The CEO as Pastor

Jan 17, 2019

Ever notice how often the term "CEO" comes up in describing pastors? The other day it surfaced in a book on church leadership. There was a section devoted to "The pastor as CEO." It wasn’t flattering.

Do some pastors behave like Chief Executive Officers? Should they? A pastor who is a dynamic, energetic leader and strives for measurable goals would be described by some in CEO terms. The label might also be applied to an autocratic pastor who is obsessed with winning.

A church periodical recently complained about churches that "follow business models." In many cases, it said, an "employer/employee" attitude has crept in. Pastors talk more openly than they used to about salary and benefits. They’ll stop short, though, of calling themselves "hired," still preferring to be "called." But when their services are abruptly terminated they feel "fired" like anyone else.

There are times when pastors would like to be treated like CEO's, such as when a church decides to "un-call" them. They would like to have the golden handshake that many departing executives manage to arrange no matter how meagerly the company fared on their watch.

Do CEO's get a bum rap in these comparisons? They seem to be stereotyped as dictators who have nothing better to do than bark orders. Is that a fair description of the CEO’s work? Maybe it’s time to turn the tables and check into the ways in which CEO's behave like pastors, rather that the other way around.

  • Like a pastor, a CEO is held accountable for the performance of the organization, regardless of where any fault may lie. A CEO will be blamed by the stockholders if the desired rewards aren’t forthcoming. "Where’s our dividend?" isn’t far from "We aren’t being fed."
  • The best CEO's are servant leaders. They get things done by serving others and empowering them. They don’t need to use force to bring out the best in people.
  • The CEO sets the moral tone for the corporation. No matter how many mission statements or codes of conduct a company may have, it is top leadership that sets the example. No one believes a code of ethics if the people at the top don’t model it first.
  • CEO's have to do a lot of hand holding. They may not be trained counselors, but they get to hear a lot of woes, not to mention bickering. Through it all, they have to maintain confidentiality.
  • They share leadership with others. If they have any sense, good CEO's will delegate and share responsibility rather than do it all themselves. They know that a big ego will burn out quickly. They are like a good pastor who grasps that the real work of the church is done by the members.

Having said this, there’s still one more way in which CEO's could be like pastors: they, too, should see their work as an assignment from God. Wouldn’t it be great if CEO's could say without blushing that they were "called" to their work?

Going a step further, imagine if churches commissioned CEO's and other businessfolk for workplace service. Imagine if churches commissioned all their members for service in daily life. They’d probably soon be bursting at the seams. Then they’d have to expand. Before you know it they’d be building new premises or a branch office.

Just like a CEO!

Written by Wally Kroeker.    Used by permission. Content distributed by > Used for non-profit teaching purposes only.