I read a fascinating post on the Out of Ur leadership blog. Jack Welch–the former CEO of GE offers his opinions on pastors and those coming out of the non-profit sector into the business world. His opinion is essentially that those from the non-profit sector (like churches) aren’t competitive enough.

In the September 20th
issue of BusinessWeek, Jack and Suzy Welch wrote an article called, "Leaving the Leadership Nest."

Welch recounts the story of a woman who has tried to move from a nonprofit
organization (think "church") into the business world. She gets
nowhere. She can’t even get an interview. The reason is simple—businesses have
not had much success with people from the nonprofit world.

Welch says the fundamental problem is that nonprofit people just can’t
adjust to the competition.

Andy Rowell writes, “The article
raises questions for me:

1. Do pastors with a competitive
background—perhaps having significant sports or business experience—lead with a
greater focus on numbers in the church? And is this an asset or something to be
cautious about? Does this explain the difference between pastors who shepherd
and pastors who lead?

I would encourage pastors to be aware
of their competitive bent. If we have a drive to see our congregation
"win," that is an appropriate desire. But we should make sure we
define what it means to "win" appropriately. We want the church to
produce better and more disciples of Christ who live sacrificially. Winning
isn’t about the ABC’s (Attendance, Buildings and Cash).

2. Some pastors fantasize that if
their church career doesn’t work out they can simply grab a job in the business
world. But is that true? Is Jack Welch right when he says most leaders in the
non-profit sector couldn’t hack it in the business world and should choose
something softer?

The truth is God has directed people
into his work for all kinds of reasons. Still, pastors can accept the criticism
that churches can become unfocused and perpetuate mediocrity if they’re not

3. Does Welch’s impression of non-profits manifest itself in our congregations
when members (perhaps with a business background) get frustrated by the
committees and lowest common denominator decision-making?

It’s hard to disagree with Welch’s
criticism, but that doesn’t mean we should run the church like a business. But
it does mean that these Christians with savvy business sense may help us make
decisions more quickly. Perhaps if we listened to them more we would have more
time for prayer, pastoral care, Scripture and ministry toward the poor.

4. Welch points out the challenge of
leading people without money as an incentive. What does that leave the pastor
with in his leadership arsenal? How do we motivate, and does this make a
pastor’s relational skills the critical factor?

The reality is most pastors must lead
without much positional authority. (This varies of course. Some traditions
still give the pastoral office a significant amount of authority. But I would
argue this is very rare today). If a pastor presses for change too quickly,
they may be run out within a year. Therefore, pastors must be able to lead
collaboratively (helping others feel ownership for decisions), inspirationally
(keeping people’s spirits up about our mission) and subversively (persuading
people to do what is right even when people’s first response is flowing from a
desirer to be comfortable). Pastors who are able to lead effectively are some
of the most impressive leaders on the planet.

What I discovered is that I partially agree with Welch and partially agree with Rowell. I think Welch, having little first-hand experience with the non-profit sector, underestimates the competitive atmosphere that on out there. Some of the "softest" leaders I know are ministers. And, the toughest leaders I know are ministers. It doesn’t take toughness to use money as a manipulative tool. All it takes is money and power. Toughness is having to lead through moral suasion, rather than brute strength…or financial threat. Having said that, he raises some legitimate points…particularly the consensus/lowest common denominator decision making. Churches/leaders who do that…typically go nowhere. They get stuck, and can be counted on to make about one decision per year.