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Don’t forget the compass  

13 May 2016

Lyle Dennen finds the entrepreneur a risky model for ministry


The Minister as Entrepreneur: Leading and growing the Church in an age of rapid change
Michael Volland
SPCK £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

MICHAEL VOLLAND wants readers, by the end of The Minister as Entrepreneur, to appreciate that entrepreneurs in the ministry are a gift of God to the Church in a time of rapid and discontinuous change. The book is a reflection, analysis, and unpackaging of his terse but convoluted definition of an entrepreneur minister: “A visionary who, in partnership with God and others, challenges the status quo by energetically creating and innovating in order to shape something of kingdom value.”

The first hurdle that Volland has to jump (he is not entirely successful) is that in many people’s mind the word entrepreneur is associated with wealth-creation, greed, and, from time to time, dubious financial practices. Volland is strong and clear in trying to dissociate the profit motive linked to an entrepreneur style from the creative and innovating energy to grasp opportunities that he wants to be central to the life of the Church.

Although Volland would agree that Jesus takes the side of the poor and needy, the author points out that Jesus also associates with the wealthy: for example, the Rich Young Man, Zacchaeus, or Nicodemus. He does not mention that in Caravaggio’s painting of The Vocation of St Matthew, even as Jesus is calling him, Matthew is firmly keeping his hand grasping the cash on the counting table. Talking about tables, I do not think that Volland adequately deals with the incident in the Temple when Jesus turns over the tables of the traders — which is the usual word, although the Greek could be translated as entrepreneurs instead.

The word “entrepreneur” is associated with making a profit. All of us who, with Volland, want to bring the energy and creativity of the entrepreneur model into the Church should say: “Yes, we want a profit,” but that profit is growing in our love of God and following more closely Jesus in the sacrificial service of others. We want the profit, for others and ourselves, of growing in holiness and compassion. Perhaps it would be easier and simpler always to refer to mission or social entrepreneurs.

A vital issue in business entrepreneurship is critical for this book but not spelt out in it. It is that we can learn from the dark side. First, there are great business entrepreneurs who not only create important services, products, and jobs, but also deeply care for the community and society. There are the great philanthropists. Then, on the dark side, are the bounders and rogues who are in it just for the money and power, who manipulate and lie, and who sell subprime mortgages, defraud the bank rate, and without concern for others, bring upon us a financial crisis. What is the difference? That is easy — what the sane financial entrepreneurs will tell you: moral compass.

The same can equally be true of entrepreneur ministers. In more than 40 years of ministry, I have seen an enormous number of creative and inspiring entrepreneurial ministers, both lay and ordained. They have shown innovation, imagination, an ability to see new opportunities, a willingness to sacrifice for others, and a restless, but tenacious perseverance, and, above all, the readiness to take risks.

On the dark side, I have known a few ego-maniacs, who used their entrepreneurial flair and skills to manipulate and bully and create spiritual, emotional, and financial chaos. They would not accept any opposition — not from the benign archdeacon, the concerned church council, or even the saintly flower lady. There was no collaborative ministry. There was restless energy, personal whim, innovation, and the taking of risks, but no silence, no prayer, no holiness. The difference is the same: moral compass. Volland expresses this factor in his definition and calls it “kingdom values”. Because of his wisdom, experience, and insight, I would have preferred him to spend much more time and space developing what he means by them, and more concrete applications of how this works out for entrepreneurial ministers and their projects.

There are critical factors of encouragement, monitoring, support, and giving permission in harmony with accountability. Volland’s definition of Kingdom values is generic: “the furtherance of God’s coming kingdom of justice, provision, wholeness, peace and reconciliation”. This is worthy, but not exciting. The biblical passages on the Kingdom are fantastically exciting, telling of both the future and the right now — speaking of God’s encounter with us and our encounter with him. This book tells us a lot about process, but little about the content of faith and mission.

There should have been plenty of stories in this book, opening up what entrepreneur ministry should be in the light of Kingdom values. There is a section with valuable quotes and wise from entrepreneurial ministers, seven Anglican clergy (rather few) whom Volland interviewed for this book.

I wish space had been provided for them to tell stories in depth: how they had their vision, what opportunities they had seen, what innovations they had tried, how they had worked with others, what the personal cost was, what the spiritual growth was, the pain and the joy, and what opposition and difficulties they had worked around or learned from; how the difficulties and opposition had been the grit in the oyster which had made the pearl of great price.

Those stories would have told us much of how entrepreneurial flair was a key part of the means to bring the Kingdom of heaven to us here on earth.


The Ven. Dr Lyle Dennen is Archdeacon Emeritus of Hackney, and was a member of the Mission-shaped Church working party.

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