In part one of this two-part series, I tried to show how the plea to “run the church like a business” often misses the point. The church is not a business. But, there are some great lessons we can learn from the business world. Here are four of them.
Under promise and over deliver
I keep an 18oz. jar of Smucker’s jelly in my office. It reminds me of a great lesson from that wonderful company. There’s a legend that they put a little extra jam in each jar. If the label says 18oz., you can count on there being a little more than 18oz. of jelly in there. They deliver on their promise, plus some. And the product tastes pretty good, too.
As church communicators, we can learn from Smucker, both in our personal lives and in church life. Personally, we can carefully assess our capabilities and make sure we can do what we say. And as we think of the words and images we use to represent our congregation, we can strive to tell it like it is rather than as we wish it would be.
Carefully manage your resources
I once worked with minister who routinely overspent his budget. And he didn’t seem to care. He wasn’t embezzling, or spending it on frivolous things. He just couldn’t seem to exercise restraint. If he saw something that would help his ministry, he’d buy it. At the end of the year, the Finance Committee would slap his hand and tell him to be more careful next year. You can probably predict what happened the next year… and the next.
But the time came when this minister needed some money for replacement of some expensive equipment. Since he had not earned the trust of the finance people in the church, they nitpicked the request for months. They brought in an outside expert to evaluate the request and review the proposal. When they finally approved the money, they appointed someone else to manage the project. And I don’t blame them. Jesus addressed this issue in one of his parables – A master gave his servants some of his treasure to manage in his absence. When the master returned, he said to the servants who managed it well, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:14-30)
Count the cost
As human beings, we live with limits. There are only 24 hours in a day. There’s only so much money in the budget. How can we best deploy the resources God has given us? That’s one of the challenges we face in ministry.
Jesus was talking about the cost of following him as a disciple when he used the illustration: “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28) But don’t you think it’s great advice for everything else we do in the church?
I worked with a new pastor some years ago who came to the church sensing a call from the congregation to fix some longstanding problems in the physical plant. He set to work right away. Addressing those issues was his passion. Unfortunately, he didn’t count the cost of focusing all his attention on the building at the expense of pastoring the people. Everybody agreed the building needed fixing. But the inexperienced pastor didn’t accurately count the cost of spending time on those issues before building a solid relationship with his congregation. It became increasingly difficult for him to work with the committees, deacons and other church leaders, whose support and counsel he needed.
The story has a happy ending. The pastor eventually rearranged his priorities. They got the building fixed and he became one of the most beloved pastors in the church’s history. How much more effective those first five years of his pastorate would have been if he’d counted the cost before launching the building program.
Give people opportunities to grow and advance
Good business managers hire great people, encourage them, give them opportunities to learn and grow, and promote them to positions of greater responsibility. Those of us who work with volunteers in the church can do the same. We can seek out and recruit people who have a lot of potential. We can encourage them, help them see the big picture, give them opportunities to try their wings and learn from their mistakes, and then release the ministry to them.
I remember a woman in a church I served many years ago. As a member of the Woman’s Missionary Union, she wrote up a little promotional announcement for one of their ministries. She did a better than average job with it. So I encouraged her to continue writing. A few years later, she published her first book: a great little volume on how to do ministry to international families. She gave me a copy and wrote inside, “For David Powers – the first person who gave me the encouragement to write. Had you not said such kind things about my first efforts, I might never have had the courage to try.”