Genesis II: Re-Vision and Renew

“Entrepreneurial” and “elevator pitches”… when language gets in the way

May 12, 2021

By: The Rev. Katie Nakamura Rengers, Staff Officer for Church Planting

This week we hosted the first New Episcopal Communities Activator course – a 4 day training designed to equip church planters with the basics of developing a missional mindset, building a core team, and developing their ministry plan and budget. 

For the last couple of years I’ve been talking nearly incessantly about the “entrepreneurial, innovative leaders” of the Episcopal Church.  To me, this phrase describes the faithful, courageous people who dream about new ministry opportunities and work tirelessly to turn their vision into reality.  I lift up these leaders in contrast to what I perceive as a denominational culture that values stability, tradition, and pastoral care from the inside out, rather than the outside in.  

However, my use of the adjective “entrepreneurial” to describe ministry was challenged this week by none other than a bi-vocational priest who  also happens to be a professor of economics.  His protest was that “entrepreneurial” usually implies a secular, capitalistic mindset that is individually focused.   Entrepreneurs are certainly creative, but mostly around trying to sell themselves or sell a product – the opposite of the kind of relational, non-transactional ministry that we talk about in church planting work.

It’s a question, he said, of how we follow Jesus by being in the world, but not of the world.  Our commission from Jesus, it seems, is to reflect a different economic worldview, not cave to the popular culture and standards of the moment in order to appear relevant.  

I’m also aware of this tightrope (to be in but not of the world) when we talk about mission and vision statements, as we did this week at the New Episcopal Communities ACTIVATOR training.  The term “elevator pitch” has never sat very well with me, either in terms of how we present an idea for a new church, or how we give testimony to our faith and invite people to follow along the way of Jesus.  Not that this isn’t a helpful exercise – having to create a 30 second statement of why our ministry matters can actually help us figure out and name why it does matter!  But the problem, I suppose, is that the “elevator pitch” concept has the potential to lead us down a dark road to where it’s only the most popular, charismatic, and well spoken leaders who are deemed worthy of support in the church (shark tank church!), when that’s plainly in direct opposition to the message of the Gospel.  

Someone pointed out to me recently that, when Jesus used economic language to describe the Kingdom, he always did so using household concepts.  In other words, Jesus’ concepts were intimate and relational, as opposed to individualistic and enterprising.  What if “what’s your elevator pitch?” became something like, “share your invitation!”  Or we used “pioneering” rather than “entrepreneurial” (as they do in the Church of England)?    

Obviously I have not figured any of this out.  But as I continue in my role supporting New Episcopal Communities, I’m going to be keeping the questions close to my heart.  Is there any way to resolve the tension between basically needing “enough people” and striving for a non-transactional approach to mission?  And, in this current moment of the Church’s life, what does it look like to be in, but not of, the world?