The Challenges of Incarnational Life

                Early in my ministry, I heard about a church having problems with its roof.  To a clergy colleague I made a comment about “the business end of that church” being managed poorly.  The friend responded, “The business of the church is preaching the Gospel, not fixing roofs.” 

Something about the response struck me as odd.  But it wasn’t until the response was repeated in a hundred different variations about issues related to church facilities, finances and personnel that I realized the church has a major problem with being a business.  The church IS a business, make no mistake about it.  In fact, most congregations are a registered non-profit corporation.  We gain major tax benefits by being a non-profit business/corporation (no property taxes, protected manse allowances, exemption from certain regulatory codes).  But we don’t want to admit to the business aspect of our life. 

Our denial of the business aspect of being the church is interesting, frustrating and can cripple the church’s effectiveness in ministry.  For example, I am the pastor of a congregation with expenses and revenue of just below one million dollars, over twenty staff people (including the staff of our feeding program for the homeless), a building that cost $9 million to build and would cost twice that much today, and an endowment that requires best practice investment decisions.  We aren’t a business?  Of course we are. 

                What if I was pastor of a church with $150,000 in expenses and revenue, one staff person (me) and a building valued at $500,000?  I would be a small business.   We may be a small, medium or large business.  But we are a business. 

                From whence comes the church’s aversion to thinking about itself as a business?  Perhaps it is related to Christianity’s difficulty with many real world subjects such as money, sex and power.  We seem to imagine that talking about such matters brings us down from a celestial plane.  But if it does, it did the same to Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Jesus and Mary, Paul and Priscilla.  They had to work with money, logistics, people and power and so do we.

                This blog is intended to be a forum where we can discuss the business aspects of the church’s life.  My goal is simple: as we understand and develop strategies to manage the business of the church, we will use our very limited resources more wisely.  Every dollar we save on a better approach to our utilities is a dollar we can use for feeding the hungry or healing the sick.  It is that simple. 

If we want to maximize our ministry, we need to increase our efficiency as managers.  To the extent that church employees and volunteers are managed astutely, they and the church will be far more productive than otherwise.  When we handle our finances using best financial practices, we reduce the chance that our congregation will be featured in one of those almost daily stories in the media about an employee or volunteer stealing thousands of dollars from the church.   As we set aside money for a capital reserve fund, we will not have huge crises when the boiler dies, causing us to eliminate benevolences so we can get heat again.  Instead, we will tap the money we have saved/set aside in the capital reserve fund.

From a theological perspective, management in the church is rooted in the incarnational aspect of our life.  As the Body of Christ, we have God with and in us.  We also are fully human with all the good and bad that follows.  Let us not be afraid of the human side of our life.  Like Jesus, let us embrace it. 

I look forward toyour  comments about the joys and struggles managing the business life of the church.  Almost everything I know, I have learned from someone else who generously shared what they are doing in the way of management (I did figure out a few things myself).  May God be with us as we attempt to become wise and courageous stewards of the ministries God has entrusted to our human hands.


About jwwimberly

I am a Presbyterian pastor who recently retired after thirty years of serving a congregation in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington, D.C. I am currently a Field Consultant for the Alban Institute as well as author of books dealing with management issues in congregations. I am a devoted potter, throwing pots on the wheel and teaching the wheel when my schedule allows. Finally, I consider Mexico my second homeland since we have a home in San Miguel de Allende, GTO, Mexico.
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1 Response to The Challenges of Incarnational Life

  1. Roy Howard says:

    John – I just discovered your blog. Kudos to you!

    About incarnational ministry, I am one of those pastors that has difficulty with doing the work of the church that seems better suited for someone who is skilled in business, accounting, etc. rather than theology and social work (my degrees.) I have learned to be a generalist and do fairly well with administration but I’m much more inclined to encourage others in the church to exercise their skills. In the same way, I don’t expect them to preach or preside at pastoral functions, they can’t expect me to be super pastor, jack-of-all-trades, for the church. I really do think pastors have to focus on preaching and teaching the gospel in such a way to strengthens the work of the church in the world. (I say this knowing that you earned an MBA along the way. I wish I had at least a few good courses in MBA program.)

    All the best

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