For centuries the church has taken Ephesians 4 to heart and suggested that there are five primary roles for a minister to fulfill.
Modern ministers are expected to embody these roles as needed and with a significant level of expertise and professionalism.
They are: apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher.
Across the centuries, these roles have remained central to what it means to be a leader among God’s people, regardless of denomination or faith tradition.
May I suggest a 21st-century addition? I propose we add the role of minister as entrepreneur.
Dictionary.com defines an entrepreneur as: “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.”
Organizing and managing a congregation “with considerable initiative and risk” certainly sounds like the effective ministers I know.
Whether leading a specific ministry area (music, youth, faith formation) or in the role of senior pastor, initiative is an essential trait if we are to be both effective and faithful.
The women and men I know who are doing great work in ministry have taken this role to heart. They dare to dream and articulate a vision and then seek ways to creatively bring it to reality.
Risk is accepted as normative and seen as a sign of faithfulness to a God-sized agenda.
Congregations who adopt an entrepreneurial spirit begin to understand that change is our friend and innovation is our future. They look to Scripture and find that God’s people are always on the move and called to focus on a Kingdom agenda rather than their own.
They find examples and inspiration from others who have embraced creativity as a gift from God to be prized and cultivated. Entrepreneurs focus on dreams rather than fears.
They believe innovation and constant improvement are signs of the Spirit’s presence.
They read the book of Acts and see the entrepreneurial spirit on every page.
Unfortunately, entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial spirit are not always well received in congregational life.
They threaten our sense of stability and familiarity. They challenge our established notions about what we do and who we are. They quickly push us out of our comfort zones and cause us to feel anxious and fearful.
They make mistakes, sometimes big ones, and they never seem to be satisfied to stop and rest and enjoy the view. Entrepreneurs wear us out; they run hard and usually leave collateral damage in their wake.
So, what are we to make of this call to creativity and innovation? I believe that to fail to embody this spirit is to court irrelevance and eventually our demise.
Now, we must remember that being an entrepreneur is but one of several roles that clergy are called to fulfill. Embodying the entrepreneurial spirit is no excuse for neglecting the role of pastor or priest for a family in time of need.
Being an entrepreneur doesn’t vacate your call to be reflective and to spend time in personal devotion. Traditions and programs still need our attention.
Many clergy will have to confess that the entrepreneurial spirit is simply not something they are blessed with, as is often true of the other roles mentioned. What then?
Here are some suggestions for a healthy injection of the entrepreneurial spirit into the life of congregations and clergy.
1. Cultivate the spirit of creativity and innovation personally and as a congregation. Find those who are blessed with such traits naturally and invite them to tutor you. Someone in your congregation has the entrepreneurial spirit in abundance. They probably work in a nonreligious field. Find them and learn from them.
2. Ministers must bring others along on the journey. Clergy sometimes have the mistaken notion that laity cannot absorb or appreciate the complexities of modern ministry. Many cannot, but some do and want desperately to help the church work smarter, not harder. I have found that these uniquely gifted people often feel unappreciated and unwanted in local churches. They’ve endured many rolling eyes and old-school sighs. Validate them and they will fill a vital role in your congregation.
3. Create space in your life and calendar for creativity and innovative thinking. Find times when you can empty your head and allow the Spirit to inspire. Spend at least one day a month in planning and preparation. Congregations need to relieve their ministers of the crush of meetings and the unrealistic expectation that she or he is the only one who can hold every person’s hand through every medical procedure. It’s not biblical, it’s not true, and that expectation will rob your minister of every ounce of his or her creativity.
4. Find those who practice the faith in your style and tradition and are innovators. Visit them. Read their writings. Listen to them. Spend time with them. The entrepreneurial spirit is contagious. I hope you catch it.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Congregational Health in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bill Wilson is president of the Center for Healthy Churches (CHC) housed at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.