In his recent, best-selling book, Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink challenges his readers to move beyond a “carrots and sticks” approach to motivating employees.  “Carrots” usually involve financial bonuses of some type.  “Sticks” are threats of various types (termination, demotion, lack of promotion, etc.) if certain performance goals aren’t met.  In fact, Pink shows convincingly that such an approach fails with today’s workers. 

            As a young adult, I worked on a production line for a couple of years in an Oscar Mayer meat-packing plant in Madison, Wisconsin.  At the plant, industrial engineers established a baseline level of daily production for various departments.  Any extra production the workers generated that surpassed the baseline entitled them to bonus money.  In many weeks, my department was able to increase our paychecks by as much as 20%. 

            However, as Pink rightly points out, there are very few production lines in today’s workplaces.  Instead, we are doing tasks where it is hard to quantify a baseline.  This is most definitely true in the church.  Will we receive a bonus if we recruit “x” number of new members?  How can we gauge the impact of a sermon or pastoral counseling session?   What constitutes a good education program?

            Actually, there are ways to quantify results in ministry.  Worship attendance, new members, pastoral calls made, and number of programs running successfully are just a few.  However, we cannot view them as targets for which, depending on the outcome, we will receive external rewards or punishments.  Instead, our motivation needs to come from internal needs and desires. 

            Key to unleashing internal motivation is allowing employees the opportunity to be creative and have autonomy.  I knew a pastor who required his staff to report what they were doing in one hour increments.  What does this say to the employees about their autonomy?  How creative can we be when someone is breathing down our throat?

            Pink uses illustrations of companies who are allowing their employees a certain number of hours per week to pursue creatively their own ideas about what would improve the company.  One of the most famous examples is the Post-It which was created by a 3M employee who was given time to invent things on company time.  The employee made some extra money.  The company continues to reap the financial benefits. 

            What would happen if we unleashed our employees to be creative?  Certainly, they would need more autonomy and less job description-driven work.  However, might not the Holy Spirit makes its way into the midst of such creative autonomy?

            In another blog post, I will write about some of the problems with this approach.  Most important for me, what happens when employees use their creative time to feather their own cap rather than feather the cap of the congregation as well?  But before we can even deal with that problem, we need to allow employees more freedom to pursue ideas for ministry.  As they pursue such ideas, the motivation will come from within, not from their pastoral or lay supervisors.

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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.

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