Sample Reflection Paper:
The Nature of Ministerial Leadership
Scott Cormode

Much of church administration is about teaching in the moment. Let me explain. I became a Christian at the dinner-table. I did not know at the time that's what was happening. I can't point to one decisive moment when intellectual assent turned to trust. But it was at the dinner-table that Christianity became real to me. Each evening as my family ate together, we would process the day's events. "How was school today?" "Who's going to take me to basketball practice?" But as we processed the events, we also had to decide what to do about difficult issues. As I watched my parents work through the difficult issues of life, I saw that their faith made a difference in how they acted. They often prayed before they made big decisions; they often looked to Scripture for guidance, "what does the Bible say?" they would ask; they sometimes even chose the more difficult option simply because they believed that was the Christian thing to do. That is when I learned that faith mattered. I learned that I needed to see my own life in light of God's love; I needed to ask how spiritual resources like prayer and Scripture could help me make sense of life; and I needed to choose to act faithfully - even if that meant taking a more difficult path. I became a Christian by following the decision-making models I saw at the dinner-table.

Congregational committee meetings are like that dinner-table. It is in these informal moments that church leaders can have the greatest impact. They show how even the most mundane issues must be seen in light of God's presence with us. Finding someone to salt the icy winter sidewalks, for example, is not just a liability issue; it's a matter of hospitality. It is in committee meetings that church leaders offer not just perspective but spiritual resources. There is a deep Biblical tradition, for example, demanding that God's people practice hospitality. And it is in committee meetings that church folks see the church choosing to live up to its belief, even if it is inconvenient. The elder in charge of facilities, to finish the example, may say that she will salt the sidewalks herself if she cannot locate someone else to do it. Just as I learned Christianity by watching my parents at the dinner-table, so congregations learn to see faith in action by watching their leaders in committee meetings.

This emphasis on teaching in the moment points to an odd contradiction inherent in Christian ministry. Ministers spend most of their time doing tasks, but doing tasks is not the essence of ministry. In this way, a pastor's situation is not unlike the time spent by a stay-at-home mom. My wife, for example, spends two days a week home with our school-aged girls (the other three work-days each week, she is a computer programmer). She stays home with our daughters because she wants to have a direct influence in shaping their personalities and forming their characters. Yet she spends most of the time on those days doing chores - running errands, washing clothes, and wiping noses. The surprising thing about this experience, however, is that she is accomplishing just the goal she hoped to achieve. As my girls spend time with their mother, they learn how to relate to the world - they absorb her values (kindness, sharing, patience, diligence) and imbibe her practices (caring for strangers, putting others first, listening to others) - even as they go through the routine of daily life. As our children accompany her through the day, they learn what it means to embody our faith. She may spend her time doing tasks, but she is really forming her children.

A pastor shapes her congregation in just the way a mother molds her children. In committee meetings and chance encounters, in hallways and the parking lot - that is where the pastor embodies her beliefs and models faith-in-action. That is where the pastor gives her congregation an example of what it means to see the world through Christian eyes, to care for the world with a Christian heart. Theology and biblical studies are not distinct from administration any more than my wife's values are separated from her time at home with our children. Theologically-formed faith and biblically-informed trust animate administration; they make it alive. Enveloping the daily routine of a pastor is an ether of theological substance and a cloud of biblical meaning. You will spend a lot of time doing mundane tasks. But in this course you will learn to see how to relate those tasks to the beliefs, values, and ultimate purpose that make those tasks worth doing. Ministry cannot be summed up in the daily-duties of a minister any more than parenting can be reduced to washing clothes and wiping noses.

How, then, does one learn church administration that is all about teaching in the moment? I believe you have already begun to learn it. Three years of M.Div. course work has prepared you for it. The very preaching, teaching and counseling skills it takes to be a good pastor are the skills it takes to be a good administrator. Administration often amounts to little more than teaching on the fly - i.e. showing how faith, theology and Scripture apply in a specific situation. So the best way to learn administration is to do what my parents did with me at the dinner table: exegete situations and describe how we might think theologically about them. Thus I will model for you the skills I hope you will carry into the settings where you are leaders.