When most of us think of ministry work, we think of shepherding people, leading souls to Jesus, and teaching and preaching God’s Word. Yet for these essential roles to be successfully fulfilled, there is an unglamorous, easily-neglected side of local church ministry—the administrative side of managing projects and processes. It’s the daily grind, and, frankly, it doesn’t come naturally for many ministry leaders. But local church ministry benefits from intentional strategies and processes.
Most of us were surprised to discover just how much administrative work there is in local church ministry. Some of us avoid it, others muddle through it, and some even resent it. We can learn to see this labor as part of what it means to be faithful servants of a worthy Savior.
Nehemiah from the Old Testament has much to teach us in this area. A faithful Jew living in Persia, he sensed God’s call to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city walls. We can learn much from Nehemiah’s character, courage, and leadership. But we can also learn from the details of his administrative processes. Despite limited resources, spiritual opposition, and ongoing threats of violence, Nehemiah led the people to complete their task in a way that gave clear testimony to God’s favor: “So the wall was finished . . . and all the heathen that were about us . . . perceived that this work was wrought of our God” (Nehemiah 6:15–16).
What led to this great finish? Earlier in the story Nehemiah said, “The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build” (Nehemiah 2:20). The work began with confidence in God’s hand of favor, which led the people to “arise and build.” That was the biblical and logical progression: God does what only He can do, and we do what He has assigned us to do. God’s enabling and our effort go together. We see this pattern also in 1 Corinthians 3:9: “For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building.”
From Nehemiah’s example, we see six steps to carefully and successfully steward the administrative work of ministry:
You can’t take aim until you know what the target is. Nehemiah “arose in the night . . . and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire” (Nehemiah 2:12–13).
One of the best ways to identify the work is to consider each area of ministry for which you are responsible and ask, “What am I trying to accomplish?” Paint yourself a picture of the finished product. What does success look like from different angles? Clearly identifying where you are going will give a starting point for the following steps.
Nehemiah 3 reveals in surprising detail how the work was divided among the available helpers. There were countless tasks to be accomplished, and Nehemiah broke them down into specific pieces.
Sometimes ministry leaders recoil from this level of detail. But across multiple large projects recorded in Scripture, from the pattern of the Tabernacle to the construction of the Temple to the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, we discover that attention to detail has a vital place in spiritual work.
Learning to divide large goals into individual steps is a developed skill that contributes greatly to forward momentum in ministry. Similarly, outlining repeated processes for vital areas of ministry leads to consistency and allows involvement from a greater number of people.
Nehemiah 3 also reveals that there was a chronological sequence. The expressions “next to” and “after” are used repeatedly, because certain steps preceded others.
Learn to break things down into parts and arrange them in order. Vincent Van Gogh, the famous Dutch Post-Impressionist painter said it well: “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”
In what sequence will your tasks occur? Are there timelines and deadlines involved? What meetings need to happen? Are there approvals required? Outline the steps, and arrange them in the most efficient order.
There are so many names listed in Nehemiah 3 that it’s easy to lose count. But each name was important, and each represented a specific person with a specific responsibility.
Every task needs an owner. And when it comes to the work of ministry, part of our role as local church leaders is to involve and equip others for this work. (See Ephesians 4:11–12.) This means involving our church family in the process.
Communication is where the details get in front of the eyes and minds of those around you. From the very beginning of the rebuilding of the walls, Nehemiah was careful to communicate with those he was involving in the work: “Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me” (Nehemiah 2:18).
Most of us need to communicate more often than we do, earlier than we do, and more clearly than we do. Everyone is busy and people are distracted, so if your work is going to succeed, it will require thorough, consistent communication.
Nehemiah 4 describes how when trouble came and enemies threatened the work, he tackled the issues, adjusted his plan, and mobilized the people to ensure success. Nehemiah was the overseer of the work. He was responsible and faithful to all the minutia of the tasks that lay before the builders.
Growing churches, as well, need growing overseers. They need servant leaders who are committed to supporting those they lead by providing the resources, information, training, and tools they need to accomplish the work of the ministry.
Jesus spoke of being “faithful in that which is least” (Luke 16:10). This often looks like doing the small things consistently—things that don’t get noticed, aren’t appealing, and may not scream for our attention. Helen Keller said, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty to accomplish small tasks as if they were great and noble.”
May we today do the work of managing projects, stewarding processes, and leading people—as unto the Lord. And I trust one day we’ll rejoice to hear, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things . . . enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matthew 25:21).