Management as ministry


“Faith leaders face challenges running large organizations
in a rapidly changing landscape.”

Many pastors and priests have an inherent suspicion of business disciplines like management. The reaction is understandable given that American culture has tended to elevate commerce to a religion-like level. In the United Kingdom there are peers; in America, business moguls–Donald Trump, exhibit A.

At the same time American religious leaders and communities are realizing that in addition to the roles that are central to the community identity–things like administering the sacraments, providing pastoral care, teaching the faith–they are require to operate teams, to run a reasonably complex organization, and to all this with fewer resources, less cultural capital, and largely through the energies of volunteers. 

The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University has developed a program that permits religious and non-profit leaders to grow in their use of management as a form of ministry. [Article here].

Business and nonprofit executives alike have long consulted management scholars for guidance on how to lead their organizations through change. Slowly, leaders of faith communities are getting in on the action too.

Skeptics probably believe all of these programs are designed to lubricate the coffers of congregations. Not true, say the folks at Kellogg:

…The management training that faith leaders seek is about money, or at least that it is just about money. These leaders do not simply turn to the Kellogg School because they want to fill their church coffers, he says. “What they are coming to learn is how to be better stewards of all the human, material, and social resources that will be at their disposal in the leadership of their congregations.

From my perspective the management of the church is critical in order. Consider some of the topics mentioned in the story:

The discussions that arise would not be out of place in any management classroom: Who are your allies? What are the sacred cows? How should common goals be set, and individuals held accountable? What are you doing to invest in the next generation of leaders? Sometimes, though, the usual problems come with more unusual twists. Like: What if most of the people you are working with are volunteers? Or what if the resistance you are encountering is coming from one of the congregation’s founding families?

Seminaries have tended to do a poor job preparing ministers to handle these high-stakes, community-dividing issues. The ministry of churches is so important that ministers and lay leaders need to leverage not only their theological and spiritual knowledge, but be developed as leaders and managers in order to carry out the commission and the mission of the church.

2 Replies to “Management as ministry”

  1. I have long felt that good management practices at a large church are fundamental and absolutely necessary. As Jeff points out, I think most clergy have thought of business as antithetical to religious faith. As a result, they have received no training in business management or have little interest in developing it. Ultimately, it will lead to failure of churches in a complex, secular- leaning, non religious society. Heaven help us!


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