Pastor as CEO?


I love the church.

Or, at least I love the idea of church. A gathering of like-minded individuals joining together in worship is a good thing whenever it takes place.

But I really struggle with how we do church in America. I am struggling to the point of being nearly overwhelmed with the banality of much of what passes for a “vision” or strategy for the church. We have bought into the idea that church needs to compete for people’s attention by being louder and flashier. We have resigned ourselves to competing with cultural norms on their terms. Personally, I don’t think this is a good long term strategy.

I also struggle with the model that many churches have embraced, that of the “pastor as CEO.” Every personal experience I have had with the “pastor as CEO” model has been a train wreck. Every one, no exceptions.

Why is this so? It is so because the “CEO” can willfully ignore anyone who does not agree with any part of his vision. Since the “CEO” functions as if he is at the top of the organizational structure, he feels right in valuing his own opinion above that of others.

No-where in the New Testament does Paul or any of the other writers propose such a scheme. When I look at the instructions that Paul gave Timothy, I see nothing about an individual pastor developing a vision and hiring minions to implement that plan.

Within this model, the pastor is sometimes referred to as the “chief vision caster.” The pastor feels he has been given authority to implement his vision for how that local church body should function.

The “pastor as CEO” or “pastor as vision caster” models are copies of the structures of American corporations. In a publicly traded company, the CEO is hired to implement his strategy to accomplish the goals set for him by the board. He is authorized to do whatever is necessary to reach those goals.

But this is not the way the New Testament presents the pastor’s role. The pastor is one of the elders who are to lead the church. The elders are called as a group to seek God as to the vision for the local congregation.

Jesus himself claimed the authority and responsibility to build the church. Since it is Jesus’ responsibility, can we trust that He will arrange for the right men to be in place to serve as elders to rule the church?

The beauty of having a plurality of elders is that it minimizes the negative impact resulting from the blind spots of any one elder. Scripture teaches us that as a result of the fall, not only do we have blind spots, but we are willfully ignorant of our own sin. This is why the Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 12:1-2 that we need to be transformed in our thinking. The verb is a command, so becoming transformed is our duty.

When I served as an elder, I learned that I need other elders to provide guidance in the areas that I am weak or blind. If the whole vision depends solely on what I bring to the table, we are all in trouble. My pride and foolishness often get in the way of making sound decisions. This is why I need others.

How many moral, ethical or pastoral failures do we need to witness before we are willing to admit that copying the organizational architecture of an American corporation is not a good plan for the church?

I think that we would do well to remember that Jesus had to tell Peter, “Get behind me, Satan” at one point. In that encounter, Peter learned that his “vision” for how Jesus should go about building the church was at cross-purposes with Jesus’ vision. Peter needed correction.

If the Disciples needed frequent correction, how can we think that we do not share this need? How dare one of us step up and put himself above his brothers as if he is not also in need of frequent correction?

Yet, I have seen pastors demand that their vision be implemented without comment or amendment. I have seen pastors set themselves above their peers (fellow elders) and petulantly threaten to leave if they don’t get their way.

I really believe that these pastors think they are doing good, and my desire to think well of them caused me to be slow to learn this lesson.

But, after learning this lesson, if I ever again hear the term “vision caster” used in reference to a pastor, I will run out of that church as fast as if the entire building was on fire.