Why Business Principles Matter for Ministry

Jeff Simmons
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The ability to manage the business side of ministry effectively makes or breaks an organization. The most effective leaders and pastors understand the importance of running a church, ministry, or nonprofit well on the business side. However, business is rarely, if ever, a part of theological education. Even aspiring social workers have very little business training.

We all are stewards of the resources and money God has entrusted to us personally, but pastors and ministry leaders are also stewards of the resources given by their constituents. Everyone in ministry must learn and grow in their financial responsibility in order to handle God’s resources effectively. In fact, the better leaders are at handling the business side of their ministry, the greater the impact they can make in the lives of people and for the kingdom of God.

I want you to make a significant difference in your community. I truly believe that churches and nonprofits can change the world by transforming families, communities, cities, and countries with the grace and love of God.

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive in us. The same power that launched the early church and this movement that swept the world is still at work today. The early church learned from Jesus and implemented business practices to organize the church. The Holy Spirit was transforming lives, and the disciples were organizing the ministry. From taking care of widows to evangelism, discipleship, and taking up offerings, the early church was run well, and God was glorified through that work. He is ready to move again today.

We all are stewards of the resources and money God has entrusted to us personally, but pastors and ministry leaders are also stewards of the resources given by their constituents.

Sometimes when we talk about business, it may seem like it shouldn’t be associated with the church and nonprofit ministry. After all, Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple in anger (Matt. 21:12–13). But this was because they were abusing the people and hindering them from worship. The money changers were overcharging the people, and this was at the heart of Jesus’ anger. Jesus wanted people to come unhindered to His “house of prayer.” However, other times Jesus teaches us about how we should “give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mark 12:17). Jesus watched people put their gifts into the offering basket and commended the widow for giving “all she had to live on” (Mark 12:41–44). Jesus teaches us about being good stewards with what we have been given. Ministry and business are not mutually exclusive; in God’s order they go together.

Learning a New Language

Often when we use business terms—margin, revenue, expenses, return on investment—it can sound like we are speaking a different language. But we need to learn some of this language in order to be more effective in our calling. We do not need a master’s in business, but we do need to be proficient in the basics. When we go on mission trips and do ministry in another country, we endeavor to learn the language in order to more effectively help the people and share the gospel. Understanding the language of business can help do the same for ministry.

God values His created order, and He desires for His church to be rightly ordered and organized as well. Yet sometimes churches and nonprofits do not spend the time needed to build the infrastructure for the system to run well. We can do greater ministry when we are organized and structured for sustained success.

We should study well-run businesses and learn how they operate. Business is simply the practice of bringing together resources in a system to accomplish a successful result. This is a system, and God’s church can learn so much in this area of business. In fact, we should be doing the ministry better than any for-profit business because what we do has both present and eternal ramifications.

In the business world, there is a skill in demand called “systems thinking.” This is the awareness of how inputs and actions in one place impact other places in the organization. There is a need for people who understand how decisions in one area impact the whole. The same is needed in the church and nonprofit world as well. Poorly run churches and nonprofits do not make as significant an impact as they could and do not bring honor to the One whose name we proclaim. We must become the best we can become for the glory of God.

Jesus teaches us about being good stewards with what we have been given.

It doesn’t matter how great the music sounds or how good the teaching is if you can’t pay the bills or keep up with your 990 for tax reporting. This is true for all churches and nonprofits. And so many great ministry ideas die because of a lack of business knowledge needed to make the idea a reality. Outside of the calling and grace of God’s Holy Spirit, having some knowledge of business is essential for a ministry to thrive.

As the pastor of a church and the president of a nonprofit, I see firsthand the importance of good business practices for doing God’s work. There is so much ministry to do—to help the orphaned and the underserved, to share the love of Christ, to grow fully mature disciples, and to strengthen marriages and families. For example, what if there is a new paradigm in ministry and business? What if churches and nonprofits could actually have their buildings paid for by others? This would allow all the money that is given to the church or the nonprofit to go for ministry and missions instead of bricks and mortar. That would be a game changer! Good money management can go toward the building and the spiritual transformation that takes place in the space.

I have seen our God do miracles in the business of ministry. Just like the children of Israel when they entered the promised land and God gave them houses they didn’t build and vineyards they didn’t plant (Deut. 6:11), I have seen God provide buildings we didn’t build and money flow from outside sources. I have seen God do miracles at Rolling Hills Community Church and Justice & Mercy International, and I want to invite you on this journey. I believe God will pour out His blessings when we put Him first, do ministry in a way that honors Him, and use godly wisdom to leverage the business of today to do greater work than ever. Let’s learn, grow, and use what God has entrusted to us to further His work in the greatest way possible for His glory.

The Purpose of Planting

God’s call and the need in our world compelled us twenty years ago to plant a new church in our community. When we started the church we had no money, no staff, no building. The odds against us seemed overwhelming. But we knew our community and our world needed Jesus, and He was all about transforming lives and bringing good into our world today.

So often we live on the defensive. We think culture has turned away from God. But we must realize that deep down, everyone is searching for answers to the deep questions of life. Ultimately, everyone needs the Lord. And while it may seem overwhelming to be a part of God’s church or a local ministry, the God who did miracles in the Bible is the same God doing miracles today. The God who conquered death is the same God who is always at work in our lives. This is the same God who is always at work in His church.

Let’s learn, grow, and use what God has entrusted to us to further His work in the greatest way possible for His glory.

What are you planting today that will yield a harvest for God’s kingdom in the years to come? Maybe it is starting another campus, maybe it is launching a new small group, maybe it is expanding into a new ministry area, maybe it is opening a new department. Whatever it is, plant seeds today in order to yield a harvest for tomorrow. Never stop planting and growing. Things that are alive grow. Our ministry areas should be growing, and the best way to do this is to plant new seeds.

The Business of Ministry Is Life Change in Christ

As churches and nonprofits, we are called to help, love, and serve others. We need to use all the tools and resources God has entrusted to us today. Instead of retreating and living on the defensive, I pray God’s church will go forward and others will be impacted for Christ and our world will be changed. Jesus is truly the Hope of the world, so let’s all work together to bring Jesus into our neighborhoods, our nation, and our world that is in such desperate need of hope, love, and peace today. There is a lot to learn from business, but we must remember that we are not simply a business—our goal is to share the love of Jesus, serve the least, the last, and the lost, and bring glory to our great God.

Obviously, there are differences between a for-profit business and a nonprofit ministry. While the goal of a for-profit business is to make money, to increase the return for their shareholders, there is also the by-product of providing jobs and helping families. There is a current movement in corporate America toward “CSR,” or “Corporate Social Responsibility.” There are many businesses that are also actively helping and trying to make a social difference in their community. Business in itself isn’t a bad thing; in fact, our American capitalistic society is built on businesses providing jobs and services. Businesses provide jobs for millions of people, and many people’s investments and retirement savings are tied to the performance of US businesses and worldwide corporations. For-profit companies can be good, and they make a significant difference, but they lack the power to make the social changes and the eternal impact we all need.

It is not your church or ministry—it all belongs to God.

We are not in ministry simply to make money (or we would work in corporate America and make a lot more). Our goal as pastors, executive directors, staff, and ministers is to bring glory to God and to make a difference in the lives of others in the name of Jesus.

We already apply good business practices to running our own homes. In our personal budgets, we watch revenue and expenses. We try not to go into debt on depreciating assets. We aim to maintain a balanced home budget. And when we know it’s time to buy a home for our family, we involve real estate agents and lawyers to help us. We can take business practices such as these and apply them in the context of ministry as well.

It is not your church or ministry—it all belongs to God. Sometimes people will ask, “How’s your church doing?” I understand what they are saying, but I always try to politely say, “It is God’s church and not my church. He has simply allowed me to steward this leadership position for this season.” There will be someone else after me, and I pray they can do it even better for the glory of God. There is also an incredible team of people who pour their hearts and souls into doing the work of the Lord. I am simply a steward of what He has entrusted to me. We are all stewards. And, as stewards, we ought to do the best job possible for our Master. Why would we not want to grow His church or ministry and give our best?