Not everyone welcomes your bright idea

Having thought a bit about the traits and different behaviours exhibited by entrepreneurial leaders in the church in Scotland, it is time to think about the winder context within which they operate. We have known since at least the days of Machiavelli that those who advocate change are not always embraced with open arms. Since entrepreneurial leaders are those who ask questions, see things from a different perspective, and challenge the system, perhaps there is no wonder that they are sometimes as welcome as Banquo’s ghost.[1]

Many of my interviewees spoke of misunderstandings and resistance. One spoke of “the cost of pioneering”, and that people could be “very critical … if it’s Christian entrepreneurs or Christian pioneers, they probably suffer from sheep bites more than anybody else”. Some found that others “got really threatened”, because “we’re doing shiny new things and that’s really threatening”. Another commented that “when you’re pioneering something, that’s a bit edgy, that’s a bit threatening”. One realised that “any type of new venture entertains misunderstanding as to why you would break out of a mould”, noting that a lot of opposition had come from other Christians and other churches who “have been very possessive of their turf”. They added that “the most serious opposition has come from other Christians” but that they are “coming to grips with being misunderstood” as part of what it means to start a new initiative.

Some of this can be put down to communication difficulties, or the challenges of translation. One had to translate what they were doing between their own organisation, a sponsoring church, funders and other stakeholders, as well as the young people they were working amongst; “all of them speak very different languages and have very different understandings of what the ‘thing’ is”. Another described the tension between innovation and communication as having to be in some way a “relational maverick”.

Cultural and structural hindrances to innovation seem to be somewhat endemic. One  commented “I get really frustrated watching the church trying to innovate”, and another was even more condemning; “I struggle to see any entrepreneurial initiatives in the church … entrepreneurship in the church would look completely alien, because it’s not like anything in the past”. Another one commented on a broader cultural issue, “the Scottish cultural ‘tall poppy syndrome’ that kicks off, which is ‘who do you think you are?'”. Referring to their denomination, one said “the most difficult things have actually been dealing with the institution and the pain that has caused”. Another noted that “in the business world, there’s a huge amount of effort that goes into fostering entrepreneurial capacity. But, the church ….” (leaving the sentence unfinished, but not unanswered).

However, another thought that most of these wider entrepreneurial and pioneering support programmes were a waste of time; “I found the whole social enterprise start-up support really duff … you’re sitting in meetings having conversations with people who don’t have a Scooby. They didn’t know what they were talking about”. Reflecting on the way the church has tried to copy this, they added, “where do you create the spaces for the people who will just do it, and free them not to be doing lots of money-generating things to keep themselves afloat in their spare time, and spend their time feeling they just have to play the game, just to be networked and maybe get the chance of some grant money somewhere?”.

Somewhat paradoxically, institutional expectations can also have a negative impact. “We’re seen as totally ground-breaking, like mind-blowing in our cleverness or innovativeness or something, but we’re not as radical or amazing as some folks think we are”. Relating this to closer to home, “the church sometimes thinks that anything that’s a wee bit outside of its norm is so radical, when it’s not. It’s really, really not. And then it puts all of its hope and expectations and everything into that”, adding “the pressure of that is really unhelpful. The pressure of being seen as the exciting new thing is really uncritical”. In fact, “there’s so much of a stuck hopelessness that anything that looks like it might have a bit of an idea, there’s so much expectation out on it, that could easily kill it”.

Given all these challenges, how can we develop a more entrepreneurial culture in the church in Scotland? And is the culture of your church or organisation more of a help or a hindrance?

[1] Macbeth, Act 3, Scene 4

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