“Sorry, I can’t go. I’m snowed under. ‘Scutwork,’ you know,” a fellow pastor told me when I invited him to lunch. He said he had people to call before the session meeting, letters to write to the stewardship campaign leaders, and a Sunday school teacher coming to talk with him about her coteacher’s negative style with the children.
I knew what he meant by “scutwork.” It’s a euphemism from Navy parlance for garbage. It’s the unwanted part of work—for leaders in congregations usually the organization and administration of programs and services. And it exists in the necessary enduring of and sometimes the moderating of countless meetings, and the myriad phone and e-mail exchanges to get something “on the table” for consideration, let alone to get something accomplished. It is the budget keeping and the constant attention to communication. It frequently does not seem “spiritual” in any way whatsoever, though perhaps Saint Benedict would say its repetitious drudgery helps people “grow into Christ.”
Because we are human, our questions about ministry may frequently be little ones: How can we avoid trivia? How can we do a job more quickly? How can we put up with another meeting? But by the grace of God, you and I are entrusted with responsibility for a portion of the people of God. We are called and charged to help lead congregations of Christians. And we administer these congregations as a way of caring for those who belong to them. In turn, we join with those believers to care for many others. So I hope that we can constantly ask bigger, more mature questions, such as: How can we administer congregations in ways most likely to increase the measure of pastoral care? How can our service, in menial and glorious work alike, build up the body of Christ? How can all the work and worship in this congregation help God’s work of redemption and release in the world? Because in asking the big questions and in practicing church administration as pastoral care—placing the scutwork in proper perspective—we help our congregations thrive.
Personally, I can testify that gaining perspective on what we tend to think of as scutwork helps much more than following any list of particular approaches prescribed for church leadership. Working from a pastoral perspective and organic images of leadership, especially biblical ones, has made the most sense and proven the most enduring help to me. I offer the following examples.
The closing chapter (ch. 5) of 1 Peter comes to believers with some advice for “leaders among you” (more literally, “fellow elders”): “I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to your flock” (1 Peter 5:1b-3).
I would also emphasize the care of souls as a pastoral perspective for congregational leaders (“fellow elders”) engaged in administration. The perspective is one for all those in congregational leadership, not just those named “pastors.” But I have yet to see a congregation in which an effective team does not include the pastor, or the whole pastoral staff in larger churches, for that matter.
Succinctly put, 1 Peter describes the perspective found in excellent congregational leaders—pastors, members of pastoral staffs, educators, musicians, business administrators, lay leaders, and all the rest. The concluding passage in 1 Peter contains three pieces of advice offered together as contrasting goals: Do not compel or feel compelled, but act freely and willingly as God intends. Do not seek your own gain, but be eager in service. And do not “lord it over those in your charge,” but be examples to those for whom you have responsibility. That New Testament letter also warns about temptations and exhorts leaders to humble themselves, to keep alert, and to anticipate redemption. First Peter says, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you” (5:10).
Doing church scutwork, the menial work especially, is scarcely what 1 Peter would consider suffering. But I am sure that at times it seems tedious and trivial to all of us. Seeing church administration as pastoral care, and engaging it effectively to open and deepen pastoral relations, is a gift given by the God of all charisms. Having oversight in a congregation today may not be much different from the work of the early elders. But such stewardship of a Christian community is not easy. Encouragement from the Bible, from the wisdom of those who followed Jesus and were first to organize Christian congregations, may be enough to keep us pressing on. A few perspective-shifting questions—those “bigger, more mature” questions—may also help:
- How can we administer congregations in ways most likely to increase the measure of pastoral care?
- How can our service, in menial and glorious work alike, build up the body of Christ?
- How can all the work and worship in this congregation help God’s work of redemption and release in the world?
Each of us asks these questions as a prayer more than as a practical problem to be solved. We may lament, in words attributed to French Catholic Alfred Loisy, “Lord, you promised us the kingdom, but all we got was the church!” But God’s word responds, “My grace is sufficient” (2 Cor. 12:9). We draw joy in ministry, satisfaction in leadership, fulfillment in service, and faith from the examples of other faithful—all divine gifts. And mysteriously, others are drawn into the company of the redeemed—the joyful, the miraculously fulfilled.
Adapted from All for God’s Glory: Redeeming Church Scutwork by Louis B. Weeks, copyright © 2008 by the Alban Institute. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2008, the Alban Institute. All rights reserved. We encourage you to share articles from the Alban Weekly with your congregation. We gladly allow permission to reprint articles from the Alban Weekly for one-time use by congregations and their leaders when the material is offered free of charge. All we ask is that you write to us at email@example.com and let us know how the Alban Weekly is making an impact in your congregation. If you would like to use any other Alban material, or if your intended use of the Alban Weekly does not fall within this scope, please submit our reprint permission request form.
Subscribe to the Alban Weekly.
Archive of past issues of the Alban Weekly.
All for God’s Glory: Redeeming Church Scutwork by Louis B. Weeks
Nobody likes scutwork, the unwanted dregs of the working day. Pastors are no exception to this, often dreading the endless e-mails and phone calls, having no heart for putting together one more bulletin or attending one more meeting, all of which feels like so much dist
raction from the “true” pastoral work to which they have been called. Louis Weeks challenges that paradigm and lifts up scutwork as an integral part of pastoral care and leadership. It is through focused attention to the details of scutwork that pastors are able to build solid relationships within the congregation, and without the trust that comes from these relationships, no true pastoral care and leadership is possible. All for God’s Glory explores ways in which churches are engaged and can engage in practices of administration that deepen care and build a healthy congregational community.
Paying Attention: Focusing Your Congregation on What Matters by Gary Peluso-Verdend
In a culture marked by what many call “attention-deficit disorder,” congregations and their leaders are subject to distractions that detract from their mission and lead them in directions that have little to do with their reason for existence. In this inspiring volume, Gary Peluso-Verdend issues a call to congregational leaders to refocus their church’s attention on the core matters of Christian faith—the Word, the example of Christ, and an intentional embrace of theology and spiritual practice—to renew the congregation’s vision and to center itself again on God’s call.
When Better Isn’t Enough: Evaluation Tools for the 21st-Century Church by Jill M. Hudson
Approaching the postmodern era as a tremendous opportunity, Hudson identifies 12 characteristics by which we can measure effective ministry for the early 21st century. Based on those 12 criteria, Hudson has created evaluation tools to help congregations improve their ministry, help members and staff grow in effectiveness, deepen a sense of partnership, and add new richness to the dialogue about a congregation’s future.