The Ministry of Management By Jim Canning
The Ministry of Management Is a Kingdom Call
When I was growing up in the 1940’s and ‘50’s, most churches and other ministries were small, not very complex and not spending much time thinking about management practices. Much of the work was done by volunteers, and the word “management” was generally considered a “business term” and not commonly used in ministry settings. We have come a long way since then, and as churches and other ministries have become larger and more complex, the need for good organizational management has become increasingly strong.
While there are many definitions of management, it is basically a combination of activities. Simply stated, it is “the art of getting things done through people and with people.” Just as in businesses, this can include planning, hiring and supervising people, handling finances, overseeing facilities, ensuring legal compliance, technology issues, etc. In ministry-type organizations, this can also include program coordination, raising funds, and carrying out ministry activities.
While the word “management” does not appear in Scripture, the functions of management are part of the activities of the gift of administration or governing mentioned in Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12. In smaller ministries, management functions are often carried out by the leader along with the leadership functions, while in larger ministries, it is usually best for the duties to be split between two or more people, each focusing on what he or she does best.
The Hartford Institute estimates that there are roughly 350,000 religious congregations in the United States. To operate most effectively, each one needs people who understand management and desire to use their skills to serve God in this manner, either as an employee or volunteer.
Growing up in a strong evangelical church, I’ve heard many invitations at revival services, missionary conferences, and youth meetings for people to come forward and dedicate their lives for missionary service, the pastorate, or youth ministry. Never once, however, did I ever hear an invitation to come forward and dedicate yourself to serve the Lord as a manager or an accountant. As a result, people with the gift of management generally went into business and were often considered “second-class Christians.”
Following some major scandals involving religious organizations in the 1970s, however, the issue of good management of Christian ministries became a major concern. In 1976, a group of Christians gathered to form what would become the Christian Management Association (now the Christian Leadership Alliance), and in 1979, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) was formed. During this time, a number of books on the leadership and management of ministries were written including several by Dr. Ted Engstrom, long-time executive vice president of World Vision and early pioneer on this subject. Today, his books still provide helpful reading on this topic.
According to Christianity Today American’s gave approximately $115 billion dollars to churches and other ministries in 2014. Each of these organizations need good leaders and managers to maximize their impact. The challenge is that many Christians don’t realize that they can use their management skills in ministry, and therefore don’t think of management as ministry. The reality is, however, that with so many ministries today, as people retire, change careers, and new ministries are formed, there is a continual need for people skilled in management and wanting to serve the Lord in this manner. Fortunately, today, Christian universities such as Biola University, and others, provide excellent training to prepare people for such a ministry.
After a number of years in the business world, God led me to become the chief financial officer of World Vision International. It was a wonderful blessing, and I am so thankful to have been able to serve the Lord in this manner.
For those of us who have found business and management an effective vehicle for serving and ministering to others, it is now encouraging to find biblical management an integral academic pursuit at places like the Crowell School of Business where I once served on faculty.
As you think about your future, consider the gifts God has given you and be open to where He may want to use you.
Jim Canning is a CPA by training and at one time was a partner with Ernst & Young, one of the largest CPA firms in the world. While there he specialized in serving non profit organizations and worked with a number of Christian organizations including World Vision, The Salvation Army, Wycliffe Bible translators and many others. After leaving public accounting, he served for 15 years as vice president and chief financial officer of World Vision International.
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