If being in administration means striving to embrace and accept, as it is, the community God has given us, good administrative work also requires planning for the future of the community. Schools of theology and seminaries have to think about the evolving mission of the church, the kinds of conditions our students will face in the years ahead, and how best we can prepare them now for the future they are likely to see.
Jesus’s entire ministry was a proclamation of God’s coming reign and the call to live now in the light of that experience. The Beatitudes become a powerful expression of that future vision. So, too, do Jesus’s parables of the kingdom.
Institutional planning, like anticipation of the reign of God, is not idle speculation. To move an institution and its resources towards the future required by its mission takes great effort and is one of the most demanding administrative responsibilities. I have found myself reading the Gospel of Luke in a new way. Luke wants to demonstrate to his readers how the life and mission of the church emerged from the past history of Israel and the mission of Jesus himself. Jerusalem, in the setting of Luke’s overall narrative, becomes both the end point of Jesus’s earthly ministry and the starting point for the mission of the community.
So Jesus “sets his face” toward Jerusalem. The very words reflect the determination, the discipline, and the fidelity needed for Jesus to complete his mission. Jesus’s teaching at this point in the gospel drives that lesson home. Would-be disciples are warned not to look back or to turn their heads to other concerns. Jesus’s parables are likewise sober on this point of preparing for the future. Would a king confront an opponent without first seeing if he has the resources to face his enemy (Luke 14:31-33)? Would someone intending to build a tower not first sit down and estimate the cost (Luke 14: 28-30)? The disciples are to think of what it takes to carry out their mission and ensure that they have the commitment to do so. To this extent, the work of planning and the discipline needed to bring the whole community’s attention to that task is an exercise of Christian hope and Christian responsibility for the future.
Yet, some of the most difficult and most lifegiving realities for me and the institution I serve have been unplanned and often unwelcome. As an administrator, I never know what is coming through the door next—an unexpected personnel problem; a pressing financial crisis; a burst steampipe and big repair bill. The unwelcome realities are sometimes simply unanticipated circumstances that throw us and our carefully laid plans off track.
The Bible views the world as an interface of chaos and order. Within this schema, the administrative role is to bring order, predictability, and due process to the life of the community. Yet for order to serve its place, there has to be room for chaos: for the unexpected, for the new and unanticipated. It does take spiritual discipline, a spiritual detachment, to allow room for God’s prophetic spirit to shake our ordered securities. By being attentive to the stirrings of God’s Spirit in unexpected and even unwelcome realities, we also find the strength and imagination to adjust and seek new life.
This article, in a longer form, appeared in the New Year 1999 issue of In Trust magazine, where it was reprinted with permission from the Seminary Journal (Fall 1998, No. 4). The Reverend Donald Senior, C.P. is, as he was in 1999, the president of Catholic Theological Union in Chicago and professor of New Testament studies.