The Business of Ministry
As #givingtuesday comes upon us
I was reading a comment about a large organization that I support. It went something along the lines of, “The more you look, the more you notice that these big American ministries are actually businesses.” And they were definitely not saying that in a positive way.
That’s a little awkward for me, because I work at a “big American ministry”, and while it wasn’t InterVarsity they were speaking of specifically, I have a hunch that they would quickly judge us the same way.
I 100% believe that whoever said that is not malicious, but simply does not know how a ministry is run, and it’s not their fault. I’ve never seen anybody write about operations/business work in ministry, and it’s certainly rarely, if ever, talked about in the pulpits.
#1 Jesus had an accountant, a “business” role
John 12: 1–6; NLT
1 Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus — the man he had raised from the dead. 2 A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. 3 Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance.
4 But Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would soon betray him, said, 5 “That perfume was worth a year’s wages. It should have been sold and the money given to the poor.” 6 Not that he cared for the poor — he was a thief, and since he was in charge of the disciples’ money, he often stole some for himself.
Ironically, it appears that you should not have given to Jesus. 😅 That aside — while this is not the main point of the passage, we do see that Jesus had a specific role unrelated to teaching and discipling for at least one of his disciples– taking care of the money so that he did not have to.
Your church has these roles. The megachurch has these roles. Big ministries have these roles. Little ministries have these roles. It is simply impossible to do ministry without them, and furthermore, it is good that people who have these skills get to exercise them so that our teachers, pastors, campus staff, and other “traditional missionaries” don’t have to.
#2 Jesus and his disciples lived off of what was given, including the accountant.
When looking at financial reports, you’ll often see a chart like this one.
If you support a missionary — then some of your dollars are going to administrative costs. It is inevitable, and more importantly, it is not a bad thing. It also does not mean an organization is careless with its money. They could be — but this is not the indicator to tell you that.
Yet, organizations that keep that administrative/operations percentage low are championed. Obviously, as a donor, you want to see as much go into that Program category, right? That’s the real work, right?
That’s a very unfortunate misunderstanding
When you visit a restaurant and pay a price for a meal, you’re never upset that a percentage of that price goes to pay for the accountant for the building, a janitor to clean the kitchen, and many, many others. In fact, you wouldn’t be getting that meal if work by those people hadn’t been done. Going further — the experience of getting that meal is better when good business practices are in place as well.
So why, when business and administration comes up in ministry there is literal anger towards business roles getting any kind of funding?
Instead of wondering if the percentage is high/low — ask if it’s “right-sized”.
That’s a whole article in and of itself, so here’s a good place to start. But here’s my point: Having the ratio too low hurts ministry. For example, InterVarsity has typically run very lean. I asked some of our staff who have been around a long time where they had seen being too lean hurting our ministry:
We’ve had support infrastructure so antiquated and fragmented that staff and others expend lots of unnecessary energy and time navigating barely-functional systems to get simple tasks done.
I remember it took years to implement giving online and it shouldn’t have. It’s our most cost effective sources of giving that we missed out on for a long time.
We had too few support staff that were taxed keeping up with manual processes running. We didn’t have space to create new automated ones.
- Business work is necessary and good work.
- That work has to be funded well or it will hurt the overall ministry.
And it’s pretty much as simple as that.
If you’re not supporting a missionary and you are a Christian, this Giving Tuesday I would like to invite you to consider supporting a “business” worker or giving directly to an organization’s operations fund. If you work in a business/operations/administrative role yourself, match yourself with up with someone who has the same job as you! If you don’t know someone, I am more than happy to send a few I know your way. If you’re interested in giving towards my ministry at InterVarsity, you can give here. Feel free to shoot me any questions!