Riding the Two Horses of Business and Ministry

Participating in both ministry and business has been a joyous and challenging ride for Gary Carnahan.
Participating in both ministry and business has been a joyous and challenging ride for Gary Carnahan. (Flickr )

I have ridden the two horses of business and ministry simultaneously for the past 40 years. While I have not always executed my responsibilities perfectly on both horses, the ride has never been less than interesting, to say the least.

Frustrating, confusing, exciting, depressing, invigorating perhaps, but not uninteresting.

People have a difficult time pigeonholing the two-horse rider. You don't "fit" well into either camp, church or business. Neither set of campers has a grid for who you are. You are an anomaly; you are "different."  

You are the guy in the circus standing on the back two white horses trotting around the ring. There he is in his sequined costume, the glittering reins in one hand, the other hand raised above his head in a semi-straight, semi-curved pose better suited for a performer than a serious churchman or businessman.

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Both camps question your commitment and some your sanity. Church folk don't know if you take your "calling" seriously, whether you're a double-minded guy, or have turned back from your "higher calling," or maybe you can't take the heat, or perhaps you are really under the influence of Mammon.

The business bunch questions your commitment to your career. Surely you don't think you can bring that rigid, ethical, legalist mindset into their world and survive, much less succeed. Neither group is much impressed with a circus performer.

One reason for their confusion may be that we live in a world of specialists. Everything seems to require a professional with a narrow field of view because the world is too complicated. You cannot do two things well. Certainly not at the same time! In medicine, the general practitioner has become a traffic cop, directing patients to the appropriate specialty-trained professional.

Don't get me wrong, when I need brain surgery I would forgo the general practitioner in favor of the neurosurgeon. But, we're not talking brain surgery here.

Our camps, our spheres of influence, our mind-molding mountains are perceived as being discrete, severely distinct, fully compartmentalized in our culture. "I'm on my mountain (or horse); you stay on yours!"

Yet, here I come on two horses ... What's up with that?

Over the years I have often asked God about that. I'm not really into circus performing, yet I am sure, even undoubtedly convinced, that He gave me this assignment. I'm pretty comfortable in my calling. I have no problem with either horse and I do well in both arenas. But introductions are a bit of a problem from time to time. I have a missionary friend who, in his self-introduction in a small church in what had recently become "post-communist" Bulgaria, mentioned his business credentials and completely lost his audience. The only businessmen in Bulgaria at that time were Mafia and that did not fit the church-goers' paradigm of a missionary. 

Both sets of campers are suspicious of you. You don't quite "fit in" to their frame of reference, culturally speaking. They see you are swimming in the water like a beaver. You have the fur; you have the broad tail; but you aren't chewing on trees. As a matter of fact, you have the mouth of a duck, which wouldn't do much damage to a tree. You also have the feet of a duck, but no feathers, no wings.

The church bunch and the business crowd both want to know, "What exactly are you?"

Neither is comfortable with the disconnect you create in their world.

I am pleased to tell you, you are a platypus! One of God's unique creations! Go forth and multiply.

Easier said than done. 

Fortunately, the church has made significant progress in recognizing that "ministry" is more than who does what and where on Sunday. The above story is becoming less and less the reality in many places as leaders in the organized church cooperate with those whose God-assignment is outside the walls of the "meeting house."

When the people of the Book used the ministry word, it carried the sense of serving. The illustration in the dictionary for ministry should be a waiter, complete with a white shirt, black vest and a towel over his arm "serving" a guest at a table.

We have, however, over the years, repackaged the word until the meaning, to nearly all in church circles, has become about some sacred activity such as preaching or praying. That being "in the ministry" is doing such sacred things and getting paid for it. Then, if this is your only source of income, you are in "full-time ministry." And, if that is not you, then you are "secular."

I use quotation marks not to disparage but to emphasize our usage. I certainly value those activities and hold them in high regard. I have been doing them for several decades myself. I have been in full-time ministry, paid and unpaid. I founded, owned and operated a mechanical construction firm that paid me handsomely as well as supported my and other ministries around the world for decades. My point here is to continue to push the envelope of what exactly is ministry.

In a word, the kingdom of God is bigger than we think. The methods to expand it that are available to God are more numerous than we have been taught. If we are expanding the kingdom on whatever mountain of culture we have been assigned, we are serving the King and we are committing "ministry."

So now, "Go forth and multiply."

Gary Carnahan earned his bachelor's degree in psychology with a minor in biblical studies at a Pentecostal Bible College. He spent the next 10 years helping build a mechanical contracting company to 800 employees and earned his MBA before launching and running his own firm for 30 years. At the same time, he traveled the world teaching and speaking in churches and at missions events. Today he coaches business and organization leaders at home and abroad. You can reach him at 602.402.9340 or gary.carnahan@cox.net.  

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