After over three weeks of waiting for internet service to be installed in our new home, my laptop went on the blink and spent a week in the repair shop. In other words, I’m behind in updates about what’s happening in Guatemala. The past several weeks have carried me from one side of Guatemala to the next for meetings and preaching opportunities. The highlight was the last week of October, when I served as guest preacher at the plenary of the Presbiterio de Occidente, one of the country’s oldest and largest presbyteries. With 49 churches stretching across four departments in western Guatemala, it has a long-standing partnership with the PCUSA’s Minnesota Valley Presbytery. They were very friendly people and kind hosts.
My assignment was to deliver four sermons about church administration, which isn’t a subject for which I’ve felt a strong passion. Nonetheless, I assembled some thoughts based on the Bible and my pastoral experiences across the years. Here’s some of what I shared on the first night:
Mission and administration need each other, just like wine needs a wineskin and the heart needs a ribcage. Mission has a tendency towards change and advancement, whereas administration has a tendency towards order and preservation. The nature of mission is movement; for administration it’s management.
Adminisration literally means to be geared towards (ad) serving a cause larger than oneself (minister). It could be said that God’s creation was an act of both mission and, in a way, administration. God’s Spirit hovered over the chaos and emptiness, and then began to serve in the fulfillment of the divine cause. God started to create order, arranging lights, organizing spaces, and implementing a system of time. Then God gave structure to the heavens and the earth, distributing materials for sowing the land and providing food for the animals. At each step God upheld his plan, and then submitted an official report—“it was good.”
Our divine calling as human beings involves both mission and administration. This has been so ever since the creation, when God blessed the first humans with the mission to “be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth” as well as the administrative task to “subdue and have dominion over it.” (Genesis 1:28) Then in Genesis 2:15, we find God putting human in the Garden of Eden to “till it” (mission) and to “keep it” (administration). In short, God placed us on the earth to serve by overseeing and expanding upon God’s plans for the earth.
All of us are created with natural gifts and abilities that we bring together to fulfill God’s purposes. As church pastors and elders, an important part of our administration is to help people identify and develop their gifts and abilities to that they can be useful instruments of grace in God’s mission. When someone is bored or discouraged in church, it might be that they haven’t found a meaningful way to use their gifts and abilities.
One of the best expressions of our leadership role was given by the Apostle Peter: “Like good stewards of the manifold grace of god, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” (1 Peter 4:10) As administrators of the body of Christ, we have a responsibility to help others find the place of service where they can use their gifts. As it’s been said, talent is God’s gift to us, and what we do with our talent is our gift to God.
I recall meeting a teenager while on a mission trip to Panama over twenty years ago. His name was Marcos Morales. The mission team was comprised of Methodists from Middle Tennessee. (I was a Methodist pastor then.) Our project was the building of an orphanage in a small village in the far west part of the country. Marcos was a youth leader from the local church, and he came across immediately as bright, energetic, and committed to his community. He also spoke some English, which was an added endearment for our team members. Every day Marcos showed up to volunteer at the work site, always seeming to find a place where he was needed, digging, mixing concrete, or tying rebar. He never seemed to expect anything in return.
On the last day of work, I happened to sit down for lunch with Marcos. I asked Marcos about his future plans. He’d tried studying psychology at the university in Panama City, but after a year grew frustrated and dropped out. He returned home, unsure what to do next. As we ate our sandwiches, I mentioned that the ministry might be worth considering. His reaction was a strong negative. When I wondered why not, he answered that he didn’t think he had what it took to be a pastor. My response was that he seemed to have lots of gifts that would be useful in the ministry. Marcos’ answer was that he just didn’t feel that God had called him. Next out of my mouth was: “Marcos, do you think it’s possible that God is calling you today, right here, through me?”
It wasn’t out of pushiness or presumption that I blurted out such words. Though the question caught both of us by surprise, it flowed naturally out of the conversation. Marcos remained quiet for several moments before I asked him again if God might be using our conversation as a way of calling him. At last he replied that it was possible. We prayed together, and the next morning bid farewell.
Several months later, back in the church I pastored in Cowan, Tennessee, I received a letter from Marcos. He wrote that he had given much thought and prayer to our talk, and that he’d discerned that God was calling him into the ministry. He’d begun the process of enrolling in a seminary. Over the years I’ve kept up with Marcos, and he’s still serving God as a pastor in western Panama.
It’s quite common for us to claim that we don’t have a gift or a calling. Sometimes we’re not aware of our gifts, and it’s helpful for others to point them out to us. Other times we deny our gifts for the sake of convenience, because we’re looking for an easy path instead of the right path. As administrators of manifold grace of God, one of our great responsibilities is to guide others as they come to grips with the gifts that God has granted them, and to remove the barriers that might prevent them from using them to God’s glory and to their own fulfillment.