The Entrepreneurial Mind

Where to go from here?In his essay from a couple of weeks ago in the Wall Street Journal, Dilbert creator Scott Adams argues that business students (“B students” in his words) would benefit far more from classes in entrepreneurship than in the sciences, mathematics, and classics. While I disagree with the first paragraph (in the implication that some students don’t benefit from entrepreneurial thinking), the rest of the article has much to say about the value of developing entrepreneurial skills. I think an entrepreneurial mindset is absolutely critical for anyone in church leadership, clergy and lay, whether in an established parish or a mission.

With that in mind, it seems to me that there’s a one-sidedness in our Orthodox pastoral preparation, similar to what Adams suggests is happening with “B students.” It’s an imbalance that favors the spiritual and intellectual development of pastors at the expense of learning the value of financial sophistication, prudent risk-taking, leadership cultivation, conflict management, and the basket of talents commonly known as “people skills.”

Recent changes in Orthodox seminary curricula (e.g., at St. Vladimir’s) are laudable for being steps in the right direction. The next step is to recognize that Orthodoxy is still a missionary faith in North America, which means that our pastors and lay leaders all need the kinds of skills of which Adams speaks in his essay above.  Adams identifies seven skills for an entrepreneur:

  1. Combine skills
  2. Fail forward
  3. Find the action
  4. Attract luck
  5. Conquer fear
  6. Write simply
  7. Learn persuasion

We might balk at #4, with the complaint that “luck” has little to do with the Holy Spirit’s blessings on the Church, but a closer look at what he means by it has absolute applicability in our situation:

To succeed, first you must do something. And if that doesn’t work, which can be 90% of the time, do something else.

Now that sounds like a lot of people we know: Noah, Abraham, Moses, Naomi and Ruth, all the other prophets, the Apostles, and many other saints since.

The Orthodox leaders we need are those who can take risks, and can persuade others to take them too. They must be able to read balance sheets and to develop financial foundations that break free of the small-minded subsistence attitude plaguing so many of our parishes. They must see where to take their communities, beyond the existing Orthodox, into places where Orthodoxy isn’t known, and among men and women who we’ve ignored for too long. In other words, we need entrepreneurs in the Church if we are to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) instead of hunkering down, dithering and waiting for a “better day” that never comes.

Thus I ask, what is your parish doing to be entrepreneurial? What are you doing to be entrepreneurial in Christ’s Church? What would help you be more entrepreneurial?

3 comments on this post.
  1. Donna Farley:

    “…tall, good-looking and so gifted at b.s. that he’d be the perfect leader.”

    Hmm. Not how I would describe most of the clergy of ‘successful’ parishes I know….:-)

    well, okay, my own husband is good-looking. Really. And I do know some pretty tall priests who happen to have successful parishes too…..

  2. Fr Basil Biberdorf:

    Indeed. I think it’s important to take Adams as speaking a bit tongue-in-cheek on that point. (He is, after all, a cynical cartoonist who routinely mocks typical leaders in corporations.) I find his comments regarding this particular individual interesting in that he was willing to see that the guy who was a failure at one thing had the potential to be quite successful doing something else. How often do we leave people in positions where they are incompetent, when there are other tasks they could do quite well.

  3. Rebecca Matovic:

    I’m generally very skeptical about applying business ideas to the church, and I’m also very skeptical about the value of business schools (ironically, as I think about it, because I’ve always worked in smaller, more entrepreneurial companies — whenever we hire an MBA they seem out of tune with how we work).

    But some of the points here are interesting. I was particularly struck by the issue of risk taking. Our current priest has a more entrepreneurial spirit. At one point when he was advocating a more aggressive approach to something-or-other financial than the parish council felt comfortable with, I realized that even though members of the council, myself included, had lots of experience and some held senior positions in their work lives, in this particular parish we were all essentially ‘salarymen’ and that we could sorely use someone with a more individual, investment, or entrepreneurial outlook.

    I remain highly skeptical that these kinds of things can be taught, but recognize that that’s probably a snobby prejudice.