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Why You Should Be Thankful If Your Pastor Behaves Like a Leader (or CEO)


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 marketplace leader, or even, (dare I say it) a CEO.

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

I 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 who behaves like a leader.


Two reasons.

First, both the model of shepherd and CEO are based on 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 behavior.

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 leader than you think.

Maybe a first-century shepherd was more like an effective leader than you 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 businesses 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 most effective CEOs are the most humble CEOs. 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.

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.

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

Toward A New Generation of Leaders

So what should the next generation of pastors do?


Lead humbly, with compassion and lead with care.

Jim Collins isn’t the only one to show that great leadership takes courage, skill and humility.

Cheryl Bachelder and Patrick Lencioni both make the case that the best kind of leadership is servant leadership. And by that, they also mean that, long term, the most profitable leadership is servant leadership.

But Collins, Bachelder and Lencioni also understand that leading with compassion means doing what’s best for people…not simply doing what people want. If first-century shepherds simply did what the sheep wanted, the sheep would be dead.

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

It takes tremendous strength, exceptional courage, trust, humility and a willingness to die to self to do accomplish the mission to which you’ve been called.

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

The church (and the business world) need tens of thousands of new leaders who are willing to be incredibly unpopular but will resolve to do what needs to be done.

Somedays I wonder how many Christian CEOs of small and large companies might have been in ministry if our model, expectations and attitude were 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 acting like leaders or humble 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.


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What Do You Think?

I realize this is an emotional subject, so play nice in the comments.

But what do you think?

Is the quick dismissal of potentially effective leadership in the church hurting us? How?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

Why You Should Be Thankful If Your Pastor Behaves Like a Leader (or CEO)


  1. Sean Ryan on December 23, 2019 at 1:40 am

    It’s too bad Jesus did have all the leadership resources and advice of leadership gurus that we have today. He might’ve been successful.

  2. W Gary Wilson on December 20, 2019 at 8:27 pm

    Absolutely enjoyed the article. As a Christian leader who happens to also have a role as a pastor this article articulated one of my most sincere concerns for those serving in Christian leadership roles. Too often I find that Christian leaders use the excuse they are pastors to avoid or undermine their leadership role; to avoid taking on the often harder tasks of dealing with personnel issues, of building a vision and strategy for their organization, etc. Thanks for this posting. It was refreshing and yet challenging at the same time. God Bless!

  3. Mark on November 30, 2019 at 11:42 pm

    Excellent article.

  4. Lelia on November 29, 2019 at 8:13 am

    Wow, looks great, particularly the conclusion. I was looking
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  5. Abel Perez on November 28, 2019 at 4:51 pm

    As a bi-vocational pastor for 18 years, I do agree with Carey’s point, thanks for this post. There is a big difference between a self humiliating pastor, who is caring and nice to everyone on the flock and a humble pastor, able to lead people beyond their “limits”, as a pastor I may serve them inside Egypt or take them where ever The Lord leads, humble to be lead by HIM first and then, humble to lead others.
    “I am not afraid of an army of lions led by sheep, I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion”
    In other words, Lion Pastors. Maybe it sounds more Biblical than CEO Pastors.
    Be blessed, be a blessing, Brothers!

  6. Robin Horn on November 28, 2019 at 2:23 pm

    I have one difficulty with this. The majority of pastors that God calls are not CEO types. Just maybe that’s why the average size church worldwide apparently is only 75. God doesn’t seem to call too many Ceo types. I have a friend who heads up a church planting movement and very successfully. He said he found it frustrating reading books on church leadership because most of them were based on the premise you had to be a CEO, A-type personality. He’s none of those. I would suggest most Pastors are not like that as well. I think we have to be careful. God calls people. It seems God isn’t into numbers as much as we think.

    • Dawn on November 28, 2019 at 9:14 pm

      Perhaps that is Carey’s point in part though… perhaps “CEO types” are not feeling like they fit into the traditional pastoral model (or “stereotype”) and find other fields of influence because of this and are therefore underrepresented in religious ministry…

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

  7. Greg McClain on November 28, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    I whole heartedly agree if the presupposition is churches of more than 200 are needed or required.
    I just don’t understand why the aim can’t be 10 churches of 200 with loving, pastoral, personnel shepherds rather than a church of 2000 with an outstanding CEO!
    It seems to me it often becomes unavoidable that this church will be prone to be program driven, leader-centric and susceptible to rise and fall based on the talents and personalities of that great Pastor/CEO no matter how noble.

  8. Lee Strohschein on November 28, 2019 at 11:58 am

    Perhaps today’s “David wannabe” is busy pursuing the wrong “Goliath!”

    Is it about butts, bucks and buildings? An anonymous crowd gathered for a Sunday entertainment event, superintended by a half dozen specialized gifted professionals?

    What if the paradigm shifted and the success of the enterprise rested upon the reproductive ability of the individuals in the “crowd?”

    What is the mission of the “church?”

    Crowd gathering? OR Making reproductive capable disciples in their respective spheres of relationships?

    Are the SHEEP reproducing?

  9. Ross Allen on November 28, 2019 at 11:05 am

    It appears you’ve touched on one of the top foundational challenges the church faces in Western culture today. My experience working with both CEOs and pastors is that one of the greatest hurdles to improving church leadership effectiveness comes down to working with the pastor’s baseline personality. From recent work in this area it looks like 80% of our pastors (US/Canada) land quite low on the “dominance” scale when their personality is tested. This isn’t a bad thing, especially if your job description primarily involves ”pastoral” duties. Trouble arises when change is needed and the inevitable conflict bubbles up. The less dominant personalities will be conflict adverse and less able to exert their influence in their leadership teams and congregations to bring the necessary change about. This creates great anxiety in the pastor and local church. In the corporate world this issue gets resolved through a natural process of promoting the best performers who bring the right mix of character and skill to the party. In the church world we seem to attract a large percentage of pastoral personalities (less dominant) to Bible colleges and then expect them to be strong leaders when the the forces of change land on their churches. So, what to do? It’s really difficult to change your personality in a significant way permanently. The only thing I’ve been able to work out is to help the pastors, 1) strip away the complexity of their calling to focus on the main theme behind their faith and, 2) help them discover/experience a deeper understanding of a single element of that theme that they can then preach on, teach on and lead with. Light the match and the bonfire ignites.

  10. pat olsen on November 28, 2019 at 10:50 am

    Lead humbly, with compassion and lead with care.
    I believe that all Pastors need to lead this way. And a pastoral team needs to have those who are gifted in all areas to be most effective; but it doesn’t negate or take away the responsibility of all pastors to be caring, loving and compassionate.
    Seems that today pastors of some churches, either get this or they don’t.
    I believe that a senior pastor cannot be the shepherd of hundreds, but he certainly can and needs to make very sure he has surrounded himself with those who do this very well. This takes deliberate training and a shift in acquainting the people of who and what a Shepherd is (other than the SP). And that when this person comes to visit or calls or steps into the role of care, they are uniquely gifted, anointed if you will, by SP and representative of the entire senior leadership team.

  11. Rey De Armas on November 28, 2019 at 7:19 am

    Hey Carey,

    Big fan of the blog, but I somewhat disagree with parts of the post. First, I don’t know why you’re striving to equate the pastor with a CEO when you should be advocating for Level 5 leadership. I’ve served with Level 1 leader pastors who acted like CEO’s, even attempting to give themselves “golden parachutes” upon their exits, and I’ve served with great Level 5 leaders who carry all the respect that Collins advocates for. Stewardship is a key part of leadership.

    The next thing would be the treatment of David facing Goliath. Facing a bear and lion weren’t advocated as leadership development or training. David was recalling the faithfulness of God in the past as reason that he would take care of him in this situation. David didn’t lead anyone into battle. He went to fight Goliath with the Lord’s help. The outcome lead to him being seen as a leader.

    Anyway, I appreciate your writing, and look forward to seeing more. Thanks!

  12. Trevor on November 28, 2019 at 5:10 am

    I understand where you are coming from. Of course Pastors should be leaders, biblically they are. The problem with CEO language is that it can inadvertently treat church like a business that’s about products, efficiency and bottom line. I don’t think you can undo that perception across the church because in practice that is what business is. But it’s not what the church is. There is plenty, more than enough, and everything we need in the scriptures for how to lead and grow the church. Mostly Biblical imagery of the church are down the lines of a family, a flock, an army, farming and agriculture – but not really a business. You could argue from the parable of the talents but that is a parable not a key identifier like the rest. So, sorry to say, I still don’t like CEO language. But I am totally for leading, growing, being adventurous, and doing things well. Biblical ideas.

    • Doru on November 28, 2019 at 5:49 am

      I am totally agree with you. But why do you think there is that kind of language (“a family, a flock, an army, farming and agriculture”) in the Bible? How many business were there? 🙂 I think our problem is with too much “biblical” language (to be understood as “old / archaic / religious words”). Why do you think there is no mention of Paul going to mission with airplane or by car? Let us not be too “biblical” when we talk about culture. Let’s stay with the principles and the commands of the Bible BUT not with the methods, when there are better methods now (try to explain now to people and kids about the farming and agriculture when they NEVER saw a real plow, a horse, a cow, and even a sheep or shepherding etc). I hope I made myself clear enough because English is not my native language. God bless!

      • Trevor on November 28, 2019 at 6:04 am

        Yes, I know what you mean and I am all for being creative, and using the best of what is around us, as long as its biblical. However, we have the Bible, a written word that was written in the context of its day, and we have to teach it and explain it in its context. So we cannot do away with these images. We must not. And on the contrary, CEO language at least in the West is the language of capitalism, of efficiency over caring about people, about being business like. You cant escape that idea unfortunately. I think it gives totally the wrong impression. Paul was an incredibly industrious leader and amazing example, better than any CEO. Even if we learn from CEO’s in terms of taking the best bits, I do not think we should use CEO language and apply it to the church.

        • Michael Grubbs on November 28, 2019 at 10:02 am

          @Trevor, I think you are dichotomizing “caring” and “effectiveness” too much, while quoting Paul. It was Paul who made decisions based on the work he could accomplish in a region (why he purposed to go to Spain by Rome after taking the funds to Jerusalem for the saints). It was Paul who said “If a man is not willing to work, neither should he eat.” Which was to be inflicted by the community, not the self — Which is quite similar to the “effectiveness” mindset you demeaned above.

          Even in his prayer requests, Paul asked the church to pray against those that would limit their effectiveness because there was much work to be done.

          I don’t thinks it’s merited to divorce real care (not pampering or coddling) from a desire for effective, driven, active mission. Both are present in serious CEO business leadership books, and most importantly, both are imminently present in scripture.

          Thanks Carey for a great article.

          • Trevor on November 28, 2019 at 10:13 am

            I tried to be clear above, but perhaps I wasn’t. I am 100% for effectiveness and that is completely biblical. But I see CEO language as unhelpful. Even if you glean some useful practices or thoughts I still wouldn’t use CEO language in the church, it is too laden with business imagery and associations. What I’m not doing is putting pastoral care against effectiveness, not at all.

  13. Barry Wong on November 27, 2019 at 7:29 pm

    Thanks for the thoughtful article. As you demonstrate ably, such rigid stereotypes are probably unhelpful. Shepherding implies leadership, and a CEO can be self-effacing and more concerned with the success of the company than personal glory.

    But I rarely hear laypeople saying that the church doesn’t need a CEO; in fact, quite the opposite. In my part of the world, laypeople /want/ their pastor to be more CEO-like (or at least what they imagine that would be). They want a pastor who can cast vision, bring in new people, grow the church numerically, and motivate and mobilize the congregation to service. (In truth, they probably want the pastor to be able to do it all and do it all well…)

    It is /pastors/ in my experience (most famously Eugene Peterson) who make the claim that the church needs more shepherds. I think this is not only a reaction to the arrogant, impatient, egomaniac CEO stereotype but also an aversion to a drivenness about numbers and performance. This kind of pastor (for whom I have empathy and in truth, some overlap) may feel under the gun to be a stronger leader who can take the church to the ‘next level;’ they may feel ill-equipped or otherwise unable to meet the expectations.

    And there’s probably some frustration at what many church people prioritize. They wonder why so few seem to care if a pastor loves Jesus and his people, or about their godly maturity? They infer that their congregants do not value the skillful, careful handling of God’s Word — or diligence in preparing young couples for marriage or coming alongside the family with the terminally-ill child? They see church people entranced by men (and it is often men) like Bill Hybels, Mark Driscoll, or James MacDonald, who have serious, public character and behavioral defects but are admired and emulated as effective leaders of organizations and have grown large, very visible churches.

    Bottom line, the church needs both leadership and pastoral care. How that gets accomplished seems variable, especially since even if all of these gifts reside in one person (and how often does /that/ happen?), a pastor only has so much time and energy. Where to focus (and how to get the other part accomplished) is the million dollar question for many of us.

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