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Responding to God’s Call to Ministry of Administration

by ervte

We all love a great “get out in faith” story. Could that be me? Would I be brave enough? Would I recognize God’s calling? So often, these stories seem grand and overwhelming. But more often than not, they happen slowly, with pieces falling into place (and others disappearing) until suddenly, God’s voice becomes unmistakable.

The Christian governing body Christian Ministries Advancement (CMA) held its 20th annual conference in Melbourne this week; its 300 delegates were treated to one of those remarkable stories that may have come from an unlikely source.Responding to God's Call to Ministry of Administration

Gary Williams, CMA National Director, has been the driving force behind this small influential organization for 20 years; he marked the anniversary with a keynote address at the conference entitled Turning Vision into Reality.

Williams took the delegates 25 years back to a time when one might describe admin/ops/HR processes within churches as a little “Mickey Mouse”.

The problem of a two-class system

While working as an administrative pastor for a church in Queensland, he became ‘sharp awareness’ of two things.

“First,” Williams said, “all of these things of an operational nature were very different in a church context than in the business world or the mainstream nonprofit world.

“This conglomeration of inaccurate governments with boards, elders, deacons, staff teams, ministries staff teams, denominational overlays, and theological nuances, 90 percent of which were undocumented, by the way, was common in churches but quite unconventional.”

The second was perhaps more troubling, and you may wonder if this is still problematic in some churches.

“It was like you could be managerially effective and successful, or deeply spiritual, but not both.” – Gary Williams.

Willems again. “The second thing I became aware of was the unspoken idea that there was a sort of two-class system here: the spiritual matters (which the elders looked after) and the operational matters (which the board looked after).

“No one ever said it like that, but an undercurrent said, ‘When you’re a successful businessman, you belong on the board and can help with all operational matters. If you’re theologically trained and may not be as financially successful, it’s probably because you love God more than money, so you’re one of the elders.’

“It was like you could be managerially effective and successful, or deeply spiritual, but not both.”

When Gary Williams noticed the poor planning, deliberation, and inefficient decision-making processes, he realized that many Christian ministries had great people but poor governance and management processes.

“They didn’t die from lack of spirituality or prayer — they got tangled up because of avoidable failures in operational matters,” Williams told the conference.

Administration is ministry

A turning point for Williams was attending the 1997 USA Christian Management Association conference in Nashville. He recalls John Corts, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, presenting “Administration as Ministry.”

Corts shared a conversation with Billy Graham when he questioned Graham’s suggestion that his job was ministry when Corts was not. Then he remembered Billy Graham’s reaction, as Corts told it. This was one of Gary’s pivotal moments. No doubt you’ve had one or two of your own.

After thinking about it briefly, Billy Graham replied, “Sorry, John, you’re right. We both do ministry; mine is just more visible. If you don’t do your ministry excellently, mine will fall into a heap.”

The administration is a spiritual gift; as Williams noted, Daniel was an administrator. (Daniel 6:3 “Daniel was so distinguished among the governors and the satraps by the exceptional qualities that the king intended to set him over all the kingdom…They could find no corruption in him because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt” nor negligent.”)

You might wonder how Gary came out in faith. Well, this conference played an important part in that journey, along with a few providential meetings with key leaders, including the president of the US CMA and some key Christian leaders in Australia who, with Gary’s persistence, established a board ready-to-work on the need to listen to God’s call.

Two needs were identified: increasing perceived spirituality and the value of the government’s spiritual gifts; and providing training, resources, and networking to people whose roles are primarily operational/managerial/administrative.

In retrospect is a wonderful thing, they say, and it’s easy to plot how this unfolded when you look back on it, but things are always much darker and more confusing in the midst of change.

Williams was still in his full-time role as Administration Pastor. The board had met and had a vision but nothing to back it up – no money, staff, structure, or members. They needed a National Director to bring this vision forward. Who is better than Gary Williams? He was offered a job three days a week for three months at $10,000.

The Bible is full of stories of people who feel unfit for the job that God seems to have given them. Williams was no different.

“I didn’t feel qualified at all. I was a moderately skilled church administrator, an expert in nothing, with no entrepreneurial experience… I felt inadequate and feared that I would give up a full-time job for a part-time dream that, under my expert guidance, would fail and burn in no time .”

But Williams sought God’s call and devoted himself to prayer and fasting, but like all of us, how could he be sure he was hearing God’s call and not his own?

“If God is in something, it doesn’t matter if the task is big or small, it doesn’t matter if we are an expert or a novice, God can use us.” – Gary Williams.

He told the meeting God had then made his thunder from 1 Chronicle 29.

“Then King David said to all the congregation, ‘My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great because this princely structure is not for man, but for the Lord God.'”

Other than the “palatial structure,” all other references fit Gary. He was young and inexperienced. The task was great, but it was for God.

“And the broader lesson I want to pass on to everyone here is that when God is in something, it doesn’t matter if the task is big or small, it doesn’t matter if we’re an expert or a novice, God can use us, and it is worth persevering.”

Williams, however, had yet to say yes. And given all he had to give up, the cost to his family, he wanted double confirmation. And in his words, “God sent me my second thunderclap. This time from Esther 4.”

Gary closed the Bible, drove to church, and handed over a resignation letter. He knew the sacrifices, and God knew the gifts. But in consultation with his wife, Debbie, they took the plunge. And in a very short sentence, he mentioned it.

“It got pretty stressful for a while when we sold our house, left the church, and moved into my parents’ garage to living in. And then the confirmations started pouring in, and the adventure started.”

Fast forward 20 years, and CMA is still a small organization with a big impact. Christian organizations continue to become CMA members, and Gary Williams faithfully promotes the Department of Government through all aspects of CMA. Twenty-four Christian NFPs are accredited by the CMA Standards Council, meaning they have committed themselves to nine standards of good governance, giving their supporters confidence in all aspects of their purpose and vision.

As a younger man, he noticed a lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities within his church environment and asked questions.

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