Biblical Perspectives of Christian Management
ONE OF THE GREATEST OBSTACLES we face in managing the resources of ministry is our misunderstanding about the origins of management—both in terms of principles and practice. Many well-meaning Christians mistakenly believe that since businesses have incorporated and promoted popular methods of management in order to produce financial profit, then there must be something inherently wrong with integrating these same principles into the way we organize and administrate the affairs of the church. The problem with this faulty reasoning, however, is that many of the principles found in secular organization and administration textbooks used in MBA programs across North America did not originate in corporate America. Most of these principles of management originated more than four thousand years ago and are recorded in the pages of Scripture.
The Old and New Testaments are replete with examples of planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and evaluating long before North America began using them in their business ventures. This chapter will provide the reader with biblical examples and theological principles of organization and administration which have their origins in the Bible. Each of the five managerial functions will be surveyed and explored through the lens of the Old and New Testaments with the hope that the reader will come to a realization that God is the ultimate author of sound principles of management.
Planning is defined as a process which starts with a mental picture of where you want to be at some future point in time (goal). It then lays out a course of action (strategy) in measurable steps (objectives) following the correct road signs (policies and procedures) so you can arrive at your destination using the resources available (personnel, budget, facilities, etc.). Effective leaders are able to articulate their destination in words that captivate and inspire others to follow. This is often referred to as a mission statement. This statement allows others who may not be able to foresee the future as clearly to have an idea about where the leader intends to take them.
Planning is not mystical or magical. Some people equate it with conjuring up the unknown like false prophets using a crystal ball. This, however, is not planning. Planning sees into the future and hopes for what can become, but it is not a blind leap into the dark. Once grabbing hold of a vision, a leader begins to build that future in a detailed, step-by-step process. It involves a great deal of effort and tenacity. For those who see dimly into the lens of the future, it also involves a degree of faith. There are plenty of examples of planning recorded in the Bible. Time doesn't allow an exhaustive account of all the accounts of planning, but a brief survey of the more prominent examples might be helpful.
Genesis records the creation of the universe in such a manner as to leave no doubt that God had a plan. He established the order of events from the smallest details of the atom to the limitless expanse of space. Each of the days of creation is marked with purposeful activity and design. Nothing is left to chance or random accident. Each day contains specific direction spoken by God about what should be established. From the creation of the stars and planets in our galaxies to the formation of life in the seas and on dry land, nothing is overlooked. All the details of God's created order are set in motion and held under his control. At the end of God's work, Genesis 2:1-2 records, "Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their hosts. And by the seventh day God completed His work which He had done; and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done" (NASB).
This sequence of events in creation demonstrates forethought and planning. God created plants for the dry land only after establishing water and sunlight to provide them with nourishment. Once this was done he created animals with this established source of food. Each of these events testify of God's created order and planning.
The story of Noah found in Genesis 6-9 also speaks of God's planning. Having become disappointed by man's sinful lifestyle, God establishes a plan for a new beginning. God chose to send a flood to remove this destructive influence from his creation but only after he developed a plan to save a small remnant of faithful followers. God spoke to Noah and gave him a set of plans for the construction of the ark. With this blueprint of dimensions, required building materials, and the supplies that would be needed for the duration of his trip, Noah prepared for the coming flood. Without God's plans and Noah's obedience, humanity would surely have had a short-lived existence on this planet.
Soon after the flood God revealed additional plans by selecting a man by the name of Abraham to establish a relationship which would have eternal consequences. God revealed his long-range plans by declaring: "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:1-3 NASB).
God later revealed to Abraham that his descendants would subsequently number more than the dust of the earth (Gen. 13:16), the stars of the sky (Gen. 15:5), or the sand of the sea (Gen. 22:17). Such forethought and advanced planning provided Abraham with the assurance that God could be trusted to keep his promises and not forget his plans.
The bondage and subsequent departure of God's chosen people from the land of Egypt reveal his sovereign planning. Having selected and trained Moses to lead his people out of bondage after eighty years of preparation (forty years in the courts of Pharaoh and forty years as a shepherd), Moses came on the scene at just the moment of God's choosing. During the journey God delivered his laws to Moses who in turn presented them to God's people. These laws revealed God's prescribed order for maintaining a pure and holy relationship with the Lord and instructions on how to live in proper relationship with those in one's community.
In addition to these laws, God also provided Moses with instructions about the building of the tabernacle. This tent would be the focal point of worship and would come with detailed instructions about its construction. The plans and blueprints once again revealed God's exacting nature. Every detail, from the color of the covering skins to the size and dimensions of the beams, walls, and rods was carefully crafted and installed. The type of furniture, each piece's dimensions, and their location within the tabernacle compound were carefully prescribed by God. Descriptions of the priest's robes, their ritual washings and preparations, as well as instructions for packing and unpacking the tabernacle were given by God to his people.
Before Israel entered Canaan, God presented Joshua with his plans for the destruction of those who inhabited the land. The conquest of the land was prescribed by God with the purpose of purifying it for his people (Num. 33:50-56).
During the period of the Kings, God revealed his plans for the construction of the temple. In 1 Kings 5 God revealed his plans for Solomon to build a magnificent structure with the resources that King David had been told to lay aside in reserve. Solomon conscripted laborers at God's command to cut the stones, hew the beams, and sew the veils. Nothing was left to chance. Everything was carefully planned by God and revealed to Solomon.
Many years later God appointed Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and Ezra to rebuild the temple after they had been destroyed during the conquest of King Nebuchadnezzar. Both Ezra's and Nehemiah's plans and preparations reveal their careful insights and planning. Perhaps the most notable for our purposes is found in Nehemiah. Examples of his careful planning include gaining permission from King Artaxerxes to lead the pilgrimage (Neh. 2:1-6); his requisition of construction supplies (Neh. 2:7-9); his assessment of the conditions of the wall and the development of an accurate building estimate (Neh. 2:15); and the distribution of labor and the creation of a construction timetable (Neh. 4:15-23). Indeed, Nehemiah was able to overcome many obstacles because of his foresight and detailed planning.
The New Testament likewise reveals many examples of planning. Obviously God was at work in the lives of his people in the New Testament to reveal his many sovereign plans. Ephesians 1:4-5 reveals that before the foundations of the earth were laid God chose who would be followers of Christ. Now that is an example of long-range planning!
As a result of God's divine plans, Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem where Jesus was born at just the right moment in time. Numerous fulfillments of prophecy took place at the precise moment of time, revealing God's divine planning and preparation for the birth of his Son.
Clearly Jesus was a planner. The Gospel of Luke repeats a phrase that organized and divided the periods of Jesus' earthly ministry. The phrase "that He resolutely set His face to go to Jerusalem" (NASB), or similar derivations, appears in Luke 9:51, 53; 13:22, 33; 17:11; 18:31; 19:11; and 19:28. What is interesting to note is that after each time this phrase occurs you would expect to see Jesus making his way south to Jerusalem. There were times, however, when Jesus actually went in a different direction. He experienced a season of ministry with his disciples, the phrase was repeated again, and he moved on to the next phase of his earthly ministry. If you didn't know what Jesus was doing, you would think he was lost and didn't know how to find Jerusalem.
But the Creator of the universe knew full well where Jerusalem was. He simply had other things to accomplish before he arrived at the cross. He had an appointment to keep in Jerusalem, but before he got there he had to be sure his disciples were trained and prepared to assume the mantle of ministry leadership in his absence. In essence, Jesus' ministry was following prescribed plans. He needed to reveal the Father's character to a lost and needy world, while at the same time it was necessary to train and equip a small group of men to transform the world in his name.
One of Jesus' most penetrating parables was on the theme of planning. He declared: "For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and take counsel whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks terms of peace" (Luke 14:28-32 NASB).
Although the theme of this passage is the cost of discipleship, the underlying issue is that a person must make plans for the future, especially as it relates to his spiritual condition.
The apostle Paul was a man of action and persistence. If ever there was a man prepared to step onto the stage of eternity and fulfill the divine plans of God, it was this apostle to the Gentiles. Having been prepared to enter into a challenging field of missionary expansion, Paul revealed his plans for accomplishing his goal of reaching the world for Christ. Though a number of passages could be used to articulate his mission statement, perhaps the one most indicative of his personal passion is Romans 1:16, where we read, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek."
Throughout Paul's epistles we see evidence of his planning efforts. For example, we find instructions for orderly worship services (1 Cor. 11; 14); methods for building up the body of Christ (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4); qualifications for church leaders (1 Tim. 3); prescribed methods of church discipline (1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 6); his plans to travel to Rome and eventually on to Spain to preach the gospel (Rom. 15); and of his careful efforts to leave trained men in the churches to carry on his work after his departure.
Despite these obvious evidences of planning found in Scripture, it needs to be stated that although planning is an important aspect of ministry stewardship, it must not take the place of seeking God's guidance or following the influence of the Holy Spirit. Detailed plans are not a substitute for prayer. Neither is planning a formula that God always follows. God seems to revel in circumventing the plans of man with his own. He states, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but the counsel of the Lord, it will stand" (Prov. 19:21 NASB). The Bible teaches that God delights in doing what is unexpected and unplanned from our perspective. His ways are not our ways, and his plans are not always ours. But God can be trusted to bring to pass what he has planned. The end result of those plans will be glorious and worth the wait.
The Scripture teaches that God is not the author of confusion but of peaceful order (1 Cor. 14:33) and that he desires for all things to be done properly and in an orderly manner (1 Cor. 14:40). Organization can be defined as doing things in an orderly manner. In an organizational context, this involves two primary activities. First, developing an organizational structure which depicts the relationships between each of the members of the organization and, second, preparing job descriptions so those who serve will know what is expected of them in terms of qualifications and responsibilities.
The Old Testament begins with God's created order, which was described in the previous section. God is the supreme head of the universe. Man is his creation and is given authority and dominion over the environment. Humanity has authority over the plants and animals and must act as stewards of this trust. It is not an authority that allows us to abuse or waste these resources. With this responsibility comes accountability.
The family unit was the first institution fashioned by God when Adam and Eve were joined together as husband and wife. From the first days of their relationship God sets forth his expectations about family structure. He states, "For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24 NASB). Speaking of this dynamic the apostle Paul wrote, "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5:23-24 NASB).
Likewise regarding children Paul states, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right" (Eph. 6:1 NASB). These passages reveal God's organizational structure for the home. Much has been said about how this working relationship between husband and wife, parents and children gets worked out in daily living. Such discussions go beyond the purposes of this text, but suffice it to say that God designed the family unit to function under clearly delineated expectations of organizational structure.
Other books in the Pentateuch give evidence of God's desire for organizational structure and specifications about job responsibilities. For example, the nation of Israel was divided into twelve tribes with each given a responsibility during the journey through the desert. They were told what order to march in and where to pitch their tents in relationship to the tabernacle. The tribes of Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun camped on the east side of the tent of meeting. The tribes of Reuben, Simeon, and Gad pitched their tents south of the tabernacle. The half tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh along with the tribe of Benjamin, set their tents to the west. The tribes of Dan, Asher, and Naphtali set their tents north of the sanctuary (Num. 2). The Levites were given the responsibility of carrying the tabernacle and all its components. The Gershonites carried the tent itself while the Kohathites carried the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, and the articles which were used in the sanctuary worship. Finally, the Merarites carried the frames of the tent, its crossbars, beams, bases, and corresponding pieces of equipment (Num. 3).
The books of Exodus and Leviticus spell out the job description of the priests, how they were to wash before putting on their robes (Exod. 28-29), how to prepare and offer the sacrifices (Lev. 1-6), and also how they were to dispose of the remains (Exod. 29). Along the way Moses was met by his father-in-law, Jethro, who upon seeing the burden of his daily workload admonished him to create some form of organizational structure to distribute the workload among seventy elders (Exod. 18:17-18). The books of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are accounts of various policies and procedures for healthy living—both in relationship to God and also in relationship to those in our communities.
Eventually the people arrived in the promised land and began the process of taking possession through numerous military conquests. The end of the Book of Joshua records his final days, when the land was apportioned among the people and they were charged with completing the task of taking ownership (Josh. 12-20). The Levites were not given a portion of land. It was God's desire to see their influence spread throughout the country. They were, however, given a number of towns where they could reside (Josh. 21).
The historical and prophetical books provide us with a glimpse of order from a national perspective. National leaders such as judges and kings were vested with authority over the people, but this was an authority which came with specific expectations a�