Church Leadership
I Ran a Successful Business, Why Can't I Run a Successful Church? (6 Reasons)
Successful businesses and successful churches have some similarities. But they have far more differences.

Much of today's ministry training takes its lead from businesses.

Maybe businesses should be taking their lead from pastors.

Many successful businesspeople have flamed out trying to plant or pastor a church. Some left a successful business for full-time ministry, only to burn out and go back to the business world. Some started in ministry, then quit to go into business, where they finally found success.

It's much easier to start or run a successful business than to plant or pastor a successful church.

It's much easier to start or run a successful business than to plant or pastor a successful church.

And when I say ‘successful church’ I don’t mean a big, growing one. I mean a solid, healthy one – of any size.

If you pastor a church and it's not collapsing in a heap beneath you, you're doing a better job at a harder task than most of the successful business owners and managers that people want us to emulate.

So, why is pastoring harder than running a business? Here are 6 reasons:

1. The Church Is a Family, Not a Business

There are many business principles involved in pastoring. And most pastors, including me, need to be better at them. But the overlap between church and business is much less than we think.

Running a church like a business is similar to running a family like a business. You can't get there from here.

That’s why the biblical requirements for pastors, bishops, overseers and other church leaders are drawn from family life, not business life.

2. Working with Volunteers Is Very Different than Working with Employees

It’s hard to hire, train and manage employees. Now, imagine doing all of that without the incentive of a pay check. That’s what pastors have to do with volunteers.

It’s also hard to find, serve and keep customers happy. Now, imagine doing that on a ‘pay me only if you feel like it’ basis.

I know church members can’t be compared to employees. And even less to customers. But that’s my point. There’s no comparison.

The primary agreement that keeps a company alive is the exchange of goods and services with money as the measure for fairness. But people can literally attend a church for decades, receive everything the church has to offer and never give anything back – either monetarily or in volunteerism.

It’s inconceivable that any business could run that way. But that’s how churches do it.

3. Churches are Much More Complex than Businesses

There are a lot of moving parts to a healthy business. There are infinitely more to a healthy church. Literally, infinitely.

Most businesses have a narrow focus. They offer goods or services of a limited variety. Restaurants serve food, plumbers install and repair pipes, and so on.

But even the most narrowly-focused church touches every aspect of people’s lives at the best and worst times of their lives. Spiritually, emotionally, financially, and socially. We’re there from the joy of birth to the sorrow of death.

Aside from the family, there is no institution that touches more aspects of people’s lives than the church does.

Aside from the family, there is no institution that touches more aspects of people’s lives than the church does.

Yet pastors are expected to master it all. No wonder so many quit in frustration.

4. Pastoring Requires a Call, Not Just Skill

There are skills and gifts that are needed to be a good pastor of a good church. But all the skill in the world means nothing if you’re not called by God to do it.

Without being called, you'll never pastor a successful church, no matter what skills you may have.

For more on this, check out my previous post, So Many Wrong Reasons to Become a Pastor.

5. We Make It Harder Than It Should Be

As difficult as pastoring is, we make it tougher than it needs to be.

We tell pastors of healthy churches that if the church isn’t hitting certain numerical growth goals, they’re doing it wrong.

It's like telling the parents of healthy, happy, productive children that their family is a failure because they didn't have more kids or aren't making enough money. Yet we do it all the time with pastors and churches.

A healthy church is a wondrous thing. And hard enough on its own.

If you’re pastoring a healthy church, don’t let anyone tell you that you’re a failure because you’re not meeting their (or your) numerical expectations.

6. We're Not Running the Church

Jesus said he’d build his church.

His church, not ours. His job, not ours. He runs it, not us.

We make pastoring harder than it should be when we try to do the job that belongs to Jesus alone.

Sometimes the missing element to a healthy church and successful ministry is a pastor who does less, not more.

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