Getting Out of the Church Box at the Kellogg Summer Institute

What is the issue? What is the opportunity?

These two simple questions grabbed me as I participated in a week of learning from business school professors and reflecting with clergy and lay leaders at Seabury Western’s Leadership Institute. I took this course because I was looking for tools and practices that would support me as I transition from full-time parish ministry to working with Episcopal Service Corps, an Episcopal non-profit. I assumed the business professors would offer me new content and new ways of thinking about leading an organization. I found that was only partially true. The retired CEO leading a section on individual leadership outlined a personal reflection practice modeled on the Ignatian daily examen. A number of the case studies revealed that many successful companies offer customers an experience of connectedness and joy; the product sold is almost irrelevant… almost.

One of the most valuable aspects of the week was learning from the Kellogg professors, as they challenged me to think in very different terms about church and ministry. Most of the professors apologized for using business examples in class, yet that was one of the strengths of this program. To learn from the corporate world.  To unpack a business case study. To think differently. The challenge was in the translation, which many of us identified as the hard work of the course. Yet the work of translating is the work our parishioners are engaged in everyday. How does the employee behind the counter, the customer service rep, or the vice president translate their Sunday morning faith into action during an average workday? This course taught me a little about the business world and helped me to begin making the connections. I believe getting out of the ‘church box’ and stepping into the world most of our members inhabit makes me a better priest.

As a priest, the other side of that coin–how can the church learn from and incorporate some best business practices?–also intrigues me.

Taking a step back and viewing ministry through a marketing lens, a negotiating lens, or even the lens of competitive advantage was fascinating. Learning not only that my ministry needs a website, Facebook page, and Twitter account, but why all three need to be polished and engaging was helpful and a little overwhelming. Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers alike expect it. What surprised me was many members of the Silent Generation are also getting online to connect with their grandchildren; they might as well connect with their parish online too. Having a good website isn’t necessarily a competitive advantage, but having a lousy online presence could be a disadvantage as newcomers to your community visit you virtually before ever walking through your red doors.

Want to do all you can to make sure the important vote at vestry or the next annual meeting goes according to plan? It might matter where at the table you sit or how the question is posed. It definitely matters whether the vote is blind ballot or a show of hands according to Dr. Robert Livingston, assistant professor of management and organizations. We were encouraged to understand and utilize the same insights into human psychology that business professionals often employ to navigate important decisions and negotiations. Not as a means to manipulate, but to understand leadership through a different lens and in very concrete terms.

And why not? Churches are communities made up of people, just as businesses are.

People are people. And whether they are in a for-profit company, a parish, or non-profit, the ways to motivate, inspire, lead, and serve them tend to be consistent. I thought I would need a major overhaul of my skills to lead at a non-profit, and it took a cohort of business school professors to show me that ultimately people want to be valued, recognized, and respected–no matter the setting. People also desire meaningful work and contributing to something larger than themselves, which is precisely where the church can offer guidance and formation. Living out faith at a car rental company, an amusement park, or hospital… discovering the connections between business school and seminary was exactly the kind of translating I needed for my work at Episcopal Service Corps.

Let us go forth into the world indeed!

–The Rev. Amity Carrubba is the executive director of the Episcopal Service Corps. She received a Woman’s Board scholarship to attend this summer’s program.

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