Are Pastors Competitive Enough?
A CEO says pastors would never make it in the business world, but is that bad?

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.

November 06, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 20 comments


November 20, 2007  2:13pm

Loved the discussion. All the different view points, etc... The comment that really resonated with me was where someone said it seemed that Jack may have taken an instance, and called it a trend. I also think that ministry leaders who have never worked in the business world need to stop generalizing the conditions in the business place. As a former pastor, who still pastors people and still actively volunteers in ministry and leadership, I am currently employed at a Fortune 20 company. We work in what is called a "matrix" enviornment. This matrix describes how the relational and decision making climate is. It is not vertical, it is based on respect, communication, and relationship. There are times when a decision is made by one individual down the chain, but that is the exception, not the rule. They don't even take votes in most committees. It is simply a consenus conversation. To be honest, it has surprised me. I expected more structure, more vertical decision making. I have found that those who are successful (definition - get things done without walking on people in the process), are those who have excellent communication and interpersonal skills as well as having a clear focus on the goals and needs of the organization, rather than themself. much more could be said. To comment directly to Welch. I agree that most NP leaders wouldn't cut it in business, but I disagree with the "why". In my mind, the "why" is that there are way too many lazy, unfocused, and cowardly leaders in churches today. Sorry if that is too raw for you, but that is my viewpoint. Let's not forget that the shepherd has a rod for a reason...

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Joe Jordan

November 12, 2007  8:44am

Reading your comments made me review my own professional journey. Graduation from a Bible Institute was followed by four years as a solo pastor. Plans for a graduate degree in ministry fell apart and I pursued anything I could find in the corporate world. Twenty five years later–I'm still there, even after attempts to return to ministry. (Some churches don't appear to be any more comfortable with a pastor with a corporate background than corporations are with someone from the non-profit world.) Peace with this unexpected journey has come by realizing a call to ministry is no greater than a call to be a corporate division leader or an office manager. Are my spiritual gifts less operative when I lead a corporate training session in dependence on the Holy Spirit than when I teach the Scriptures with the same reliance on God for results? I confess my years in corporate leadership have made me less tolerant of teaching that misses the practical significance of a text. I cringe at the lack of leadership and ineffective management I've seen in some large churches. Perhaps the profit/non-profit dichotomy is just another iteration of our struggle to integrate what we call sacred with what we perceive to be secular.

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November 08, 2007  12:11pm

I dont know Jack..ha however I do know that he has a great company with a bottom line. Whether or not the church will admit - its run like a business...Jesus just did it better than we do. We have a bottom line...whatever that may be in your church...we all use strategies to accomplish that goal. It might be to make all memebers of your church happy, or reach the unconnected people of the community, or be the biggest church in town....everyone has a business plan. I dont know Jack but you can learn anything from anyone.

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David Israel

November 07, 2007  7:17pm

Before Jack Welch became CEO of GE he consulted with Peter Drucker. Drucker once told Rick Warren... ""Drucker told me: 'The function of management in a church is to make the church more churchlike, not more businesslike." Maybe Welch's miss on this issue is that he thinks we want to create the Church into a business rather than into a church. (Source: I do believe that Welch is correct, however I wouldn't want to make it our goal as the church to become more like businesses. I suspect Jesus might have a difference with our system of capitalism as it exists today as well. Let's figure out how to succeed in making disciples for Jesus Christ, not how to make more money than the next guy.

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Andy Rowell

November 07, 2007  5:22pm

I just wanted to say I've enjoyed your comments. Thanks to all of you. It is especially interesting to read the comments from business people who have become pastors and vice-versa. I look forward to reading more comments as they are posted. Grace and peace, andy

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Thomas E. Ward

November 07, 2007  4:29pm

My knee-jerk reaction to this post was overwhelmingly negative. I'm over that now. I once heard Jack speak to a large audience in Fairfield, Connecticut, and will never forget this singular piece of advice he gave to a first-year MBA student. After listening to her nervous plea for the best advice he could give her about business (and life), Jack shot back, "Don't be a dabbler." I think he'd say the same thing to pastors. In fact, I know he would, because once Jack was done with his rant on dabbling and dabblers that night, he concluded with this prescient admonition: "And if you're going to be a priest, be the best damn priest you can be." If that is in fact his best advice, then I think it supersedes anything else he might have to say to or about non-profit leaders.

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mike rucker

November 07, 2007  1:15pm

my first reaction when i read this yesterday was that welch is the last person who should be giving advice to the church. but in the end he's simply reflective of our times. there are very few cover stories anywhere of the guy on the corner solo-pastoring a church of 100, yet that's overwhelmingly the situation, at least in the US. neutron jack had plenty of underlings to delegate to, and he took their heads off if they didn't deliver. the solo pastor has only volunteers, and cannot punt them no matter how much he might like to. the church i attended this past sunday had all the latest and greatest video presentations and other obviously market-sensitive trappings, plus a bulletin that listed no less than ten pastors. that's why we have stories about what jack welch thinks. it's not news, but bears repeating: the church, unfortunately, has bitten the same celebrity-apple as the rest of america...

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November 07, 2007  12:02pm

Interesting. As a pastor with a few years under my belt I found myself, in God's providence, working at a major corporation. Lacking a business background (I was a science major) I felt that I was at a disadvantage for the few months. After I learned the ropes I simply outworked and out-hustled most of my co-workers. I found some managers to be rather incompetent. I told one "that if I managed my church like he managed me I wouldn't have a congregation." Another, a professed Christian, lacked basic integrity in his personnel decisions. All over the corporation I saw cronyism. After five years I was able to get back into ministry full-time after planting a church while simultaneouly working full-time in the corporate world. I don't think that the question is whether pastors are competitive enough. People from the non-profit world need to see that the bottom line in business is still making a profit. They need to be ready to work in an environment with different rules and different criteria that define success.

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November 07, 2007  11:14am

Interesting topic. After giving leadership within congregations and a denomination for 15 years, I transitioned to a role in the corporate world with a global software company. I coach our leaders and execs and have front row seat to their challenges. Chief among the challenges faced by these leaders is being too competitive. This is why concepts like EQ and collaborative conversation and dialog are in such high demand among corporate leaders. You don't need a whole of competition to make it, but you do need a whole lot of collaborative and communicative skills. Honestly, I think Welch may have taken an instance and called it a trend. Perhaps the one NFP leader who came into GE lacked ambition or drive or work ethic or whatever we want to call it. But to say that NFP leaders in general (and/or pastors in general) are not competitive enough is way off base, in my opinion. The role of competition in the life and ministry of a pastor is an important topic. I think pastors ought to be competitive, but that the competitive spirit needs to be aimed properly: not at other churches, other leaders, etc., but at sin, death and the devil. One final word... I thought the interview with Jim Collins that Leadership did last year had good insights on "the business of leadership" within the church and other NFPs.

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November 07, 2007  11:06am

I can't help but notice that some of the leaders with the most vibrant churches think and talk like business people. Andy Stanley and Bill Hybels come to mind. I think what they have that many pastors lack is the disciplined thinking it takes to focus their church's efforts and to make the difficult decisions. I've seen too many pastors who are crippled by the need to make everyone happy. The end result of this handicap is a lack of focus and a leadership by consensus approach that is not leadership at all. That said, the corporation's singular goal is to maximize shareholder value (make money). The decisions required to maximize financial outputs at times necessarily conflict with the church's expressed goal of creating a different kind of output (disciples, a better world, etc.). While some of the same principles apply, it is dangerous to assume that an adoption of the corporate mindset will lead us to spiritual prosperity. We must think critically about this, taking the good and leaving behind those elements that would tranform an organism into a machine. I agree with Jack Welch that most pastors would make lousy business people. I think that's a good thing. Think about it the other way, would you really want to be a congregant in Pastor Jack's church?

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