Entrepreneur is a word which people often find difficult when applied to religious organisations and this is something Michael Volland is well aware of. This ministerial trainer on mission and diocese missioner's latest book The Minister As Entrepreneur: Leading and Growing the Church in an Age of Rapid Change published by SPCK devotes some time and space dealing with this apparent problem.
One of the problems which is identified in this text, which is based largely around a piece of fairly small scale qualitative research he did amongst Anglican Clergy within the Diocese of Durham, is the association with the language of business and the market. He gives a quote from CMS head and Fresh Expressions expert Jonny Baker indicating why many within the church feel there are problems with this language; they link it with negative aspects of capitalism.
Whilst Volland clearly seeks to go beyond this business approach in his examination of the subject and use of the term it has to be recognised that this book feeds into wider debates within the CofE on theological education and training. The language and ethos of the business environment has been central to the GreenReport (Talent Management for Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A New Approach). This small book I think would best be seen as part of this wider discussion around how we identify gifts and vocation and how we encourage those who might have specific gifts of leadership or callings into specific types of ministry, both lay and ordained.
Language and it’s use is the focus of the first part of the book which takes the familiar form of operationalising the terms being used and going through the literature review. Within the first few chapters Volland also engages in some interesting theology particularly in chapter three which is titled “An entrepreneurial God?
In this first part of the book Volland is clear to lay out the limitations of this text and the research sample it is based upon. The discussion questions around each chapter at the end of the book together with his initial comments show that this book is intended as a discussion starter. This is indeed how it should be viewed, being somewhat brief in nature.
Having read previous work by Volland, such as Through the Pilgrim Door, it is clear that writing in a less academic form is his preferred medium and this is why some parts of the book read better than others. In the preface he appears to be using his natural voice whilst later it reads slightly more awkwardly as he moves away from using the voice of the storyteller wrestling with complex academic questions and more into the more usual formal academic style. I much prefer the former style which has emerged from Volland, Baker and their pioneer contemporaries. The natural style they have developed is one which is clearly rooted in their experiences as practitioners who engage with academia and I think it is very readable. The sub-headings are a useful feature which are well used in this book, guiding the reader well and it is notable that these disappear during the second half of the book.
The first 65 pages are distinctly different in tone to the second where he presents his research findings and conclusions as I have indicated. This is perhaps because he identifies the two halves of the book being written for different audiences. The first half is focused on and addresses a broader audience than the latter which not only focuses on his ordained Anglican sample but seems to be addressed those living within a similar occupational bubble. It is clear from his comments that time has led to this restriction but it is a shame as because it means one feels as if they have walked into local debate around resources and recognition.
Of course there is wider application or this book would have not been published and that needs to be taken into account. Pages 101 – 103 in chapter 8 are perhaps the most central within this second half of the book because within them Volland outlines what his respondents felt aided the exercise of entrepreneurship in their ministry. These 19 points not only relate to entrepreneurship, I would argue, but what is central to healthy churches, mission and ministry more broadly. I believe they form the basis of what our discussions on the future should be.
As I say this is a useful, easy to read, short text which should be taken as a discussion opener or way into engaging with a number of difficult questions which need to be grappled with more widely than just within the CofE.
The Minister as Entrepreneur by Michael Volland published by SPCK. ISBN: 9780281071821
(apologies, not sure why text has gone funny in 2nd half of this post)