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This is an early draft of the introduction to a series of courses which will cover issues related to Church Administration. In this section I try to explain why church management face issues which simply are not present in any other equivalent enterprise. If anyone has a comment or correct on the direction which I intend to develop the course work, please comment. I am attempting something I have not seen dealt with elsewhere in this manner:


Having spent decades sorting out conflicts within and between businesses, families, landlords and tenants; and having had decades experience within multiple churches (inside leadership and with outside counsel), I have concluded that the complications and difficulties faced by the one who “runs” a church organization are far greater and often more insolvable than the problems which face the CEO of a corporation or the manager of an apartment building.

These difficulties lie in the seemingly inconsistent obligations which confront the church as a public entity, as an internal structure, and which arise in leadership. 

Some of these problems can only be faced and resolved when they arise. Some problems “come out of nowhere” and cannot be anticipated. (We will speak about how to prepare for the unavoidable and unforeseen problems during this coursework.)

We cannot prevent the unavoidable; but we should avoid “self-inflicted wounds.” Many of the problems faced by a church were problems built-into the original formation of the church. Churches begin as some sort of “plant.” The planted church must make a number of decisions. Often these decisions are made without much thought and without any training. 

The pastor who plants the church approaches this task with a seminary degree which has prepared him with an overview of church history, doctrine, and certain practices such as prayer, preaching, evangelism. He has been trained to do the primary task of shepherding, but comes to the work with little or no knowledge of business formation, managing employees, leasing a building, or responding to threats of lawsuits based something said from the pulpit. 

This understandable ignorance leads to poor decisions which create future problems. The lack of knowledge in these areas will lead to poor responses to arising problems. The result will be new problems. And because these problems arise in a church, the latest management advice cannot be received and implemented in the same way it could be used in a hardware store. In fact, many churches have failed because the leadership ran the church as if it were any other business. (And other churches have failed because they ignored the very same issues.)

We are going to provide you guidance through these troubles. We will start at the beginning with business formation issues. We will also try to provide some direction about how to restructure and resolves issues which are present at an existing organization where you have come to work. 

Up until this point, I have spoken of problems in the abstract. If you have experience in the leadership of a church, you have already begun in your mind to list problems you have experienced (and if you have been the leadership of a church for any length of time, you have unquestionably faced serious questions). If you are new to church leadership, you had best be prepared for sorrow.

Some years ago, I was speaking with a pastor friend who was facing a problem which threatened to destroy the entire congregation. He was looking for help with this problem. He said the problem was so bad, that he was looking for a Clint Eastwood character from a spaghetti western with a scar on his cheek and an ammunition belt slung over his soldier. 

There will be days when it seems that only such a character could help. But we trust when you complete this coursework, you be able to avoid the need for such extraordinary efforts. 

A Quick Overview of the Problems Faced by Church Administration

The problems faced by every organization

There are legal and financial duties owed to the various levels of government where you work. It will not be unusual if you must consider differing obligations to the city, the county, the state, and the federal government. These obligations begin with the business structure you create. And, as you will learn, that if you try to avoid this problem by merely starting a congregation without making a formal decision about business structure, you have actually made a decision about business structure. 

You will owe tax records to the state and federal government, and you must prepare tax records for all employees, independent contractors, and donors to the church. 

You will need to make contracts, whether for purchase or lease of real property. If you meet in a home, you will need to consider laws and general obligations respecting permissible conduct in residential locations. 

This course is being written well into the Covid Crisis, which caused churches to face extraordinary public health restrictions which baffled the best Christian minds, brought out a variety of responses, and even resulted in sharp critique of one-another (even conflict) between those who came to differing decisions. 

You will owe legal duties to your employees. The employee duties and obligations within a church are similar and very different than those owed by secular organizations. You provide a working environment which must comply with some standards for all businesses; and you must provide an environment which comports with your duties as Christians generally, as leaders specifically, and as a church. 

You will have the problems faced by every “business” which is open to the public – except that you will be open to and have oversight over infants and octogenarians. There are very few businesses which provide toddler care and instruction, while also providing food to the poor, solace to the wounded, correction to the wayward, instruction to willing. A private day school for 3-year-olds has no duty to care for the child’s great grandmother. 

Those Problems Unique to a Church

The leadership of church cannot be measured on the same ground as business tycoon. Consider the following obituary of the CEO of Scott Paper and Sunbeam:

Swagger, arrogance, ego, “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap had them all. 

The corporate raider — turnaround specialist, if you prefer — boasted about laying off workers. He blasted his corporate brethren’s incompetence for necessitating his slash and burn tactics. He’d name names. 

Hot tempered, he was known to yell at subordinates. 

“If you want to be liked, get a dog,” he was fond of saying.[1]

While this may have made for a good CEO, it would make a failed church leader.

Christians must live with one-another in love:

34 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

John 13:34–35 (ESV). In the “High Priestly Prayer” of Jesus recorded in John 17, the Lord prays:

20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

John 17:20–21 (ESV) . These are not abstract principles or bare aspirations. It is a duty incumbent upon every Christian and a duty which adheres peculiarly to the Church as a witness to and in the world. Francis Schaeffer explained the importance of this duty in work The Mark of a Christian:

The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture. How, then, is the dying culture going to consider us? Jesus says, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon His authority He gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.

That’s pretty frightening. Jesus turns to the world and says, “I’ve something to say to you. On the basis of My authority, I give you a right: you may judge whether or not an individual is a Christian on the basis of the love he shows to all Christians.” In other words, if people come up to us and cast in our teeth the judgment that we are not Christians because we have not shown love toward other Christians, we must understand that they are only exercising a prerogative which Jesus gave them.[2]

If we professing believers do not demonstrate visible love to one-another we give the world the right to (1) say that we are not Christians, and (2) say that Jesus was not sent by the Father. In short, if we who lead churches or professing Christian institutions and do not exhibit love we have failed. No CEO has ever been judged a failure because he did not love the sales staff, or accounting, or the administrative assistant. He may have been thought a jerk, but he still could be revered and honored.

Look at the kind of love we must show, “as I have loved you.” John 13:34.

You may think this is going far afield from what is entailed in Church administration: I need to know how to form a non-profit, how to file tax returns, create an employee manual, et cetera. And all those things you must do. But all of those tasks must be completed with the end to fulfill the duty of being a Christian and being a public congregation of Christians[3]

We as Christians, and peculiarly as Christians gathered and presented to the world, have a duty not merely stay open and “make money” (which is the duty of a “normal” business). Christian organizations have a duty to act as a witness to the world. This duty involves demonstrable, actual love among the members of the organization. No CEO has ever been presented with the obligation of seeing to it that all the employees love one-another. 

I want you to consider these words on “love” which Paul addressed to the Church at Corinth. But as you consider these words, I want you to note that the first three verses each list some element of public display which someone could raise as proof that their Christian ministry was a success, and to note that these marks of success mean nothing without love:

13 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1–3 (ESV).  We could add, If I publish and distribute 6,000 books a month and have conferences attended by 10,000 people a quarter and have not love, I am making a lot of noise and collecting a lot of money – but I am nothing. 

Now, I want you to seriously consider the following words and realize that the operation of your church ministry must not only be efficient, professional, effective (as must all businesses), but it also be operated in such a way that it exudes this sort of conduct:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 

1 Corinthians 13:4–7 (ESV). Or look at the words which Paul addresses to the assembled congregation of Colossians:

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put-on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 

Colossians 3:8–14 (ESV). These are characteristics which must in the “culture” of your leadership and the culture the employees. It also must be the culture which you must engender among your “customers”. No manufacturer of glass bottles ever had the duty to encouraging meekness among its customers. 

You must understand that as we work through the issues raised in the various employment, financial, and legal matters which we will address throughout this course work, that we must keep in mind the aim of each of these tasks. Paul in his church administration instruction to Timothy wrote that the end of work is to be “love that issues from a pure heart.” (1 Tim. 1:5). 

When you work through materials on non-profit corporations, you will not find instructions on love.

This is what makes Church administration different from running a small business or even managing a non-profit. You will have to do all of the things which are required of any business owner or charity manager. But you also must do this with an eye toward the goal of being a witness to Christ.

The CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation does have the duty of making sure his employees avoid “foolish talk” (Eph. 5:4) or “slander” (Col. 3:8) or “gossip” (2 Cor. 12:20). But we do. No District Manager has ever been written up for failing to make disciples of the Lord (Matt. 28:18-20), but that is our job description. 

If we fail in this, we at the very least face the prospect that all our work will be “burned up” on the Day. (1 Cor. 3:12-15).

Our goal in this course work is to train you in the dual responsibilities of operating within the law of the state, but also to comply with the law of God. These are not things which you will learn from the Nolo Press book on “Non-profit Corporations” nor from a community college course on accounting. 

This course work is unique, and we trust it will be valuable to you.

[1] Brink, Graham. “Remembering ‘chainsaw’ Al Dunlap, Ruthless Corporate Cost Cutter and Big-Time Fsu Donor.” Tampa Bay Times, January 29, 2019, www.tampabay.com/business/remembering-chainsaw-al-dunlap-ruthless-corporate-cost-cutter-and-big-time-fsu-donor-20190129/.

[2] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview, vol. 4 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 187.

[3] By referencing “public congregation of Christians”, I mean to include not only churches proper, but para-church ministries such as apologetics ministries, teaching ministries of various sorts, services provided under the promise of being a “Christian” practice.