\äⁿn-trə-p(r)ə-nər-n(y)ur\ : one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.
Sound it out. En•tre•pre•neur•ial. It rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? The phrase entrepreneurial spirit is rolling off many of the tongues that wax eloquent about church planting. Church planting leaders seem to be placing an increasingly high premium on the idea of entrepreneurialism within the church planting context. This terminology is so emphasized that the entrepreneurial spirit is now a staple in the church planter’s vocabulary. If we had our way, I wonder if we might consider including it in the qualifications for elders in the pastoral epistles. I am concerned about the current trend among church planting leaders to over-emphasize the value of entrepreneurial skills. One church planting author writes,
“Being a gospel-centered, innovative church planter implies that you are going to have to have some entrepreneurial aptitude. When I think of the terms ‘entrepreneurial aptitude’ I don’t ever think of boring, vapid, mundane or lackadaisical people. Entrepreneurs are anything but boring. Entrepreneurs are attractive, engaging, and stimulating people. They are interested in anything, but preserving the ‘status quo.’ As church planters, entrepreneurial aptitude is a must.”
Among many similar examples I have encountered, none of them have a clear biblical frame of mind guiding the entrepreneurial emphasis. They are driven more by the business-model of ministry than the shepherding-model. I am concerned about this?
Entrepreneurial language is not clearly reflected in the biblical categories of pastoral ministry. Perhaps the biblical category most clearly described is that of a shepherding spirit; even more a Good Shepherd-ing Spirit. Since it is language we have adopted, we must be careful to examine what we say and mean. A French loanword, entrepreneur originated during the industrial revolution (late 1800s) and described someone taking on a new, capitalistic endeavor. In fact, it was likely coined by a French economist named Jean-Baptiste Say. He defined his new word as, one who undertakes an enterprise, especially a contractor, acting as intermediatory between capital and labor. Subsequently, we have borrowed and incorporated this term into our church planting language.
Certainly, an entrepreneurial spirit includes being ambitious and hard working; two adjectives which are helpful in any gospel-centered ministry. Even Paul’s ambition was to work hard at preaching the gospel where an evangelical witness was lacking.1 But the modern implications of entrepreneurial language reach beyond determined diligence. Because it is borrowed from an articulate business arena, it drags a hefty baggage behind. It seems entrepreneurialism can include various other ideas such as risk-taking, strategizing clever angles, and living on the cutting edge of success. Don’t get hung up at this point. I’m not suggesting that communication, strategy, and the pursuit of success are not helpful in church planting. Instead, I am drawing attention to the fact that business-oriented terminology does not neatly fit within biblical categories and can distract us from our essential shepherd-model. In turn, this may cause us to appeal even to a business-model as much as (if not more) than the model presented in Scripture. For instance, if we were to say, “Successful church planters are gospel-centered, grace-enabled, biblically-informed, and entrepreneurial,” we might find ourselves caught in a game of one of these things is not like the other; one of these just doesn’t belong.
Yet still, this language is widely promoted and used in the assessment of church planting leaders and their strategies. Church planters today “Must show evidence of entrepreneurial ability to build from scratch.” Some church planting assessment processes state a heavy and repeated concern for entrepreneurial spirit. Church planting pastors are scored on the basis entrepreneurial criteria. If a pastor scores too low, he immediately has a major strike against him. In addition, if the entrepreneurial score is combined with an undesirable result on standardized personality test, he may be disqualified.
The assumption is that without the entrepreneurial spirit, a church planter’s (or pastor’s) church simply cannot grow (or is not likely to grow). But what does the Bible say? (Yes, Jesus did say He must be about His Father’s business, but I’m sure He did not mean modern business.) What is required for a church plant or established church to grow? What if you lack the required entrepreneurial spirit? Amidst the current church growth/church marketing frenzy, these questions must not be overlooked. And the answers we find should rule the church planter’s mindset.
God can grow the church however He pleases. But He has set forth in the Scriptures ordained means through which He will typically build His church. If we are to discover the means God typically uses to grow healthy churches, there is perhaps nowhere better to turn than to the Acts of the Apostles. Here we find the apostles planting and watering, yet God giving the growth.2 Let’s consider six passages from Acts in which we see the church growing. In the process, we may note the kind of spiritual gardening that accompanied God’s sovereignly orchestrated church growth.
Acts 2:40-42 – And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were added about three thousand souls. They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Note: Peter solemnly testified and exhorted people [from the Scriptures] to be saved. He preached the Gospel to the people. By God’s grace, some received his word and on that day the Church grew by three thousand souls. Likewise, the followers were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching [the Scriptures], living in Christian fellowship, observing the Lord’s Supper, and praying together.
Acts 2:44-47 – And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
Note: The Church grew day by day as the believers lived in community around the Gospel, cared for those in need, unified their minds, enjoyed glad and sincere Christian fellowship, praised God, and served others.
Acts 4:1-4 – As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
Note: After faithfully proclaiming the hope of resurrection through Christ, the believers were persecuted. In the process, God grew the Church.
Acts 5:12-15 – At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them.
Note: As the Lord displayed His supremacy through His disciples, throngs of men and women were being added to the Church. I believe God performed such miracles through these early apostles to affect a profound and explosive inauguration to the Church. By a careful reading of the New Testament, I think God is continuing Kingdom expansion by the testimony of Gospel-changed lives, though no longer through such miraculous signs. We should note carefully, though, that beyond the miracles the early disciples lived in such a way that those around them saw their good works and praised their heavenly Father.3
Acts 6:7 – The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.
Note: God grew the Church through the spread of His word, the Gospel. In fact, the clear teaching of Scripture led to great increase in obedience to Christ, including many falsely religious leaders.
Acts 9:28-31 – And he [Paul] was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. And he was talking and arguing with the Hellenistic Jews; but they were attempting to put him to death. But when the brethren learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase.
Note: Through Paul’s God-centered preaching [about Christ from the Scriptures], God grew the Church. Though he faced persecution, Paul built up [sanctified] the church, emphasizing the fear of the Lord and the sustaining work of God’s Spirit. The church continued to increase.
WHAT MAY WE LEARN FROM THIS? WHAT WAS THE FOCUS?
*Testified of the Gospel and Exhorted People to be Saved by Grace
*Led the Early Church Members to Value
-Intimate Fellowship with Other Christians
-the Lord’s Supper
*Cultivated in the Church a Deep-seated Appreciation for Christ’s Cross and Resurrection
*Courageously Embraced the Consequences for Treasuring Christ in Public
*Displayed lives of Faith and Grace inspired by the Gospel
*Scattered Broadly and Planted Deeply Gospel Seeds among Civilians and Leaders
*Pressed the Christians toward Sanctification, Fear of the Lord, and Comfort in the Holy Spirit
Of all that we see in these six passages, there is little entrepreneurial emphasis. There is no mention of risk-taking, angle-working, boot-strap pulling, economizing, marketing, or pulling social strings. The emphasis is upon the simple work of diligently cultivating the garden, planting the Gospel, and eagerly anticipating the blooming harvest the Lord brings to pass. In Acts, we find the early believers fearfully cowering in houses. What caused them to come out of hiding, boldly proclaim the Gospel, and shepherd the flock among them? What it their entrepreneurial spirit?
Of course, ministry today demands a certain level of initiative, thought, administration, and planning. But New Testament church planting is not an entrepreneurial endeavor in which pastors that lack a knack for business need not apply. It is a gospel-centered, grace-enabled, biblically-informed multiplication of local churches in which God uses ordinary people to accomplish His extraordinary purposes. This article highlights a semantic problem and the subsequent philosophical problems. I suggest we step back from this language, rethink the emphasis on business-oriented principles in ministry, and diligently pursue a more biblical articulation of our church planting values. Whatever terms we choose – biblical, borrowed, or original – let us make certain we say what we mean and that we mean what God has said.