Monday, June 23, 2014

The dilemma for the bivocational minister/small business owner

Those who follow me on Twitter know that most days I post several articles I find on other blogs that relate to ministerial matters, leadership, or small business.  Most small business owners are entrepreneurs as are many bivocational ministers.  Both require good leadership skills, and I have found that many of the leadership principles that are helpful for one are transferable to the other.  Of course, my entire ministry has been bivocational, and for many years my other occupation had been heading a small business.  I find both enjoyable and challenging.

Combining ministry with business leadership brings its own set of challenges.  I sometimes found it hard to make needed decisions in my business because those decisions went against what I tried to do as a pastor.  There would be times when an employee needed to be let go, but I usually found that extremely difficult.  As a pastor I was wired to retain people, not send them away.  As a preacher of grace I believe in giving people second and third and fourth chances.  God has certainly forgiven me many time when I have failed and never once ran me off.  How then could I fire someone for his or her mistakes?  More than once I knew as a small business owner what I needed to do, but it was very hard to convince my heart that it was the right thing.  This was always a difficult decision that cost me many nights of sleep.

I recently found solace in the fact that T. D. Jakes admits to some of the same problems.  I'm currently reading his book Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive.  In one chapter he discusses how challenging it can be to be both a pastor and a business owner, and he specifically addresses the area of hiring and firing.

Instituting change is also a challenge for ministry leaders who are also small business owners.  As we well know, change occurs very slowly in the church as the cost of such change is minimized as much as possible.  Again, we are wired in the church to retain people.  In the business world change happens much quicker with little concern for how it will impact people.  If people don't like the change they are free to leave and seek employment elsewhere.  I found that in most cases I chose the pastoral model when trying to introduce change into our business.  I wanted to move much slower than I should have, and it created problems for the business.

Another challenge pastor/business owners can face is when people owe their business money.  I would listen to every sad story people wanted to give as to why they couldn't pay their bill.  Cash flow is king in a small business.  You can be profitable and go broke if you don't have the cash to pay your bills.  The problem became worse when the person who owes you money is a Christian.  Our small business once had a client who owed us money and was several weeks late paying it.  Some wanted me to take him to court to get our money.  I refused.  The man was not only a Christian; he was a leader in his church.  I took seriously the biblical admonition to not take a brother to court.  He eventually did pay us what he owed, but it created a lot of grief for a lot of people.

There were people, usually other Christians, who thought that because I was a minister they should get special deals.  They failed to realize that our business had bills to pay just like any other business.  We had employees who needed us to be profitable so they could receive their pay checks each week.  A few Christians just assumed I had to be greedy since I would not give them special pricing, and I'm sure a percentage of them became angry with me as a result.  The minister/small business owner often has to work very hard to help others understand that his or her business must remain profitable to exist.

Occasionally, our business would make mistakes and have unhappy customers.  That's going to happen, and you try to minimize it and resolve it to the satisfaction of the customers.  What hurts is when people question your integrity and even your calling as a minister because of an honest mistake that your business made.  I even had one or two question whether I was even a Christian because of a simple mistake that we made.  We resolved the issue with the customer, but the pain their accusations caused did not go away for some time.

Despite the challenges, I still enjoy both ministry and small business.  I also believe that the flexibility owning a small business can bring can be an asset to a bivocational minister.  Knowing some of the unique challenges that a minister-owned business can bring can help one avoid them or at least not be surprised when they occur.  If you want to read more about some of the mistakes I made as a small business owner read my book Mistakes: Avoiding the Ones that Will Close Your Small Business.  It is only available for the NOOK device, but it will help you avoid some of the mistakes that are common to many small business owners.

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