The Dangers of Pastoral Entrepreneurship

by Matt Svoboda May 14, 2015

John Piper's now-classic work Brothers, We Are Not Professionals is fantastic, and I recommend it for every pastor. It warns pastors of falling into the error of “professionalism.” Piper knew that falling into a spirit of professionalism as pastors could essentially destroy the essence of our calling as pastors.

A spirit of professionalism is still a danger to pastor ministry, but I think we are seeing a new wave: a spirit of entrepreneurship. While these two things are in many way inseparable, I think there is some important nuance between them.

Like with professionalism, not all aspects of an entrepreneurship are bad. In many ways it is quite helpful to have pastors that have some entrepreneur in them. The danger is in putting too much stock into entrepreneurship. A danger that can really dig against the true nature of calling and spiritual leadership in pastoral ministry.

Here are some examples of what I mean by “dangers”:

There is a constant “make it happen” mentality that exists in entrepreneurs and it is sneaking its way into pastors hearts, minds, and strategies. Pastors are not called to “make it happen.” We are called to plow, pray, and watch God do what only he can do.

The comparison game. I fear this new spirit of entrepreneurship amongst pastors has been breeding more “beating out the competition” and less, “We are called men.” Pastors ought to be quite satisfied in putting their head down for the work of the ministry. The temptation is to look around and see if we are as “successful” and “good” as those around us. We tie our identity as pastor closer to how we compare than how we are called.

Pastors constantly jumping to the next “bigger, better” opportunity that will give them more “influence and impact.” Pastors lack of satisfaction in investing in the smaller community in which their church will never grow beyond 250, 150, 100 people. Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Put yourself in position to have what you perceive to be the “biggest impact” at all costs.” Yet, that appears to be what many in pastoral ministry are doing.

The way pastors relate to one another… “Where are you guys at? What are you running? What awesome stuff are you doing?” I’m not saying these are invalid questions. I am saying it is telling that these are the questions most often asked and written about. I think many pastors leave the ministry because they perceive themselves to be failures in the face of entrepreneurship, but according to the Bible they are doing just fine.

Pastors can have a tendency to see people as a means to their work and not as the work. My church has a leadership axiom that I love: We don’t use people to get ministry done, we use ministry to get people done. I think this nails the true nature of pastoral ministry. Entrepreneurship can tempt us to see our people as the tools for what we think God wants to accomplish through us. We need to see our people as the very thing God wants to accomplish through us.

We have put on extra-biblical expectations to what makes a good, successful pastor. Listen, I am a pastor at an Acts 29 church. The A29 network was one of the first to see, promote, and utilize the positive aspects of a spirit and skill of entrepreneurship in pastors. With that, we also need to be the first to warn of the dangers of entrepreneurial spirit. In many cases we have added “entrepreneur skill” to the “requirements for pastoral ministry” list. This is extra-biblical add on that can be very unhealthy. The Bible tells us what is needed for eldership and pastoral ministry- entrepreneurship doesn’t make the list.

At the heart of these dangers is the temptation to undervalue true calling and overvalue the perception of what the particular pastor can do and get done. I am not saying this is a strong either/or. It is more of a “have the right values in the right balance.”

Eugene Peterson has a good word on this:

While being a pastor certainly has some of these components (entrepreneur work/mentality), the pervasive element in our 2,000 year pastoral tradition is not someone who “gets things done” but rather the person placed in the community to pay attention and call attention to “what is going on right now” between men and women, with one another and with God–  this kingdom of God that is primarily local, relentlessly personal, and prayerfully “without ceasing.”

Our primary calling is a spiritual one. We are primarily spiritual leaders. We aren’t simply trying to “fix peoples problems” or “run an organization/enterprise.” While we are organizational leaders and we must help our people work through their problems, our primary aim is to shepherd the spiritual lives of a specific people. 

Somehow we have lost our way a little bit. We have started judging the success of pastors by what they have managed to make happen and how much they have outwardly accomplished. The primary question we have to ask when evaluating a person’s ministry is faithfulness. Are they being faithful to their calling and does their ministry show faithfulness to the Bible and the Holy Spirit?

How we evaluate those things is a discussion for another day. We at least have to start by making sure we are asking the right questions.

Let’s take heed the dangers of the spirit of entrepreneurship that is pervading the pastoral ministry. Let’s make sure we are functioning out of a sense of calling to be faithful spiritual leaders and shepherds of those that God has entrusted to us. We aren’t trying to see how much we can accomplish through them, we are trying to see how much can be accomplished in them.

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