One of the most common paths to the executive pastor role is when a high-capacity business person makes a mid-career change. Part 1 of this blog examined the first three “healthy transition” ideas for those making this transition: (1) simplify any systems you implement, (2) narrow your focus to increase your impact, (3) expand your understanding of stewardship. This blog explores four more healthy transition ideas.
Lead relationally. Relationships are important in business, but the business exec can often succeed through the power of great ideas, strategies, and expertise. In a ministry setting, relationships are essential. That’s why business-to-ministry transitions start on the right foot when the new leader establishes strong relationships with the staff (and other key leaders).
The reality is that ministry staff are often skeptical about business executives who step into senior level positions. They’re concerned that the newcomer won’t really understand the ministry context. They fear the imposition of business practices that won’t fit their culture.
You may think that you already have good relationships with these staff members because you’ve worked with some as a volunteer, but everything changes once you start drawing a paycheck. Those first few weeks are a great opportunity to re-establish relationships. They’re also a chance for you to listen and learn about some of the unique dynamics of ministry leadership. Taking the time to listen and build relationships on the front end will increase the acceptance of the ideas and expertise that you bring to the table later on.
Stay tethered to the senior pastor. I’m sure that you understand the importance of having a good relationship with your senior pastor, but what does that look like? It’s different in each situation, and it’s a major focus of both of my books on second chair leadership. But for this article, let me introduce the idea of staying “tethered.”
When an object is tethered, it can’t get too far away from its anchor, but it isn’t tightly controlled. Some business execs want to “save” the church and feel that they’ve been given complete freedom in the arenas where they have experience (such as staff management, process and system design, budgeting, and even strategic planning). They don’t need to “bother” the senior pastor with what they’re doing. This is an “untethered” attitude that is sure to lead to problems.
Being tethered means keeping the senior pastor informed. It means allowing the first chair to direct your energies toward certain areas and away from others. It means that you may be told that you’ve stepped out of bounds. It doesn’t mean being micromanaged and it certainly doesn’t negate your contributions. It simply paves the way for a longer and more enjoyable tenure in ministry.
Redefine your key boundaries. Most business execs that transition into ministry roles do so in their home churches. That means that they already have relationships with a variety of members. They have often served on the governance board or in some other key volunteer roles.
If you make the vocational change, you need to be prepared to make some relational changes as well. I’m not saying that you will need to turn your back on friends. But some of your conversations may need to change.
It won’t be appropriate for you to share frustrations that you have with your senior pastor or with other staff members. Nor will it be appropriate for you to lobby the governing board for a change, unless you do so with the senior pastor’s support. And it certainly won’t be appropriate for your friends to use their relationships with you to bypass other ministry leaders. Get clear about your boundaries, and learn to say, “That’s not something I can talk about.”
Keep God at the center. Presumably you didn’t leave the business world and enter ministry on a whim. The same humble, prayerful attitude that brought you into this role will be essential for sustaining you. Vocational ministry has a way of squeezing spiritual vibrancy out of people. Bill Hybels once described the danger this way: “The pace at which I’m doing the work of God is destroying God’s work in me.”
Keeping God at the center is important for many reasons, and I want to highlight two of them. The first goes back to the skepticism of the staff as mentioned earlier. When God is doing a deep work in your life, it will be obvious to others. Not because you talk about it all the time, but simply because it will influence everything you do. The staff member that questions “whether this business exec has any business being in a staff leadership role” will begin to change perspective when he or she sees how God is working in and through you.
Second, even if you put the other six ideas into practice, have a great relationship with your senior pastor, and are experiencing many victories in the church, you will still have difficult seasons. For those who have transitioned out of business, those tough times are when you wonder if you made the right decision. You may think, “My business job was a lot easier, and I got paid a lot more. Maybe it’s time to go back to the corporate world.” In those moments, you need a vibrant spiritual life. Perhaps this was just a temporary season in vocational ministry and God is releasing you to resume your business career. But it may be that God wants you to stay in place and depend even more on Him. You won’t know if your spiritual life isn’t grounded.
I am certain that God wants to use you and your talents for Kingdom purposes, whether that’s in the marketplace or in ministry. If you find yourself transitioning from the former to the latter, these seven practices can help your transition be a rich and meaningful one.
It’s easy to receive my blogs by email. Just sign-up on Feedburner by clicking here.