May I be completely honest with you? I know that I shouldn’t have to ask that question, but I will probably say some things in this post that aren’t going to sit right with many of my colleagues in ministry. You may feel upset, frustrated, or even angry. You may feel saddened, you may feel insecure, or you may start praying that I never become a pastor (“Go back to your crazy business world,” you might say). But if you stay with me through these feelings, I think we will find fruitful ground for conversation, and at the very least we will discover that we share a deep love for the church of Jesus Christ.
The church is a business. And it needs to start operating like one.
Okay, not entirely. But the church, like any thriving business, is an organization, and there are many principles and practices understood as basic necessities in the business leadership that would add significant value to our churches if pastors would humbly acknowledge that just maybe the ‘secular’ business world has many gifts to offer us.
In the “Learning to Follow, Learning to Lead” project, organizational leadership is defined as the competencies to “develop congregational culture through strategic and resourced planning, vision casting, and implementing change.” To most pastors, organizational leadership isn’t sexy. But it’s amazing how much the Spirit can use effective organizational leadership to lead a church in vibrant ministry.
In class last week, we spent some time going over the basics of reading a church budget. This was a helpful exercise as many of my classmates have little experience in that area (and I certainly recognize the uniqueness of my having been a public accountant in my pre-seminary life). I have been encouraged by the few of them who have continued that conversation with me in the days following. They will be great pastors!
After class, one of my classmates approached and asked, “Can I be on your staff someday? Because you know this stuff.” First, I’m honored that you feel that way, especially since you are one of the most creative, gifted individuals that I know. All I can say in response is, “May I be on your staff?” I think we’d make a great team with our shared strengths.
Church budgets tell us so much about the true beliefs and values of the church in question. Kentwood Community Church in Kentwood, Michigan, is one great example of a church putting their money where their mouth is. Several years back, the church ran a massive capital campaign to build a new campus. The pastor at the time, Rev. Dr. Wayne Schmidt (now Vice President of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University), offered the faithful, visionary leadership to tithe the monies received as part of the capital campaign, giving back in mission to the Kentwood community.
But organizational leadership is also much more than the church budget.
Two of my favorite games to play are The Settlers of the Catan and Pandemic, because I love strategic thinking. My favorite components of the organizational leadership definition above are strategic planning and vision casting. Does your church have a strategic plan? And no, having a strategic plan does not mean that as a congregation you aren’t attentive to the work of the Spirit, it means that you are actively discerning the work of the Spirit in, around, and ahead of you as you follow Christ in mission in your community.
But too often, congregations don’t think ahead—they don’t have a vision for the future. Some churches are lucky to even have a budget for the year. In the business world, even in the nonprofit world, organizations have a vision that is clear, shared, and compelling, and they have strategic planning to facilitate the organization as it works toward that mission. One basic foundation of strategic planning is forecasting and resource analysis. This might include using three-year or five-year budget projections and assessment of goals. How can we know we are making wise decisions about today if we don’t consider the implications for the future?
As I have reflected on the intersection of church and business, I think that many of the churches in my denomination suffer from a vision and posture of scarcity. I believe that’s what is truly at the heart of our inability to think beyond one year. I wonder what might happen if we embrace more of a posture of abundance. God is, has been and will be faithful to God’s Church.
Some might counter that Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:31-34 NRSV):
Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
Substitute “corporations” for “Gentiles” and that is the sentiment I have most often have encountered about the intersection of church and business. As Christians, we don’t worry about tomorrow, for we know that we belong “body and soul, in life and in death” to our Lord Jesus Christ (Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 1). But as Christians, we also hold an eschatological view of Christ’s return, the kind of future thinking that very much shapes our ethic for today; more importantly, God gives us this eschatological vision. And God has given us the gifts of grace for today (cleansing in baptism and nourishing in the eucharist) to sustain us for the whole journey of life and ministry.
PASTORAL LEADERSHIP SERIES
Read the rest of the 10-part series on the practice of pastoral leadership:
- Pastoral Leadership (21 February 2013)
- Organizational Leadership (28 February 2013)
- Learning Leadership (7 March 2013)
- Public Leadership (14 March 2013)
- Collaborative Leadership (21 March 2013)
- Reconciling Leadership (28 March 2013)
- Resourced Leadership (11 April 2013)
- Sacramental Leadership (18 April 2013)
- Pastoral Leadership II (25 April 2013)
- Leadership Transition (2 May 2013)