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Why We Need More Entrepreneurial Church Leaders, Not More Shepherds

I realize I might be opening up a controversial conversation. But I think it has to be said.

And I hope you’ll hear me out.

If the church is going to reverse some trends and maximize potential, we need more entrepreneurial pastors, not more shepherds.

There’s too much at stake to ignore this conversation.

We’re (Quite Literally) Missing the Boat

If you’re a Christian, for certain the reason you have the faith you have is because Jesus died and rose again. That’s the absolute foundation of our faith.

But would you ever have heard about Jesus if a rabbi named Saul hadn’t sailed all over the known world telling every Jewish and non-Jewish person he could find about Jesus, planting churches almost everywhere he went?

The Apostle Paul, as he became known, left a huge impact not just on the church, but on millions of lives (and on human history) because he possessed the spiritual gift of apostleship.

What’s an apostle? To put it into today’s idiom, an apostle is a spiritual entrepreneur. (Here’s a great article from Leadership Journal about apostleship in the church today.)

A shepherd cares for a (usually) small group. An apostle launches dozens, hundreds or thousands of new communities of Christ-followers.

The church today is flooded with leaders who fit the shepherd model, caring for people who are already assembled, managing what’s been built and helping to meet people’s needs. (This is also a spiritual gift.)

But we have far too few leaders who have the spiritual gift of apostleship.

I believe this helps explain the malaise in much of the Western church in which the vast majority of churches are plateaued or declining.

We quite literally need people to get in a boat (or a car or a plane) and start new things, shake up the old and lead into a better tomorrow.


Is This Just Another Slam of Small Churches….?

Is this another slam against small churches?

Well…yes and no.

I love what Karl Vaters has said about small churches.  Karl pastors in Orange County California, where everyone has a megachurch it seems. He leads a smaller church.

According to Karl,

90% of the churches in the world have less than 200 people.

80% have less than 100 people.

And he asks a great question. What if [having a lot of small churches] is not a problem; what if that’s a strategy God wants to use?”

Interesting. You could hear this as a justification for keeping churches small (a justification I’ve heard far too many times).

But hear him out. He adds a crucial caveat:

I’m not interested in someone who says “We have these few. That’s all we ever want. That’s all we ever need.” If that’s your attitude, God bless you (I don’t think he will.)

I want people who want to innovate…who realize that maybe because of their gifting it works better in a small setting. But it’s not about settling. Never settle. Never settle.

Couldn’t agree more. Thank you Karl! (Here’s his whole interview.)

I just wonder if part of that innovation is going to come from people (even in small churches) with the gift of apostleship. If the church as a whole is going to grow, this has to become an all-skate.


5 Things Entrepreneurial Leaders Bring

There are at least gifts crucial skills (gifts) entrepreneurial leaders bring to the table:

1. The willingness to risk

The early church took incredible risks. People risked their health, safety, financial security and their very lives for the sake of the Gospel.

In a time when too many churches are trying to figure out how to survive, we need leaders who will change the question to how the church is going to thrive.

You can’t do that without risk. Being willing to risk what you have today is the best way to get to a different tomorrow.


2. Experimentation

Have you ever asked yourself what it would have been like to be in the New Testament church?

It was an audacious experiment that God was completely behind. Everything changed in a generation; the place of worship, who worshipped, where people worshipped, how they worshipped, how they connected to each other, how they gave and how they forgave.

There isn’t a single element of everyday life that looked the same after a decade of life in the church.

If the church is going to grow, it’s going to have to change. (I wrote about 11 characteristics of future churches here.)


3. A restless discontent with the status quo

Entrepreneurs and apostles are never satisfied. While it can be frustrating to work with someone who is never satisfied, it’s an essential gift in birthing what’s new and expanding a current mission.

Entrepreneurs are not only discontent with what others have created; they’re soon discontent with what they’ve helped create.

Paul died in prison longing to do more. Why do we make fun of church leaders today who have the same sense of urgency?


4. Boldness

If you search the New Testament, you’ll see boldness as a hallmark of early church leaders.

You can hardly describe the church culture of many churches today as bold. Anemic, maybe. Bold, no.

And when people become bold, people criticize them for being arrogant or in it for themselves. Well, sometimes yes. But often no. They’re just exercising a God-given gift. Paul, after all, was no stranger to that criticism.

After all, boldness moved the cause of Christ forward in a remarkable way, changing millions of lives.


5. A bias for action

We have plenty of thinkers in the church and not nearly enough doers.

Entrepreneurs bring a bias for action that is often astonishing. Spiritual entrepreneurs accomplish things nobody else accomplishes because they do things nobody else is willing to do.

If you think about the (much criticized) innovations in today’s church (video venues, multisite churches, online campuses etc.) you realize that you open yourself to a world of criticism when you start bold new things. So what?


Not the Only Thing, But a Missing Thing

I’m not saying the gift of apostleship is the only thing, but it is a missing thing.

Conventional seminaries are mostly addicted to producing shepherds. If all we get have is shepherds stepping into leadership, then what you get is people who will (mostly) care for small groups of people.

Organizationally, it makes some sense to hire leaders and have shepherd volunteer. That’s what we’ve done at Connexus. You can care for hundreds, or thousands, of people through volunteer shepherd (we call them small group leaders) and let the leaders lead.

Do we need the gift of shepherding? Absolutely.

But we’re desperately missing the gift of spiritual entrepreneurship in the church today.


Don’t Just Leave a Comment, Tap Someone on the Shoulder

Feel free to leave a comment, but please don’t stop there.

The church has plenty of opinions but not nearly enough capable leaders.

So here’s my challenge…why don’t you tap an entrepreneur you know on the shoulder today and ask him or her, ‘have you ever considered ministry’?

Think about it.

Who do you know who might be in business today who could be in ministry tomorrow? My guess is that there are people who are running businesses and leading in organizations who have the gifts for ministry but have never thought about ministry.

And maybe they’ve never thought about ministry because they’ve never seen anyone with their gift set use it for ministry. (You know that’s one way calls often happen, right? God uses human conversations to stir massive redirections of people’s lives.)

So while I am very interested in what you think (please comment), seriously, don’t just leave a comment, tap someone on the shoulder.

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  • This! Thanks Carey! You have articulated well why my first 18+ years in vocational ministry have been personally frustrating, and why now, at 47, I am taking the lead in planting a new church, which will plant churches which will plant churches. I’m no Shepherd, but an Apostle. The challenge that I faced in an established church was that no amount of teaching, preaching, explaining, and Bible studies, brought people to an understanding that their Pastor wasn’t a “pastor.”

  • Wow – thanks for this article! Not only have you explained who I am, and the experience I bring to ministry, but also my calling. As a Pastor, I never could seem to justify my impatience, or even explain my 5-Fold leadership ministry planting concept to my Shepherd only peers. Thank God (literally) that I have a Shepherd-based Bishop with an Apostolic heart who gets me… enough to encourage me and give me the green light! Thanks to all the great comments below as well!

  • HoosierConservative

    The comment section of this post is like a lab on the material. You can see the gap between those who understand entrepreneurship and those who don’t. Once you’ve spent some time in leadership and process improvement, you do indeed notice the many similarities. And when you visit a church where you’re immediately called a moneychanger for using a simple business analogy, you head for the door.

    Carey, may I add one comment to your otherwise brilliant treatise? Ministry innovators should not be pressured into thinking the goal is always to plant a large church. Faith-based charity projects, home group networking, youth outreach through tutoring or sports, these are great ways to aerate hardened soil in preparation for a church invitation. If the grueling job of pastorship hangs over your head, you’re less inclined to see ministry as an option.

  • Girli Pangilinan

    I must admit, reading this article and some of the comments, this is starting the wheels turning. I’ve been kidding about how the short courses I’ve been completing lately have been about entrepreneurship, and how my husband and I have been seeing management of both resources and people from a business organization perspective more than a shepherding perspective. When our church was transitioning into new leadership, one of the things being discussed during the leadership sessions (strictly for workers and volunteers only) was how the structure was being reorganized, and I recognized the business model, and it just fired me up!

    I don’t know if this means we will be in leadership positions (would be grateful if NOT!), but it HAS given me a more specific prayer point to add when I pray for church leaders, both in my own church, and in other churches (specially my best friend and her husband, who are missionary church planters with another denomination, and are also business-minded people! This is just so cool!).

  • timbole

    Hey Carey,
    Thanks for writing this. People really get caught up in semantics don’t they?

    Anyway, this article has proved to be for me a corrective. I had an apostle type in our church I honestly didn’t know how to leverage him and he’s no longer with us. Recommended him for eldership and then things went bad after that. He was too young and just not ready and there were lots of other issues. But part of our clashing of heads was his apostle gift (and the impatience that often comes with it) running over my shepherding (hear, much slower and more averse to risk) gift like a Mack truck. I thought all pastors should be heavy on the, well…shepherd side of things (I know…you don’t have to say it). I saw him as not caring about the people he was leading and forgot about the beauty of a plurality of elders and the different dynamics each one brings to the table.

    I was 34 at the time and he was just barely 28 and had just gotten married (Again, I know…but we were really young (literally) as a church and he was one of the few qualified…I should also mention that this is a church plant).

    I wish I had been wise enough to recognize this and leverage it instead of pushing back. I’ve learned a lot and I know there are other spiritual entrepreneurial types in our church still and I know they aren’t using their gifts. I hope learning means changing and changing means challenging these guys and opening space for them to step forward.

    God Bless you bro and again, thanks.

    • Tim…this kind of humility is so rare in leaders. I am such a fan of your ability to look back, correct and move forward. That’s great self-awareness and great progress. Way to go!

  • Ali Loaker

    That’s exactly who I am! I was a susscessful salesman but this year I’m launching a new church which formed out of a coffee shop outreach! Once that church is on it’s way and leaders are in place I’m on to the next! I think it’s easier to establish a sense of ownership and community in a smaller church. It would be interesting to know what size the churches Paul the Apostle planted?

  • I have seen a lot of similarities between entrepreneurs and Christian leaders, at least what they should be. Entrepreneurs definitely start things, groups, organizations, etc. They try to solve problems, that is their driving force. The Christian church in this country has stopped trying to solve problems in the past several decades.

    There is a certain amount of risk and dreaming with entrepreneurs and they are tireless workers. They don’t pay attention to what people are telling them. The Christian (apostolic) leader can do the same and the driving force can be the dream and the needs needing solved that is birthed in them by the Father.

    The Church in America needs leaders like this as well as Christian Entrepreneurs who will solve real world problems in Jesus name. It will not look like traditional churchinese, but it can be really effective.

    Good thoughts here

  • Marco Jacobs

    Very good article, Thanks for sharing.

  • Forest Ray

    I minister to the hard core Gamer subculture and this article hits the nail right on the head as I have gone out to them instead of waiting for them to come into church. I have gotten a lot of criticism for this but it is part of being an Apostle to the gamer community. Thanks for the uplift.

  • Doug Black Jr.

    So, someone has this gift. Where do those with these gifts fit in a church context that emphasizes and honors pastoral gifts over apostolic gifts? Like, how does one get started practicing these gifts in the local church?

    • My advice would be to just start. And if that doesn’t work and you’re truly an entrepreneur, go start a church.

    • Ali Loaker

      Start a church!

  • Drew Heurion

    I would stress that just because someone shows entrepreneurial skills in the marketplace does not mean they automatically qualify for ANY sort of Christian ministry (pastoral or otherwise). While I’m sure you would agree with this I wish you would’ve stressed that element a bit more in this piece.

    Theological training is a must if we hope to plant sound and healthy churches that will stand the test of time. Being savvy in the business world is not the primary trait needed. World missions from the last decade have born out the principle that for sustainable and healthy growth, theologically trained pastoral leadership is a non-negotiable (for more on this please see Dr. David Sills book “Reaching and Teaching”; in it he offers a very helpful corrective to the overly pragmatic tendencies in recent missions methodology). Again, I’m sure you might agree, but this piece seems to relegate such a stance as secondary at best and an unnecessary hindrance at worst.

    Maybe the heart of the issue comes down to terminology. If one is not willing to shepherd Christ’s flock, protecting them from doctrinal error and keeping watch over their souls, then one should immediately relinquish the title of pastor-elder.

    While there is much good to take home from this piece, I think a bit more balance and biblical understanding of ecclesiological leadership is in order.

    I would argue that those who seek to manage the church only should be willing to also step aside from the pulpit and let those who are doing the pastoring also have charge over the public teaching as well.

  • ThistletownKen

    “Shepherd” is just another word for “Pastor”. I notice that your little bio says you are the lead pastor. Should that be changed to “lead entrepreneur”? We should suggest anyone for ministry who meets the qualifications outlined in the Pastoral Epistles and I Peter and II Corinthians, successful in business or not. Good management is a necessary element for church shepherds as the Pastorals indicate. But it is never an either/or proposition.

  • Rogers Govender

    Well said – I endorse your thoughts on this subject of leadership in the church. I seek to be this way inclined and it always delivers for the Kingdom especially in my current role!

  • So what you mean is that we need more shepherds to have an entrepreneurial spirit and not just a caring spirit only-otherwise it initially sounded like you were just encouraging new-church-plants (like Paul). The current trend of church-planting concerns me because you see church-plants popping up near old-established churches and I suspect get 80-90% of their members from other churches and that to me does not seem like the solution. But otherwise I agree that more Pastors need more of an entrepreneurial-risk-taking-change-embracing mindset!!

  • Nhlanhla Mthembu

    Great article. I’m pioneering (led by the Master Pioneer) new innovations here in South Africa in the Body of Christ.

    This is a great motivation. Halleluja!!!

  • Mike Harrigan

    I like the ideas you had but wonder about the language. Does the church need more apostles seems to fit better than entrepreneurs. Honestly, I get tired of our cultural confusion which drives us to analyze or dissect what we are supposed to do as believers. I think the major failing of the westernized church is we have lost reverence. We think we are in control and if we just have another seminar, another retreat, another paradigm shift…What we need is people who take God at his word and follow him. The gifts, the harvest, the healthy churches all of it stem from simple obedience and faith. Why do American Christians apply cultural standards to the body.?No offense to the author but do you know how many books and organizations there are out there about Christian Leadership ..it’s nauseating. Jesus is not my CEO and Paul was not entrepreneurial. Paul was a murderer who God transformed by Grace. The power of God transforms us and then the gifts are enacted.. The church today has it backwards. We are always trying to create something that only God has the power to do.

  • Pradeep Shetty

    I can’t think of anyone else right now other than me ! May be God willing I should take this call. Thank you so much for the thought starter. It’s definitely like Peter jumping out of the boat experience….thanx again.

  • Zachary Verbracken

    Great article, Carey. I think one of the greatest frustrations for anybody in ministry is working at a church with a pastor who only wants to manage things on a week-to-week basis instead of leading the church into the future.

    Thanks for saying what a lot of people would be afraid to say.

    • Thanks Zachary. I think sometimes we just need to be honest. Don’t mind taking one for the team. 🙂

  • Rich n Connie

    May I share in this conversation from the perspective of one who provides ministry at the most vulnerable time in a church member’s life…their journey into dying and death. It is usually the “Entrepreneurial Church Leader” that has not the time nor desire to provide ministry to the patient or grieving family. You see, I am a Spiritual Care Manager at a major hospice, directing the work of 19 Chaplains that provide spiritual support and care to over 800 patients. Of course, if you ask this “Entrepreneurial Church Leader” his philosophy of ministry he will normally go to Ephesians 4:11-12 and hide behind this passage stating that it is the work of the laity to provide support for those who suffer within the church family. Seriously? He will state that he is to give himself to the study of the Word and leave the ministry details to the laity. Let me share two real-life scenarios of what we hear when providing support for the patient and family in the days and/or hours before their death… In one case, I asked the spouse if he would like me to contact his pastor to come over and be with him and his dying wife. After a full explanation of where the church was being led by this minister, the answer was a simple, “No”. Apparently, this minister was being entrepreneurial in bringing major change in worship style to this congregation in the name of reaching younger people. It wasn’t working and the church attendance was dwindling. The older people were leaving. As a result, the budget was suffering (is there a connection between the senior adults who were taught to tithe and give beyond and a healthy church budget?). Now, several members were suffering…the pain of imminent loss of life and it’s sorrow. Seems like the greatest entrepreneurial leader always had time to care for those in emotional pain. The second instance had to do with another elderly member of yet another church whose pastor was/is very vocal about the members doing the work of ministry. A side note gives further evidence of their lack of “equipping the saints”. Neither minister provided training for the laity to provide ministry in an effective manner. This long term pastor knew of the protracted illness of one of the largest giving, supportive elderly men in his church. The man had cancer and was dying. In the 6 years of this man’s journey toward death, this pastor had been to see him once in a hospital setting. His widow remains wounded not only by the pains of grief and mourning but also by the fact that she now feels she does not matter to the pastor. Oh, and by the way, in neither case is a church growing. Both are either stagnant or in steep decline.
    Is it possible to be an entrepreneurial leader and a pastor/shepherd. My belief is that it is a requirement. It seems to me that the work of the Holy Spirit indicates that the Triune God knows that people have emotional and spiritual needs and assigned the work of the Holy to Comfort, Counsel, and Companion with us. Is it really too much for a pastor to comfort his people (Isaiah 40) in their brokenness, counsel his people in their confusion, and companion with them on the difficult journey that life can often be? Just a thought ….

    • Thanks for the perspective. I think the issue is that we are all called to be merciful…you just can’t and shouldn’t be the sole provider in your context which is what’s broken in the pastoral model. I am a shepherd and pastor, but of about 20 people directly (staff and elders), and really less than a dozen deeply (elders and senior staff). This allows us to minister effectively to over 2000 people as pastoral care is shifted to people in the church and everyone cares for someone…or we at least try to provide the environment where that happens.

    • RWilliams

      What I see in that scenario is how gracious God was to work through you and your ministry to provide care for that individual.

      May I ask why you believe it was that pastor’s responsibility to provide the care specifically?

  • Mark Boughan

    Hmmmm…. while I agree with much that’s here, I’m wondering if we get beyond the dichotomizing, and consider that we are dealing with human beings who have both spiritual giftings AND human talents (if you accept THIS division), and that different situations may call for differing approaches, that the issue is fraught with complexity.

    This blog is then, from one perspective, calling for a corrective. Some of the commentators are ALSO calling for a corrective to what they’ve seen. BOTH correctives seem appropriate to me as they are correcting different things.

    Finally, even with both sides, we have a 2 legged stool. Where is the realm of biblical understanding and contextual theological acumen?

    Hmmm… do we have the beginning – or the uncovering – of a head/heart/hands schema here?

    • Thanks Mark. I think we’re all committed to the Gospel…we just need more entrepreneurs. And yes, it is a corrective post. We’re pretty protective of our shepherd model.

      • Mark Boughan

        I agree. Let’s just say that my own corrective to the comments in the thread is that we have the 3 poles of: Apostle, Teacher, & Shepherd. Anytime we focus organizationally or personally on only 1 or 2 of these then we have problems. Situationally and personally we may gravitate to, or be more gifted in, 1 or 2 of them. In certain cultures (or sub-cultures !), or historical periods, we may emphasize 1 or 2 of these- perhaps to the significant detriment of our common mission.

        I believe that what’s required is an openness to the Spirit, and a willingness to analyze self and situation. This requires a humility that I can only dream of aspiring to.