As readers of this blog have observed, I believe that ministry entrepreneurs are serving a significant role in Kingdom work today and will continue to do so in the future. I have had the chance to meet such creative people and to learn from them. These gifted men and women have cast many of the old paradigms aside and are taking advantage of the new resources in our evolving context. They learn not only from traditional Christian sources but from the marketplace as well.
In a recent blog, Claire Diaz-Ortiz shared some insights she learned from her involvement in the startup of Twitter that might be helpful to social entrepreneurs. Let’s consider how these might apply to ministry entrepreneurs.
First, take risks. Diaz-Ortiz comments that “big risks bring big rewards.” Every ministry entrepreneur must assess risk from his or her own perspective, but it is certain to involve some sense of skepticism and even rejection from religious entities that cling to the concept “but we have always done it this way.” As a result, the ministry entrepreneur may find himself or herself alienated from familiar support structures.
When I began work with the Tennessee Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, someone said, “Well, I guess you have to find a whole new set of friends.” My response was, “No, those who were my friends are still my friends. The others were not really friends to begin with.”
Second, collaboration is key. The ministry entrepreneur must seek out spaces of collaboration in his or her work. These may be groups or individuals with similar interests, potential stakeholders, agencies and institutions, not for profits, and some churches and judicatories. Although the entrepreneur has a vision, there are others who may share that vision.
Once a ministry leader clearly stakes out his or her calling, resources may come from the most unexpected places. Robert Parham of ethicsdaily.com has sought and found new partners and funding to further the work of his organization, some from outside the Baptist world. This does not happen by chance but requires initiative and persistence.
Third, listen to others. One of the things that I learned from the asset-based community development process is that you can learn the most from those who will benefit from the ministry. Diaz- Ortiz says, “[T]he best social entrepreneurs go into communities to ask what they need.”
Too often we offer people help in such a way that they can not effectively use it. My friends Emily and Eliot Roberts at Neverfail Community Church helped me to understand that someone may be in need but they are not powerless. Their dignity must be respected, their responsibility honored, and their personal resources accepted.
Fourth, balance is essential. Diaz-Ortiz reminds her readers, “All social entrepreneurs would do well building balance and margin into their lives so they can tackle the challenges to come.” For ministry entrepreneurs this means not only giving priority to family and health needs but attending to their spiritual health as well. Since they often operate outside the doors of a traditional church, ministry entrepreneurs can easily neglect their own involvement in the community of faith as well as their spiritual development.
I have to admit that this is not limited to entrepreneurs. There are many pastors and other clergy who never really worship because they are absorbed in leadership details. Every person involved in ministry is tempted to shortchange their own spiritual health.
Fifth, get your tribe to evangelize for you. Ministry entrepreneurs need to discover people who want to be part of the solution to the problem they have identified and then encourage these stakeholders to share the word. According to Diaz-Ortiz, “Influencers within your niche can often help build your message even better than you can.”
State CBF organizations have struggled in many situations because key leaders—including many pastors—may believe in the vision that the organization embraces but they have not taken a public stance of support. The ones who do so make a difference and multiply the work of state leadership. They become the evangelists.
Six, marketing is storytelling. “Find your story, and tell it well,” Diaz-Ortiz says. Vision can tend to be distant and abstract from the daily experiences of people. We have to put a face on a ministry. When we find simple, succinct examples of where a ministry has made a difference, we need to tell that story. “Telling the story” does not mean that we create something but that we talk about what we have seen. We deal with specifics not abstractions.
Wayne Smith, who directs Samaritan Ministry in Knoxville, is very proficient in telling the stories of HIV-AIDS victims and their families while respecting their privacy and personhood. He understands that we will not support ministry to anyone until we see them as people made in the image of God.
A new ministry does not start in a vacuum. There are both challenges and opportunities in very situation. The ministry entrepreneur must carefully identify both obstacles and resources. Starting something new is not for the faint of heart, but it can produce great rewards for the Kingdom of God.