A compelling case for an entrepreneurial approach to ministry and mission, exploring its biblical basis and potential benefits.
Michael Volland is Director of Mission at Cranmer Hall, Durham. His previous publications include Fresh! An Introduction to Fresh Expressions of Church and Pioneer Ministry (SCM Press, 2012), Through the Pilgrim Door: Pioneering a Fresh Expression of Church (Survivor, 2009), Going to College: Bible Readings for Special Times (BRF, 2006) and God on the Beach (Survivor, 2005).
Entrepreneur is a word which people often find difficult when
applied to religious organisations and this is something Michael
Volland is well aware of. This ministerial trainer on mission and
diocese missioner's latest book The Minister As Entrepreneur:
Leading and Growing the Church in an Age of Rapid Change published
by SPCK devotes some time and space dealing with this apparent
One of the problems which is identified in this text, which is based largely around a piece of fairly small scale qualitative research he did amongst Anglican Clergy within the Diocese of Durham, is the association with the language of business and the market. He gives a quote from CMS head and Fresh Expressions expert Jonny Baker indicating why many within the church feel there are problems with this language; they link it with negative aspects of capitalism.
Whilst Volland clearly seeks to go beyond this business approach in his examination of the subject and use of the term it has to be recognised that this book feeds into wider debates within the CofE on theological education and training. The language and ethos of the business environment has been central to the GreenReport (Talent Management for Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A New Approach). This small book I think would best be seen as part of this wider discussion around how we identify gifts and vocation and how we encourage those who might have specific gifts of leadership or callings into specific types of ministry, both lay and ordained.
Language and it’s use is the focus of the first part of the book which takes the familiar form of operationalising the terms being used and going through the literature review. Within the first few chapters Volland also engages in some interesting theology particularly in chapter three which is titled "An entrepreneurial God?
In this first part of the book Volland is clear to lay out the limitations of this text and the research sample it is based upon. The discussion questions around each chapter at the end of the book together with his initial comments show that this book is intended as a discussion starter. This is indeed how it should be viewed, being somewhat brief in nature.
Having read previous work by Volland, such as Through the Pilgrim Door, it is clear that writing in a less academic form is his preferred medium and this is why some parts of the book read better than others. In the preface he appears to be using his natural voice whilst later it reads slightly more awkwardly as he moves away from using the voice of the storyteller wrestling with complex academic questions and more into the more usual formal academic style. I much prefer the former style which has emerged from Volland, Baker and their pioneer contemporaries. The natural style they have developed is one which is clearly rooted in their experiences as practitioners who engage with academia and I think it is very readable. The sub-headings are a useful feature which are well used in this book, guiding the reader well and it is notable that these disappear during the second half of the book.
The first 65 pages are distinctly different in tone to the second where he presents his research findings and conclusions as I have indicated. This is perhaps because he identifies the two halves of the book being written for different audiences. The first half is focused on and addresses a broader audience than the latter which not only focuses on his ordained Anglican sample but seems to be addressed those living within a similar occupational bubble. It is clear from his comments that time has led to this restriction but it is a shame as because it means one feels as if they have walked into local debate around resources and recognition.
Of course there is wider application or this book would have not been published and that needs to be taken into account. Pages 101 – 103 in chapter 8 are perhaps the most central within this second half of the book because within them Volland outlines what his respondents felt aided the exercise of entrepreneurship in their ministry. These 19 points not only relate to entrepreneurship, I would argue, but what is central to healthy churches, mission and ministry more broadly. I believe they form the basis of what our discussions on the future should be.
As I say this is a useful, easy to read, short text which should be taken as a discussion opener or way into engaging with a number of difficult questions which need to be grappled with more widely than just within the CofE.
Michael Volland’s book has an admirable aim: to contribute to the emergence of a
culture in which entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship are properly understood and
recognized as gifts of God to his Church – especially in a time of rapid and discontinuous
cultural change. He begins with the bold statement: ‘I am a Christian
minister. I am also an entrepreneur’ (p. 1). By this he means not an ability to make
money but an attitude of relentlessly and energetically wanting to improve things.
This is characteristic of many, like Volland, who are advocates of pioneer or fresh
Volland has written up a research project based on Bill Bolton and John
Thompson’s influential book Entrepreneurs: Talent, Temperament, Technique
(Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, 2000; 2004), whose online tool for assessing
entrepreneurial potential is used by the Church of England for selecting OPMs
(ordained pioneer ministers). He adapts their definition of an entrepreneur to
produce a more ‘Christian’ version: ‘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’. It is notable that this is a rather different
definition than that which appears in the subtitle (‘leading and growing the
church’). Kingdom value might sound a bit vague, but Volland uses it to mean
the furtherance of God’s coming kingdom of justice, provision, wholeness, peace
and reconciliation. Armed with this definition, his local bishop helped him to find
eighteen parish priests in Durham diocese who display entrepreneurial traits. He
then focused on interviewing seven who achieved outstanding results in the online
test. The summary of his resulting research is interesting without being riveting.
These priests were not necessarily doing things that were strikingly new, but they
had a positive ‘glass-half-full’ attitude. One said that ‘the sheer weight of bread
and butter stuff can be a hindrance. And yet, we need to find the perceived
opportunities in the bread and butter stuff’ (p. 104). None complained of church
buildings as a problem, even when they caused difficulties or proved very expensive.
I expected therefore that Volland would identify resilience as a key entrepreneurial
trait alongside the familiar ones of vision, creativity and innovation. And
while I don’t have problems with his use of the image of an entrepreneur in an
analogical sense about God, I’m surprised he didn’t support this by reference to
the biblical wealth of occupational metaphors that are used about God: potter,
Volland notes that entrepreneur is a contested term in the Church, citing one
prominent church leader who ‘loathes it’, and arguing that we need to reverse a
negative image of entrepreneurs that emerged in public consciousness in the 1980s,
based on associations with greed. In fact, as Bolton and Thompson show, for
many entrepreneurs generation of wealth is a by-product of their activity rather
than the primary motivating factor. I wish Volland had taken this further to recognize
the huge contribution that many contemporary UK Christian entrepreneurs
make to furthering the kingdom in the course of their commercial activities,
through the provision of innovative goods and services, providing employment,
and generally making the world a better place. It’s disappointing that when he
comes to list notable Christian entrepreneurs in Christian history, they are all
saints, church leaders or social reformers who displayed entrepreneurial traits.
The great nineteenth-century Nonconformist entrepreneurs like Titus Salt,
George Cadbury and Joseph Rowntree don’t get a mention. Entrepreneurs need
to be welcomed for the essential work they do in business, not simply because
they’re a source of useful funds or even a useful metaphor for church pioneers:
many even have useful suggestions to make for innovative approaches to church
life and growth. That reservation apart, this is a valuable book which deserves to
be widely read.
One of the tensions of modern day ministry is that between the desire of the pastor to be ‘soul friend’ to the congregation and a seemingly irresistible push towards being seen as the managing trustee. The chief executive of the local church, in other words. This is particularly the case among current approaches to mission which adopt a social enterprise model: a holistic approach in which churches are integrating mission with the delivery of goods and services. The rationale underpinning this approach is that fewer and fewer people are likely to drop-in to an Old Time Gospel Service, no matter how faithful the preacher or fervent those praying. Much more likely – and appropriate to this society, at this time – is that people whose immediate needs are addressed in a focused way by Christians reflecting the love of God will be drawn towards the motivation of those who have helped them. If undertaken with respect and not solely as a pretext for proselytising, then this is a wholesome and godly model.
In The Minister as Entrepreneur Michael Volland offers the concept of entrepreneur as both a gift of God to the church and a model for others to emulate. Resisting the idea that the only value of enterprise in a church setting is to seek funding to repair the roof or to make up a shortfall in the funds to continue to employ the youth worker, the author proposes that many kinds of ministry and mission would benefit from a more entrepreneurial outlook.
Most of us will be able to identify key players in our churches or denominational structures who we might properly describe as entrepreneurs. These are the people with seemingly boundless energy, superb networking skills and the capacity to envisage (and realise) what few others might dare to dream. Such folk are quite rare – perhaps helpfully, since they can be quite hard work! Volland brings together biblical and theological analysis and offers us some worked examples to demonstrate that the concept has a good grounding in Christian understanding. He also offers a range of potential applications. He argues that in times like ours – of discontinuous change – an entrepreneurial approach is not merely warranted but essential.
Volland is Director of Mission at Cranmer Hall, Durham. He is also a practitioner in the field, working as missioner to a number of local parishes. This helpfully links scholarship with practical experience. He hopes to persuade ministers and others engaged in provoking and nurturing missional activity to function more as entrepreneurs. It seems to me that this book will further convince those who already tend towards his understanding but that it will make much less impact among those who are more introverted or traditional in their outlook. By including small group discussion questions, here is a chance to open up the theme for wider discussion among PCCs, diaconates and circuit meetings.
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 which he wants to be central to the life of the Church.