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What an entrepreneur does as church leader

Church Wellness
“The word ‘entrepreneur’ is scary,” wrote a reader after I encouraged church leaders to take on the entrepreneurial role.

“I write poetry,” he said. “I play music. I like to study and pray. I’m an introvert. How can I be a poetic musical mystical entrepreneur?”

The key to his question probably isn’t poetry, music, study or prayer. Extroverts are as likely as introverts to engage in those spiritual disciplines. The key is introversion. Can people who draw energy primarily from within themselves be effective as entrepreneurial church leaders?

In a word, yes. For the entrepreneurial role isn’t about extroversion or introversion. In fact, some of the most effective entrepreneurs in business are introverts. Bill Gates, of Microsoft, for example. Also Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook; Marissa Meyer, of Yahoo; investor Warren Buffett.

One study by American Express found that introverts make great entrepreneurs. They know how to listen. They value quiet time for processing their thoughts. They tend to be calm and collected. They don’t live for applause.

Let’s take a look at what an entrepreneur actually does.

Imagine new things. The entrepreneur sees a need, opportunity, question or yearning and imagines a response. That response can be a structure, a plan, a product, a program, an enterprise, some writing, a gathering of people – the point is that “new creation” is in process. It’s like the way Jesus formed a circle of disciples around himself.

Bring the new into being. The product, if you will, didn’t exist before, and now it does. Without over-analyzing or over-planning, the entrepreneur launches the new. It will change shape many times, but the entrepreneur gets it started.

Take risks to achieve success. Entrepreneurs are comfortable with this key reality about new things: most of them fail. If you were to launch ten new ministries in a church, you could count on eight of them failing. The price of the two that succeed is those failures. If you can’t fail – and learn from failure – then you can’t lead your enterprise to success.

Learn from outcomes. Entrepreneurs don’t get caught up in sentimentality about their efforts. If it works, keep doing it. If it fails, stop doing it. You try your best, measure the outcomes, and move on. This entrepreneurial skill is badly needed in churches, where yesterday’s good intentions prevent failed ideas from being set aside.

Change direction. Entrepreneurs place little value on consistency. The future will always be new, a leap into the unknown. An enterprise that cannot measure and question what it loved doing yesterday is doomed to failure. Even though yesterday’s ideas have constituencies – people who found purpose and place in doing that thing — the time always comes to change direction. The world around us is too dynamic and the needs too pressing for us to stand still.

Deal with conflict. Most constituents in any enterprise aren’t entrepreneurs. They are settlers, nesters or implementers. They don’t resonate with the churn that a success-minded enterprise must have. They get uncomfortable when change occurs. They often push back and try to stop the next round of new ideas and direction changes. The entrepreneur must push through this resistance. Learn from it, take it seriously, use it to measure outcomes, but in the end, the entrepreneur knows the future is onward.

Form a team. Churches tend to have long-standing leaders who are entrusted with care of the institution. The entrepreneurial church leader must form his or her own team outside those traditional leaders. Not to disempower anyone, but to make sure that moving forward has a lively constituency and the entrepreneur doesn’t get too lonely out front or so beaten down by resistance that he or she stops trying.

I hope you will see that these attributes and behaviors don’t have to do with personality type. They have to do with vision, courage, an inquiring mind, a pioneering spirit.

About the Author

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns. His website is Church Wellness – Morning Walk Media

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