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Business leaders and pastors explore ways to work together toward God's kingdom

Jeremy Shue, MDiv 2011

October 16, 2012

Business leaders and pastors lead organizations, manage people, work with budgets, and cast vision for the future. But even though these two groups have so much in common, they often perceive themselves as worlds apart. Businesses typically focus on goals and outcomes, measuring results in relation to initial investments. Churches often focus on relationships and process which can be difficult to measure numerically. While Christian leaders in both organizations work at building the Kingdom of God, their approaches look different enough that it might seem that business leaders and pastors are working against one another rather than seeing themselves as partners in leadership and ministry.

In recognizing this issue, Mennonite Economic Development Associates worked with Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary to develop a seminar designed to bring pastors and business leaders together. Each seminar has been sponsored and hosted by a local MEDA chapter and while the basic format has remained the same, each chapter tailors the seminar to their specific context. Business leaders and pastors sit around tables and together contemplate a presentation by David B. Miller, AMBS associate professor of missional leadership with roots in both business and pastoring. His presentation calls both business leaders and pastors to consider their leadership role from a biblical perspective. In separate groups business leaders and pastors have the opportunity to name their struggles and affirmations of each other and then these reflections are anonymously reported to the whole group for reflection and discussion. At the end of the seminar an opportunity is given for business leaders and pastors to bless one another as they live out their respective callings.

To date three of these seminars have taken place: Spring 2011 in Newton, Kan., Fall 2011 in Lancaster, Pa., and Spring 2012 in Mt. Eaton, Ohio. While each of these seminars has been noticeably different from the others, common themes have surfaced which are worth noting.

Process
Both pastors and business leaders reported frustration over their different approaches to “process.” While anonymously naming a struggle with the business leaders in their church, one pastor said, “they are movers and shakers, and [they] struggle with church processes.” In the same session another pastor added “how we make decisions is different, [we have a] slow process.” Business leaders also pointed out the difference in making decisions. One business leader struggled with the pastor because “decision making [is] slow.” Another business leader referred to this slow process by naming a struggle with “ineffective meetings and decision making.”

Even though these differences have led to struggles on both sides, pastors and business leaders were both quick to point out their affirmation for one another—in regard to this same issue! Business leaders stated appreciation for their pastors in having “patience for the process,” “taking a longer term view,” and “bringing an alternate point of view to decision making.” One business leader even claimed that the “church decision making model has applicability in business.”

Pastors expressed appreciation not only for “business leaders’ speed” in decision making but also in how they are able to “cut [their] losses and move on” as well as their “comfort with risk and failure.” While some of these statements do not specifically mention process, it is easy to read that pastors appreciate business leaders’ ability to make decisions and get on with it.

Perhaps these differing processes are not the actual issue, but a symptom of something deeper. One pastor claimed that the business leaders in his church “understand the bottom line differently” and in a different seminar another pastor echoed that business leaders have “different expectations for measuring success.” Business leaders also pointed to this deeper issue and one called pastors to “explore measurements for progress.”

Churches and businesses often have different goals. And they should. They are different institutions. What the leaders of these different institutions need to understand is that different goals require different processes to achieve them. When working together business leaders and pastors should clearly state their goals as well as clearly identify what process would be the most beneficial in achieving those goals. Business leaders affirmed pastors for sticking to the process and pastors affirmed business leaders in their ability to quickly make decisions. Both pastors and business leaders have something to learn from one another if they are willing to discuss the goals, and the appropriate process, for achieving those goals.

Money
It is probably no surprise that the topic of money surfaced at each seminar. Business leaders reported struggling with pastors’ “inability to talk about money,” or “receiving mixed messages about money and wealth.” Pastors acknowledged not always knowing the best ways talk about money. One pastor asked, “How do you preach prophetically to the people who write my paycheck?” Another pastor wondered “are we disobedient if we are too comfortable with people of great financial success?” Another pastor honestly stated some “envy of [financial] success.”

As disciples of Jesus we should have a lot to say about money. After all, Jesus did. But unfortunately we find money very hard to discuss in the church. It is true there are some “hard scriptures on wealth” as one of the pastors at the seminar pointed out. But it is also true that our created world requires a system of growing wealth. In the keynote address David Miller referred to growing food as a created, natural multiplication of wealth. And then he walked through the Old Testament principles of the year of Jubilee, and pointed out that the Bible has a measuring stick for how wealth is being handled within the people of God: “How are we treating the widow, the orphan, and the alien?”

The comments concerning money from these various seminars indicate more work needs to be done. Pastors and business leaders should consider studying scripture together. Read through the hard scriptures on wealth. Bring up real life practical scenarios from the business world. Wrestle, together, with how the congregation is doing at living out the principles of Jubilee. Then wrestle, together, with how effectively the business is operating following the principles of Jubilee.

Risk
At all three seminars pastors consistently expressed appreciation for business leaders’ “comfort with risk and failure.” This topic stood out because the word “risk” didn’t show up in the comments of the business leaders. They don’t associate “risk” with their pastors—positively or negatively. But pastors think about it, particularly when they are talking about or are around business leaders.
When asked what they long for in regard to the business leaders of their church, one pastor said, “Help the church increase its ability to take risks.” Another pastor longs for business leaders to share “their wisdom about entrepreneurship.”

Pastors in these sessions did not see entrepreneurial risk taking as one of their gifts—but they realize that the church needs it. They desperately want those who are blessed with those gifts to share them with the church. Pastors should perhaps take the initiative to schedule a brainstorming session with a business leader and help make this happen. And business leaders must not assume that change is not desired in the congregation; when they have ideas they should share them.

Visitation
Business leaders at each seminar stated that they want their pastors to visit their places of business. One business leader longed for the pastor to get to “know who business people really are.” What better way to do that than to enter the business world for some amount of time? Ask questions: How does your faith connect with your work? What can I do to better connect what we do at church on Sunday with what you do at work on Monday?

Business leaders must take the initiative to invite a pastor to the work place. Among the suggestions: “Don’t always schedule your meetings at a coffee shop or restaurant. Give your pastor a tour, explain your processes, introduce him or her to some of your employees. Make sure they know the tough decisions you have to make on a daily basis. How will pastors know how to pray for you if they have not heard about the road you have to walk? And who knows, after a visit to the factory some sermon illustrations might make more sense.”

Conclusions
Business leaders and pastors want and need to spend more time together engaged in intentional conversation. They need and want each other to understand their world as much as they want to understand the world that they do not normally operate in.

One step would be for pastors or business leaders to attend the next offering of Business Leaders and Pastors: Partners in Leadership and Ministry. For more information see www.ambs.edu/workshops or www.meda.org.

Jeremy Shue is Minister of Outreach for Silverwood Mennonite Church, Goshen, Ind. He earned a Master of Divinity degree from AMBS in 2011, and he has a keen interest in business leadership because of his earlier work in several business settings.

A shorter version of this article was published in the July-August issue of Marketplace, (pages 22-23) published by Mennonite Economic Development Associates.