Ministry or Business?

So I have many colleagues who came into ministry after spending a significant time in the business world. These folks have been able to bring many new and great insights into improving ministry efforts, especially in the area of marketing and social media.

Not too many left the business world dissatisfied because it was only about making money and not much else. I outline a bit of this in my new book Loving Work: A spiritual guide to finding the work you love and bringing love to the work you do. For many, the latter part of my book’s subtitle rang false. They loved what they did but they were unable to bring love to the effort it took to accomplish the job. Taking myself as an example, I liked being in radio all those years, but I got into that for altruistic reasons. Programming served the listeners and provided entertainment. Journalism told stories and provided a service to the public. But (and it’s a big but), it almost always took a back seat to the business side. A station owner once told me to “stop being creative” and to “just play the (spots) commercials.”

I knew then it was time to go.

Many of us would have done that work for nothing, and ironically, this blog has taken the place of much of that side of my media endeavors–and I don’t get a dime for it, save the odd donation when I ask.

But back to those business people in ministry…many of them try to place some sound business principles in place in ministry settings and often are met with some resistance from “ministry lifers” who insist that this is NOT a business, it’s ministry. And the converse is also true, if we don’t make some money for this ministry, then we won’t be able to sustain it. There are some in ministry who insist on using religious language, often language that the average person doesn’t even understand, in our documents and even in internal memos. There are business people who also want to secularize close to everything there can be about ministry to “sell this better” to the masses.

It leads to frustration all around. And often, in parish life, there are many pastors who are clueless when it comes to running buildings and offices and don’t understand why in today’s world we all need high speed internet access. (My pastor, thankfully, is not one of those people!). Pastors need to be able to understand these matters (in fact, everyone should understand enough of this who are in ministry) or need to surround themselves with people who do understand business principles and more importantly, can explain it to them.

But conversely, the business people need to understand the pastoral side of things. Sometimes we do things that don’t pay for themselves because they are worth doing and often leads to other things down the road. An example, our retreats used to not make money, but someone would be so taken by them that we would end up getting a large donation down the road from a few folks. Or we’d get a good reputation for these retreats and other partnerships would form that would bring us some funds.

It seems to me that the place where all of this intersects is in relationship-making and believe it or not, the pastoral people often trump the business people in these kinds of matters. I was once in a meeting with a very savvy business-minded person asking someone else to help us with a project. Business guy totally ruined the whole thing because he was worried about protecting the brand instead of forming a partnership between two entities. Needless to say, we didn’t get the help we needed.

Other pastoral people also can’t tell business people what they are about. Simple is good in these matters. “Educating to end abuse” was the mission statement of Joe Torre’s Foundation on Domestic Violence. Can any of us sum up our ministry in four simple words like that? “If you can’t put it on a t-shirt, then you ain’t got a mission statement!” an elderly donor once told a friend of mine.

Surely, a happy medium must exist. But some questions we must answer include:

1) What is our ministry about and how might we proclaim that in an inspirational way to those we are trying to reach out to ministerially and to those who we hope will fund our ministry efforts as well?

2) How are we training pastors and pastoral staff for the business of ministry? Do we make sure they can handle the business affairs as well as the pastoral affairs? Maybe vice-versa also applies with our business managers?

3) Do people understand us? Can we form partnerships with others without being afraid of them taking over or damaging our brand? Do we care too much about who gets the credit?

All in all, much care needs to be put into this for the benefit of the church, the people of God. Otherwise we’ll have a mess.

Maybe we already do?

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