Pastor Erik Gernand reflects on his first year in a lead pastor role and the challenges of learning how to be a good administrator.



Church Administration is not what you do so that you can get to doing the work of ministry – it is part of the work of ministry.

The quicker we come to terms with that, the more effective our “real ministry” will be.


The Best of Times/The Worst of Times

I entered into full-time church ministry as an associate pastor with responsibilities to create a Young Adult ministry at a church in Michigan. It was an incredible time. I learned a ton about pastoring and preaching and leading a growing church.

And then the opportunity came 8 years ago to become the Lead Pastor at Real Life Community. So we picked up and moved to Tennessee.

And it was like I had to start all over.

Not because it was a new church – but because it was a completely different job.

In a ton of ways my first year there was a fantastic experience and exactly where I knew I should be…

…but it was also the year I developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome because of the stress of having no idea what I was doing when it came to the “business” side of running a church.

In fact, up until that time I tried as hard as possible not to say the words business and church in the same sentence.


Administration is For People Who Wear Suits

With all my theology and Bible background, I had learned almost nothing about the administrative side of what it means to actually do the business of church. The only lesson I remembered from my Church Leadership and Administration class in college was “You should always dress one level above your congregation average,”

(…which I promptly ignored.)

I was the guy who, as an associate, grumbled at my lead pastor when he asked our staff to read “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Because, man, I wanted to be authentic and real and raw…not “effective”…

(This is the hippie approach to church management.)

…and so our office administrator, who was a symbol of all the ways the church had been co-opted by “the man,” (not really, you understand, but this is the kind of thinking I might have done at that time) would call me every so often to remind me of an appointment I’d missed with the person who was standing at her desk waiting for me.

During that season of ministry I was also working through seminary. I remember sitting with Dr. Noble, who was my advisor, when he asked me what my experience had been with things like budgets and board meetings and things of that nature.


He encouraged me to get involved in some of those things.

(I ignored that too.)

So that’s the administrative background I brought with me to my first Lead Pastor position.


My First Year As A Lead Pastor

The first board meeting I was ever in was my first one at Real Life Community as their pastor.

It was three and a half hours long.

And it was a nightmare.

I remember driving home and thinking, “I really have to do that every month?” (You should have heard what the board members were thinking!)

I showed up at the end of our fiscal year (a term I hadn’t thought of much before) and was immediately introduced to these things…

  • Annual Pastor’s Reports
  • Year End Financial Reports
  • Denominational Allocations
  • Attendance Averages
  • SDMI, NYI, NMI reports
  • Annual Church Meetings
  • Church Board Elections
  • Fixing your Church Board Elections because you did them wrong the first time
  • Reading P&L’s and Balance Sheets
  • Paying Quarterly IRS taxes for employees
  • Tracking designated giving
  • Keeping your non-profit status intact
  • Filing your Annual Report with the state
  • Negotiating lease agreements
  • Securing loans from banks for expansions
  • Leading staff
  • Managing Church Databases
  • Issuing Giving Reports

You know, Philosophy of Ministry 101. Remember?

I’m sure they covered all this in my Church Leadership and Administration class – I just hadn’t been listening…and even if I had, I suppose there’s only so much you can learn until you do it.

At the end of my first full year in a Lead Pastor role, I was in the bathroom 6 times a day and my stomach was an absolute mess.

I began to learn the hard way that Church Administration isn’t what you do so that you can get to the real work of ministry – it’s part of the work of ministry.

And it wasn’t until I started thinking of it as a real part of my job in which I needed to have some proficiency that things started turning around for me.

And probably the church.

(And my poor board members.)


Lessons Learned

Want to hear the good news?

I made it. And you will too.

And if the gates of hell aren’t capable of holding off the building of Jesus’ church, then some poorly developed administrative skills aren’t going to either.

But growing those skills sure isn’t going to hurt!

(Please see Erik’s specific suggestions under Ministry Resources)


 Erik Gernand is lead pastor of Real Life Community Church of the Nazarene in Murfreesboro, TN.