The line between ministry and the business world has blurred. It is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between secular leadership and sacred leadership, and there are some influential voices arguing that any differentiation is artificial. As a result, many pastors have eagerly sought the wisdom of business leaders to help them manage their churches. But what if the tables were reversed? Could a pastor successfully lead in a business environment? Friend of Ur, Andy Rowell, is back with his thoughts on this question.
Jack Welch is the legendary former CEO of GE and one of the most respected leadership and management gurus in the business world. In the September 20th issue of BusinessWeek, Jack and Suzy Welch wrote an article called "Leaving The Nonprofit Nest." You can also watch the video or listen to the podcast.
Welch recounts the story of a woman who has tried to move from a nonprofit organization (think "church") into the business world. She gets nowhere. She can't even get an interview. The reason is simple - businesses have not had much success with people from the nonprofit world.
Welch says the fundamental problem is that nonprofit people just can't adjust to the competition.
They make decisions too slowly and do not care enough about results. Still, Jack says, the nonprofit person has some skills that are unique - primarily the ability to manage people without having money as a motivational tool.
The article raises questions for me:
1. Do pastors with a competitive background - perhaps having significant sports or business experience - lead with a greater focus on numbers in the church? And is this an asset or something to be cautious about? Does this explain the difference between pastors who shepherd and pastors who lead?
I would encourage pastors to be aware of their competitive bent. If we have a drive to see our congregation "win," that is an appropriate desire. But we should make sure we define what it means to "win" appropriately. We want the church to produce better and more disciples of Christ who live sacrificially. Winning isn't about the ABC's (Attendance, Buildings and Cash).
2. Some pastors fantasize that if their church career doesn't work out they can simply grab a job in the business world. But is that true? Is Jack Welch right when he says most leaders in the non-profit sector couldn't hack it in the business world and should choose something softer?
The truth is God has directed people into his work for all kinds of reasons. Still, pastors can accept the criticism that churches can become unfocused and perpetuate mediocrity if they're not careful.
3. Does Welch's impression of non-profits manifest itself in our congregations when members (perhaps with a business background) get frustrated by the committees and lowest common denominator decision-making?
It's hard to disagree with Welch's criticism, but that doesn't mean we should run the church like a business. But it does mean that these Christians with savvy business sense may help us make decisions more quickly. Perhaps if we listened to them more we would have more time for prayer, pastoral care, Scripture and ministry toward the poor.
4. Welch points out the challenge of leading people without money as an incentive. What does that leave the pastor in his leadership arsenal? How do we motivate, and does this make a pastor's relational skills the critical factor?
The reality is most pastors must lead without much positional authority. (This varies, of course. Some traditions still give the pastoral office a significant amount of authority. But I would argue this is very rare today). If a pastor presses for change too quickly, they may be run out within a year. Therefore, pastors must be able to lead collaboratively (helping others feel ownership for decisions), inspirationally (keeping people's spirits up about the mission) and subversively (persuading people to do what is right even when people's first response is flowing from a desirer to be comfortable). Pastors who are able to lead effectively are some of the most impressive leaders on the planet.
Andy Rowell was an Associate Pastor in Vancouver, British Columbia and is now a Doctor of Theology student at Duke Divinity School concentrating on Leading Christian Communities and New Testament.