Leadership Essentials and Their Implications

5 Leadership Essentials and Their Implications for the Church


One of my students created this summary of the widely admired and broadly used (over 1 million copies in 20 years) book “The Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes and Posner.

The Leadership Challenge


I have included some comments about how these might apply in the world of the 21st century church among younger leaders. I would love your thoughts as well.

Model the Way

Leaders establish principles concerning the way constituents, peers, colleagues, and customers should be treated, and the way goals should be pursued. They create standards of excellence and then set an example for others to follow. They set interim goals so that people can achieve small wins as they work toward larger objectives. They unravel bureaucracy when it impedes action.

Implications:– Walk the talk; those of us who teach about leadership must first act, then teach. Younger leaders hear leadership talks and are skeptical, because they talk to their employees who almost laugh at the hypocrisy…except it is too sad to laugh. Emerging leaders do the research – they know. A great “talk” is not good enough. Like Ezra modeled…Study, Practice and then Teach (Ez. 7:10)

Inspire a Shared Vision

Leaders passionately believe that they can make a difference. They envision the future, creating an ideal and unique image of what the organization can become. Leaders enlist others in their dreams. They breathe life into their visions and get people to see exciting possibilities for the future.

Implications: “Shared” is the key word here. Not imposed. Pastors and other church leaders often assume their vision is THE vision. After all, we are the spiritual leader. The “I have the vision; you need to follow me” days are over for rising church leaders. I just spoke to one at a major giga-church in the US. They can’t wait for the older guy to step aside so a true team vision can emerge.

Challenge the Process

Leaders search for opportunities to innovate and challenge existing sacred cows. In doing so, they experiment and take risks. And because leaders know that risk taking involves mistakes and failures, they accept the inevitable disappointments as learning opportunities.

Implications: This is a no-brainer for many young leaders. While some young leaders are stuck in theologies that allow little creativity of thought (everything was decided in the 1600’s or 1800’s or…), the more they read, the more they realize they must challenge the status quo. While some new organizations and coalitions seek to drive people backward, these young leaders are creating their own movements and associations – and they are broader, more inclusive and more biblical.

Enable Others to Act

Leaders foster collaboration and build spirited teams. Leaders understand that mutual respect is what sustains extraordinary efforts; they strive to create an atmosphere of trust and human dignity. They strengthen others, making each person feel capable and powerful.

Implications: Liz Wiseman does a great job distinguishing diminishers from multipliers. Here is a short summary of her work. I think younger leaders really get this. Would love to see the over 45 crowd get this as well, but a hierarchical leadership model versus a shared leadership model gets in the way (should be “elders” plural, 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1:5 – a circle of leaders). This is where a lot my research is focused these days.

Encourage the Heart

Accomplishing extraordinary things in organizations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions that individuals make. In every winning team, the members need to share in the rewards of their efforts, so leaders celebrate accomplishments. They make people feel like heroes.

Implications: YES! The people who really “do the work of the ministry” as in Ephesians 4, the “volunteers” are our heroes. Just met with two of my heroes Sunday – a couple 91 and 89, who are in a care facility. What are they doing? The same thing they did at Willow – serving people by guiding small groups, leading communion, and organizing worship for about 20 people! Love it!

What are your thoughts? Can these 5 areas of leadership practiced better by a rising generation than mine has done?





Thank You Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

My family stood in his jail cell on Robben Island. We witnessed first-hand the devastation of Apartheid. We saw what racism, oppression, greed, and anger can do to a nation. In post-Apartheid South Africa we saw the church rise up to join and often lead the restoration movement toward reconciliation among black, colored and white.

Thank you Nelson Mandela, for forgiving those who recklessly and intentionally destroyed your country. Thank you for being creative and winsome and shrewd in the face of those who had been abusive, evil and offensive.


I made four trips to South Africa, teaching, serving, learning, listening, praying and crying. It was heartbreaking and hope-building at the same time. In South Africa can sometimes smell the poverty before you ever see it. It is raw and toxic and visceral. Admittedly I had but a brief look through a tiny window into the suffering of a people we have abused, neglected and exploited for centuries.

I felt ashamed. To feel anything less is an injustice. Repentance is the only response.

Sadly, I knew I had played a role in their demise. Every American did – by our ignorance or by our compliance. We stood by and watched corporations get richer as a people got poorer and sicker and lonelier on the world stage. Meanwhile, we took their wealth, their land and their heritage.

But thank God we could not take their faith, their dignity and their hope.

Nelson Mandela was an iconic symbol of these treasures. Of course he was a complex man, sometimes despised…sometimes revered. Yes, his work as a young, angry man was often brutal and dangerous. No one – including Mandela himself –blindly condoned this. He wanted to hurt those who hurt them.

But can we understand why? Are we so self-righteous we cannot imagine ourselves making similar error? Let’s be clear; most of us have never had our homes bulldozed into oblivion, our livelihoods take from us, our land corrupted and our leaders imprisoned. Angry young men do foolish things when they cry for freedom and justice in a world that cannot and will not hear. Like a rebellious teenager his actions cried, “Help! Look! Listen!”

Yes, Nelson Mandela’s early means were wrong. People like King and Ghandi chose different paths. And eventually so did Mandela.

But I must remember how hard it was. I have never begged for my freedom. I have never watched my friends and their sons beaten to death by a racist mob. I do not have to see my daughter raped by the very police who are supposed to protect her innocence. I was not sentenced to work a patch of limestone for decades that would virtually blind my eyes and break my back. But South Africans – like WW2 Jews in Germany and “dissidents” in North Korea today –endured this kind of suffering.

And many of us just watched. I know I did.

In 1976 I was a freshman at Princeton University. There were almost daily protests against Apartheid. I mocked them. These mostly long-haired hippie types were shouting and demanding for corporations to divest from SA to create economic pressure to topple Apartheid. I thought to myself, “Go to class…do something productive…get a job you losers!”

I was an ignorant fool.  I had no idea what Apartheid was, how it crippled a culture and raped a nation.

Thank you Nelson Mandela, for becoming a changed man. Thank you for not letting your anger and suffering become a weapon to inflict injury upon your oppressors.  Thank you for “leading from the back” as described in the book “Mandel’s Way.”

Nelson Mandela



And thank you for forgiving me. It reminds me of another great leader. The greatest leader, who had an even longer walk to freedom.  He came to earth, lived for justice and truth, but was abused, misjudged, beaten, imprisoned and killed by the oppressive elites of His day. He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Perhaps Mandela gave us a contemporary example of this kind of forgiveness. I need that forgiveness. Because like I naively mocked those justice-seeking protestors, I took part in the mocking and death of righteous Jesus.

So today I say, “Thank You, Jesus—for forgiving us, saving us, loving us and now walking with us.”

Where are the Mandelas of today? You generally won’t find them ranting on FOX or MSNBC. There are few in congress or business or education. Thankfully, there are more rising up in the church. Men and women – great leaders, many of them quiet yet powerful – who care about the really big questions. But they are still a minority.

We need more people who are not caught up in so many petty debates discussed today by weak people with small minds. I know, because I can easily become one of them. Why? Because sometimes, instead of being a courageous leader I am a contented follower. No, not a follower of the radical, freedom-fighting, passionate Jesus. Rather, a follower of those who believe the fight is about our “brand” or a “model” or a “tribe” or a “theological viewpoint” or a “Bible version” or a “political system” or a hundred other distractions.

How lame and trivial. I hate when I get caught up in all that banter.

Mandela reminds me – reminds us – that there are longer walks and bigger issues and greater causes. I want to be more like him. Of course, ultimately, I want to be more like Jesus of Nazareth. A man of humility, justice, self-sacrifice, truth, beauty, forgive and, of course…LOVE. Mandela, a leader today we admire and celebrate today, was a world changer but only a shadow of what Jesus fully and perfectly embodied. And so are you and I. So we fix our eyes on Jesus as we become more of the leader, and follower, we long to become.

Can you help me be more like Jesus today? We need to remind one another of what is at stake, to call out the best in each other and set our sights on things above not on the things of the earth. In our ignorance or laziness we can never again allow another group of people to imprison and mock and oppress a rising generation of “Mandelas” who will courageously and humbly stand for freedom. For real freedom – Christ-centered freedom. Transforming freedom, inside and out.

It required a long walk for Nelson Mandela to get there, but he eventually got it right. I hope to get it right someday as well – hopefully sooner, but who knows. And I desperately need Jesus of Nazareth to walk the long road with me.

After all, He understands the long walk to freedom…all the way to the cross.

Leadership Convictions – Vision & Values

The Starting Point Visions ValuesThe Starting Point for Discovering Vision & Values



Personal convictions are the seedbed for forging a compelling vision and shaping core values. These convictions must never be generated out of thin air or influenced simply by the latest leadership fad or trend. Somewhere deep down in the gut you will discover some things you believe in – some things that are non-negotiable about life, work, love, faith, relationships, leadership and the world. That is where you will find your Vision & Values.


So here are a series of questions first for Vision discovery and clarification.


1)     What does the future look like when things are working extremely well? Not perfectly…that’s idealism. You need a vision that can be rooted in reality. So describe the future when the vision is now a fact. What has changed? What problem have you solved?


2)     What does it feel like to be there? You probably have some sense of what it feels like as you imagine your dream coming true. Yes, what are your emotions? What wells up inside you as you see the vision becoming reality – joy, satisfaction, relief, hope, exhilaration, power, or freedom?


3)     Who benefits most from the vision becoming reality? Imagine the people your team is serving or helping or providing a quality service to. Will it be children in poverty, adults without meaningful work, people with disabilities, a company without quality management, a non-profit that lacks solid leadership? What is happening in these people and among them? What new world opens up for them because of the vision becoming reality?


4)     What change is taking place inside you? How are YOU different because the vision is a reality? What character changes are happening? How are you approaching your work? Have your priorities changed?


KEY VISION RESOURCE: Chapters 5 & 6 of The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes & Posner are worth the price of the book – and more – on the process of creating a shared vision.




Now for questions to help shape your core Values


1)     What is true for you? This means, deep down inside you, there are things that do not waver – core beliefs that define how you see the world. These may be the result of experiences, values handed down by parents or mentors, religious convictions, or simply things you just know to be true (treating others with respect is the right thing to do.)


2)     What makes you sad? This is a way of discovering values by looking through a different lens. When you view the world or work or you organization, what makes you sad? What do you wish would change? This is probably related to a value or belief you hold dear. For example, in a team meeting you see a weaker person get belittled by another member of the team. The strong personality of the culprit crushes the weak spirit of the team member, who does not respond in the moment but feels shame or intimidation. The anger you feel is tied to something you believe about justice, fairness, or perhaps kindness.


3)    What brings you joy? Now we flip the coin and look at those events or activities that make you smile. You see a need met, a new product developed, a person helped, an obstacle overcome, a friendship grow or a goal achieved. You smile because something feels good at your core.


4)    What gives you energy? Though similar to “what brings you joy?” above, this is a bit different. Yes, energy can be derived from people or events that bring me joy. But energy comes from other sources – adverse circumstances, a challenge, a loss, a unique opportunity, a new friendship, a family event, a kind of work, a new mission. What gives you a “rush” and makes you productive, excited about your work in the world, and givers purpose to your life?


KEY VALUES RESOURCE: Here is a short Forbes article on values-focused leadership by Jansen Kraemer that highlights four core principles leaders can use to lead from a values standpoint.



Answer these questions and record them in your journal. It will help you identify what’s in your gut, what makes you tick. Your personal Vision & Values will get clearer which will also allow you to sharpen the focus of your work and leadership.


So tell me – what are some of the answers to these questions for you? I’d love to hear what makes you tick and what you are giving yourself to!

We’re All in Rehab

We’re All in Rehab (So a little grace goes a long way)


We're all in Rehab














Like many of you we’ve had our share of challenges the last few months. To give you perspective, we are sending our Christmas letter just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. The week before Christmas my wife had a serious fall, broke her leg and damaged some ligaments. This was followed by 2 injuries to my basketball-playing daughter, a junior in high school. Not to be outdone, I followed with a back injury, and my 83-year old mother who lives up the road rose to the occasion by having some health challenges.


In January our living room was filled with walkers, icepacks, ace-bandages, crutches, and a motorized scooter. It looked like a rehab center on steroids. But it gets better – this past week my wife and daughter were in a car wreck on an icy hill. Thankfully they’re fine, but it was a traumatic event fraught with great potential for disastrous results.


Initially, I did not see the rapid-fire stream of text messages popping on my phone – I was teaching a class.  But soon I saw the screen flashing, and what I read was terrifying. Dad!!! Accident!!! Please call!! DAD!!!!! Help! !!!! Call us now!!! Immediately I got hold of my wife and discovered all were Ok.


I left my university office after dealing with the aftermath of the accident, and stopped at our little coffee shop before leaving campus. “Hi, Dr. Donahue, how may I help you?” the student-attendant asked warmly. “Just a cup of coffee. What do I owe you?”


“Nothing,” she replied with a wry smile. “It’s your luck day.” Really? You’re kidding me. Please…my family doesn’t need any more ‘luck.’


I smiled gently back as if to say, “Dear child, you have no idea how wrong you are.”


“No…really. It’s perfect timing. The graduate student who was just here said, ‘I’m buying coffee for the next person who walks up here. Just tell them to have a great day and enjoy the coffee.’”


I had come to the shop looking for a little caffeine; instead I got a double-shot Venti cup of grace. More than what I needed. Much more than I deserved.


Now I really smiled, and she was beaming with joy. She was getting such a kick out of my response, just standing there, a sense of wonder and irony filling my soul…ambushed by grace. She had no idea what was happening but she was pleased with the joy that filled the room along with the aroma of a free coffee.


And, as though that wasn’t enough, I was graced once more as I left the building. The university is not very far from Lake Michigan, and a light, gentle snow was falling. Lake effect snow that can come briefly when the cool winter air meets the moisture off the water.


It was a slow, quiet snowfall. Large, floating flakes that calmly drifted toward the earth. Not a sound was heard as I walked to my car through the forested area that surrounds the parking lot. Quiet, still, peaceful, restful, beautiful.


And there, in the quiet, I heard the Voice…the still, small Voice. No one heard it but me. Because it was just for me.  The Voice compelled me to see a reality that was greater than my circumstances. The grace of God was coming resting upon me like the steady, beautiful snow, blanketing my sorrow, worry and fear with joy, peace and hope.


It was as though God said,


Bill…learn from this snow and experience my goodness and favor. Feel it as it rests on your head and lands refreshingly on your tongue. This is my grace on you.


To be sure, at times I pour it out in one thunderous heap that buries you in love and healing in times of extreme trial and suffering; but this time, there is no grace blizzard in the forecast. This time it comes as a gentle but relentless shroud of comfort, wrapping around your frustrated self and weary heart.


Your steady flow of life’s challenges is now met by My steady flow of grace. Like a small cup of free coffee, or a gentle, quiet snowfall, enjoy the little gifts of grace I am providing for the journey.


And remember…My grace is always sufficient for you.


I needed that. I really needed that.


You see we are all in Rehab. We are all hobbling around on the crutches of uncertainty, anger, fear, loneliness and grief. And we all need grace. Lot’s of it, we assume.


That’s ok. There’s plenty to go around…there’s no shortage of supply…no lack of spiritual resources.


But the good news is we only need a little.


Because a little grace can go a long way.


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.


The Power of Vision: Walking with Buddy the Elf

Power of Vision Image of a Man Flying Dreams and Visions. That is what we are made of.


Really. We are.

The power of vision starts when we are small, and we want to be a firefighter, or when we build a glorious castle from a life-less cardboard box, so amazing that even MacGyver would be proud of the transformation. We are filled with awe and wonder and an ability to embrace the unthinkable and envision the impossible.


I want to be seized by the possibility of a grand adventure, and I long to join Buddy the Elf and say to a wide-eyed audience of fellow visionaries, “I traveled through the seven levels of the candy cane forest, past the sea of swirly-twirly gumdrops, and then, I walked through the Lincoln tunnel.”


Wow! Can I do that, too? Can I travel with Buddy? Sign me up for “The Buddy Vision Tour.”


I have a confession to make. Something inside me wants Buddy as my travelling companion. Yes, I know it is childish. But I’ll take a trip with Buddy over a Carnival Cruise any day of the week.


Because Buddy believes. He unashamedly, unwaveringly, “foolishly” and enthusiastically believes! He radiates joy, humility, wonder, risk-taking, self-denial and an others-focused lifestyle that wins the most ardent skeptics to his vision and the he cruelest critics to his cause.


It’s always Christmas with Buddy, 365 days a year. It is not an event – it’s a lifestyle. Contrast his effusive, obsession with all things Christmas with Lewis’ White Witch who leads her naïve wanderers to a colder, darker destination where it is always winter, and never Christmas. (That would be Narnia, not Chicago in February.)


I want a room full of Buddy’s. I’d rather have overly idealistic, possibility-thinking, belief-obsessed, Elf-like leaders than the woe-is-me, “we are all just losers/sinners/failures” Eeyore-like sad sacks that too often populate our institutions, grad schools, churches and organizations.


I want to be with visionaries.

I want to be with let’s-take- the-hill zealots.

I want to be with let’s-light-this-candle types.

I want to be with fishers of men, not keepers of the aquarium.


I want to be alive…And that means I want to dream!



There is much to be said about the power of vision!  Are you open to it? Do you use it? How has this mindset helped you accomplish a goal or lead a group to accomplishing what they thought was unreachable?


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

The Power of Gathering

The Power of Gathering is really showing its effectiveness as we gather for a university discussion on economics, we are talking about the culture at large mostly in North America but certainly globally as well.


Well I’m sitting here in a hotel, actually up in Lake Geneva and we are here gathered together as a university to tackle some pretty big issues both internally and externally. We’re talking about economics, we are talking about the culture at large mostly in North America but certainly globally, and we are bringing some experts in to challenge us on how to think about economic realities in light of the new reality of our culture and just the systems of our world. But what I find really powerful here is the power of gathering itself so irrespective of where the content might take us and what we need to talk about related to this, and what some of our scholars are going to be doing to really delve into some of the challenging global economic issues of our world, there’s a power in just gathering. I’m headed off to breakfast in a few minutes with some people and I’m looking forward to that because something happens when a team or a group or an organization gathers. I just want to highlight a few of those to remind us that this is strategic, it’s important, it’s life giving. Now here are a few things to think about first of all clarity I find that when we come together we’re not asking as many how and when questions as we do when we’re sort of in the office, or in the organization. We tend to ask bigger questions sort of the why questions and at a gathering of your core people you get that clarity. Why do we exist? Why are we here? What are some of the big questions we really need to be facing and why should we be facing the now? So the big why questions I think are important for your organization or your group. Another question that you tend to ask when you gather is, “Who are we? What kind of group are we?” And because of the informality that takes place in a setting like this I think it’s, it’s a better opportunity to understand who we are. I think there’s an informality that helps us achieve some relational unity. In our particular case there are three schools in the university represented here the graduate school, the theology school, and the college. The law school is not here it’s in another part of the country. But the those three schools have come together to say let’s get to know each other  better, let’s understand how we work better together, let’s see what skills and resources we bring to one another so there is a relational unity, a getting to know each other and that’s really lifted up by the informality. So not only in the formal sessions, the small groups, the strategic sessions, but in the having coffee afterward, the one-off conversations, the meeting after the meeting, the kind of thing we experience around the office sometimes is really lifted to a new level here. And so there’s that informality, that relational piece, that helps us answer that who question. But I think there is also the identity organizationally of; who are we, what kind of place do we want to become, what kind of people do we want to be as we carry forward our mission? So we had the why questions, the who question, and I think alternately we will make that strategic turn, we do that tomorrow morning. But that’s the strategy question of; where do we want to go from here, what do we want to focus on specifically, are there some next steps we need to take? So we will be in groups in teams talking about that as well. So the power of gathering allows us to answer those big questions; why, why are we here, why do we exist, why do we do things the way we do, who are we and who are we becoming and then we really want to go? Hopefully you’ll think about those things as you put some gatherings together and get “off-campus” and do something together in a setting that allows you to really engage these things both in formal an informal ways.


We would like to encourage your feedback as it helps us to identify the issues that are important to you. It also helps others who are searching to develop new creative ways of leading. Thank you in advance for your comments.

How Effective are Your Leadership and Teams

Today Dr. Bill Donahue discusses Leadership and Teams and how effective you are as a leader to your team at your organization,  church or educational institution.




Looking at leadership effectiveness today and how it relates to the working with teams.

Every leader works with teams in one form or another. So as you make decisions as a leader, one of the things that I think very important is how you engage with teams that are part of your organization, your church or educational institution. Some research by McGrath says that there are two factors you really need to pay attention to, is what  kind of team leadership and your role as a leader toward that team and that’s whether or not you are simply monitoring and providing feedback to the team or whether you’re going to actually intervene and engage that team. Things you want to monitor are both internal and external. Internal monitoring means looking at the functioning of the team; how does that work relationally, how are decisions made, how are power and authority used, are the inner workings of the team doing well?

Leadership and Teams w Ralph Nader QuoteThe second thing you want to give feedback on is external factors which is; what is the culture in which the team works? Every team functions in an environment and that environment has political or economic or social factors in which the team just has to work. So if you know some things that are external environment you want to pay attention to that as well are there trends, issues, changes, dynamics in the corporation, the organization, the church or whatever that are affecting how the team works? So that’s kind of what you are monitoring. But McGrath says also there’s times to intervene and again internally and externally so to speak. Internally is when the team really is breaking down and there’s dysfunction and you need to step in and lead it, you need to redirect it, you need to bring your leadership into that team and help it realign, refocus and in some cases engage conflict or do things that set the team back on track. But then there’s external ways that you might have to intervene; you may have to change some of the structure around the team, you may have to go to bat for the team in the context of the organization or institution. You may have to make the team aware of external factors they cannot see; social, economic or otherwise. So if you can kind of keep that in mind as you look at decisions related to how your teams are functioning is it something you need to monitor provide feedback to or something you need to intervene into and re-guide, refocus a team structure or strategy.

For more research that cites  McGrath’s views you may download this PDF.

May I Have Some Church with my Coffee – bi-vocational pastors?

Bi-vocational Pastors ImageThere are approximately 8,000  bi-vocational pastors currently according to data from the Annual Church Profile.

It is not uncommon for there to be bi-vocational pastors – working a day job for some or all of their pay. This is particularly true of very small churches, and pastors in areas where income levels cannot support a part or full-time salary.

But some people choose this approach as a means of getting into the community and becoming part of the change process ion a neighborhood or city. In the Winter 2013 issue of Leadership Journal ( http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2013/winter/new-tent-makers.html?start=3  ) you will find a portion of this article mentioning Corner Church, in the North Loop of Minneapolis.  It is a model of the rising trend of entrepreneurial bi-vocational pastors and churches in North America. This Journal is a great resource for articles on examples of christian leadership and I would highly recommend subscribing to it. See full article by clicking this link.

Instead of having a church with a coffee shop, this is a coffee shop with a church. It is a bona fide for-profit coffee shop designed to connect people, stimulate conversations and have church gatherings where people can hear truth and encounter the gospel of Christ.  It is a 6-day-a-week operation that uses profits to fund the ministry – and it pays taxes.

Jobs are generated in the community, the store has a redemptive presence, and the staff does not have to rely on donations as the way of generating salaries.  Corner Church and Corner Coffee are one in the same.

“Instead of sitting inside a church building wondering how we can get our community to come here, we’ve flipped things around…We’re putting our church in the middle of the community,” says leader Scott Woller.

Can this be a path to new forms of church planting, leadership development in a real on-the-job world? It truly values the calling of everyday work and the calling to pastor – both equal and needed for kingdom building. And it solves some economic challenges young, new churches face (though getting a small business profitable took two years, so you need some help).

It is not for everyone, but entrepreneurial leaders who have a vision for being present in the community and eager to connect with the real world every day, the model has much to offer bi-vocational pastors.

I love young leaders pushing the edge, reaching out, experimenting and taking big risks for ministry success. This has its risks like any start-up church or business, but the payoff might be worth the sweat!


Does this stimulate your thinking? Could something like this work in your area? Could your church or you plant a church with this strategy? What kind of leader might it take? 

Bi-vocational Pastors

Christianity Today is a great resource for leadership articles, you can sign up for their Leadership Journal articles here.  I highly recommend it as a valuable resource.


Here is the full article I was  using when referencing bi-vocational pastors in its entirety  for those who do not wish to sign up yet.


Originally posted on Christianity Today’s “Leadership Journal”


Two young pastors are finding fresh ways to combine pastoral ministry and entrepreneurial ventures.

Chris Kopka


In the mid 20th century, most seminary discussions about the apostle Paul’s tent-making were likely theoretical. Yes, there were part-time pastors—but most of them would never have gone to seminary.

How times have changed! Today, seminarians from even well-known schools are starting to talk openly about the “stark realities” of bivocationalism. Some of the conversation around bivocationalism is driven by the weak job market. Seminary students aren’t exactly bombarded with well-paying jobs upon graduation. On the other hand, some see bivocationalism as a ministry plus, a way to keep one foot planted in the secular world.

Recent research from The Barna Group reveals that over 50 percent of Millennials (those born after 1980) and younger Gen X-ers believe some form of entrepreneurship will be part of their career path. I’m guessing young seminarians are no exception.

Because I help start faith-based businesses, I have regular conversations with many young pastors. I have come to see bivocationalism as a gift. My relationships with members of the next generation of bivocational pastors have shown me that even their tent-making efforts are part of their calling.

According to data from the Annual Church Profile, some 8,000 pastors report being bivocational. But what are the most common “second jobs” for these pastors? How many bivocational pastors start businesses versus hold a “job”? Are bivocational pastors thriving or just surviving? We know little about this phenomenon. Yet we can start to answer some of these questions by seeing how two younger pastors in Minneapolis, Tim Schuster and Scott Woller, have embraced an entrepreneurial version of bivocationalism.

Moving in Circles

Tim Schuster graduated from Bethel Seminary in the spring of 2012. During his time there, he worked part-time as a youth pastor. He also planted a church. What started out as the “Midtown Church Project” became a fast-growing community that recently decided to drop the word “Project.” Why? Because they started seeing themselves as a bona fide church, just a few months after Tim’s graduation.

“When people say `plant a church,’ what they actually mean is `start a worship?service.'”

Midtown is an unconventional kind of church. According to Tim, “When people say ‘plant a church,’ what they actually mean is ‘start a worship service.’ Our contemporary notion of church is a group of people, facing in the same direction, where a stage becomes an altar. Then we look at programs, ministry, and service projects as ‘extra credit.'”

Midtown wanted something different. Within 10 minutes of the start of a Midtown “service,” chairs (and attendees) move from facing forward and are arranged into circles of 5 to 10 people in order to facilitate conversation.

Midtown Church is, in essence, a series of conversational circles. Brandon Schulz, a social media entrepreneur, describes Midtown as “the closest church to embodying how social media works, except it’s live, in person.” The relational emphasis doesn’t mean skimping on theology. Midtown is unapologetically orthodox in its teaching and Tim talks boldly about Jesus, sin, grace, faith, and work.


What you won’t see, though, is a sermon or traditional service structure. Tim sees the primary role of the pastor as a facilitator. This stems from the Midtown founders’ shared fascination with self-organizing models. Tim even researched Tupperware parties and “Open Space” business conferences as part of the design for Midtown.

One key benefit Tim sees to bivocationalism is how it’s enabled the church to take a different approach to money. Tim and his Midtown cofounders decided that the pastor would not draw a substantial income from the church (and perhaps none at all). Why? They feared that money might get in the way of forming and deepening relationships, especially in the early days of planting the church.

Tim didn’t arrive at this decision lightly. He was considered for a planting grant from another church, but, because he’d only recently been married, was told he was “not ready.” (A good caution against being too quick to tell young, innovative pastors they’re “not ready.”) In hindsight he’s grateful for having been turned down. Through the grant evaluation process Tim realized he was in a classic struggle between “passion” (for Midtown’s strategy of not forcing economic ties between pastor and congregants) and “paycheck” (the reality that life would be a bit easier with seed funding).

Because of my work in faith-based business development, a friend introduced me to Tim to help him and Midtown’s other three original founders, Eric, Kelsey, and Jenna, find strategic options for the church, including income streams. Most of the business development I do is at the intersection of faith and financial services. This work connects me with many churches and ministries. Still, I found Midtown’s model remarkable.

Tim and I began a months-long series of conversations, thinking through bivocational options. For Tim, bivocationalism is one piece of an overall strategy. As he left his job as youth pastor, he actively sought an income-generating role to support his family that would also leave enough time for him and co-founder, Eric, to devote sufficient time to Midtown. Jenna, the fourth cofounder of Midtown, is now in seminary herself.

I asked Tim if seminary professors had introduced him to any role models, mentors or even examples of bivocational pastors. In short, the answer was “no.”

“If you don’t have a fulltime, paying role as a pastor, it’s somehow treated as a failure,” he said.

On reflection, though, he recalled that I had introduced him to a potential model for bivocationalism in Scott Woller, of Corner Coffee/Corner Church, as well as another entrepreneurial pastor in the Twin Cities. Ultimately, Tim decided to pursue an entrepreneurial path himself.

“Well Tim,” I said “I’m about to feature you and Scott in my writing. Perhaps you can become one of the role models.” Maybe future seminarians (as well as seminaries of the future) will realize that bivocationalism should not be seen as a failure, but in fact can be a successful strategy and a legitimate way of pursuing one’s calling.


Coffee Church

Scott Woller leads a church in the North Loop area of Minneapolis. Corner Coffee/Corner Church is actually two distinct legal entities sharing a single location—and the same vision. Monday through Saturday, Corner Coffee is, you guessed it, a coffee shop. Their product is coffee, although creating a sense of community is the underlying goal.

Given that a fair amount of this article was written in the coffee shop, I’m able to attest to the fact that Scott and his team are accomplishing this goal. Corner Coffee is a for-profit LLC that creates neighborhood jobs. While the coffee shop has never paid a salary for Scott or other church staff, 100 percent of the profits of the coffee shop go toward the church’s operating budget. The church, as a legal entity, is the sole shareholder of the coffee shop. Scott is, in effect, the coffee shop’s volunteer CEO.

Corner Coffee was conceived as a way to plant Corner Church in an urban setting. Being an Assemblies of God plant, members of that denomination would feel theologically quite at home at Corner Church, just so long as they don’t mind the espresso machine hissing in the background. By having a fully-functioning, profitable business six days per week, the separately incorporated church has very low overhead for Sundays, and is able to meet in a comfortable, casual setting. (By the way, it took two years for Corner Church to be profitable. Scott hastens to add that a coffee shop is not a way to make “easy money.”)

Being in a non-traditional environment is crucial for the work of Corner Church. The vast majority of the church’s Sunday attendees are formerly churched individuals, many of whom have been scarred by past church experiences. Some of these negative experiences involve issues with the offering plate. So to grow and reach new attendees, Corner Church must keep a low overhead and strive to keep pressure around giving low, especially for newer attendees. In addition, Scott explains that being held in a coffee shop allows Corner Church to be an important part of the neighborhood. Scott feels meeting in a coffee shop “as church” sends that signal quite naturally.

Scott never wants to have a conversation about why the church doesn’t pay taxes: Corner Coffee does! And he never wants the neighborhood to have a sense that the doors are closed or the parking lots are gated Monday through Saturday. And most of all, Scott doesn’t want the “church community to let their faith become dormant during the week. We want the church facility to encourage people to live out their faith every single day.”

Unlike Tim, Scott did not remain bivocational, nor did he intend to. Indeed, Scott doesn’t think of himself as a classic bivocational pastor. From the beginning his income has come from the church, even though initially it was a very modest income. Scott encourages people to view Corner Church (via the coffee shop) as an “investment,” not just a donation, one that creates jobs in the community and revenue for church replication.

Those investments are paying off. After several years, Scott draws a full income from Corner Church. Meanwhile the revenue from Corner Coffee is strong enough that Corner Church planted a second coffee shop/church this year in another urban neighborhood in Minneapolis, a neighborhood so secular local pastors call it the place church plants go to die. So Scott now has a pastor colleague embarking on an entrepreneurial journey similar to his, with a model that has been proven to work in an urban, secular setting.

Pastoring in a coffee shop presents unique opportunities. Scott can’t hide in an office and he certainly doesn’t face the common tendency for pastors to get stuck in a church bubble. He’s expected to be active in the neighborhood, to live in the community, and to be visible in the coffee shop while doing his work. It’s a different role for the pastor than what Scott was used to. “Growing up, the pastor was this lofty ‘Man of God’ in the town,” he says. “But this role of the pastor as being down-to-earth, a real person, has really become who I am.”

It’s not just him who has benefitted. The church has attracted members seeking greater authenticity and community. The whole vibe of the church fosters dialogue and allows people to be real.

“Instead of sitting inside a church building, wondering how we can get our community to come here, we’ve flipped things around,” Scott says. “We’re putting our church in the middle of the community.” Members of the community can come and enjoy the coffee shop, even if they don’t worship or identify as Christians. To Scott, “that’s the difference between putting a church inside a coffee shop and putting a coffee shop inside a church.”

Recently, a neighbor-customer who has been coming in for many years and had never attended church approached Scott. His mom was in the hospital, and though he was obviously nervous and awkward, asked if Scott would pray for his mom. “This is a non-churchgoer, during coffee shop time, engaging me as a pastor,” Scott said. “I know I would have missed that moment, and many more like it, if I were in a traditional church setting.”

Such stories should make us rethink bivocationalism. Is it solely something to adapt to out of necessity? Or, like Tim and Scott, can we also come to see it as a path to greater ministry success? Many still regard bivocationalism as a second-class calling. But given the current economic woes and the challenges of reaching an increasingly secular culture, perhaps it’s time to rediscover “tent-making” models of ministry.

Chris Kopka is helping launch an integrated business/ministry model around faith & finances with Brightpeak financial.


The Corner Church/Coffee Economic Model

The economic model for Corner Church/Corner Coffee has many moving pieces. The coffee shop is designed to become profitable within 2 years, church expenses start and remain incredibly low (approximately 20 percent of the expenses of most plants), and modest church planting funds are stretched as long as possible because of the low overhead. In time, we begin to take offerings as church members start to embrace principles of generosity. Stressing the church’s active involvement in the community is essential. I’ve found people are ready to give to something they feel really makes a difference. They see our coffee shop/church as being transparent and making a difference where they live and work. That makes it easy for them to give.—Scott Woller

Our Economy and Morality – Dr. Bill Donahue

Our Economy and Morality will be the topic of our discussion in southern California where I have been invited to participate in an economic forum sponsored by the Kern Family Foundation in the Oikonomia Network along with about nine other schools and leaders from those schools.



Hey, I am headed down from my hotel room in a few minutes to spend some time with Dallas Willard and some others talking about a moral framework for economics and work. I’ve been invited to participate in this along with about nine other schools and leaders from those schools so it’s a small group of us is in kind of an economic  forum sponsored by the Kern Family Foundation in the Oikonomia Network, that’s Greek for economy where we get our word economy from. But it’s interesting to talk about, “What’s it mean to have sort of a biblical, theological view of work that brings a moral framework to what we do.?”

On the one end of the spectrum you have the Tea Party on the other end you have the Occupied Wall Street movement. Both of them really have something in common and that is that they have frustration with the moral nature of the marketplace, of economics, of work, of how the rich and the poor are treated. Who makes money to do the good guys the money or the bad guys make money, and if you follow moral principles are you really a sucker versus if you work hard and honest and you follow a moral framework for your work and in the economy in general will you get ahead, or will only those who sort of scam their way get ahead?

So, I’m looking forward to the discussion, I need to head down now but I will keep you posted on some things I am learning along the way.

Always open to discussion ….

Post your thoughts on Our Economy and Morality in the comments section below!!