Why You Should Be Thankful If Your Pastor Behaves Like a CEO

Share This Post

Of all the things I hear church leaders slip into conversation, one of the most persistent is the opinion that a pastor should never adopt the attitudes or habits of a CEO.

Instead, the pastor should be a shepherd and tend the flock.

I recently wrote a post about how having the pastor do most or all of the pastoral care in a congregation permanently stunts the growth of most churches to 200 people or less.

I would also strongly argue that church leaders should rethink their bias against the pastor as CEO.


Two reasons.

First, both the model of shepherd and CEO are based in unidimensional and unhelpful stereotypes.

Second, because the mission and future of the church are fuelled by the growth and potential of our leaders.

The mission and future of the church are fuelled by the growth and potential of our leaders. Click To Tweet

Let’s Move Beyond Stereotypes

Let’s move beyond the stereotypes for a moment.

Shepherds are seen as caring, pastoral, gentle and kind.

CEOs are seen as arrogant, brash, selfish, difficult and demanding.

Neither characterization is helpful or, frankly, accurate.

Sure…you can think of CEOs or executive types who fit all the bad stereotypes.

And chances are you’ve made up what a shepherd looks like because, frankly, you’ve never met one. I haven’t.

This Was First Century Shepherding?

From what I know of first century shepherds (and I admit, I don’t have a degree in shepherding), it wasn’t all green meadows and sunshine. Shepherding took quite a bit of resolve and strength.

Shepherds had to keep sheep from drinking out of brackish or tainted water and keep them from poisoning themselves.

Shepherds had to fight off wolves, lions and thieves. Clubbing to lions to death and pulling a lamb out of the jaws of a bear are not for the fainthearted.

Apparently, first century Palestinian shepherds even would break the leg of a wandering sheep to correct its errant behaviour.

Try that at your next congregational meeting.

In an association we often miss, David himself claimed that shepherding prepared him to fight Goliath and, arguably, even become King. He saw it more as leadership development than anything, and leadership in one field ultimately opened leadership in others.

The job was demanding enough that, as Jesus himself said, it might require your life.

Run this description by any effective CEO and they might tell you “That sounds like my job.”

Maybe a first century shepherd was more like an effective CEO than we think.

Maybe a first century shepherd was more like an effective CEO than we think. Click To Tweet

This is What it Means To Be a CEO?

So are CEOs inherently brash, impatient, selfish, egomaniacs? Well, not effective ones.

Jim Collins’ exhaustive study of truly great companies (companies that outperformed their competitors substantially and significantly) discovered that the great companies had what he called Level 5 CEOs.

Collins and his team were shocked to discover a rare and endearing quality among the CEOs of the truly greatest companies: they had deep resolve to do whatever it took to advance the mission AND a deep, personal…are you ready—humility. 

To quote Collins:

[Level 5 CEOs] are somewhat self-effacing individuals who deflect adulation, yet who have an almost stoic resolve to do absolutely whatever it takes to make the company great, channeling their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company.

It’s not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious—but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves.

The most effective CEOs are the most humble CEOs.

I ask you, isn’t that exactly what a Christian leader should be?

Sounds an awful lot like the Apostle Paul to me. Or like Moses. Even like Jesus (if you’re willing to strip away your stereotypes and read what scripture says about Jesus).

Consequently, isn’t that exactly what a great pastor could be?

Saying the model of pastor-as-CEO is bad for the church is like saying leadership really doesn’t matter. It’s also saying business should get all the best leaders.

The mission of the church is too important to be stunted by a poorly thought-through stereotype of a CEO.

The mission of the church is too important to be stunted by a stereotype of a CEO. Click To Tweet

If All We Do Is Care For People Until They Die, the Church Will Die

The next decade of the church is critical.

While it’s Christ’s church and God is sovereign, we leaders have a role to play. As even committed church attenders attend less often, the church requires the best leadership, not the most passive or the most friendly.

What often passes as ‘pastoral’ is not pastoral in the first-century sense of shepherding; it’s passive.

If all we do is recruit pastors who love to care for people until they die, the church will die.

If all we do is recruit pastors who love to care for people until they die, the church will die. Click To Tweet

I realize this is somewhat hyperbolic, but perhaps it’s less of an overstatement than you think. We’re closing churches in record numbers, largely because pastors want to ‘pastor’ but not lead.

I believe we should care for people until they die, but the pastor doesn’t need to be the sole person to do that.

98% of pastoral care is having someone who cares. It doesn’t have to be the pastor.

Toward A New Generation of Leaders

So what should the next generation of pastors do?


Lead humbly. Lead with compassion. Lead with care.

But understand that sometimes leading with compassion means doing what’s best for people…not simply doing what people want. If first century shepherds did that, the sheep would be dead.

Quite simply, the job of a leader is to take people where they wouldn’t otherwise go.

You may be called to take people to the Promised Land, but people always want to go back to Egypt.

It takes tremendous strength, exceptional courage, trust, humility and a willingness to die to self to do accomplish the mission to which God has called the church.

This kind of leadership shift will mean the demise of the people-pleasing, co-dependent leader who longs to be liked. But maybe that’s okay.

The church needs thousands of new leaders who are willing to be incredibly unpopular but will resolve to do what needs to be done.

The job of a leader is to take people where they otherwise wouldn't go. Click To Tweet

Somedays I wonder how many Christian CEOs of small and large companies might have been in ministry if our model, expectations and attitude was different.

Next Time Your Pastor Behaves Like a CEO

So what would make this situation better?

Think twice before you say the church needs more shepherds. Or if you do talk about the need for shepherds, talk about the kind of shepherd David was. We sure need more of those.

And think three times before you slam the idea of church leaders being CEOs.

Read a book like Jim Collin’s Good to Great.

Think more deeply about whether the church needs more entrepreneurs. (For reasons outlined here, I believe that’s exactly what we need.)

Realize that truly great CEOs often model exactly what scripture talks about in terms of great leadership, and that maybe our entire mission would advance if we valued those gifts more deeply.

And finally, next time someone says your pastor is behaving like a (Level 5) CEO, be thankful.

More people might be in heaven because of it.

If you want to drill down further, I wrote much more about why the vast majority of churches don’t grow in my latest bookLasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Can Help Your Church Grow.

Increase Giving and Fully Fund Your Mission—Regardless of Where You're at Now.

When it comes to money conversations with your church, my guess is that you want the outcome (margin in your budget and a generous congregation) without the process (having to raise funds and talk about it).

The Art of Building a Generous Congregation is a proven method for increasing giving, creating a culture of generosity, and building financial margin at your church... without the stress and awkwardness.

Even if you don’t feel comfortable talking about money right now.
Even if you’ve never seen your congregation fully engage with that kind of conversation.
Even if you’ve tried other methods without success.

And yes, especially, if you could make a bigger difference by increasing your budget by 20%, 30%, or even 40%.

Share This Post
Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.