Volunteer Ministry Entrepreneurship

Rich Kirkpatrick related (in an article no longer on the internet as of 2014) an incident that occurred when he attended a conference at Saddleback, Pastor Rick Warren’s mega-church in southern California. At a nearby coffee shop he met an employee who was a Saddleback member. She was eager to talk about her church, but she didn’t mention their celebrity pastor. She talked about how she was able to start a ministry to single moms.

Are there entrepreneurs in the church today?

Entrepreneurs are people who start new business ventures, often with considerable risk. But they exist also in the church. The book of Acts is full of Spirit-led entrepreneurs. Peter and Paul are the primary entrepreneurs, but there are others, such as those in 8:4, people fleeing persecution in Jerusalem, who “preached the word wherever they went,” and the “men from Cyprus and Cyrene” in 11:20 who “began to speak to Greeks also” in Antioch, founding the church there.

Are there entrepreneurs in the church today? Most churches–congregations and denominations–have a long institutional history and are, for good reasons, adverse to change and risk. They are also by nature ‘top-down’ organizations, a structure which tends to discourage individual entrepreneurship. Could we also at times unintentionally discourage individuals moved by the Holy Spirit to open new avenues of ministry for sharing the Gospel?

The Holy Spirit certainly does continue his work today, as people bring God’s word to those who need to hear it, both within established organizations and in new ventures. It is a desire to serve that often initiates entrepreneurship. A believer’s heart may be touched deeply by a specific need. She sees the need as an opportunity to express her gratitude to her Lord and to serve him by serving others. She might be able to act on her own; but she might also turn to her church family for resources and support.

How can we discern Spirit-led volunteer ministry entrepreneurs?

How can we wisely discern when the Spirit is working through volunteer ministry entrepreneurs, and encourage such entrepreneurs in our midst? Consider these starter ideas. (See also “Growing Volunteer Ministry Entrepreneurs”discussion guide.)


  1. How does a church determine which ministries will take place under their umbrella? No church can carry out every possible ministry, but if it simply maintains a ministry status quo, it likely is not open to Spirit-led initiatives. To distinguish between Spirit-led initiatives and crazy ideas, leaders can, in advance, write broad guidelines by which suggestions are weighed. Guidelines will vary, but could include: “Ministries at First Lutheran will be in line with our mission and vision statements; and ones for which we have resources (financial, leadership, workers).” Include prayer as part of the decision-making process. When a church decides not to undertake a new ministry idea proposed by a member, they can still personally encourage and support the member who feels called to serve in that way.
  2. How healthy are all ministries in your church? How healthy are your volunteers and staff? If many people are burned out, and a majority of ministries are continually crying for more volunteers, would anyone notice if the Spirit was moving in new directions? Assessment tools can help diagnose the current situation, and a move from a recruiting focus to an equipping focus (see resources) can treat the problem.
  3. Staff and lay leaders: How would you respond if someone comes to you, all passionate with their idea for new ministry? Advance thinking and planning will help people serve, rather than discourage them from serving. (See other suggestions for leaders in “Growing Volunteer Ministry Entrepreneurs,” available on the Leadership resource page.)
    • First, pray with the individual about their idea. Pray that both you and they would hear and follow the Spirit’s leading.
    • Explain the governing board’s guidelines. Help them choose the best way to present this idea to the governing board. Perhaps they should first look for the resources (people, financial, leadership) needed. Remind them that if the church does not accept this ministry idea, it does not mean that the individual should stop pursuing it. God may open other doors.
    • If the new ministry idea is accepted by the governing board, determine which staff or volunteer leader will support this new venture. Does that leader need adjustments in their other responsibilities in order to accept this new one?
    • Start well. Build a leadership team and work out issues of communication, follow-up, accountability, boundaries, and delegation before the actual tasks of the ministry begin, thus preparing the ministry for a healthy future.
    • Do staff and lay leaders have time and energy to support new ventures?

In the Pentecost birth of the church, Peter saw the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people . . . Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:17,18) May the spirit guide us so that God’s word is shared boldly, through the acts of all his servants.

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