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21 August 2012

Is there significant difference between church and business leadership?

Is there significant difference between church and business leadership?

You would be a rare church leader indeed if the thought hadn't ever crossed your mind that your job would be so much easier if only the church was a business and you were the boss. Then members could be instructed to act, would take on responsibilities without your effort in persuading them, and generally would behave in an all-round committed manner.  Mind you, it's a myth that business leadership is that simple!

So does that mean we should adopt in our leadership of the church models and methods drawn wholesale from the business world and expect them to apply equally well? No, although some persist in trying to do so... Undoubtedly, there is much to learn and be applied from different leadership approaches but what singles out church leadership is that it is about leadership of something that uniquely belongs within a much larger context, an eternal context of God's overarching purposes for humanity and this world. It's big picture stuff that goes far beyond the reach of even the largest multinational corporation! And business methods alone aren't adequate.

The church has a special place in God's purposes and as His new community is meant to have Jesus Christ at the head and the breath of the Holy Spirit permeating all it is and does. Church leaders play a key role in making sure this is so in their setting.  The church is central within God's big story and therefore its leaders are entrusted with distinctive responsibilities to do with fostering Christian discipleship and equipping believers to live for God in all areas of their lives.  Leadership focus is on the whole person in community with God's people and together the church community in relationship with God sharing in his mission in the wider world.  This is the case whatever the size and nature of our particular Christian community.

Consequently, the church leader has a different relationship with those they lead than a business leader would.  Hopefully, Christian business leaders will want to see God's kingdom manifested in what the business does and the way they lead their businesses but their focus will not be on the degree to which their workers are growing in Christ-likeness in areas of their lives beyond their work responsibilities.  Church leaders on the other hand are given permission by those they lead to ask 'How goes it with your soul?' and are expected to have a response to the answer they're given.

Church and business leadership do however share similar elements – there's a vision and overarching purpose in what is done, people and resources to organise in activities that deliver the vision, obstacles to overcome, and legal and practical responsibilities to fulfil. There is need for planning and strategising, budget setting and management, and usually premises to maintain. Both leadership spheres usually involve some form of project management, plus compliance with health and safety and other regulations. Good leadership in both requires effective communication and the ability to inspire and motivate those doing the work.  And central to both is the need to develop ways of making what you have to offer relevant to those currently untouched by your message and activities. 

The challenge to us whether in church or business leadership is that of ensuring that these things are carried out in ways that are shaped and informed by active application of Christian thinking and values, and infused with the Spirit, so that our behaviour in our churches and businesses is distinctively Christian in practice rather than in name alone.

by Fran Beckett.

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