This review appeared in the Apr-Jun 2010 vol. 167 no. 2 issue of Biblotheca Sacra, DTS’s quarterly academic journal.Subscribe Today
The Minister’s MBA: Essential Business Tools for Maximum Ministry SuccessB & H Publishing Group, Nashville September 1, 2006
Babbes, professor of marketing and strategy at Azusa Pacific University, and Zigarelli, professor of management at Charleston Southern University, offer ministry leaders a crash course in business management concepts to use in churches and parachurch/nonprofit organizations. Much of the book covers typical topics that would be covered in lectures and textbooks in any graduate school of management, but the authors (both of whom work with churches and parachurch/nonprofit organizations) try to show how these secular management tools can be used in ministry settings. The authors claim that “despite the moral failure of some business leaders, the pathway to operational excellence and maximum impact—the very things for which so many ministry leaders pray—are also found and perfected in the business world. . . . God has placed at your disposal a tremendous array of powerful management tools—value-neutral tools that, when used properly, will take your ministry where you’ve always dreamed it could go” (pp. 7, 9).
Nothing in the book is revolutionary if one has read other church administration or church leadership books, but the unique feature is in the authors’ presentation of the material. Throughout the book the authors develop a theme that parallels the design of a typical one-year executive Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree program. The book is divided into three sections that the authors call “semesters” and each section has four brief chapters that the authors call “courses” for each semester. The overall curriculum theme and the packaging of the material are clever. Even the “shape” of the book lends to more of a guidebook format than a textbook. The book measures nine inches by five inches, giving the book the feel of a pocketsize travel guide that someone would carry in his or her back pocket. No chapter is over fifteen pages long. The book concludes with a witty “Commencement Day Address,” written by John Trent. Very few ministry leaders will normally pick up a book on management principles, but the format of this material helps greatly.
The focus of the first section or “semester” is on building a foundation for a church or organization for what the authors call “high-performance” organizations (p. 1) and includes chapters or “courses” on operational mission (translating God’s call into a one-sentence reason for being), organizational design (understanding the 7-S performance factors of strategy for pursuing the mission of the organization, structuring an organization, systems for linking and ordering activities, skills possessed by the organization, staff recruitment and development, style of leadership, and shared values and organizational culture); human resources (recruiting, motivating, and retaining great people); and executive decision-making (understanding and overcoming cognitive biases of framing effects, information access effects, cognitive consistency and optimism effects, and group effects). The focus of the second section or “semester” is on formulating organizational strategy that creates and delivers value and includes chapters or “courses” on marketing (influencing behavior in a manner consistent with the organization’s mission), innovation (identifying opportunities to increase impact), operations (delivering value and quality by design), and accounting and finance (moving from budgeting to stewardship). The focus of the final section or “semester” is on implementing strategy that achieves “maximum ministry success” (p. 4) and includes chapters or “courses” on developing a strategy map (creating a blueprint for success), balanced scorecard (aligning everyone to measurable strategic priorities), implementation (mastering the art of well-orchestrated execution), and transformation (leading major change initiatives).
The design and “guidebook” feel of the book is both a clever strength and a limitation. Of the three sections of the book the first section works best within the authors’ format of brief chapters. The topics in this section (developing mission statements, organizational design, people management, and decision-making) are well within the range of typical ministerial training and are the easiest to grasp. As the topics in the second and third section are more complicated and less familiar to most ministers, these later chapters are a little more difficult to grasp with just a brief introduction. Being less of a textbook or workbook, there is not enough space to cover in great depth any of the “advanced” topics like strategy mapping and accounting.
The authors include resources for further study at the end of each chapter. These suggested resources are excellent, and are needed for the reader to understand more fully the particular concepts. While not in any way replacing more through treatments of management and administration, The Minister’s MBA does help introduce some of these concepts that a church or organization can use as stewards of its limited resources.
—George M. Hillman