor as a leader: church administration.
Church Administration
1. We have spent a good deal of time looking at aspects of pastoral leadership and management. Leadership has to do with setting a course that others follow. It has to do with strategic vision and influencing a congregation to move in a certain direction. Management has to do with the high level operations of the church--how is it structured, how its parts interrelate to each other. Management is about making sure that the pieces of the church are all doing what they are supposed to do.

We finish out this leadership series with several entries relating to more mundane administration, although some of our remaining topics might also be classified as management. By administration, we are referring to the day to day operations of a church or organization. Someone has to enter data into spreadsheets. Someone has to issue checks. Someone has to maintain the website. For the purposes of this series, I am calling management those who make sure these tasks get done, and I am calling administration those who do them. [1]

2. A classic book on the kinds of habits that good leaders have is The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey. As these are central administrative skills, they seem like a good place to start this section on administration.

Managers are heavily involved in administrative tasks. It is almost inevitable that someone who is chosen to manage will have natural administrative skills. By contrast, not all leaders are gifted administrators or managers. If administration is a weakness for a leader, that weakness will still need to be managed, either by surrounding that person with the right kind of support or by developing coping mechanisms.

3. The first habit that Covey suggests an effective person will have is that of being proactive. To be proactive is to be ready. You see what is coming or what might come, and you are ready for it. Some of us enjoy a crisis--it makes us feel needed. But a church or organization that moves from crisis to crisis, when those crisis might have been avoided, is not a healthy church.

For example, there is usually an ebb and flow to giving in a church. Those who oversee the spending of the church should be well aware of these cycles and be prepared. You save in the "fat" months so you can survive in the "lean" months.

The same goes for church attendance. Church attendance in Florida tends to be very seasonal. A congregation may swell two or three times in winter when those from the north come down. Some then shrink to a few dozen in the summer. A good manager/administrator foresees these patterns and prepares accordingly.

You may have heard the expression, "The man with the plan is the man with the power." If you have not done your homework, if you have not prepared for possible objections, if you do not have contingency plans, the person who does will probably win the day. You have an event scheduled. What if it rains? Who is going to put out the chairs, or put them away?

4. Covey distinguishes between my "circle of concern" and my "circle of influence." The difference he makes is that the circle of influence involves things I can actually change and impact. I may be concerned about many things that I have no control over. On such things, I can only change my attitude. So I should focus on those things that I can actually influence. If I do, my circle of influence will expand.

A parting piece of advice in this section is to keep your commitments. Don't make commitments you can't keep and make sure you keep your commitments. If you don't, you won't be asked to make a commitment next time. Keeping your commitments expands your circle of influence.

5. The second habit is beginning with the end in mind. He talks a lot about mission statements and inappropriate objects for our "centeredness." From a Christian perspective, God-centeredness is the most appropriate centeredness. We love our spouse, but our spouse and family are not as central to our lives as God. We love our work. We love our church. We love our friends, but God is the center. Covey aims at being "principle centered," but we can correlate that to being God-centered as Christians. Obviously being pleasure or possession or self-centered or enemy-centered it deeply inappropriate from a Christian perspective as well.

We can perhaps best appropriate this section of Covey by suggesting administratively that good leadership, management, and administrative is outcomes oriented. It asks what the goal is before it starts. Covey suggests that leadership toward a goal takes place in your mind before management then implements those plans in the real world.

6. The third habit is to put first things first. In this section Covey gives the very helpful distinction between the four quadrants of a person's life. The first quadrant consists of things that are both urgent and important. We will obviously need to focus the brunt of our time on these. If we are proactive, we will not find ourselves living here every day, in crisis mode.

Quadrant II activities are important but not urgent. These tend to be put off for another day. A proactive person does not let these get to Quadrant I in a crisis. You set aside time to work on them so that the crisis never comes. Sometimes you have to get away, take a weekend and go somewhere to crank it out. Sometimes you can set aside a day in the office a week or an hour a day. But these important activities need to be made a priority before they turn into a Quadrant I crisis.

Quadrant III activities are urgent but not important. They are urgent. they need to be done. But they will not change the destiny of the church. These activities are prime activities for delegation. If a senior leader or manager finds him or herself doing too much of these sorts of activities, the organization is disfunctional.

Quadrant IV activities are neither urgent nor important. These are the time wasters. Of course we might mistake some activities for this category that really are important. Time around the coffee pot, within reason, builds relationships, helps clarify direction, and so forth. Everyone needs a break. Sometimes a few minutes blowing off steam can help you focus when you resume working.

But Facebook, Candy Crush, cable news--very limited amounts of time should be given to these sorts of activities, if at all. Even email should be managed. Email is part of the work these days, but not every email. You can create notifications to tell you when an email from a important person come through--you don't want to miss those!

You do not have to answer every email right away, and you do not need to get sucked into (or create) unnecessary email conversations. On the other hand, you should at least access your emails within 24 hours. Being able to handle email is an essential skill for an administrator. If you are someone who does not respond to important emails quickly, you may soon cease to be part of the decision making process.

7. The fourth habit is win-win. This approach asks, "What's in it for the person I'm trying to convince?" A person with enough power can do what he or she wants without considering the other person, but usually there are limits to this sort of power. Eventually there is revolution or firing.

But it's not a Christian way of thinking, which does to others as you would have others do to you. Basically, consider the feelings of others and the impact of your actions on others. Even if you are not an extrovert, even if you do not particularly need much fellowship, set aside time to talk to those you work with. Ask about the well-being of your employees and co-workers. Mean it. Just because it doesn't come naturally doesn't mean you aren't sincere. We are social beings. Be social.

8. Understand first, then be understood. There is a natural human tendency to jump to conclusions. We do it as parents. We do it listening to the latest media sound bite. Good leaders, managers, and administrators make sure they understand the situation before they start making decisions. "Diagnose, then prescribe." You don't want to take too long before acting if there is a crisis. That's a problem of a different sort. But you need to look before you leap.

9. Synergize. Covey here is looking for ways in which individuals in some relationship with each other can combine their energies together in such a way that the whole is bigger than any of the parts. It is so easy for adversarial relationships to develop between leaders-employees, faculty-administration, pastor-individuals in congregation. Compromise is better than a wise-lose situation, but synergy is better yet (win-win).

In a slightly different vein, there is only so much you can do in an organization, so hit has many birds with each stone that you can. Look for synergies. Look for multiple things you can accomplish with each action. To riff on a saying by Don McGavran, there are many things a church or organization could do, but what are the things it should be doing.

There are "opportunity costs." If you take one opportunity, you are inevitably turning down another. What are the opportunities you should take? You can't do everything.

10. Sharpen the saw. This final habit has to do with recharging your batteries. In another part of the series, we mentioned the importance of sabbath for a minister. You may be a machine, but you're not going to do anything if you have no power. Take time for vacation. Take time for family. Take time especially for God. You'll get more done in an hour with a good night's rest than in three hours of work with no sleep.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 33: Time Management

[1] In another categorization, everyone who is not in the congregation might be considered "administrative."

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management

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