As Abraham Kuyper never said: “All of life is redeemed, apart from the mundane stuff”. When Kuyper was writing the Stone lectures was he thinking about completing a bi-annual PhD progress report, doing the online fire training course again (could a fire occur in virtual space?), checking references, filing ethical permission applications, ordering paper for the communal printer or reading submission guidelines1?
How can we bring Jesus’ lordship to bear on ordinary administrative jobs2? Here our focus is on understanding the culture of administration3 to inform our response.
Attitude to the culture of administration
A Christian approach to administration takes the same theoretical form as our understanding of our disciplines. The worldview and philosophy behind the administrative framework in our universities shape the individual tasks we are asked to undertake on a regular basis and reveal something of the goals of the organisation. Admin, like scholarship, does not function autonomously; it is contingent upon presuppositions about reality.
How does administration fit into a creation–fall–redemption worldview? What is my response to these tasks as a culture maker? Few deny that administration plays an important role in the organization of societies and universities, and that this is its appropriate role in creation. Yet a reformed view of administration also recognizes the effects of the fall and the potential for idolatry to creep into admin (admin becoming the solution itself) as well as the redemptive potential in Christ to fulfil administration’s creation mandate.
Approaching administrative tasks critically therefore is an academic calling; it requires us to understand something of the framework for the task, and to understand what that frameworks exists for. Does completing the fire training fulfil an ethical requirement to my colleagues or is this an administrative reductionism? Does achieving an above average satisfaction rating from seminars mean my teaching has been successful? Does the number of citations reveal academic rigour? Answering these questions as a Christian pre-supposes a coherent philosophical framework founded on a Christian worldview.
Could we be subversive in approaching admin, highlighting the limitations of each approach based on its worldview presuppositions? Could we also build an approach to administration that supports and serves it as it supports creational activity within the university, organising resources efficiently (effectively, ethically and aesthetically too). Such an approach, however, might require me to return my appraisal on time and with candour?
1) This paragraph is aimed at people who are not in their third year of study for a PhD. Those who are may have found that these administrative tasks are actually the most sublime distractions. Indeed this post is acting as a welcome distraction from writing up some stats for me.
2) This post has focused on undertaking tasks as part of a wider administrative framework. A more lofty position considers administration as the organization of the earth’s resources to serve creation. This is the macro-biblical view of admin. This post focuses on PhD students’ response to individual tasks (we often feel they we are not in a position to effect change or organize the earth’s resources – although we should consider our own time and energy as part of these resources!)
3) The focus here is on critiquing the culture of administration. However, if our aim is to please Christ in all we do in his creation, then all admin should be done with this aim. Colossians 3 includes the well-known passage: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23, NIV). Paul’s advice here follows his teaching to slaves. In this context our attitude towards the work outlined by our departmental managers and university-wide administrators should be as if working for Jesus himself.