Shepherd and Manager

Shepherding a family of faith; managing a religious institution. Two hats, two roles, two job descriptions. It seems that way. It feels often like a balancing act. But is it? Or, could these be separate tilts or bows from a single identity?

I hear this polarity in comments like these: “The church pays me to handle staff. The rest (the soul/spiritual work) I would gladly give free of charge.” Or, “You gotta pay the rent (organization management), so you can do what you love to do.”

I remember this self-talk during seminary days, “Just think, when I am a pastor, I will be paid to study/ponder the gracious mystery of God, teach and preach this grace, embody its hope in caring ways, and in following Jesus help a congregation put flesh and blood to this justice/love in the world. Incredible! Paid for that? What a deal!”

Then the rude awakening came at my first call as pastor of Coffee Creek Baptist Church for $50 a week and at all the subsequent congregational invitations to be pastor. There it was in the fine print of an unwritten contract: I was paid to help manage a religious institution. Yes, I was paid for more than that, but not less. And yes, I did not manage alone. But I was expected to work with budgets, funding, policies, records, staff supervision, membership loss/gain, and building maintenance, not unlike a manager of a Walmart or a Hardees or a Ford dealership.

I recall a conversation with a pastor in which I saw a glimpse of how shepherding and managing might be two stances from the same identity. I like it because it is a typical issue that comes to congregational leadership.

The church leaders’ were expressing appropriate concern for the security of the church building, and, in particular the safety of the secretary who is often alone in the building. The building committee took it upon itself to purchase a number of surveillance cameras without checking with the pastor and some other lay leaders. They saw what needed to be done, and did it.

The pastor spoke of being aware of both hats. Her management-head was concerned about the hasty action that left out other leaders, including herself. She knew the leaders would need to review their process in decision-making.

Her shepherd heart saw something else. Their building is a hospitable, anonymous, safe space for the 12-step participants in recovery who meet weekly. The multiple surveillance cameras might compromise this ministry.

What struck me about the story was the pastor’s integration of both process management and spiritual leader. She saw and lifted up what was missing, namely, the witness of their church in management decisions. The solution, a good business decision, might jeopardize the mission value of hospitality. As I saw it, she was bridging the false dichotomy between business issues and ministry issues. In this “bread and butter” management dilemma she saw embedded a faith opportunity, a possible teachable moment. What she saw is incarnational — God’s compassion for the invisible taking on flesh and blood in ordinary church life situations?

Maybe that’s what she is paid for — to keep showing up in institutional/family relationships and asking the faith question, the Jesus question, the mind of Christ question.

One Response to Shepherd and Manager

  1. Stan Dotson says:

    Thanks Mahan. Good insight, and good story. I’m reminded that the etymology of “manager” is one who handles horses. Maybe seeing management through the lens of a horse whisperer would also help build a bridge to the other animal-connected image – the shepherd.

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