“Every single week, I find myself wishing I had a business degree.”
That’s what a senior pastor told me recently.
We were talking about seminary: how it helps pastors today, and how it doesn’t.
He’s leading a church that is in transition. It’s a mid-size church (400 people) with an aging congregation. It has quite a bit of debt from its latest building campaign. His focus has been on disciple-making, but his day-to-day work has centered on leadership (vision casting, creating momentum, strategic planning), and leading change in particular.
He feels inadequate in those areas because it wasn’t part of his education and training.
Many youth pastors feel the same way.
When I started in youth ministry, I was surprised at how often my business degree came to the rescue. From building budgets to building teams, I was constantly putting those lessons into practice.
Even though it might be too late for you to go back to school and get a business degree, it’s not too late for you to learn about the best business practices for your ministry.
Why should youth pastors read business books?
There are 2 reasons why you should read business books:
1. Ministry and business are similar.
Customers and congregations are people. Employees and volunteers are people. Business and ministry both deal with people.
Businesses and ministries both receive and spend money. Even though I often hear people say that the church isn’t a business, but let’s be real: When the money runs out at a church, the doors close. When the money runs out a business, the doors close. A church might not be a business, but the results are the same when the money runs out.
Businesses and ministries both build strategies to advance their vision and achieve their mission.
2. Business books tell it slant to pastors.
Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” By that, she meant that the truth should be told, but sometimes it needs to be told in an indirect way that lowers defenses.
Because business is a different industry than churches, you are less likely to reject the ideas without considering them.
Business books often use different language, case studies, and examples than typical Christian books use.
Business books highlight different points and conclusions than typical Christian books do. Because business leaders have a different perspective, they see and say things differently than pastors usually do.
Even though the industries, examples, and points are different, the lessons from business are usually transferable to ministry because there are enough similarities to cover the gap.
So, which business books do I recommend for youth pastors?
I recommend you pick at least one of the following 5 books to read:
The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni
This book gives the practical, step-by-step side of Lencioni’s popular business fables. His thesis is, “The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health. Yet it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants it” (p. 1).
What should an organization do to become and remain healthy? Lencioni offers 4 disciplines:
1. Build a cohesive leadership team.
2. Create clarity.
3. Overcommunicate clarity.
4. Reinforce clarity.
“When an organization’s leaders are cohesive, when they unambiguously aligned around a common set of answers to a few crtiical questions, when they communicate those answers again and again and again, and when they put effective processes in place to reinforce those answers, they create an environment in which success is almost impossible to prevent” (p. 16).
Buy-In by John Kotter
When you want to lead change or propose a new idea, you will inevitably meet with resistance from someone. According to Kotter, there are 4 basic strategies people use to undermine your plan:
1. Fear mongering (“It’s too risky.”)
2. Delay (“We’re not ready.”)
3. Confusion (“What about…?”)
4. Ridicule (“You don’t really think…”)
Along with these strategies, he lists 24 common attack lines and corresponding responses for each. For example, an idea-attacker might say, “We’ve never done this in the past, and things have always worked out okay.” You could respond, “True. But surely we have all seen that those who fail to adapt eventually become extinct.”
Good to Great by Jim Collins
The opening line says it all: “Good is the enemy of great” (p. 1). Collins and his research team identified companies that made the leap from good results to great results and sustained those results for at least 15 years.
Along the way, they discovered a few key differences those companies and others that started in a similar position but failed to make the jump. Collins says, “Think of the transformation as a process of buildup followed by breakthrough, broken into three broad stages: disciplined people, disciplined thought, and disciplined action” (p. 12).
This book has given us several popular terms that I hear pretty often today: “Level 5 Leader,” “Get the right people on the bus,” and “Hedgehog Concept” just to name a few.
The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
I have a Master’s Degree in Leadership and I can tell you without hesitation that this book is the best, most comprehensive book on leadership I’ve ever come across. As an adjunct professor, I lean heavily on this book for lecture topics and structure. It’s clear, thorough, and thoughtful.
Kouzes and Posner, professors of leadership at Santa Clara University, insist, “Good leadership is an understandable and universal process. Though each leader is a unique individual, there are shared patterns to the practice of leadership. And these practices can be learned” (p. xiii).
The five practices are:
1. Model the Way
2. Inspire a Shared Vision
3. Challenge the Process
4. Enable Others to Act
5. Encourage the Heart
They go on to say, “Leadership is not about personality; it’s about behavior. The Five Practices are available to anyone who accepts the leadership challenge” (p. 15).
If you want to increase your skills as a leader, skip the John Maxwell books and get this book instead. It has everything you need.
It’s Called Work for a Reason by Larry Wingett
Don’t dismiss this book because of Larry’s wardrobe! He wears some crazy looking stuff, but this book is filled with solid, brash, insightful observations about work. For example:
“We pretend that other stuff is important, but what really matters is results” (p. 34).
“If you don’t like things the way they are, there is only one place to go to lay blame: the mirror” (p. 48).
“Do the stuff no one else wants to do. Work fast. Learn to make decisions quickly. Take personal responsibility. Never whine. Become known as a person who gets things done. Do more than is expected of you. Get the results. In other words: Work!” (p. 64).
Buy a business book and read one chapter every day until it’s done. If you don’t like to read books, you can always and download a free audiobook and listen to it. Either way, if you’re a youth pastor, business books will help you do ministry better.
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