If your pastor told you that he/she was going to a conference for ministers who want to improve their performance as clergy, what would you tell him/her to study? Would you say preaching or administration or counseling?

The message at the 2006 Ministers and Missions Conference, March 29-31, at Living Word Christian Center was that what is needed is a complete paradigm shift. Bishop Tudor Bismark, one of the conference speakers, declared that ministers needed to get out of churchianity, or to stop using old ways of doing things as a means for solving problems that have never been seen before.

The model promoted at the conference was the church as a business and the pastor as an entrepreneur. Bismark argued in effect that if you are on the Titanic, you don’t need to learn how to improve the menu or to rearrange the deck chairs. What you need is a new ship. He called it a new system to meet the challenges of these changing times.

Right now in Forest Park there are three kinds of polity or organization at play in congregations. One is known as congregational polity. Much like a New England town meeting, every member in this kind of congregation has a vote. The members of the congregation own the church building and have the power to hire and fire the pastor. Likewise, the pastor has to gain permission from the congregation for any major changes in the life of the church.

A second model is called Episcopal polity. In this model, the diocese owns the church building and appoints and removes the pastor. The pastor needs to gain permission from the bishop before making any major changes.

In the model Dr. Bill Winston is advocating, however, the pastor as entrepreneur asks permission from no one before making significant changes. Like a CEO of a corporation, the pastor has the authority to make quick decisions in response to rapidly changing markets. The only vote members have is with their feet. They either attend or go somewhere else on Sunday morning. And if a critic might protest that the church should not be a business, Pastor Winston can respond that Living Word has five times as many people at worship on Sunday morning than all of the others churches in town combined.

Tudor Bismark offered the analogy of a car to communicate this new model of being church. He said that a Mercedes is a quality car because of two things. It has a quality body which he referred to as the model and at the top of the line it has a powerful twelve cylinder engine which he called the prophetic driver. The model, if we follow the analogy, is the congregation organized as a business and the engine or prophetic driver is the pastor.

The pastor as prophetic driver must have several characteristics. One is thinking big. Bill Winston came to Forest Park almost twenty years ago with only twelve people in his congregation, but he had a vision for much bigger things. Now he is the pastor of a congregation of 15,000 members, which worships in a 2,800 seat auditorium and is the owner of a 13 acre site which includes a shopping mall.

Tudor Bismark challenged the 500 pastors and church leaders at the conference to go back home, find the biggest building in your town, buy it and stretch their ministries to fill the building. Mark Muse, the director of the Joseph Center Business School at Living Word, informed the participants at his workshop that Living Word had already outgrown the present site and is planning to move to a large campus at sometime in the future.

Another characteristic the entrepreneur needs is authority. Several times during the conference the main speakers could be heard using language like “God told me” or “the Spirit informed me” or “I command that …” Bismark at one point declared, “I command that Living Word will grow to have 50,000 members, have a stadium size worship center, own its own communication satellite and its own TV studio.” And, he added, all obstacles to this happening will be removed by the Fourth of July this summer.

A third characteristic of the prophetic driver is faith. “We are believing God to provide …” is a statement heard often at Living Word. That is, Pastor Winston believes that God will provide the financing for ministries that are consistent with a prophetic vision. Winston once said that no chicken has given its life to build Living Word Christian Center. In other words, he did not rely on chicken dinners or bake sales to raise money for the church.

Fourth, pastors who want to “take it to the next level” must have a global vision. Among the main speakers were Bishop Tudor Bismark from Zimbabwe and Dr. Jorge Lopez from Guatemala.

A fifth characteristic of successful pastor-entrepreneurs is that they demand excellence. In fact, the theme of the conference this year was Excellence in Ministry. Printed on the conference schedule was a tagline to the theme: “excellence, n: The attention to detail that gives rise to superior performance which leads to promotion in life.”

The Rev. Dr. William Winston demands excellence at Living Word. If you ever watched him relate to his staff, you will see a CEO who is respectful of his people but demands that they perform. If they don’t, they won’t be working at Living Word. Bill Winston ministries has the best of everything. It’s worth the “price of admission” just to hear the band. Four TV cameras project images on the two huge screens flanking the stage and recording his teaching for later broadcast. Even volunteer ushers are all dressed in suits and are professional in the performance of their duties.

If the pastor is the engine of the Mercedes, the top of the line automobile must also have a body of the highest quality. In other words, the church must be organized as a high performance system. The model is that of a Fortune 500 corporation.

In his workshop, Mark Muse said that Pastor Winston’s vision for the church is that it would meet all of the people’s needs: spiritual, physical and economic. For example, in addition to the kinds of ministries found in most congregations like Sunday school, ushers, pastoral care and music, Living Word conducts ten what they call non-traditional departments and ministries. They have a housing ministry which provides education in areas like finance, credit, home ownership and home maintenance. The housing ministry description provided by Living Word states that its objective is to “rebuild and revitalize the West side of Chicago and the West Suburbs.”

Living Word runs the Joseph Center, with the purpose to “develop Godly leaders with character, wealth and the obedience to do business God’s way.” It operates a K-8th grade day school, a store in the mall called David Samuel which seeks to provide “Christian clothing,” the Royal Christian Book Stores, and a bottled water company call Rain Fresh, which director Joseph Bender says is as the closest thing to the water available in the Garden of Eden. And, soon after May 18, Living Word says it will open the New Covenant Community Bank.

Muse noted that through these kinds of ministries, Living Word has created hundreds of jobs and generated thousands of dollars in tax revenues for the village. In addition, these ministries teach people to fish for a lifetime instead of giving people a fish for a day, or instead of giving charity to people, Living Word tries to empower people for success.

Workshop titles included Developing Volunteer Excellence, Breaking the Non-Profit Church Paradigm, Using Technology to Advance the Kingdom, Developing a Pre-Marital Curriculum, Developing Global Vision, and Kingdom Business: The Role of Entrepreneurship in the Church. Every participant in the conference received a CD-ROM in the packet they got as the registered. It contained a whole “tool kit” of ministry descriptions, form templates and sample policy guidelines.

Printed on the cover of the CD-Rom were the words, Excellence In Ministry: Following God’s Blueprint For Ministry Success.