When we think of pastors and faith leaders, we often envision them in the pulpit or within the four walls of the church. Very rarely do we hear pastors speaking about their business ventures outside of ministry, but it’s more common than we realize. This month, we catch up with Pastor John F. Hannah, senior pastor of New Life Covenant Church Southeast in Chicago, for an insightful conversation on how he maintains ministry and business with integrity and God’s blueprint.
ILS: Pastor Hannah, how did you get your start in entrepreneurship and what was your first business venture?
Hannah: My first business was selling jewelry! It was called Hannon’s Jewelry.I remember I used to go up north in the Chicago area, buy all this jewelry from different stores and vendors, then I would advertise jewelry parties. I would go to these women’s homes, set up my display, and collect all of their money, because women love jewelry! I got started in it because I met a lady who was doing it and she introduced me to it! I talked my way into the Chicago merchandise marts and all the showrooms. I made relationships with the vendors, and they began to sell me samples of unique pieces. One of my relationships in the merchandise mart ended up making Anna Hannah’s engagement ring for me. I was in my 20s.
ILS: That’s so cool. What has been the key to your success thus far?
Hannah: Humbly, I think my personality has a lot to do with it. I never act as if I’m meeting a stranger. I’m intentional about making people feel comfortable by being relatable, touchable, and accessible.
ILS: How do you navigate business while keeping your integrity as a believer?
Hannah: Knowing that my faith is what opened the doors to the business. My integrity as a believer has allowed me the opportunity to sustain the business. So, without my Christian beliefs, the doors would have never opened.
ILS: The topic of pastors who are also entrepreneurs is still pretty taboo. How do you navigate both spaces? What do you wish people knew about pastors who are also entrepreneurs?
Hannah: Keep the business on one side and ministry on the other side. Keep separate accounts so that waters don’t get muddy. I also want to remind everyone that pastors are more than a voice in the pulpit. We’re more than Sundays! You can’t box us in the four walls of a building and expect us not to be more. There is more to us than ministry.
ILS: Who did you look to for mentorship in ministry and business? What did you learn from them and what role has mentorship played in your success?
Hannah: You know, in my younger years, mentorship was everything. I’m 57, so now I have to look for the older, more seasoned saints to glean from. I’m talking about people who have been through a lot and survived! Unfortunately, we’ve lost a lot of those leaders so now everybody is searching out who has the oil in ministry and in business while maintaining integrity. I look for someone who has been through the fire. I can learn from their mistakes and, if I listen, then I don’t have to go through it myself.
Bishop Horace Smith and Bishop T.D. Jakes are the immediate two who come to mind. They are seasoned leaders! Bishop Jakes is an entrepreneur, business coach, and a producer! Bishop Horace Smith is a medical doctor and a bishop and is doing great work in the community. A person I used to look to is the late Bishop Arthur M. Brazier. He was everything! Community relations, he was a pastor, and he was business! He practically transformed the entire city.
ILS: As a mentor yourself, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs about stewardship?
Hannah: Say what you mean, mean what you say. Be a person of your word. If you say you’re going to do it, you have to do it by any means necessary. Don’t make promises you can’t keep.
ILS: One thing we’ve seen you steward well is New Life Covenant’s new building. Throughout the whole process, you remained faithful and courageous in your leadership. What’s next for you and the ministry?
Hannah: What’s next? Continuing to develop the community. It’s more than a church. We are creating more opportunities for housing. I’m continuing to develop our performing arts school, Art in Motion, and bringing education to our people. We are creating and bringing jobs and continuing to go after the lost. There is a lot of work to be done.
ILS: Do you consider yourself a social entrepreneur?
Hannah: Yes, even if you just consider the church employees. Right now, we have 100-plus employees. Our new building, the Temple, creates more jobs and serves as a venue for the entire city of Chicago. JFH Ministries also has a number of employees and continues to create opportunity. People can benefit from everything that we are creating because it’s directly serving the community.
ILS: With so much on your plate, what keeps you going when juggling ministry and business gets hard?
Hannah: Taking a break and unplugging for a minute. Counseling and exercising are also outlets.
ILS: Let’s switch gears a bit. What are the top three lessons you’ve learned about leadership, especially during these unusual times?
Hannah: I would have to say this: 1. These times will really separate the wheat from the tare. Focus on wheat and not tare. 2. Be open to the new. When you can’t do what you normally do, what’s next? Expand! 3. Know who you are. You were you before the pandemic. If you’re not careful, you will sway; but if your roots run deep, you already know what you possess, and it can’t be uprooted in panic because of a virus! People are trying to recreate themselves or create things that are not them and it’s inauthentic. It won’t last.
ILS: We can’t wait to hear from you at our ILS Virtual Experience! Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ll be discussing?
Hannah: Mixing the old with the new! We are finding that the old are not embracing the new and the new are not respecting the old. I talk about how we merge the two to accomplish the goal.
Pastor John F. Hannah is the senior pastor at New Life Covenant Church Southeast in Chicago and you can follow him on Instagram at @PastorHannah. To register for our upcoming ILS Virtual Experience, click here.