Ten Rules for Lutheran Administrators

by Dr. Steven Meseke

One of my favorite television shows is NCIS. The lead character, Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs, has a set of rules he developed that direct his personal and professional life. Each rule is numbered and his subordinates are expected to know the rules by number. Over my years in administration, I have attempted to follow a set of rules that I have found channel my actions and decisions. Below are my top ten:

Rule #1 Be who you say you are.

You must be true and honest with yourself first to be true and honest with those that you lead. It is about character, and your public life reflects your private life. I am a redeemed child of God, a Lutheran High School Administrator. In all that I do and say, I must reflect who I say I am and called to be.

Rule #2 Work as if all depends on you, pray as if all depends upon God.

I learned this very early on from my father when I asked him to what he attributed his success as a pastor. Admittedly, many times I begin a project working on it as hard as I can and then when I get overwhelmed, I pray to God to bail me out. Rather, I need to consistently include God throughout the project, actually taking time to ask for His direction from the beginning.

Rule #3 Do whatever it takes.

Ownership of the ministry is critical. When asked for a job description for an administrative position, my response is that I expect you to own the position; to do whatever it takes to move the ministry forward. It may be working long hours, doing jobs you don’t like, making decisions that will be unpopular, and saying no. Your feelings, time, and comfort are secondary. Nothing is beneath you in order to accomplish the task/mission.

Rule #4 Deal with it …it is what it is.

We live in a sin-filled world, stuff happens, life is not fair and equitable. Whining and complaining do not accomplish anything. You need to accept the situation, determine how you will deal with it and move forward. There is a time and place for empathy, but then we need to move from the emotion to acceptance or action. We need to focus on dealing with it, learning from it, and determining a solution of a plan for the future.

Rule #5 Peoplework or Paperwork?

I am an introvert. I feel most comfortable working in my office on “things.” When I first became a Principal, I made the sign “Paperwork or Peoplework” and placed it on the wall across from my desk. Every time I looked up from my desk, this sign was a reminder to me to get up and get out. Being in touch with people you serve is as important as making sure the ministry runs efficiently. Other leaders’ comfort zone may be focusing on people; they will need to intentionally spend time at their desk focusing on paperwork. Both peoplework and paperwork are critical for leaders. Failure to properly attend to either will lead to failure on the part of the leader, negatively affecting the ministry.

Rule #6 Leaders make decisions.

As leaders, we are called on to make decisions every day. Some insignificant, some very significant changing people’s lives and the direction of the ministry. As the leader of your ministry, you are expected to make the difficult decisions in a thoughtful, timely manner. You cannot procrastinate. A leader understands the situation, accumulates information, studies options, and then makes and owns the decision. I have closed two schools during my ministry, one as Principal, and the other as Superintendent. Both closures generated a multitude of negative emotions. The decisions were both very difficult but each were needed to ensure the health of the overall ministry.

Rule #7 Details matter

The saying goes, take care of the small things and the big things will take care of themselves. In my experience, the big things don’t just take care of themselves, but many times because attention and focus were given to the details, major issues were avoided. Not dealing with details will undermine your leadership and the ministry.

Rule #8 Don’t assume

I have been burned by this more time than I wish to admit. It is so easy to assume things that makes sense and that a reasonable person would do or understand. It is so easy when one gets busy or when dealing with routine matters or when the circumstances seem so clear to assume rather than ask additional questions or get the details (#7) in writing. One to two minutes more, one or two more questions may save hours of additional work, or a wrong decision made, or hurt feelings. (This is also Gibbs #8 rule.)

Rule #9 Delegate

I have struggled with delegating my entire ministry. After all, when I do it, it will be done “correctly” and take less time. Two years ago, our Board Chair, Rev. Greg Griffith gave me a different perspective—failure to delegate not only limits me, it limits the people I could delegate to, which is as important. My failure to delegate denies the opportunity for another individual to grow and develop the skills, talents, and gifts that they have been given by God. Delegating allows the leader to focus on those jobs that only the leader of the ministry can do.

Rule #10 It’s about HIM and HIS.

It is not about my ministry to young people, it is HIS ministry to young people through those that He has chosen to do HIS work. I am just one of those ordinary people HE has chosen to do HIS extraordinary work.

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Dr. Steven Meseke is the Superintendent of the Lutheran High School Association in Michigan and can be reached at Smeseke@lhsa.com.