Trinitarian Ministry to Body, Mind, and Soul

A series of articles originally written by Jonathan Stepp, edited by Michael Morrison.

10. Congregational Administration

This lecture will focus more on the particulars of ministry within Grace Communion International (GCI) than the previous lectures. Throughout the class we have talked about ministry primarily from the perspective of GCI but all the previous lectures are also broadly applicable outside of GCI. However, when it comes to the administration of churches, and the structure of ministry within them, it is difficult to speak in a precise way without speaking about how it is done within a specific context. GCI is the context in which we will now discuss how we practice the ministry of administering the congregation.

What is congregational administration in the light of who Jesus is?

As soon as the early believers came together in fellowship, to worship and celebrate Jesus, there was a need for some administrative structure and order within their community. Some of the early administrative crises, and resolutions, are described in Acts chapters 2, 5 and 6. The issue of how to organize the church is important.

The Holy Spirit, in the pages of the New Testament, offers some general instruction about how we should administer the church, but we are also given freedom in Christ to adapt to the cultures in which we minister and to the needs of the people to whom, and with whom, we are ministering. This freedom means that we need to think about who Jesus is, what the church is, and how the Spirit is leading us in our particular circumstances, in order to seek out the most effective way of administering our churches.

We will begin by thinking about our definition of the church in the light of who Jesus is. The Bible uses many different images – such as “the body of Christ” or “God’s household” or “a royal priesthood” – to describe the church and help us understand what Jesus has created by creating this community of faith. [1] All these images can be helpful in our thinking about administration, but for this lecture we will focus on the imagery of “God’s household,” a term found in Ephesians 2:19 and 1 Timothy 3:15.

Because we understand Jesus to be the union of God and humanity, since he is fully the Son of God and fully human at the same time, we understand that there is only one, new humanity in Christ (Eph. 2:15). People who are members of the church are not more loved, more accepted, or more included in the life of the Trinity, than people who are not members of the church. [2] This is the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ: the gospel is the announcement by the church to humanity that says “Christ has included you in God’s family!” The there is no barrier between the church and humanity. Just as the Father, Son, and Spirit are not separated from each other, so also humanity – in Christ – is not separated from God and we are not ontologically separated from each other. People can be alienated from the life of God, and alienated from one other, but this is by choice rather than anything necessary in who we are as human beings.

What is the point of the church? This is where our understanding of the Triune life revealed in Christ becomes important. Even though the Father, Son, and Spirit are never separated from each other, they remain distinctly themselves. The Father is never separated from the Son but at the same time he never becomes the Son. Nor does the Son ever absorb the Father into himself. The Persons of the Trinity live in a perfect, inseparable union without ever losing their distinctive identity and existence as distinct Persons.

This is the kind of union that the Trinity is sharing with humanity in Jesus. We are never separated from the divine life of the Father, Son, and Spirit, yet we also never cease to be distinctly ourselves within that union. Because the Father, Son, and Spirit are God, they never use their distinction to doubt, disbelieve, or hurt others. They are each always perfect in their relationship.

We are not perfect. Ever since the time of Adam and Eve, we have used our distinction to doubt the Father, disbelieve the Son, and grieve the Holy Spirit. We have been so doubtful and disbelieving that we have lived as though we were separated and have – erroneously – believed ourselves to be separated from God and from our fellow humanity. As a result of that sinful thinking, we have thought that we had to do something to get ourselves into union with God. Jesus is the good news that the Father never abandoned us and that the Son has overcome our sinful blindness, and shared with us his Spirit, so that we might begin to see and believe in the union with God that we have in Jesus.

In light of this reality about who Jesus is, we see that what creates the church is not separation but distinction. The church is that distinct, but not separate, portion of humanity that believes in humanity’s adoption in Christ and is seeking to live within the reality produced by that truth. When we call the church “the household of God,” we are not saying that other human beings are not the children of the Father in Jesus. What we are saying is that there is a distinct group of human beings, called the church, who are attempting to believe in and live out the life that is the inheritance all human beings because of humanity’s identity as children of the Father in Jesus.

In this regard we might think of the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Both sons in the story are the sons of their Father. Nothing ever changes that. In the same way, all human beings are children of the Father because of who Jesus is. Nothing changes that. However, in the first half of the story the younger son fails to live as the son that he really is and therefore he is not living and participating in his Father’s household. In the second half of the story, though, the tables are turned, and the older son refuses to participate in the Father’s household. Throughout the story there is a distinction between the way the two sons are thinking and behaving, and it is that distinction that causes them each to be – at different times in the story – either participants in the Father’s household or not participants.

The church is that portion of humanity that believes in humanity’s adoption and therefore can be called “the household of God.” I have chosen to focus on the church as a “household” because that word emphasizes the relational nature of the life that we are living together as the church and therefore emphasizes the need for us to think relationally about the administration of the church. “Family” would also emphasize the relational nature of our life together.

What we are administering is not a business, a non-profit, or a military unit. We are administering a family living together in close proximity. As the Father, Son, and Spirit live together in a family relationship, so also the church reflects that life. As humanity has been created in the image of the God who is relationship, so also the church has been created to live in relationship.

The administration of the church should reflect the nature and character of the Triune life to whatever degree our sinful humanity can yield to the Holy Spirit and allow Jesus to create this kind of life in our community. This means that the administration of the church should be relational, familial, and rooted in a life of embracing one another in equality. Characteristics of the Triune life such as joyful intimacy and glad surrender are good descriptions of what Jesus is leading the relationships in our churches to become. [3]

Here is a Christ-centered, Trinitarian definition of church administration:

Church administration is our participation in the ministry of our older brother Jesus to help organize the life of our Father’s household in a way that reflects the life that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit have together with each other and with us.

How do we practice the ministry of administration?

The history of the church shows that we probably get it wrong almost as much as we get it right. The more we allow the Spirit to immerse our minds and souls in what the Triune life is like, the more likely we are to make decisions about church administration that reflect that life. Therefore, the first key to practicing church administration is to do our thinking and decision making out of our understanding of who the Trinity is and who people are in relationship with the Trinity through Jesus.

Too often our thinking about church administration started with thoughts about “how corporations function” or “what are the best practices of successful non-profits?” or even “what does the law of our country require?” None of these questions are bad questions to ask in making decisions about the church’s life together, but these cannot be the foundational questions that we start with. Our starting question must be “what kind of life has Jesus included us in?” The answer to this question will lead us to structures and methods that reflect who God is as Father, Son, and Spirit.

We can think about how the Spirit has led the church to answer this question by looking at the New Testament and some of the earliest Christian writings after the end of the apostolic era.

The New Testament uses three Greek words to talk about the way the church was initially organized: episkopos, presbyteros, and diakonos.

  • Episkopos means “overseer” and was traditionally translated “bishop” in English; some modern translations use the term “overseer.”
  • Presbyteros means “elder,” in the sense of “an older member of the community” and thus refers to someone has the wisdom to lead and teach others. This term was used in the life of Israel and the Jewish synagogues.
  • Diakonos means “servant,” and often referred to someone who served at a table. This word has come into English as “deacon.” Deacons appear throughout the New Testament witness, serving the bodily needs of the church in Acts and in the Pauline epistles.

The term “elder” (presbyteros) is used more commonly in the book of Acts, especially for the church at Jerusalem. The term overseer/bishop (episkopos) seems to have been more common in Paul’s churches. Because Paul refers only to overseers and deacons in his letters to Timothy and Titus, and because the use of “elder” in Acts is not distinguished from another kind of leader (such as an overseer), most biblical scholars have concluded that the words “overseer” and “elder” are two terms for the same office of leadership in the New Testament church. [4]

Within 30-40 years after the end of the apostolic era, however, the two terms were being used to refer to two different roles of leadership. In the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, in about A.D. 107, we see a clear distinction between the role of a bishop and an elder: the bishops were overseeing multiple congregations while elders were serving under the bishops, leading in just one congregation. In his letter to the Magnesians, chapter 3, Ignatius sees a parallel between the Trinitarian life of God as Father, Son, and Spirit, and the three-fold structure of church administration as bishop, elder, and deacon.

What is significant for us in our discussion is that this three-fold structure of church administration is present in the life of God’s household regardless of what titles are used. In the life of the church there is a need for those who take care of the bodily needs of the local church (deacons), those who take care of the teaching and leadership of the local church (elders), and those who help coordinate the life and ministry of multiple congregations within an area (bishops). Different denominations use different labels for these three types of ministers.

Different denominations also accord a different amount of authority to each type. Up until the Reformation of the 16th century, all Christians accorded the bishops a great deal of authority in the life of the church and made them the principal leaders of the church. This is how Ignatius saw church administration in the first century, and it is how episcopally governed churches (such as Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Episcopal) continue to view church administration.

Beginning with the Reformation, different Protestant denominations accorded different levels of authority to bishops or – in many cases – abolished the office altogether in an effort to be in strict alignment with the way the Bible uses the terms bishop and elder interchangeably. Such changes, however, did not eliminate the need for regional cooperation between churches and the need for ministry leaders to coordinate those cooperative ministries. So today, in Protestant denominations without bishops, there is still a need to coordinate the ministry of congregations at a denominational level. This coordination is carried out by ministers with other titles, such as “Moderator of the Association” or “Director of Missions.” Ministers with these titles do not have the authority that bishops had in the past, but they perform a similar function.

GCI does not recognize two different offices of elder and bishop, but does appoint some elders to the role of denominational leaders and pastoral supervisors. In that role they function in a way that is similar to the way bishops have historically functioned in other churches. GCI has used the term “episcopal” (which means “governance by bishops”) to describe its church governance even though it does not use the word “bishop.” Likewise, many GCI congregations do not use the term “deacon” but instead use terms such as “ministry leader” to describe congregational leaders who perform the tasks (such as worship leading) that were historically performed by ministers with the title “deacon.”

Whatever titles a denomination chooses to use, there is a basic three-fold structure within the administrative structure of the church: bishops, elders, and deacons. How these leaders interact with one another, and who has what authority, is a matter of great variation between denominations. In congregationally governed churches, the deacons, together with the general membership, have the most authority. In episcopally governed churches, bishops have more authority.

The relationships, responsibilities, and accountabilities of the three categories of ministers are spelled out for GCI in its Church Administration Manual. [5] A brief summary of how the Church Administration Manual describes the administrative structure of GCI congregations will help us think a little more about how you practice this ministry in your churches: the primary responsibility for congregational leadership lies with the Lead Pastor. In some congregations, instead of a Lead Pastor, there may be a team of two to four people. All are accountable to denominational supervisors.

At a congregational level, pastors work with their congregation’s Advisory Council and Finance Committee as well as other elders and ministry leaders in the congregation. Even though the pastor has a wide range of latitude in authority, the pastor is still expected to work with the other ministry leaders – as well as the whole congregation – in making important decisions and in casting the church’s vision for ministry.

Members of the GCI Church Administration team function in the role traditionally ascribed to bishops; pastors function as elders; the Advisory Council, Finance Committee, and ministry leaders function in the role of deacons.

Church administration involves various ministry groups that need to work in union, without loss of distinction, in order for the household of God to function as the family it is intended to be. Just as there are three distinct persons in God who function together in union without loss of distinction, so also the various ministry groups within the church must function together in union without loss of distinction.

Pastors cannot simply do what they want while disregarding their denominational supervisors and congregational Advisory Councils. Nor can a ministry leader, such as the worship leader, disregard the pastor and function separately. The Father does not declare his independence from the Son and do whatever he wants. The interdependent, relational life of the Father, Son, and Spirit needs to be reflected in the way denominational leaders, pastors, and ministry leaders work together.

All ministry groups are accountable to one another and should seek to live out the Trinitarian life in their relations with each other. As with everything else in ministry, we must be immersed in a transformative knowledge of the Triune life in which Jesus has included us before we can begin to live and act out this life.

Your first administrative task as a minister is to allow Jesus to immerse you in the relationship style that he has with his Father and their Spirit. A leader’s own spiritual formation is foundational to any administrative roles. As you allow Jesus to immerse you in this life, then you can begin to make decisions and create structures within your congregation that can express this life in functional ways.

In accordance with the policies outlined in the Church Administration Manual, you can lead your congregation to appoint an Advisory Council, create a mission and vision for your church, appoint a Finance Committee, assemble a budget, and appoint ministry leaders to lead the way in fulfilling your congregation’s mission and vision. As time passes, your mission and vision will be further clarified and people will rotate in and out of service on the committees and in ministry leadership roles. Throughout this life cycle, you will seek to administer the church in a way that incorporates each person into the church’s life in his or her distinct way.

This is how functional, healthy households act. The parents are in charge, but they are also servants to their children, helping them and putting the kids’ needs above their own. The kids are not in charge, but they can help their parents’ lives be easier, and they can contribute to the family in ways that are meaningful and healthy. In a functional family, roles are filled by those best equipped to fill them, boundaries are respected, and everyone is included in a meaningful way in decision making. It should be the same in the household of God. [6]

How do we feed Jesus’ sheep in body, mind, and soul through church administration?

Body: Church administration has a lot to do with physical needs: finances, meeting places, and people who are in physical need of food or shelter, just to cite a few examples. In the household of God those with the most authority formulate policies on how the church will be administered. In a congregationally governed church, that would be the members and the deacons. In an episcopally governed church, bishops provide guidelines to the elders, and the elders then implement these policies with deacons. In GCI this means that the home office creates policies and pastors implement them together with the ministry leaders of their congregations.

One of the primary bodily needs of the congregation is the administration of finances. GCI has spelled out policies to govern the administration of finances within the congregation. Some people find these procedures arduous and burdensome (not everyone has the gift of being attentive to the details that such procedures require), but it is important to realize the intent and purpose behind them. The financial policies are designed to minimize – as much as possible – the chances of money being stolen and/or spent without the congregation knowing how it was spent and why. These are vital goals to accomplish in order to maintain a basic level of trust and community. As we see in the story of Ananias and Sapphira, in Acts 5, we cannot have authentic community that reflects the life of the Trinity without honesty and full disclosure regarding financial issues. [7]

In keeping with the imagery of the church as the household of God, we can visualize how important finances are to the family. As with a family budget, a church budget does not always have a lot of flexibility. Basic expenses such as a meeting facility and the pastor’s salary have to be met. But also like a family budget, there is room for discretionary spending. Just as a family includes everyone in the decision making about how the family’s money will be spent, so the church should be open and clear about how money is being spent. Everyone in the household of God may not agree with every spending decision, but everyone should know what decisions have been made and how those decisions were reached.

As we have already discussed, caring for the bodily needs of the congregation is primarily the work of the deacons, as supervised by the elders. Pastors should make sure that the treasurer, finance committee, and other financial administration ministers are following the guidelines in a timely and accurate way. Pastors should not do their ministry for them. When a small church does not have enough volunteers, the pastor can take over some financial duties, such as filing reports with the denomination. Under no circumstances, however, should the pastor be signing checks or counting the offering. If necessary, the offerings can be sealed and mailed to the denominational office for processing. If you have not done so recently, this would be a good time to review the Financial Management Manual and be sure you are familiar with way the system works.

Another primary bodily need of the congregation is the meeting facility and its set-up. Those who handle this ministry need to be given, as much as possible, the resources they need to do their job. Many GCI congregations meet in rented facilities – such as schools – that require a significant amount of set-up and takedown each week. Lead your congregation in appreciating how much work this is for those involved, and lead your congregation in giving those involved in the work the tools they need to do the job well. Make sure that there are enough volunteers involved, so that all the work is not falling on just a few people. Make sure they have the right kinds of carts, storage cabinets, and relatively light-weight pieces of equipment (such as speakers) that will make the job easier to do. A good family does not ask Mom to cook with just a fireplace and an iron pot – they give her a stove and the dishes that enable her to do a better job with less work. Likewise, the household of God needs to provide people with the right tools to do their ministries.

In situations where a congregation owns or leases a building, and is thus responsible for maintenance, it is best to help the congregation understand the need to budget for maintenance and hire the right people to do the work. When a congregation first gets its own building, everyone is excited and pledges to pitch in to clean, maintain the building, and mow the grass. However, this is a lot of work – especially if you are not a professional and do not know the tricks of the trade. Enthusiasm usually lasts about a year, and then the congregation hires people to do the work.

There is nothing wrong with hiring church members to do the work, if they are so inclined and have the right skills. But it can lead to hard feelings if members think that the job is not being done right, or at an inflated price.

In addition to the corporate needs of the congregational body, there are also the individual bodily needs of people. Members of your church, as well as nonmembers, sometimes need help with groceries, electric bills, and other basic issues of life. It is important that you and your congregation decide in advance how these needs will be met.

This begins with the financial issues – specifically the budget – that we discussed above. Each year a certain amount of the congregation’s expected income should be budgeted for helping those in need. It is good to create a distinction between the funds that will be used to help those who are members of the household (i.e. church members) and those who are strangers. If necessary, help your congregation see that Jesus calls us to take of our own household first but to not neglect the needs of strangers. Specific ministry leaders should be designated to determine when and how these funds will be distributed, and those ministry leaders should be given guidelines that help them know how to make those decisions.

If the money runs out before the year is over, the budget should be amended to meet the remaining needs for the year. If there is no more money available, the congregation should be informed as to why it will not be possible to help more people in that budget year.

Mind: The feeding of people’s minds through congregational administration has a lot to do with how we talk to people and how we make decisions. The gospel makes it clear to us that our fallen minds are darkened and twisted and need to be renewed by the mind of Christ. Therefore, we should assume that – to one degree or another – none of us really know the right way to administer the household of God. We have to let Jesus teach us how it is done.

We can see how this is so in working with ministers or members who have prior leadership experience in the military, corporate, government, or non-profit sectors. Their experience is valuable and can be a blessing to a church family. It can also be a curse. Sometimes people with leadership experience outside the church have learned styles of leading that work in other areas of life but do not reflect the Trinitarian life that the household of God is seeking to live out. The church must look first to Jesus, and to who humanity is in him, in union with the Father in the Spirit, as the guiding principle of how we lead and administer our family.

Voting is an example. In government, it is vital that every decision be conducted by a vote and, generally, a simple majority is sufficient to make a decision. Likewise, a corporate board might vote on a major company policy decision and be comfortable with a 5-4 result. The U.S. Supreme Court has often had to be content with such an outcome.

In the church, however, voting can often be problematic. The Triune life is a life of consensus, in which minority feelings are considered, respected, and incorporated into the life of the household. As in a family, the household of God has to consider everyone’s thoughts and feelings. A church cannot move forward without a broad consensus that the action being taken is the right action. Consensus does not mean unanimous agreement, but it also does not mean that a mere 51% are in favor. It means that minority opinions have been genuinely heard, listened to, and considered. It means that a large percentage of the group (say 65% or more) are in favor of the action. And it means that most of those who are in the minority are willing to accept the majority opinion and continue living together in peace with the decision being made.

Some of us have had the experience of making major changes in the church. Many pastors initially thought that it would take about six months to reach a consensus, but it often took far longer. The process required patience on the part of those who wanted to change, as well as patience from those who did not want to change. A feeling of “we are family” was needed to keep the early adopters on board, and to help the slow adopters to move with us after the decision was reached.

A simple show of hands might have made the decision more quickly, but it was important to consider the emotions involved, and the tenor of the discussions. Often, those who did not want to change were feeling pressured and disrespected by those who were advocating for change. There would have been resentment if the change had been implemented in such an environment.

Many congregations discussed changes off and on for one or two years. Sermons and Bible studies explored the issues involved. Even after a solid majority was in favor of a change, those in the minority were sometimes not willing to go along with the majority opinion. Wise pastors kept talking about it and meeting individually with the strongest opponents to the change. Eventually the minority was an even smaller percentage of the whole, and less emotionally opposed to going along with the majority. They were a loyal minority, loyal because they had been heard and respected, treated as siblings in a family rather than lackeys who were out-voted.

The whole process was sometimes done without ever taking a vote. Although the pastor might ask for a “show of hands” to gauge opinion, these opinion polls were not called “votes,” nor were they binding on the final decision. Even in congregationally governed churches, pastors are taught to not have their members vote until a consensus has already been reached and the vote is merely a formal ratification of what the congregation has already talked about and agreed upon.

Voting is one example of the kind of administrative issues we deal with in the household of God. The basic principles that are guiding us in how we administer the church are the principles of the Triune life: acceptance, inclusion, mutual love, union without loss of distinction, and patient, covenant faithfulness. Decision are made by talking, listening, praying, reading the Bible, and most of all listening for Jesus to speak to us through his Spirit.

None of this is meant to imply that individuals with personal and emotional problems should be allowed to hold the congregation hostage and thwart a congregation from following Jesus’ leadership. For instance, a person who claims to have the gift of wisdom may refuse to listen to anyone else; no amount of reason or biblical principles will budge the person away from what “the Spirit told me.” We need to listen to the person, but respecting one person does not mean that we have to disrespect the view of the others.

As in a healthy household, everyone is included and listened to, but no one is allowed to dictate or to hold others hostage because of their own personal issues. The more we think of our administrative work in the church as the work of leading a family in a household, the more our decision making and leadership can reflect the life of the Trinity.

Soul: Physicians have traditionally been taught in their training to “first of all: do no harm.” This is a good phrase to keep in mind while practicing church administration. Whatever form of governance we participate in, we have to participate in a way that avoids abuse and does not harm the souls of those we are ministering to.

When the early Protestant Reformers began to undo 15 centuries of episcopal church governance, they were seeking the perfect, biblical way of structuring the church to avoid the abuses that had crept into the church during the late medieval period. Five hundred years later, we are still searching for that perfect form of church governance. The fact is that almost any form of church administration can be used to bless others, and any form can be used to abuse others. Ultimately, it matters more how we treat people within our administrative structures than it does what rules we establish for administering the church.

This is not to say that all structures work equally well – it is simply to say that our first priority must be to let the firm but gentle faithfulness and love of Jesus flow through his Spirit into us, and on into the souls of those we minister to. Jesus has told us to treat others as we want to be treated. We all want to be listened to – not just allowed to talk, but really heard and understood, and this goes back to what we covered in one of our earliest lectures.

We all want to be informed about household decisions and policies that affect us personally – before those decisions are made. We all want to have input into the areas of the household’s life that we are passionate about and have gifts to help with – and not be shut out of decision making on issues that matter to us. We all want to receive clear communication that tells us what, when, where, how, and why decisions are being made – and not kept in the dark while others make the decision. We all want to know the details of how the money that we have given to the household is being spent – and not simply asked to keep handing over cash without knowing what the household’s budget is or where the money is going.

When we lead others, and administer the household of God, by treating others in all these ways that we want to be treated, then almost any process or system can be made functional and healthy. When systems are used correctly, in a Christ-centered way that reflects the life of the Trinity, then we are in step with the ministry of healing and reassurance that the Holy Spirit is doing in people’s souls. As the old adage says, people don’t care about how much you know, until they know about how much you care. Love is central, from start to finish – and it is a love that far exceeds our own capacity. It requires the love of God, working in us and through us. It is Jesus’ ministry, and he chooses to work with us.

 



[1] Some of these images are explored by Colin Kruse, New Testament Models for Ministry: Jesus and Paul, and Donald Messer, Contemporary Images of Christian Ministry.

[2] There is a difference in how well people actualize or participate in the life of the Trinity.

[3] Stephen Seamands, Ministry in the Image of God.

[4] For more on these Greek words, see “Leadership in the Church: An Examination of Eight Words,” https://www.gcs.edu/mod/page/view.php?id=4253.

[6] Some practical advice for administration can be seen in the following books: Bruce Powers, Church Administration Handbook, Kenneth Gangel, Feeding and Leading, and Carl George and Robert Logan, Leading and Managing Your Church.

[7] This does not mean that the donations of every member need to be published for all to see. Transparency comes in the way that money is used, not in who makes the donations. Ananias and Sapphira had attempted to publicize their own donation; it could have also been made secretly, as money dropped into a collection box. Much of our record-keeping in the U.S. is necessitated by the IRS – the church needs to maintain its tax-exempt status so that donations can be excluded from individuals’ taxable income. But even if this civil need did not exist, church finances should still be transparent in order to minimize temptations for misuse.