Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Project Management as a Ministry Discipline

Project management has been part of my work in church and parachurch ministry for decades. While I have been aware of project management as a professional, certified discipline, I have gone about the work mostly as an informal practitioner. I have used the tools of the profession for years, going all the way back to the MS-DOS version of Microsoft Project, and more recently, of course, using cloud-based tools. My MBA studies alluded to the profession, but there was not a specific focus on project management. I have been satisfied to approach the work intuitively and informally, never all that interested in further study or pursuing a certification.

 As I am considering the next season of my career, realizing that I have project management skills and success, and recognizing the satisfaction I enjoy from the work, I have been doing a deep dive, with certification (PMP) as a goal.

 It appears that there are a lot of opportunities in the field… but landing a project management job may take me out of church or parachurch ministry since there do not appear to be many career opportunities for project managers in ministry. Which brings me to the question, “why not?” It seems to me that ministry is well suited to formally apply project-management tools and leverage skilled project managers.

 It could be that church and para-church ministries would do well to consider how bringing skilled project managers to their organizations would fill vital roles on ministry teams. Many ministries are sufficiently complex to benefit from certified project managers. Others might consider contracting with project managers, while still others should at least consider how to apply proven and standardized project-management principles and techniques.


Much of ministry success is a result of successful projects. Launching new ministries, revitalizing legacy ministries, capital campaigns, new construction, renovations, reworking governance… the list could go on and all fit within a project-management framework. Merely casting this work in project-management terms can yield huge benefits as the framework clarifies vital components including: scope, stakeholders, risk, roadblocks, timeline, budget, decision making, systems, quality, and outcomes.

Body of Christ

A project-management approach aligns with the way the New Testament describes the Church. Project management is people centered, organizing and enabling teams comprised of people with a variety of skills, resources, and perspectives.

Consider the way the Apostle Paul described the Church:

Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body…

God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body…

Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it
(1 Corinthians 12:12–31)

One body with purpose, comprised of many parts. Perhaps project managers serve as part of the central nervous system, coordinating the work of the various parts.


A project-management approach can be a vital tool in accomplishing further directives regarding the work of the Church.

Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11–13)

I am confident that most every ministry has underutilized people longing to bring their best to the work of the body. In my experience and observation, we usually do a good job of empowering teams of employees to accomplish work, but we are often far less skilled at utilizing non-employees. We are good at utilizing non-employees for non-skilled or low-skilled work but struggle to find ways for non-employees to bring their highly skilled, and most valuable, work to our ministries.

A project-management approach, resourced by skillful project managers, can provide a framework to best leverage volunteers. Furthermore, using standard project-management approaches, tools, and language can facilitate fast and productive onboarding of high-capacity volunteers. When our ministries use the same tools, approaches, and terminology as people find in their workplaces, they can jump right in with their meaningful contributions. 

It seems far too common that high-capacity volunteers are disillusioned because ministry leaders are not prepared to help volunteers succeed with their best contributions. We may want their money and low-skilled labor, but we may fail at utilizing their expertise. Well planned, resourced, and executed projects can provide a place for volunteers to thrive.


Project management should result in a leaner system with less waste and higher productivity. Sure, project management is administrative overhead, but when done well the investment of time and resources in project management should yield results that far exceed the costs. Simply leveraging high-capacity volunteers doing their best work in merely one area in which professional project managers can prove their value.


When we are clear on desired outcomes, agree on parameters like timelines and budgets, marshal the right people and resources, and manage to those goals, our projects, of course, are more effective. The first stated principle in PMI’s Standard for Project Management is stewardship. This, of course, aligns with Christian values as we understand our responsibility to care for the people and resources placed in our hands.

Jesus put it in these terms:

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit (John 15:8) 

There is, of course, wild fruit… but the most fruit, much fruit, is the result of teams of experts planning, cultivating, and gathering harvests. Skilled, careful project management results in effectiveness.


Consider a few examples.

Assuming that we are on a path of continuous improvement, the planning for our Sunday Services can fit nicely into a project-management approach. Specifically, since the outcomes are periodic (weekly in this case), such weekly planning would fit into an agile approach, with weekly sprints. The team would work with a log of ideas and elements for potential implementation over the course of time. In large, multi-campus churches the list of elements and personnel can be complex and extensive.

A project-management approach could effectively bridge the gap between the high-level, long-range goals for improvement and the week-to-week planning (the sorts of things a lot of churches tackle with a tool like PlanningCenter which alone is not project management but more of an operations apparatus).

Another example, perhaps more specific to educational ministries, is accreditation. The processes to achieve and maintain accreditation demand a project-management approach.

Achieving accreditation (or certifications, permits, and such) calls for a predictive or waterfall project management approach as it usually requires multiple teams generating a long list of documents and reports over months with a deadline.

Maintaining accreditation has also been a periodic waterfall, producing similar documents after a period of years. Many agencies are now shifting to a system of continual improvement for ongoing accreditation which likely better fits an agile approach.


Your Feedback

I am looking for feedback as I am just getting started with all of this. Do you have any observations? Perhaps you have success stories in which ministries have used project managers or formal project-management approaches. I would love to hear from you!

Friday, December 9, 2022

The Perhaps Surprising Outward-Focus of “Joy to the World”

During this Advent season, considering joy as an upcoming theme, the familiar tune Joy to the World inevitably runs through my mind.

These words were penned by Isaac Watts, and published in the early 1700s. He wrote some 600 hymns; many have endured through the years, including O God Our Help in Ages Past, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

Many of his hymns were first published in his work Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs in 1707. When the school district in the District of Columbia was formed, then President Thomas Jefferson also chaired the school board and set the curriculum. They established two primary texts for reading lessons: The Bible, and Watts’ Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs.

Joy to the World appeared in Watts work published in 1719: Psalms of David Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. Joy to the World was one of Watts’ interpretations of a Psalm, specifically Psalm 98.

The words were later set to the tune we sing today by Lowell Mason. The melody is often credited to Handel, but it appears that Mason simply plucked a few melodies from Handel’s Messiah and imitated Handel’s style with the melody that is now so very familiar. It isn’t particularly complicated: Do Ti La So Fa Me Rae Do. It is simply a major scale.

These great carols and hymns of the church are cherished by many of us today, but they were scandalous to some of Watts’ day. Watts was among the Nonconformists movement, those who would not embrace the established Church of England. In fact, when young Isaac was born, his father was in jail for being a Nonconformist. Isaac followed in his father’s footsteps and was an influential leader among the independent churches in England, pastoring one of the most influential independent churches.

In his writings, Watts spoke of his motivation for being such a prolific hymn writer. He harshly criticized the hymn singing of his day, so metrical and lifeless and boring. He spoke of how an unbelieving observer might doubt that there was any veracity to the faith of these so called Believers; with such passionless singing, could they possibly have any real faith?

So Watts set out to shake things up in his day… and it was scandalous to some.

Does that sound at all familiar? It seems that every generation seeks to sing their songs (our songs) to (and about) the Lord, and it irritates some.

When Scripture exhorts us to “sing a new song to the Lord,” I don’t think it means to sing our new song the same old way. It seems that the Spirit moves in every generation, inspiring songs that express our love for and to the Lord. New songs in new ways are an important sign that the Spirit is indeed moving… that there is veracity to our faith, true belief in and passion for Jesus.

I wonder what Watts would think of how his song is typically used in our days. Joy to the World is sung today around the world in the most churchy ways… perhaps with a choir, or a pipe organ with an orchestra, or just sung a cappella. Joy to the World is conformist today… funny how the stuff we cling to as traditional today always, of course, started as something non-traditional.

We may sing a song like Joy to the World in really churchy, perhaps even inward-focused ways, but Watts wrote it as an outward-focused pastor with a heart to reach the world… to bring true joy to the world.

Here's a bit more on "Joy to the World":  

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Leading Worship from the Back Row

My son was right; he told us the sound was awesome at his new church. He began serving recently, leading their broadcast team. We were glad to finally join them live on a Sunday morning and experienced a great service. People were engaged and welcoming, the energy was high (especially as people were baptized as we sang, a staple of every worship service), and the tech elements were on point. And, as promised, everything sounded great.

On my way out of the second service, as people streamed in for the third, I caught the attention of the sound engineer, introduced myself, and did my best to quickly express how much I appreciated his work. I know enough jargon to perhaps establish that my compliments were qualified from a technical perspective, so I started along those lines… but then it occurred to me what I was really getting at. I then simply told him, “You led us in worship from the soundboard.”

Which is the most important musical instrument when leading worship? In my tradition it hasn’t been an organ for decades. Perhaps these days it is whatever the lead singer is playing, keys or a guitar. We could make the case that a rhythm instrument is most important, drums or bass. The MD (music director) role is emerging in our churches; perhaps the MD plays the most important musical instrument.

Could it be that the soundboard is the most important musical instrument?

If the soundboard is at least among the most important musical instruments, do we act like it? Do we invest in the gear? More importantly, do we invest in the people? What are our expectations of these worship leaders on the back row? Are we resourcing them as best we can? Do they get the respect they deserve? Are they included in leadership and decision making?

It seems to me that the back row is increasingly important as we pursue our mission, worshipping God, building His people, and reaching others. If we are going to be relevant in these times, in our culture, we need excellence on the back row. Those we hope to reach are conditioned to expect excellence in production. It is not that we need to compete with the hottest concert in town, or the corporate event that folks experienced recently… but if we skimp on, or are lazy about, production, we indicate that our message is not worth our effort or their attention.

The back row, of course, in most churches these days, contains a variety of roles starting with sound, lights, and media. Video is increasingly important, both for broadcast and IMAG. Broadcast audio is often overlooked as we too easily underestimate this vital component. Add camera operators, monitor engineers, translation services, simulcasting to other campuses, and such; producing excellence from the back row is usually a daunting task, regardless of the size of our church.

An increasing number of churches, understanding the vital roles on the back row, are paying particular attention to the leadership of the back row. Whatever the titles (producer, director, pastor, manager), those skilled in understanding the tech and, perhaps more importantly, leading technical people are in high demand. Many of the most forward-thinking churches, valuing integration of the worship experience, empower a high-level leader on the back row with broad responsibility. Such leaders not only manage the tech and technical personnel, but they are also in tight coordination with the leaders on the platform in both planning and execution… often a troika of the preaching, worship leading, and production leadership. The end sought is a powerful and relevant worship experience, tightly integrated and excellently delivered, that magnifies Jesus, equips His people, and draws many to Him.

No matter how big and complex the task, we must aim to value the personnel on the back row as worship leaders.

Church leaders will do best to think of back-row personnel as worship leaders. We need to do all we can to invest in their training and development, and prioritize putting the right tools in their hands. We must not treat the back row as less-than or some sort of necessary evil, but rather consider them as ministers with vital roles; we should value their unique perspective, seek their input, and respect their leadership.

Back-row personnel will do best to think of themselves as worship leaders. We should invest in our ongoing training and development, both technically and spiritually, always pursuing excellence. We must not get so bogged down in the techniques (the wires and knobs and buttons and gear) that we fail to lead worship, honoring God and serving others well.

Let’s be sure to lead worship from the back row.

Perhaps I can help you with coaching, evaluation, or planning. Greatifiers aims to help you make good things great. Reach out; I’d be glad to help. dan@greatifiers.com