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Administrators: Leaders, Not Paper Pushers

In the church, the spiritual gift of "administrating" is probably top on the list of easy affirmations. We’re comfortable saying, “You have the gift of administration,” but uncomfortable affirming someone’s prophetic or apostolic calling. We like the gift of administration because it makes it easy to hand off work to people more organized (and willing) than us. But for Paul administrators were leaders.

Paul first describes church offices (major roles) in 1 Corinthians 12:27–31, and then describes spiritual gifts.

“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the higher gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:27–31 ESV).

The word translated as “administrating” (kubernaisis) is not describing your traditional administrative assistant role: Having the gift of kubernaisis means offering wise guidance. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, indicates this. The Septuagint translators understand the Hebrew word thbwlh, meaning “counsel” or “guidance” to be equivalent with the Greek word kubernaisis (e.g., Proverbs 1:5; 11:14; 24:6).

In Acts 27:11, kubernaisis describes a helmsman (or captain) of a ship. (Here it is singular though, and is used slightly differently.) In Revelation 18:17, the word again describes a shipmaster, helmsman or captain.

In other ancient literature, kubernaisis describes a statesman (e.g., Plato of Athens, Euthydemus 291c) and a ruler (e.g., Polybius, of Megalopolis, in Arcadia 6, 4, 2). Kubernaisis is also often used to describe deities (e.g., Pythia, 5, 164; Plato of Athens, Symposium 197d, e). This usage makes sense considering that spiritual gifts are given so that we can carry out the work of Christ. It’s our job to incarnate His work, His personhood, in our lives.

Like the gift of “help,” we would like for the gift “administrating” to be all about organizing things. Some news: if you’re a Christian, it’s your job to organize things. Frankly, it’s your job no matter what. You won’t get far without organization.

Deferring all of our low-level tasks to people with the gift of “administrating” sounds like a good plan, but it’s bad in practice. We need to all share the load of leading, and leading means work. And work is hard, emotional labor. I’m not suggesting that it’s the pastor’s job to handle every task, because it’s not. Instead, I’m saying that we delegate appropriately, not just to those who are willing.

If you know someone in your congregation isn’t busy, rely on them. It’s a far better leadership decision to invest in them than it is to hand a small task to someone who is already very busy.

I’m betting that the people in your congregation—and mine—with the gift of administrating are capable of tasks beyond what we assign them. Most of our great organizers are probably assigned with secondary roles. They should be allowed and empowered to lead. That’s what people with the gift of adminstration do best.

Do you know someone who is both wise, organized and exhibits leadership? If so, they probably have the gift of administrating. What can you do to empower them to lead, rather than assign them random tasks?


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