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A Message from an Experienced Pastor

A Message from an Experienced Pastor
(Administrative experiences)
Rev. Martin Añorga

I began my pastorate when I was quite young. I was barely 23 years old when I was sent to a church. I remember that after my first Sunday I felt like the most happy man on earth; but when I woke up on Monday, the question came to my mind, “Now what do I do?”

I discovered early on that if I was not able to administer, the church would run badly. We need to remember the words from Paul to Timothy, “If one does not know how to govern his own house, how will he be able to care for the house of God?” 1 Timothy 3:5: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” My first goal was to decide the best way to use my time. A pastor doesn’t have a boss or supervisor who gives lists of things to do, nor do they need to write down their hours of work. In seminary the sound of a bell woke me up and I got busy with all the things I had to get done. In the pastorate, I had no bell.

The counsel I give my students when I teach administration is to watch out for what I call two great pastor’s temptations: poor use of time and poor use of money. I learned some things that have been very helpful. One thing, and it is not original with me, is that “time is like suitcases where the empty spaces can be filled with little things.” Each time a pastor friend tells me “I don’t have time,” my answer is to point out that he probably hasn’t learned how to administer his time.

My suggestion to each pastor is to make life-long goals. You must separate time for personal devotions, for sermon preparation and study, and then for counseling, meetings, visiting the sick and, as much as is possible, visits to parishioners. It’s necessary to set aside time for personal correspondence and to supervise the church secretary (if you have this service) to take care of the daily jobs. And one should not get all uptight and negative about the unexpected things that come up. Note that I don’t use the word “interruption” in the daily life of a pastor. I’ve always been conscious that the ministry comes with many unprogrammed experiences, things that stretch us to the limit of our testimony and service. There are pastors who do not know the damage they create when they say: “I cannot help you right now. I am too busy.”

In my first pastorate, in a city of 40,000 and a church with more than 150 people, I decided to dedicate my time to personal evangelism, to make contact with individuals who did not embrace the Christian faith and to offer myself to community services at my church. It was fascinating to realize that I was not frustrated nor bored. I met two people who worked at the local radio station and soon they let me have two programs on the weekends and didn’t charge anything. Two weeks later I was interviewing taxi drivers, homemakers, students, and in the end, the radio station got more listeners and they gave me a daily hour slot. Using my time carefully, I asked for space to write commentaries in the local paper. And this is how I discovered my ability to write, which today is what provides my living expenses. Part of the administration of time is to look for things to do. I assure you that outside the church there are many opportunities and possibilities to extend our ministry.

Once a pastor gets his life in order, he can get the church in order. This was precisely my goal when I became pastor of a Spanish congregation in Miami. God put me in a church that grew unusually fast because of the arrival of hundreds of refugees from Cuba. Here I discovered, after 12 years of previous experience, the secret of putting leaders to work, leaders who had different backgrounds.

There are three truths I learned.

First, the pastor has to accept people as they are. This does not exempt one from eroding their defects. Some people are less gifted than others, but still want to serve the Lord. I could tell many stories about this, but suffice it to say that in the church there are simple activities we can delegate: lighting candles (where they are used, of course), handing out bulletins, greeting visitors, keeping the church clean after each service, and the list could go on and on. Through the years we were able to have three church buses that picked up the elderly so they could worship with us. It didn’t cost anything for us to train six chauffeurs for that ministry. One of them, who had a formidable voice, prepared a choir of 21 senior voices – the passengers on his bus!

Second, the pastor should keep discovering the gifts and abilities of those in his church. I am a pastor who loves the gift of music and those who have that gift. In our church we had children’s choirs, youth choirs, musical groups, adult choirs, as well as an impressive parade of soloists. I remember when I discovered there were various people who had great speaking voices for radio and I invited them to join me on the radio. Two of them were given contracts as professional announcers. Today, with a shortage of pastors, the future growth of the church depends on lay people. Those of us who are in the position to detect, promote and put laymen into Christian service are providing a benefit for congregations.

To be able to have a list of professions and abilities of people in the church is a great resource. I had a list of carpenters, electricians, plumbers, pharmacists, and doctors and obtained their permission to give them a call anytime for help. I found I had many teachers on my list and I invited many of them to help me in the adventure of organizing a private school. We had already established an efficient nursery school. And so “La Progresiva” was established, a Christian school that gained high public respect. Through it we had the joy of helping young people establish Christian principles and goals.

And third, I learned to assess the people who could help with their ideas. In many of our churches, we have ministries that do not accomplish very much. We talk about evangelization, Christian education, children’s work, senior citizen’s work – but we don’t get very far by just generalizing our programs. There are three basic questions we should ask when thinking of a project: When and how do we start? Who will be responsible? Who do we want to reach?

There are people who have the wrong concept about serving on a committee. It’s true that often committees don’t work and just complicate the work for everyone, but by providing some maturity, care and clear information on their responsibilities, they can be very effective.

Some churches have a “manual of operations.” In others — probably the majority — there isn’t anything of the kind, nor is there interest in having one. In my case, every year in December we published an annual report that listed all the plans of the year we had reached and had new and continued ones for the next year. We listed the committees with the names of all involved. In a special worship service, all were installed through prayer and laying of hands. Our goal was to emphasize the promise being made to the Lord and the church and it was not taken lightly. Many were apprehensive of the work they were accepting. These need to be encouraged by the pastoral staff, with love and understanding, never with strong authority.

It is true there is a great difference between a church that is organized and one that isn’t. In spite of the fact that each congregation has its own geographical place and the conditions are different, it is necessary that the pastor leads his leadership in agreement in keeping with the given circumstances. It should never be the case that the pastor and those who work with him do so without a thorough plan and the tools needed to accomplish it.

There are always people who want concrete answers to their questions. Once, a young pastor asked me to give him a list of my basic church administration principles. I share it as an epilogue to this article:

  1. When you arrive at your church, don’t change what is working. To make changes just because you want to is generally a bad administrative decision.
  2. When you consider a project for the church, discuss it with a group. If there is no response, look for a way to do it through other ways.
  3. Keep in mind that all programs and projects require various steps. It is very important to determine the costs, time and goals. It is always good to make periodic revisions.
  4. The life of the church is in a continuing state. When a project is successfully finished, new plans and goals should be made to keep the congregation active and expecting more.
  5. Always keep the church informed. Even though there are groups of leaders, the congregation has the right and the need to know what is going on, how you are working and what you are expecting.