By Bob Russell
“It’s much more difficult to oversee a church than to run a business.” That statement was made recently by a business executive who had resigned from an international corporation to accept a position as the administrator of a large church.
Business analyst Peter Drucker suggested that the three most difficult jobs he could imagine were hospital administrator, university president, and megachurch minister because those tasks require the leader to wear so many different hats and meet so many different expectations. The oversight of a church of any size is difficult. Here are 10 reasons why.
1. A cumbersome structure. The lines of authority are usually clearly drawn in business. But church leaders often have to work with two separate leadership silos—the staff and elders—and the two often battle for control.
2. Murky goals. In business everyone understands the purpose is to make an honest profit, develop satisfied customers, and create a positive work environment. But ask people in the church, “How do you measure a win?” and the answers are varied. Is the goal to increase attendance? Have more baptisms? Change lives? Keep people happy? Just maybe to please God? Success is a moving target and the minister has so many different expectations, he’s always vulnerable to criticism or removal.
3. The ministry attracts more than its share of kooky people. The business world rejects the applications of those who don’t fit. But the church welcomes misfits. We seek and save society’s outcasts and that’s the way it ought to be. But disenfranchised people can be draining and sometimes make life difficult for church leaders—especially when they become leaders!
4. Long term members consider themselves experts in how the church ought to be run. Few people in the business world know what goes on in the day-to-day operation and don’t pretend to. But people who have been to church for a while consider themselves experts on what a church is supposed to be. They are not unlike fans who sit in the stands at ballgames and consider themselves more knowledgeable than the coach.
5. The vital issues we deal with trigger strong emotional reactions. If the preacher fails to mention the memorial flowers, dares to move the American flag, or is bold enough to teach what the Bible says about divorce or homosexuality, he discovers otherwise intelligent people can become unreasonable in their responses.
6. Christian people are notoriously poor at confronting. Accountability and confrontation are expected in the business world. But since the church is supposed to be a loving family, many are reluctant to confront disagreements and so problems fester.
7. The church is almost totally dependent upon volunteers. The business world has leverage on employees, but church leaders rely on people giving of their time and money voluntarily. When people don’t follow through with their commitments, it creates frustration and stress.
8. The moral standards are higher than in other occupations. This is as it should be—we are to walk worthy of the calling we’ve received. But the personal standards for ministry apply 24 hours a day, 365 days a year resulting in unrealistic expectations.
9. There are few acceptable ways to vent frustrations. A CEO of a business can get angry, slam the table, even curse, and employees walk on eggshells for a few hours. Those responses are unacceptable in ministry where leaders are supposed to be Christlike all the time.
10. The high demand of a weekly presentation to the constituents. A CEO has to face stockholders once or twice a year. If he’s a lousy public speaker it doesn’t matter as long as the company is making a profit. A minister faces his constituency every week and his job performance is evaluated largely on whether he’s able to keep their attention without alienating them or their family. It’s an awesome, overriding pressure.
When the apostle Paul listed the hardships he faced—including shipwrecks, imprisonments, and beatings—he added, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:28). Church leaders need our prayers and deserve our support because at times they have a pressure-packed, difficult assignment. They remain in ministry because they are called by God to serve in the most vital work in the world. While they may whine occasionally about its difficulty, they know the church with all its problems is still the body of Christ on earth and the gates of Hades cannot prevail against it.
Bob Russell is the retired senior minister of Southeast Christian Church, Louisville, Kentucky. www.livingword.org
Copyright 2012 by Bob Russell. Permission to copy this column may be obtained by writing Debbie Carper, Southeast Christian Church, 920 Blankenbaker Pkwy, Louisville, KY 40243.