I had a conversation recently with a long time evangelist and church leader. He was bemoaning the state of leadership in the church and at one point said, with great passion, “Pastors are not CEOs; they’re shepherds!” He is right. The pastor is not the Chief Executive Officer of a church. That isn’t the calling. (Though in many churches it’s the cultural construct.) Pastors are called to show the way, to care for, to nurture, to protect, to feed.
Right about this time, though, the guy’s ideas jumped the rails. He went on to call out several pastors of mega churches (not present at the time) for “bringing all this business into the church.” He decried business principles for ruining the church and undermining its mission and message.
It is true that the church is not a business. It is not a profit earning entity – at least it shouldn’t be. Church is about people and purpose not numbers of any kind. And top or bottom line numbers cannot accurately measure that purpose or the success of the mission. But to define the usefulness of business principles so narrowly as to say they “ruin the church” is false. (It’s also discouraging to business people in the church, but that is an article for a separate day.)
Most effective business principles aren’t directly about profit; they’re about organizational health and effectiveness. And, while the church is not a business, it is an organization. This means that the principles of David Allen, Chip and Dan Heath, Seth Godin, Patrick Lencioni, Simon Sinek, Jim Collins, Peter Drucker, and others certainly do apply to the church. Such principles don’t create life in the church and they are not an end in themselves.
A church could feasibly be a healthy organization but worthless in the mission of Jesus. But such principles do remove obstacles to the mission. They can increase the effectiveness of those working toward the mission. And they can create an environment that is open to those being invited into the mission.
The church is the body of Christ. It is His representation here on earth. And it is imperfect. We, the church, do not effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus or exemplify his life. We are not good at working together and being a single unit pointed in the same direction. That’s why we need effective organizational – or “business” – principles. It will always be the mission of Jesus that drives the church and defines its effectiveness. But good methods help us do that mission better.
Barnabas Piper serves on the leadership team at LifeWay, and is the author of several books, including The Pastor’s Kid, and Help My Unbelief.