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Why Entrepreneurs Don't Like Your Church

Most readers know me as a missional community practitioner and don’t realize I am also an entrepreneur. I currently own an investment portfolio management firm, and have for 10 years. I’ve started three other businesses, and will be starting another when we move to Phoenix later this year. I am a business starter, that’s my ‘day job.’

Most churches have a hard time getting entrepreneurs, like me, to join their mission and vision. We are either running from church or passively sitting in pews on Sunday. We have gifts and strengths to offer, but they lay dormant in the local church. Why? It isn’t for a lack of asking. Pastors frequently attempt to pull the business owners in but are met with, “I’m too busy.” Excuses, like these, are usually a cloud of smoke to mask the true objections. My hope is to help shed some light on what lies beneath the “I’m too busy” objection.

A Big Problem

First, entrepreneurs are not more important or better than the rest of the church. However, we can all agree that the entrepreneur is usually a pretty odd specimen with unique gifts and abilities. The church can’t afford to have anyone’s gifts sidelined. The mission of the church is too important to miss out on a single part of the body. What does it say about our church, if a fraction of its gifts go unused, unengaged?

The entrepreneur is not super human, but they usually have a ton of capacity, they aren’t scared of risk, they love thinking outside the box, and they don’t mind submitting to leadership. What’s really interesting is that if they find something they are sold out for, they’ll call others to join them. They can become a huge ally for the church to aid in the understanding of making disciples who make disciples. The problem is that for many years the entrepreneur has been told to “fit into this box” or go elsewhere. Many have. Many entrepreneurs have decided to fulfill the great commission through para-church organizations and non-profits. I understand why.

What if you were a baseball player and were continually told by your coach that instead of playing baseball, you were going to knit scarfs? I’m guessing you’d find a different place to allow your talent to mature. In a sense, churches have been doing this for years with the entrepreneur. We don’t put them in the game they were designed to play.

Entrepreneurs are so unique they can give a church’s vision a run for its money, ask tough questions, and sharpen the leadership of the local church. They have the ability to challenge and push leaders in ways other folks can’t. They cause us to dream bigger, get specific, empower others, and take major risks. So, why do entrepreneurs hate your church?

Your Vision is Too Small

What do I mean by “vision?” The mission of all followers of Jesus is to make disciples who make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). The vision for your local church is the how, where, and who of this commission. How are you going to make disciples? Where are you going to go? Who are you going to reach? Your church was placed on earth to make disciples. That is why you exist. If we all had the exact same vision for the how, where, and who we were going to make disciples of, then we might as well be one big church. But, the fact is, God has given each church a unique vision to carry out the mission he has given us all. Far too often, churches settle for a vision that is too small.

Entrepreneurs think big. Honestly, that’s also what makes us (entrepreneurs) fail sometimes. We think all our ideas are going to be the next big thing, when in reality, our dreams are often bigger than the marketplace can handle. However, these big dreams allow businesses to be born and succeed.

Entrepreneurs want to be part of something big, not something that is going to only affect those around the block. Now, those around the block might be the starting point to implement the vision, but shouldn’t be the end point. If you want entrepreneurs to be engaged on the mission in the context God has given your church, think big, not small.

Soma Communities told me they wanted to see 3,000 missional communities in the Seattle area. That’s 1 for every 1,000 people. That vision started with me getting after it, trained, and excited for multiplication. If they merely told me that they wanted me to go and start a missional community in my neighborhood, that would have been great and all, but the first thing I’d be thinking is: “Is that it? Is that where I stop?” Honestly, as an entrepreneur, to have that be the end goal, wouldn’t be exciting enough.

God is our example for casting vision. He told Abraham: “Your offspring will be numbered as the stars. The whole earth will be blessed through your family.” This is a big vision. God also said that we were to be his witnesses, not only to our neighbors and cities, but to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Think of this vision laid out by God in Genesis and Acts. It includes the people next door to you, but is also much bigger that that. God’s vision is simultaneously as small as a family and as big as the world.

So, when we hear this, we get excited. Not because we can do it on our own, but because we know that God can and he has given us the Spirit to empower us for the mission. This is a vision beyond our powers and requires us to rely on the Spirit. So, while others may balk at a large vision, the entrepreneur will be your ally in calling people to fulfilling the seemingly impossible. We need entrepreneurs calling us to push the envelope, to think beyond our neighborhood and consider the world. They will become a litmus test: if your vision is too small and doesn’t require risk, innovation, or creative thinking, they will pick up on this.

Your Vision is too Generic

Having a large vision is one thing, but if it is a generic vision, it will likely die. God’s vision for Abraham was big, but it was also specific. He told Abraham: “Go to the land I will show you.” At times, God is not always specific with us, but that’s okay. He’s God. But, what I do find interesting is how God treated Paul on the mission field. Paul listened to Jesus when he said, “you’ll be my witness even to the ends of the earth” (big vision) and then listened to the Spirit as he continued to instruct Paul where to go and where not go. It is amazing to watch how specific the Spirit was with Paul as he listened and relied on God (Acts 16).

What we’ll see in churches is that their vision is: “We want to glorify God in all the earth.”  Well, thanks? It is a big vision, but I can frankly do that without being connected to your specific church.

Give us some handles on what you mean. When Soma Communities says: “We want to see 3,000 Missional Communities in the Puget Sound area.” This gives me so much information right up front. I see a big vision: a number that they desire to attain. I also see the means by which they are going to see disciples made: missional communities. The vision tells folks how they plan on glorifying god in the earth. You don’t necessarily need to see a number, but put some sort of descriptive handles so we aren’t left to wander.

It’d be like me trying to secure a loan for my business and saying: “We want to be the best company in the whole world!” How? By being the best. Where? The world. Ridiculous. Entrepreneurs need specific vision.

Your Implementation is Too Restrictive

Many churches and pastors usually fail the most here. You literally take the best weapon from the entrepreneur out of their hand by wanting to control everything.

You tell them how things are going to run on Sunday, how things are going to run in your programs, and how things are going to work in their community, small group, or missional community.

Entrepreneurs are used to coming up with game plans and strategies based on who they are, what their context is, and who is working alongside them. Churches steal that mindset from the entrepreneur and tell them, “Our way or the highway.” And frankly, most entrepreneurs have said, “See ya later.”

Churches then chalk it up to us not wanting to submit to leadership, but that’s not it.  We don’t want to be controlled and manipulated into thinking the pastor knows it all and knows how our lives should work. That sounds a little harsh, but that’s how they see it.

Entrepreneurs are used to being handed the “rules” to live within as they deal with local government, tax laws, officials, etc. Once we figure out the “rules of engagement” we can take it and build our businesses within that framework.

Think like that when implementing your vision. How can the church set up a system where it allows the entrepreneurs to use their gifts instead of restrict them? In Soma Communities, the parameters or rules are: we believe that the primary organizing structure of the church is gospel communities on mission and how you work that out is up to you! They train, equip, and encourage. They don’t control.

The Austin Stone does this well, too. My friend Todd Engstrom, says, “For us inviting entrepreneurs into conversations that are in their fields, not just ours.  Most entrepreneurs hate the church because everything is pretty prescribed, and honestly not very complex. So, we help them think through ministry in their world, but allow them to be the experts.“ By inviting the entrepreneur into these conversations, Austin Stone has launched 9 different non-profits and unleashed leaders into full engagement in the mission of making disciples.

This is a dream for the entrepreneur. It allows us to work within the time frame that our businesses allow instead of having to be at programs, church services, or church buildings. To be part of most churches, you have to be at the church building more often than a hipster wears a scarf. Most business owners don’t have time for that. When they don’t show up to those events, they are made to feel guilty and less than a Christian for not showing up to the latest greatest event.

As a church, flip that scenario and say, “the mission and vision is critical; figure out how to make disciples in the ways that God has given you.” Empower folks! Free up the implementation of your vision to liberate more gifts. This respects the uniqueness of everyone’s design. We have all been made differently, with different gifts, with different schedules, and different ideas.

Your Methods Are Too Safe

God is sovereign, right? Don’t be a chicken pastor. If we can all agree that it’s God’s mission, God’s power, and God’s resources, why wouldn’t we risk everything we’ve got? Entrepreneurs are willing to try whatever it takes and are rarely controlled by the fear of failure. They thrive on risk and “going for it.”

Entrepreneurs can see right through the leaders who are more afraid of man than God.  They can see the fear of failure. They never want to be part of something safe and want to push the envelope with mission. They want to be sent to the places considered unsafe to live in, work in, and do ministry in.

Last year as Soma leadership, we prayed for leaders to be sent to Seattle, San Francisco, and Phoenix. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but the more I heard about Phoenix and some of the “hard things” about it, I knew I was ready.

People were saying:

  • Phoenix has a ton of gangs and drugs and horrid schools.
  • Phoenix is spread out and is more like a suburban context, which is impossible to do missional community life in.
  • Phoenix is hard for relationship building. Most people just stay inside and don’t want to get to know other people.

All I heard was, “Yadda yadda yadda…” My wife thought through the above and said, “if all these (and other excuses) are true, shouldn’t we be the first to move in and show others about our God who lives in community? “

Pastors, stop being safe with your people. Call them to take risks in making disciples. If it doesn’t work, who cares? You’ll learn something. If you’re following Jesus, you have nothing to lose. It’s not even really a risk. God is in control and he is good at it. If you enable entrepreneurs to take risks, others will follow. Your church will quickly see the joy in following Jesus with reckless abandonment.

Final Word to Pastors

Honestly, if you are reading this and you are a pastor, know this: entrepreneurs desire to be part of what the local church is doing. They’re just tired of you thinking too small and being too timid. Dreaming big. Leading strong. Take risks. Entrepreneurs will follow you.

This article isn’t a fix-it-all. However, pastor and business starters are on the wrong page. This is meant to be a shout to the pastor from the pew on why you have been frustrated with us and we (entrepreneurs) have been frustrated with you.

I don’t believe that we are always right, or that we are better than any other person in your flock. But, for too long, we’ve been shelved and treated as though our gifts are a hindrance to the church instead of actual gifts.

If you can start to lean into these four basic things…you’ll be surprised how much you’ll see the entrepreneur get behind you and desire to be part of what the church is doing.

Seth McBee is the adopted son of God, husband of one wife, and father of three. He’s a graduate of Seattle Pacific University with a finance degree. By trade Seth is an Investment Portfolio Manager, serving as president of McBee Advisors, Inc as well as a missional community leader, preaching elder with Soma Communities in Renton, Washington, and executive team member of the GCM Collective. Twitter @sdmcbee.

Other article by Seth: Leading Joe Blow Into Mission, The Introverted Evangelist, and How Kids Learn to Follow Jesus.

Also Read Proclaiming Jesus by Tony Merida.