3 Leadership Shifts That Changed Everything

May 15, 2023

Here at Church NEXT, we are always looking for stories of pastors and leaders who are innovatively imagining the church of tomorrow. In this month’s article, Ben Hardman (pastor of Grace Marietta and founder of Kingdom Dreams Initiative) identifies 3 shifts that he made as a pastor that led him to reimagine the church he currently leads. These shifts did more than change him or even change his church—they resulted in a multiplication ministry that is helping dozens of churches better serve their business leaders. I encourage you to read his story, connect with him and his team, and let God write and re-write your own story as you do.

—Dave Rhodes, Director of Church NEXT

The last 20 months of ministry have been the most impactful and invigorating of my life. I’ve been a pastor for 27 years in several different contexts. I was on staff at a large megachurch for many years, planted a church of missional communities in the third-poorest zip code in the United States, and now I pastor a mid-sized church in suburban Atlanta. Looking back at what shifted in me over the past 20 months, I realize that God first did work in me before he did work in my ministry. We believe that private revival always precedes corporate revival, and God has been shifting my perspective on my role as a pastor and how I see the church. Mine is a deconstruction story of sorts, but not a theological deconstruction. God created a methodological shift that allowed me to step into new territories and have more impact. I have always been a dreamer, an apostle, and a spiritual entrepreneur. In many ways I have struggled to fit the mold of a pastor, shepherd, teacher. After 27 years of pastoring, I longed for a ministry model that felt faithful, sustainable, and incarnational:

  • Faithful to the works and ways of Jesus. I wanted a model of ministry that felt more like the ministry of Jesus and less like the ministry of the American church.
  • Sustainable. I needed to fall in love again with ministry and find a ministry model that wouldn’t ask me to sacrifice my family, health, and well-being on the altar of church growth.
  • Incarnational. I desired for ministry to follow the pattern of Jesus, the One who took on flesh and moved into the neighborhood. I, too, sensed a call to be present with people in the everyday, ordinary stuff of life.

The following are the three areas where I began to shift.

Shift 1: Focus on Micro and Marketplace

I was trained as a preacher, and I was trained to get in front of the biggest crowd imaginable and share the gospel. My focus shifted when a few loving folks from my church started sharing how disconnected they felt our Sunday services were from our 9-to-5 jobs. I was originally offended when people said, “Pastor, you just don’t understand what it’s like to work in the corporate world.” But then I started to ask deeper questions. I began to disciple many of our marketplace leaders and started seeing things from their perspective. I started inviting many of them into a process of discerning their calling and developing a plan to live into their kingdom dream.

We define a kingdom dream as the good work for which you are uniquely called and created.

God started highlighting Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship [masterpiece], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (ESV; parenthetical note added).

I felt God asking me:

  • What if instead of always calling people to your dream (to build an amazing church), what if you changed your posture and started helping others discover and live out their kingdom dream?
  • What if you really started believing in the priesthood of all believers and you started unleashing the power of the entire community to launch, build and create the good works that are prepared for them?
  • What if the church became a “dream factory” awakening and unleashing the kingdom dreams of every person in your community?

So, we started hosting business leaders’ summits and gathering marketplace leaders. We realized our people needed an accountable process and coaching to launch their missional, pioneering kingdom dreams. We launched a kingdom incubator and kingdom accelerator.

Our people needed an accountable process and coaching to launch their missional, pioneering kingdom dreams.

Suddenly, we began to see crazy things happen. We started launching for-profit businesses to fund mission and create kingdom finances and economic sustainability for many. We started launching non-profit organizations that began creating social and communal transformation in our community. We started launching new ministries and microchurches, bringing spiritual change to our community. The good news of all of this was that these weren’t church programs dependent on me or our church staff to dream up, execute, and fund. They were simply the result of everyday people awakening to God’s calling and responding to his prompting in their life.

Shift 2: What If the Church Had an R&D Department?

As more and more people became awakened to their kingdom dream, they wanted a process to launch these dreams. So, we began to think about church innovation and asked these questions:

  • What if the church, instead of only investing in what is—organizations, ministries, and businesses already created—looked to invest in what could be—organizations, ministries, and businesses that are just a dream now but could be amazing in the future?
  • What if we created a research and development arm of the church?
  • What if instead of waiting for people to build, sacrifice, and launch their kingdom dream apart from the church, the church became a catalyst for creation again?

This is how monasteries have functioned for many, many years. They have created economic engines that help drive the economics of the ministry while they are forward-facing the community, building relationships, and blessing their communities at large. Monasteries throughout history have sold wine, beer, honey, clothes, coffee, mushrooms, and even coffins. Money magazine did an article in 2015 calling monks “the original hipster entrepreneurs.”1

So, we started reimagining our missions dollars and investing in ideas and leaders we trusted. We reimagined our discipleship efforts and spent way more time awakening the kingdom dream in the heart of our people. We found more and more people jumping into our accelerators and incubators.

So much so that others started to hear about what was happening. We were invited to a few venture projects, and weirdly investors began calling us and asking if they could partner with us to help launch these projects. We have even had some well-meaning folks try to buy the idea from us. After participating in one of these venture projects, we went public and began offering our incubators to Christian leaders nationwide. We gathered the best minds we could find to create a kingdom incubator with both business acumen and pastoral giftedness, and we believe we have created a fantastic process that works.

In the last 20 months, we have launched 96 kingdom dreams and are now launching in three new cities to create incubators and accelerators for their communities.

This all leads us to the third shift.

Shift 3: Reimagine How We Fund Ministry

We believe the future church is more agile, less dependent on tithing, and creating multiple income streams.

I have spent all my adult life as both a fundraiser and a pastor, and never in my life have I been more concerned with the church’s funding model and its dependence on tithes and offerings. COVID was scary to all of us as we watched at least three things happen:

We watched churches close at an alarming rate. Around 4,500 churches closed their doors in 2019 alone, and we are still waiting on the long-term financial consequences of COVID.

We watched pastors leave the ministry at alarming rates. A recent survey said that over 50% of pastors are unhappy with their calling. If you dig deeper into that number, one of the factors is that many of the most faithful leaders I know are criminally underfunded. This creates stress for those leaders and their families and churches trying to make the finances work.

We are about to watch the most significant transfer of wealth in the history of our country. My parents’ generation will pass on their dollars to my generation in the next 10-15 years. This seems like something that shouldn’t cause significant concern until we dig deeper. My parents’ generation trusts institutions; they give to the church because that’s what you do.  My generation gives to causes, not institutions, and many in my generation have begun to ask churches questions they can’t faithfully answer about how much of the money they give actually goes out to the community and to the world versus how much of their dollars goes to fund an excellent experience for Christians and their families on Sunday.

We believe the future church is more agile, less dependent on tithing, and creating multiple income streams.

One of my favorite parts of our work in the last 20 months has been helping churches develop secondary income streams and helping pastors develop secondary incomes. Here are some highlights:

  • One church has created a coworking space in their building and now brings in nearly the same amount of dollars as it does in tithing.
  • One pastor pitched the idea for his nonprofit at one of our demo days and had someone write him a check on the spot to fully fund his kingdom dream.
  • Multiple pastors have generated the income they need to stay in pastoral ministry with newfound peace and financial freedom.

We are excited to be expanding rapidly into multiple regions, allowing us to serve the Church even better. New incubators are starting up in multiple cities and Spark Weekends for churches or entrepreneurial ecosystems may be offered in your city. Find out more at www.kingdomdreamsinitiative.com.


1. Jacob Davidson, “Monks: The Original Hipster Entrepreneurs,” Money magazine online, March 9, 2015, https://money.com/monks-hipster-entrepeneurs/.

Ben Hardman

Ben Hardman

Ben Hardman is the founder of Kingdom Dreams Initiative. He has been a leadership consultant for the last 15 years coaching thousands of leaders and helping launch entrepreneurial endeavors. He is an author, pastor, and entrepreneur. Ben has spent his professional life doing 3 things: helping dreamers launch their impact ideas; leading, developing, and growing nonprofits to a place of rapid expansion and transformation; and coaching leaders to become their best selves. Ben has raised over $30 million for nonprofit organizations he has led and has had the privilege of working with others to raise the capital required to achieve their dreams. He has coached thousands of leaders helping them both reach their goals and still remain men and women of character after they do. Ben’s vision is to give the second half of his life to helping others achieve their dreams of impact and transformation and to be the guy behind the scenes of thousands of redemptive and beautiful visions of flourishing. Ben and his wife Sarah live in Marietta, Georgia, and have three amazing children who they believe are going to change the world!
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