One Thing Church and Marketplace Leaders Can Learn from Each Other

Last Friday I spoke for my friend John Townsend at a leadership event he hosted for leaders in his network. After my presentation, I fielded some questions for a few moments and was asked (I am paraphrasing), “Because you have led in both marketplace and local church contexts, what is one thing you think those different type leaders could learn from one another?” Or said another way: “What is one characteristic that is predominant in church ministry that marketplace leaders could benefit from? And what is one characteristic that is predominant in the marketplace that ministry leaders could benefit from?” I thought was a fascinating question and I thought about it as I drove home after the session.

Obviously my answer was and is a generalization. There are many marketplace leaders who are exceptional at characteristics that are common among church leaders. And there are many church leaders who are exceptional at characteristics common among marketplace leaders. But with that disclaimer… 

1. Many marketplace leaders can learn team leadership from church leaders.

I heard John Maxwell comment once that the best leaders are those who can lead volunteers because leading volunteers requires leading with influence, vision, and care. When leading volunteers, the leaders cannot rely on any extrinsic motivators. Maxwell told executives at a company that if they wanted to discover the best leaders on their teams then they would ask their leaders to go lead volunteers in their spare time. Poor leaders rely on external motivators (such as rewards and discipline) to lead people.

Do many marketplace leaders lead with intrinsic motivation? Absolutely. The best ones certainly do. But marketplace leaders have many more external motivators at their disposal, so it is easier to rely on those. Church leaders, if they are following the Scripture, are committed to empowering and equipping volunteers because they really believe that God has gifted all of His people to serve. Church leadership is synonymous with leading and mobilizing volunteers because the role of a ministry leader is not to “do ministry” but to develop others for ministry. According to Ephesians 4:11-13, the role of a pastor is to prepare all of God’s people to serve.

2. Many church leaders can learn strategic planning from marketplace leaders.

In general, the marketplace values strategic thinking and allocating resources to those plans more than the church world does. Thinking about the future and setting plans for the future is much more common in the marketplace than in church ministry.

Sadly, some church leaders even speak poorly of planning – as if plans are unspiritual. When challenging people to consider the cost of following Him, Jesus spoke of the common (and wise) practice of calculating the costs of a tower before building it (Luke 14:28). Planning is not unspiritual. To the contrary, planning is good stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to leaders. Plans show intentionality and intensity towards the mission God has given. It is possible to be both spiritual and strategic, and positioning those as contrary to one another is an unhelpful and false dichotomy.

Many church leaders are excellent at both disciplines, at leading people and setting plans for the future. Likewise many marketplace leaders set wise plans and give their teams vision, care, and direction and not merely a paycheck. And both disciplines are important.