12 Signs You’re a Spiritual Entrepreneur

So you’re building your team—you’re even assessing your personal gifting for everything that lies ahead in ministry.

What’s the gift set you’re looking for that in a leader (or in yourself) that will really help move your mission forward, reach new people and prepare for everything ahead?

At some point at the senior leadership level of your church, you’re going to need a handful of what I call spiritual entrepreneurs.

Often these people are misunderstood in the church.

For the most part, shepherds and chaplains have run the church. I’m not saying we don’t need shepherds or that we don’t need chaplains in the right place. Not at all. We do.

But what happens when all you have are shepherds and chaplains?

Here’s what happens: the kind of radical change that both the church and the world need doesn’t happen. Instead, leaders hold the hand of  a sick church and comfort it while it dies.

I know that sounds harsh, but look around you. Isn’t that mostly what’s happening? I also know enough good shepherds and chaplains to know that they find the hand holding of a dying church deeply frustrating and frightening. They don’t want their church to die, but there aren’t enough leaders around them with the gift set or mindset necessary to turn it around.

Something’s Missing…

The missing gift set in the church is spiritual entrepreneurship—something the New Testament calls apostleship. It’s the kind of radical determination, innovation and fierceness the Apostle Paul showed.

As I wrote about here, the church today is filled with shepherds, to the point where shepherds are perhaps over-represented in church leadership. What we need most as we navigate new waters in a post-Christian culture is not more shepherds, but spiritual entrepreneurs.

Whether you call it spiritual entrepreneurship or the gift of apostleship, what we need is a new generation of Apostle Pauls who forge out in new directions. Who experiment boldly. Who dare greatly.

Spiritual entrepreneurs are the kind of leaders who will find tomorrow’s solutions when most leaders can only see the problem.

In a marketplace that’s in love with start-ups and new ventures, we need some leaders who are inclined to spend their lives in the marketplace who will take their God-given talents and energy and throw them full time behind the mission of the church.

Are you called to it? As I write about here, the fact that you have the gifts might be enough of a sign that you’re called.

So what does spiritual entrepreneurship look like?

What are the characteristics of leaders who can forge fresh ground in the church?

And how do you know if you might be a spiritual entrepreneur?

As I meet church leaders who are actually reaching unchurched people in massive quantities, here are the qualities I see among the leaders. (I wrote about 5 characteristics I see in their churches here.)

Spiritual entrepreneurs:

1. Think big

Too many churches die of small thinking:

We don’t have enough

It won’t happen

Stop dreaming

That’s plenty for now

Who will pay for it?

Leaders who serve an infinite God should never have their imaginations deadened by small thinking.

Spiritual entrepreneurs aren’t.

They think big. They dream of what could be, not what is, and they see the opportunity in every obstacle.

2. Believe God can

We serve a God who created amazing things out of nothing. Why do we think he won’t do the same for his church?

Spiritual entrepreneurs believe he will. And they see him do it.

They would agree with Henry Ford who said, “Whether you believe you can or whether you believe you can’t, you’re right.”

Before you dismiss this as positive thinking nonsense, remember Jesus couldn’t perform many miracles in his hometown because of people’s lack of faith. Then, moments later, he walked on water and fed 5000 because people in those communities had faith.

Spiritual entrepreneurs believe God can. And they see him do it.

3. See abundance, not scarcity

Spiritual entrepreneurs see abundance, not scarcity.

Give a dying church $10,000, and they’ll think they’re broke and need to conserve it.

Give $10,000 to a spiritual entrepreneur, and he’ll see it as seed money to start something big.

To a dying church, 5 leaders is defeat. To a spiritual entrepreneur, it’s a start.

Same facts. Different mindset. Attitude is everything.

4. Think vision first, resources second

So what comes first? Vision, or resources?

Spiritual entrepreneurs are very comfortable with the reality that vision precedes resources.

Casting a big vision (a solid, on-mission vision) will often lead to significant resources down the road.

Waiting for big resources so you can have a vision is a recipe for death.

5. Invest in personal and team development

Spiritual entrepreneurs aren’t crazy spenders, but they see a key distinction between an expense and an investment.

They realize that going to conferences, networking with other leaders, buying books and doing whatever it takes to make themselves and their team better is an investment.

Sure, there are limits, but smart spiritual entrepreneurs will often spend a minimum of 10% of all the money they receive making themselves and their team better.

6. Believe this is bigger than them

Of all the criticisms levied at spiritual entrepreneurs, the most common is often that they have big egos and it’s all about them.

Sometimes that’s true.

But most often it’s not.

Big vision does not automatically equal big ego.

The best spiritual entrepreneurs humbly submit to God and are committed to a vision that is so much bigger than they are.

Personal humility combined with big ambition for the mission fosters incredible leadership.

Think about it this way. The reason we’re talking about Paul 2000 years later is that Paul’s work wasn’t about Paul; it was about Jesus and the mission of the church.

If your vision is all about you, it will die with you.

True spiritual entrepreneurs know that.

7. Ship first, improve later

Perfectionists make terrible entrepreneurs.

If you haven’t shipped on your vision yet because you’re waiting for ideal conditions or the perfect result, you’ll wait forever.

People email me all the time (usually after going to a conference hosted by a large church with lots of resources) and ask whether a new building or better lighting or a move to a portable location will help them grow.

I always tell them it won’t (here’s why).

Big churches never started big. They usually started very humbly. But because they are led by spiritual entrepreneurs, those entrepreneurs at every stage made the most of whatever they had.

A spiritual entrepreneur can launch a growing church in a dying building with little money.

Then they make all the improvements later as facilities and resources grow.

8. Are fine with ambiguity

Ask a spiritual entrepreneur how they’re going to do it, and the #1 answer is “I don’t know. We’re just going to do it.”

There’s something powerful in that.

If you have it all figured out before you launch it, your vision isn’t big enough.

9. Will risk it all without guarantee of success

Too many leaders hope for some kind of guarantee.

Risk brings no guarantees because it’s risk.

Spiritual entrepreneurs are okay with that.

Most spiritual entrepreneurs want to die trying. Usually they don’t die trying, but the fact that they’re willing to is crucial.

Ironically, if a spiritual entrepreneur has a solid plan that’s on mission, they usually don’t fail. But you have to be willing to fail to succeed.

10. Never wait for consensus

Too many churches will only move forward if there is consensus.

That’s a critical mistake.

Consensus kills courage. By the time you have consensus, ideas are so watered down they are worthy of the committee that put them together.

Spiritual entrepreneurs rarely act alone (at least the smart ones don’t). But they’re ready to move ahead with a group of early adopters knowing most will eventually buy into whatever is being proposed once they see it working.

11. Let the critics talk while they act

The critics will always talk.

Spiritual entrepreneurs know this.

They don’t get weighed down by critics who criticize what others do and do little themselves.

How do you respond to the critics?

By acting.

Just act while the critics talk. You’ll accomplish something. They won’t.

12. Break rules

Quite obviously, you should never break biblical rules. And the great spiritual entrepreneurs never do. Their character is solid.

But you’re going to absolutely need to break some human rules if you’re going to disrupt the status quo.

Innovation always breaks rules. Why?

Because innovation never asks for permission. It just innovates.

Some Help For Spiritual Entrepreneurs

Despite a leader’s best intentions, often leaders who start things don’t know how to scale things.

I had to learn the hard way, and have led our church past the 200 barrier right through the 1000 attendance barrier with multiple locations. These are barriers that, despite best intentions, 98% of leaders never pass.

Surprisingly, the reasons most leaders don’t scale their ministries aren’t spiritual—they’re structural. It’s the same reason over 99% of businesses stay small—the issues are structural.

Breaking 200 Without Breaking You is a course I’ve created that provides strategies on how to tackle eight practical barriers that keep churches from reaching more than 200 people. And it’s designed so I can walk your entire leadership team or elder board through the issues.

So whether your church is 50, 150 or 250 in attendance, the principles will help you gain the insight you need to break the barrier more than 85% of churches can’t break. Even churches with attendances of 300-500 and multisite churches are finding the material helpful as they try to reach more people.

Click here to get instant access for you and your team.

What Do You See?

Scroll down and leave a comment.



  1. […] 12 Signs You’re A Spiritual Entrepreneur by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  2. […] 12 Signs You’re A Spiritual Entrepreneur by Carey Nieuwhof. Are you a spiritual entrepreneur? Do you have one or more on your team? Great read. […]

  3. Monica Shearer on March 14, 2018 at 2:06 pm

    Brady Shearer’s Mom here saying that you are still an inspiration to our whole family. We quote you lots!

  4. Rick Bundschuh on March 13, 2018 at 11:53 am

    One added observation on a great article. All great movements seem to have an innovator at their core. Ironically, when that innovator passes on those movements usually look for the opposite kind of person to maintain things, thus dooming that movement. Every successful church with an innovator should be attempting to raise new innovators if they want to sustain their momentum.

  5. Fr. Michael J. Nicosia on March 13, 2018 at 10:15 am

    All the vision and spunk in the world is futile if others don’t own it, too. True to #10, “Spiritual entrepreneurs rarely act alone (at least the smart ones don’t),” because without the critical resource, viz., committed adopters, the entrepreneur shoulders all the work and will get no where.
    Spiritual entrepreneurs also need to be inspireres and motivators, that attract and empower the gifted resources required for the task.

  6. Keith Manuel on March 13, 2018 at 9:43 am

    Carey, I enjoyed the read and found it helpful as we look for a leader in our city to help lead and coordinate what God is doing through different groups. Lots of spiritual activity in silos in our city, but I believe much more can be accomplished for the Kingdom through the synergy of Christians working together in honoring the Name of Christ.

  7. Tiaan Venter on March 13, 2018 at 3:56 am

    A great read full of insight!

    In a Church of 60 people with the capacity to grow to 250 within the next 2 years. What would be the most important positions to recruit for now? I am talking full time staff. Ex: Executive pastor….

    Thanks Carey.

  8. John Benn on March 12, 2018 at 9:46 pm

    It’s nice to have a name for who I am. It’s why I’m coming to value your blog anf posts so much; it’s helping me connect my seemingly random dots. Thank you.

  9. Brent Dumler on March 12, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    #10 through #12 are spot on! The hurdle some church leaders face, however, is their governing structure. Their BOE, executive team, etc., depending on the authority they have been given, can be powerful extinguishing agents to a leader’s vision and direction. You have addressed this in the past at conferences. I think this post can lead to healthy direction for any leader. The process for change is just going to look different from one church to the next. Great post!

    • Dave Cornwall on March 13, 2018 at 8:46 pm

      “Extinguishing Agents!” Yes, I love that! Sad, true and accurate!

  10. Michelle Nolan on March 12, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    Great article!

  11. Bob H. on March 12, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    Hey Carey,

    This is simply grand stuff — in every sense of the word! Thank you for posting it!

    Bob H.

  12. Gary J Westra on March 12, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    This very consistent with our research on “Turnaround Pastors.” We found seven distinct differences between turnaround pastors as compared to maintenance-oriented pastors. We published the study in “Pastor Unique: Becoming a Turnaround Leader.”

    Well done, Carey. There is much sound wisdom here.

  13. @s.wakefield on March 12, 2018 at 10:36 am

    Love this! These are so practical and explain what’s going on in my head most times. I also love that you didn’t discredit shepherding / chaplaining as I think those are some of the gifts within the body that also make the greater whole so beautiful. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this!

  14. Vicky Kajengo on March 12, 2018 at 10:08 am

    Wonderful! I enjoyed reading this and see myself there.

  15. Pablo Suarez on March 12, 2018 at 9:43 am

    Beautiful and very inspiring! We need to be brave to follow Jesus and we need to be creative and intentional. We need to have dreams!

  16. Greg W on March 12, 2018 at 9:06 am

    #13 Don’t expend a ton of energy trying to make the future fit into the systems of the past. Denominations and church planting organizations are designed to produce churches like we have, not something new. Paul took a shot at the synagogues, but didn’t wear himself out trying to make it work there.

    #14. Get their affirmation from God, not people. Most of the church people are going to disapprove, some will brand you a heretic. Apostleship isn’t for the people-pleasers.

  17. Ivory Dorsey on March 12, 2018 at 8:35 am

    NUMBER 11 IS BY FAR THE GREATEST THREAT TO ANY ORGANIZATION: YOUR SOLUTION IS PERFECT: .”Let The Critics Talk While They Act. The critics will always talk.Spiritual entrepreneurs know this. They don’t get weighed down by critics who criticize what others do and do little themselves. How do you respond to the critics?
    By acting. Just act while the critics talk. You’ll accomplish something. They won’t….”GREAT INSIGHT

  18. Robert Bess on March 12, 2018 at 6:50 am

    One of the things I find so helpful in reading your stuff and seeing you share your heart (Saw you at Exponential 2018, Main Session and Breakout) is it helps me realize that I am not crazy for thinking some of the stuff I think! I used to think I was way off track for trying very different non-establishment things, but now I know I am just a Spiritual Entrepreneur. Thanks bro! Keep doing what your doing, it helps tremendously.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 12, 2018 at 10:46 am

      Man thanks for th comment. This encourages me so much. We need permission to share ALL the gifting in the church, including entrepreneurship.

Leave a Comment