the shape of leadership

Your Church Is Not a Corporation

Six areas in which ministries and businesses should differ

Chris Colvin on May 30, 2019

Bible colleges and seminaries prepare students for ministry in a lot of areas, from biblical studies and preaching to leadership and ministry ethics. Mixed in is guidance on evangelism and counseling. The staff and administrators of our higher education institutions have the future in mind.

However, one area they generally don’t cover is business. Maybe they should. After all, a general knowledge of business and financial matters can be useful in ministry. A church can benefit from branding and marketing competency, and even from an entrepreneurial spirit.

I learned this early on, when I briefly stepped away from full-time ministry and entered the workforce. A 9-to-5 office job left me unfulfilled spiritually, but it equipped me in other ways. When I stepped back into church work, I discovered the new skills I had developed helped me.

I’m not saying church work is business, though. In fact, approaching ministry strictly with a business mindset can hamper you as a pastor. Church, after all, is not a corporation.

Many authors have written about the ways in which churches and businesses are similar. But we must also be mindful of their differences. Here are six important ones:

1. Goals

For-profit corporations exist for one primary reason: the bottom line. Even those that make a positive difference in our communities answer to their investors.

Churches exist to glorify God. As church leaders, our goal is not to turn a profit but to bring souls into the kingdom of God. We may spend hours poring over budgets, but the financial work is secondary to our God-given mission of making disciples. We should never lose sight of that fact.

2. Budgets

Since a church’s financial objectives differ from a corporation’s, taking cues from the business world on how to define the bottom line isn’t wise.

The focus of ministry budgets should be Kingdom impact, not profitability. An eternal perspective guides hiring decisions, resource allocation, building programs and giving.

Instead of trying to copy the world’s pattern, allow God to shape your thinking into conformity with His will.

3. Moral Obligations

Perhaps you’ve heard that a lawyer isn’t likely to lose his or her job over infidelity, but a pastor will. It’s a reminder that ministers have a higher level of accountability. Likewise, churches have a higher moral standard than any corporation.

That’s not to say companies are unconcerned with ethics. However, you can be corporately ethical without being biblically moral. My fear is that if churches take a corporate mindset, they may become complacent when it comes to morality.

4. Giving

Many companies set aside portions of their budgets and even human resources for charitable works. For instance, they may donate part of their profits, offer special benefits when their employees volunteer, or host charity drives.

However, companies often pursue such philanthropy to make their brands look good. Authentic, unadulterated altruism can be hard to find in the corporate world.

That shouldn’t be the case with churches. The good we do in our communities and around the world should be about loving people and pointing them to Jesus, never about making ourselves look good.

5. Staffing

When church leaders decide what people to put on a ministry team, there are a lot of things to consider. The standard idea of competency, compatibility and character is a fine starting point. Can this person do a good job? Will he or she work well with others and make good decisions?

But there are other important questions as well — ones that aren’t likely to come up in the business world. Does the candidate have a sincere calling from God? Does he or she demonstrate Christlike character? Is there an evident passion for pursuing the Great Commission?

No church should rely solely on corporate standards when hiring staff. We serve a God who knows all things. We can seek His guidance in bringing people to the team who will help build His kingdom.

6. Culture

At various times, a church may feel like a theater, a charity, a social club or even a corporation. But at the end of the day, we are here to represent Jesus to the world. How we approach that depends on our culture.

When I was in full-time church ministry, I enjoyed having lunch with members. I sometimes asked them about business ideas or compared our approach to marketing or advertising with theirs. They often expressed amazement at how different our church culture was from that of their own workplaces. And I embraced that difference.

As a pastor, you spend a large part of your time reading and studying the Bible, praying for people, giving spiritual advice, and planning worship services. There is nothing like that in any corporation in the world. Lean into that difference, and build a culture that prizes it.

Instead of trying to copy the world’s pattern, allow God to shape your thinking into conformity with His will (Romans 12:2). And let the world see it and desire to emulate it.

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