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The Verdict Is In! Spiritual Leaders Need To Be Entrepreneurial.

Some call it social innovation, redemptive entrepreneurship, missional innovation, spiritual entrepreneurship – pick your #hashtag, – but it is no longer a niche. It’s a full-blown, interfaith movement. Many spiritual leaders complain that they did not learn how to revitalize dying churches or start new ones when they were in seminary, because it was not part of the curriculum. Well at United you can gain those skills through the efforts of the Department of Student Formation, Vocation, Experience and the Arts. We are developing offering, opportunities, 1:1 conversation, community visits, shadowing and coaching to students who feel called to explore entrepreneurial concepts and practices in their upcoming or current ministries. What are some of the characteristics entrepreneurial spiritual leaders possess and develop?

  1. They ask forgiveness, not permission. Successful entrepreneurial leaders are self-starters. To start anything new or create innovation in anything dying requires long hours and hard work. Entrepreneurial spiritual leaders make these sacrifices, often pushing others around them and the systems of which they are a part to make things happen. They understand that systems produce what they are designed to produce, and to change the outcomes you have to change the input. For the entrepreneurial leader, this often means asking forgiveness from their existing structures rather than asking for permission to try an experiment.
  2. They have a brand. May I just say it? A successful entrepreneurial leader has a certain charisma, a likeability that cannot be taught. They must interact successfully with people to inspire them and motivate them to connect to a larger vision.
  3. They take risks. Starting anything from nothing or turning around a declining church is risky business. Entrepreneurial leaders see opportunities where others see roadblocks, and they find ways to work around them. Most churches are started and renewed in environments of scarce resources, high uncertainty, and ambiguity. To succeed, you have to stretch yourself and be comfortable with chaos. Remember, God created out of chaos. It seems to be a fruitful place to find new life.
  4. They are students of their ministry. Successful entrepreneurial church leaders are relentlessly curious students who are preoccupied with understanding the impact and outputs of their ministry, constantly seeking knowledge to strengthen their effectiveness. Those who succeed past the five-year mark in their ministry have mastered the art of measuring the key indicators of health in their ministries.
  5. They inspire us with vision. The most successful entrepreneurial leaders are the best spokespersons for their ministry. When they talk about their church, you have the clear sense that this church not only could exist, but that it should exist. There is a moral imperative to the work. Do you remember the story of Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem? Nehemiah reminded his people of what their city had been like before the walls were destroyed and then inspired within them the possibility of restoring their city as the source of pride that it should be.
  6. They focus on outcomes. Shaping a ministry requires focus. Successful entrepreneurial leaders adopt achievable goals and then build systems to ensure they succeed. Most successful leaders use numeric metrics such as the number of active participants, the number of small groups, the number of outreach opportunities, and weekly giving to track the growth and health of the church.
  7. They think through possibility and practicalities. Entrepreneurial leaders are creative and see what could be possible. They are visionary and practical, able to see what could exist while also understanding the challenges of making it so. They see the world with fresh eyes and are often generating many ideas for innovation and experimentation.
  8. They are self-reliant. In the early years of a new church or a turnaround project, entrepreneurial leaders must function in many different roles. They often play the role of most versatile player on the team, willing to do what it takes to get the job done. Although it takes many people to start or regrow a church, the entrepreneurial leader’s sense of responsibility and levels of competence play a critical role in the early stage of the ministry.
  9. They multiply themselves through delegation. In the beginning of the new church or turnaround ministry, building a team is one of the essential functions of an entrepreneurial leader. No one can start or renew a church by themselves. If the church is to grow, the entrepreneurial leader must create a system that attracts other creative leaders and also empowers them to make decisions necessary to grow and strengthen the ministry.
  10. They build networks. Successful entrepreneurial leaders understand that nothing scalable exists in a vacuum. While the vision may originate with one person or a small team, they will need immediately to interact with other people to secure the resources, talent, and partnerships necessary to succeed. Successful entrepreneurs are adept at building relationships. They have strong social awareness and can attract and maintain a constituency. The enthusiasm and positivity of strong relationship builders make it easier for others to interact with them. These entrepreneurs also have high standards of personal conduct that enable others to trust them and form strong relationships with them.

So students, let’s be willing to take the risk. Have a conversation with John, Greg, Cindi Beth, Andrea or Karen about that dream you have been having. Be willing to experiment and try it out on a very small scale first, then critique and learn. If you have a restless disconnect with the status quo, then use it to birth something new and expand what is possible. 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.

Learn more about United's M.Div. programs.






Rev. Karen Hutt

Karen Hutt is Vice President for Formation, Vocation and Experience at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.

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