Ministry…or Business?

Business: A corporation engaged in commerce, manufacturing, or a service; profit-seeking enterprise or concern.

Ministry: The act of serving.

The distinction between ministry and business is certainly an important one.  If camping were just a business, the main concern would be making a profit.  Attention would be given to serving our campers only inasmuch as that would increase our profits.  If a program didn’t help increase our revenue, we would cut it, regardless of its value in other areas.  If camping were just a ministry, the main concern would be serving.  We would care nothing for profits and money would never play a role in our decision making process.  We would choose our programs and activities based solely on what would be of the most service to others, regardless of the cost to our organization.

This polarity can cause campsites great problems.

The main concern of any campsite, religious based or not, should be serving.  And so clearly camping is a ministry.  But camping is also ‘a corporation engaged in a service’, and does need to make a profit.  So it needs to be a business.

Where does that leave the camp leader?

In a space of tension.

Most camp leaders enter this space and immediately retreat to the area of ministry, neglecting the business side of the job.  Religious campsites in particular emphasize God’s timing and ability to keep the organization afloat, but refuse to realize God’s requirement that people use the skills and gifts He’s given to do as much of the work themselves as possible.  Non-religious campsites emphasize that passion and intention matter most, and that these two areas will make everything else come together.

Some swing the other way.  They go into a panic and tighten up on all the budget areas, holding tightly to control instead of opening themselves and their campsite to the possibility of hard financial times.  This tight grasp on control can prevent campsites from remaining true to their mission.

In both cases, the campsite will suffer.

Instead of thinking about this as an either/or, change your mindset to both/and.

The most successful non-profits generally operate under a strong business model, but with the consistent knowledge that where conflict exists between ministry and business, ministry wins.

For example, a campsite should set prices at a level where they are able to make a small profit to put away for future needs.  But as a ministry, campsites should also be careful to find ways for anyone to attend who could benefit from their service.

Operating as a business will also help campsites to fulfill their mission as a ministry.  A business model carefully tracks finances, staff, and upcoming needs; by eliminating the waste of these that comes with a strong ministry model, the campsite will actually be more able to serve.

So stop fighting between ministry and business, and accept that a campsite is, by necessity, a bit of both.

Related Articles:

Is ethical management possible for Christian non-profits?

Telling Your Story | sharing your mission

Faithfulness is enough for Today

Clarifying your camp’s Purpose


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