When Entrepreneurs and Pastors Collide

This article was written by Todd Melby & John Hawkins and published by Faith Driven Entrepreneur


Bewildered and frustrated, Lance walked away from the meeting, saying to himself, “He just doesn’t get it. The facts are clear, the opportunity is ripe, the steps are obvious, but he just doesn’t get it.”

Lance had hoped that lunch with his pastor would be a helpful and healthy discussion about the church’s opportunities and challenges. Over this year, in which Lance, Colleen and their kids had been committed church members, they had appreciated the fellowship and biblical teaching. And like any business, Lance could see that the church had some great opportunities for broader impact and challenges to be confronted to get there.

But the lunch discussion went sideways quickly. Lance’s pastor seemed to bristle as Lance explained the facts as he saw them. His pastor did not seem to grasp the magnitude of the opportunities and challenges. And the next steps that Lance offered were quickly lost in his pastor’s theological musings on pastoral leadership. Amazingly what Lance’s pastor was very excited about was Lance managing the parking lot team for the coming year.

As Lance got in his car to drive away from the restaurant, he wondered why pastors seem to be such inefficient leaders. But then, his mind quickly transitioned to all he had to complete before tonight’s midnight work deadline.

Harold Bullock is one of the wisest and best men I’ve ever known (John). And he’s a pastor. He has reminded me through the years that people tend to do what makes sense to them to do, and they tend not to do what doesn’t make sense to them to do. Often entrepreneurs and pastors have difficulty making sense of opportunities, challenges and action plans. And often, this results in bewilderment, frustration and stalemate. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Through the years, we’ve seen entrepreneurs and pastors wrangle over approaches to the following areas:

  • Vision, Strategy, Goal Setting and Execution

  • Metrics and Evaluation

  • Leadership Style

  • Efficiency and Productivity

  • Maximizing Opportunity and Impact

For-profit best practices and benchmarks in these areas make obvious sense in business. However, they are often defined very differently or viewed with suspicion in church contexts. For example, an entrepreneur’s training and experience guide her to decisively and unwaveringly make it happen every day. A pastor, whose leadership framework is defined by shepherding and serving, moves through the day reflectively and caringly, leaving no one behind. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive. But they are different perspectives and practices that tend to view progress and success differently.

If an entrepreneur truly wants to help his pastor, he must first win trust with him. Pastors can be an untrusting lot; it takes time to gain collaborative access. At the outset, this puts many entrepreneurs off because they tend not to have much time and want things to move quickly. It is also frustrating to them because the solutions seem so apparent. Pastors are often more accurate in understanding the complexity of change in the church but get lost in it or paralyzed by it. Entrepreneurs often want to charge into accomplishing the change without understanding the cultural or theological complexity into which they eventually collide.

When I (Todd) first started attending my current church after business school, I was one of these entrepreneurs put off by being asked to work on the parking team and changing diapers. I remember thinking, “don’t they know that I’m the CFO of a high-flying start-up?” God quickly replied, “Yes, and I can still use you in my church.” I may have possessed the skills necessary to bring about change in the church, but I didn’t possess the knowledge, character and vision required to shepherd God’s people through meaningful and lasting change. Through “long obedience in the same direction, ” entrepreneurs can grow into trusted partners for their pastors.

Here are a few practical suggestions on how to win your pastor’s trust and gain collaborative access with him:

  1. Prayer

    Both for your pastor and with your pastor. Prayers not just for the change you see is needed but also for his overall well-being and concerns.

  2. Humility

    As exemplified by speaking freely of your own challenges and daily need for God’s grace.

  3. Accepting Him and Your Differences with Him

    Not trying to recast your pastor into your image or leadership style. You have to appreciate that you are different parts of the body of Christ. You may be an elbow and he may be a knee. These are different and essential.

  4. Proving Yourself to Be A Team Player

    Supporting and giving energy and resources to things that are your pastor’s priorities, even if they are not your priorities. Serving faithfully on the “parking lot team” can lead to greater access and influence. And even if it doesn’t, it honors God to serve humbly.

  5. Finding Places for Collaboration

    This involves learning from your pastor ways that you can work with him or other leaders in moving some aspect of the church forward.

  6. Getting Over “Stewardship of Your Gifts”

    Christians often play the “stewarding my gifts” card to insist that they can only serve in certain places and at certain levels within the organization. This isn’t the mindset of a Christian servant. Asking “how may I help” means accepting a role that may not be your preferred way of helping.

  7. Submission and Focus

    Hebrews 13:17 tells us that Christians are to obey and submit to their pastors in a way that gives the pastors joy. Like other Bible passages that urge us to submit, we tend to either ignore this passage or focus on what it can’t mean. God calls us to live out what it does mean.

Over my 68 years, I’ve been a member of six churches (John). I’ve also been an entrepreneur. In all six of the churches, there have been plenty of opportunities for humble service. In two of them, over time, while building trust, there have been opportunities to work with the pastors to accomplish significant change.

My story (Todd) is different than John’s due to being younger and a member of fewer churches. And yet I’ve also found that there is always a great need for humble service in the church and that, over time, humble service can build trust that leads to significant collaboration with pastors.

In our minds, when we’re thinking clearly, we see all of these involvements as unmerited gifts to us from God. We’re simply glad to be on the team and do our bit in God’s work through our churches. All by His grace. All for His glory and honor. How about you?