Read any current text on leadership and you will encounter the urgency of entrepreneurial thinking. As we move into a progressively unpredictable atmosphere, traditional incremental approaches are not cutting it. Ian C. MacMillan, director of Wharton’s Sol. C. Snider Entrepreneurial Center, writes, “It is increasingly important for people to lead entrepreneurially.”
This may be well and good for start-up businesses, we surmise, but does the church — or other Christian ministries — need to adapt this methodology? Absolutely! I do not believe the mission of the church will move forward without creativity and innovation. As I read the Acts of the Apostles, I am persuaded that the expansion of the gospel occurred because early Christian leaders were willing to improvise when a way seemed to close before them.
How were the uncircumcised made welcome among the people of God? How did widows gain special status as honored members of the community? How did unclean become clean? How did Paul get a hearing among the intellectual elite of Athens? How did the gospel travel from Asia to Europe? How was the teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ offered in boldness, without hindrance?
How, indeed? The answer is clear: persons who were open to the prompting of the Spirit of God, the one who is always transgressing boundaries, found creative ways to bear witness to God’s reconfiguring of promise for the whole world through the resurrection of Jesus. New contexts kept beckoning, and no resistance or arrest or legal action could silence the apostolic testimony. Being faithful to their grand calling required them to risk their very lives, and they did so gladly.
I spent an hour this past Thursday in a doctor of ministry seminar on our campus. The title of the course is “Entrepreneurial Leadership,” and the professor invited me to share some lessons about this kind of leadership, which churches and institutions find so necessary. Some of these lessons are hard won, and I have no purchase on being a fully developed entrepreneur; however, that has been the nature of my calling over these past 11 years.
As you might imagine from a theologian, I offered a theological framework. Made after God’s likeness, creativity is a key attribute of what it means to be human. God has imbued humanity with imagination, varied gifts and resilience. Problem solving is an expression of this creativity, and we can improvise solutions out of the store of our endowment as imago Dei.
Another aspect of the theological framework is that our lives are future-oriented. We live with an eschatological sense that we are not “finished,” and that God is inviting us to craft the future as partners with the divine. Indeed, God is calling upon our creativity to give shape to the realization of God’s own reign.
Some of the leadership lessons (in pursuit of being entrepreneurial) are as follows: Welcome the nudge of the Spirit, who loves to subvert old patterns. Be receptive to the chaos that is inevitable when innovating.
- Learn to embrace calculated risk.
- Take responsibility if an experiment fails.
- Empower people to bring their best thinking and energy to a common goal
- Search continuously for new opportunities
- Steward resources wisely and trust there will be enough
- Give back a sense of calm and stability in the vortex of change
- Pay attention to personal resistance to change and the desire to repristinate the past
- Remain hopeful in the midst of unknowing, and walk by faith
- Carry a disposition of “why not?” rather than “why it won’t work.
- Cultivate a life of prayer, and become ever more deeply rooted in faith
- Seek wise counsel. An isolated leader cannot impose vision; rather, vision arises out of thoughtful collaboration. Leadership entails being a “keeper” of the vision, however.
- Find or construct a supportive professional network that can offer forthright perspective. (I meet with a group of women in theological education two times a year.)
- Focus on performance objectives that align with values and vision of the initiative
- Understand critical tasks unique to discrete positions and require accountability for their accomplishment
- Continue to practice discernment about strategic direction.
It strikes me that entrepreneurial practices require faith and we as Christians have unique resources for new ventures. As an expression of discipleship, entrepreneurial leaders inspire others to pursue their vocations of service.
I invite you to add to the list. We are all learners on this pathway and looming uncertainty need not dissuade creative action.