Last week a friend forwarded to me a podcast in which a megachurch pastor was interviewed about his handling of COVID. The well-known pastor had made some executive decisions that my friend and I thought were excellent examples of business intelligence:
- In June he canceled all in-person services for six months so that the reopening question no longer haunted his 500-person staff; so their attention could be invested elsewhere.
- He also decided that 2021 wouldn’t be a reopening as much as a reboot; prioritizing only those programs they would want in a church if they could start all over again.
I thought, “This guy would have made a brilliant CEO; if only Apple, Google, or Microsoft had his management skills.” Then I realized, “He IS a CEO;” he even has a staff of over 500 people! It saddened me. If Jesus didn’t need a Harvard MBA, why do we crave CEO pastors with business brilliance?
It reminded me of a story. A Christian professor once summed up the history of the western church like this:
Christianity began in Palestine as a fellowship; it moved to Greece to become a philosophy; it moved to Italy to become an institution; it moved to Europe to become a culture; it arrived in America and became an enterprise.
When she heard this summary, one of the students asked:
“Isn’t an enterprise another word for a business?” [The professor nodded, yes.] “But isn’t the church supposed to be a body?” [Again the professor nodded, yes.] She continued, “But when a body becomes a business, isn’t that prostitution?”
The Evolution of the Pastorate
In the early 20th Century, just 100 years ago, seminary training for pastors involved three simple areas: exercise of the Word (in preaching, teaching, and counseling), leading worship, and a minimal level of administration (it helped if you could mimeograph the weekly bulletin).
In the intervening century, seminary training evolved to prioritize business planning (like managing budgets), administrative leadership (like vision casting and meeting management), and organizing lay programs. This new emphasis of technical and managerial competence has come to dominate “pastoral” training.
It’s not that I dislike the idea of a pastor reading a balance sheet; it’s that I can teach that simple skill with no spiritual insight at all. If a pastor’s role doesn’t require something supernatural to succeed, I question whether we should be using the term Pastor. The term “CEO” is more fitting for them. (Just don’t ask me to donate to their “business.”)
The shift in focus has moved the role of pastor from shepherd to “leader,” and all the modern leadership jargon is the rage of modern pastors. But the world’s teachings don’t need God.
Jesus would have flunked every leadership (and Sparketin) test we love.
- After a most successful day of service, winning over an entire town in twelve hours, his ecstatic disciples cry, “Come on, everyone is looking for you.” (Exactly what every executive longs to hear.) But Jesus leads them to another town where he is unknown.
- Instead of hanging with the religious leaders (“moving with the movers” as one megachurch pastor forcefully emphasizes), Jesus ignores the “movers,” insults them, or confuses them. And worse, he hangs with fringe groups and has dinner with losers.
- And he entrusts his mission budget to a man he knows is a thief.
CEO Jesus never taught natural management, leadership skills, or budgeting. Instead, his last chapters focus on knowing God in his Word: “If you abide in me and my word abides in you….”
I guess I’m glad that one megachurch pastor had the CEO skills to help plan an agenda for COVID, but I’d rather hear him preach Jeremiah when he says:
“Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are useless … Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither can they do any good.” (Jer. 10:2, 5)
The world doesn’t need us to adopt their CEO customs; they need to hear the supernatural words of an eternal King whose agenda is beyond our common sense.
No human leadership board would have thought of the cross to save humanity.
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I so agree, and even go further. I don’t even think the role of “pastor” is biblical. The book Pagan Christianity examines all the ways in which the modern “church” with sermons, choirs, and designated roles for clergy, is not at all based on the bible, but instead on pagan traditions. I love, respect, and appreciate our pastors, and I can see God at work in their lives and in their offerings, but I don’t assign them infallibility or really any authority over my life. That belongs to God.
The biblical view of pastors is more like shepherds; in fact, the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) constantly refers to the leaders of God’s people as shepherds. And that is a humble term. Shepherds don’t (usually) own the sheep; they care for the sheep for the owner.
When Jesus tells Peter to “feed my sheep,” he is asking Peter for a very caring, God-centered approach to giving people the bread of life through His word.
The focus is always on God’s word as food; never on the reputation or reverence of the pastor.
“The world doesn’t need us to adopt their CEO customs; they need to hear the supernatural words of an eternal King whose agenda is beyond our common sense.”
Supernatural words of our eternal King—yes!
Terrific message, Sam. Thank You!
What do you expect when the goal of every pastor is to “grow his church”? With the rise of mega churches, everything has become industrialized. Gone are the days of “Feed my sheep”.
I completely agree: we’ve industrialized Christianity with the mega church adoration.
God, please save us from ourselves.
I I know nothing about the training of pastors but this made me think. The net worth of some pastors stuns me, though if the Lord wants them rich, I shouldn’t argue with Him. But it’s frightening. Your article spells out the reason. They are in business. Can’t that eclipse the Spirit? Can’t they come to worship Mannon over God?
I suspect that money isn’t the main temptation for most pastors. I’ve seen some of those salaries, but the pastors I know all have modest wages. (I wish we could pay them more.)
I think the modern temptation is to be like the celebrity, mega-church pastors out there. And that means more CEO skills than pastoring skills.
If you were a pastor in this pandemic: would you focus on a reboot next spring? Is that what God has had in mind when he cleanses his people time and time again? I think not.
As a leadership consultant, I see what you did here . . . and unfortunately, you are right on target.
Given that certain megachurch pastors and televangelists have been negatively publicized for their unwise and presumptuous responses to the pandemic, I initially construed this post as a ringing endorsement of this particularly clerical official. It was in reading the comments…this one in particular…that I realized my hasty and uncritical rush to judgement.
An additional paradox being that an uncritical attitude is, at least in this instance, detrimental and shortsighted.
It is necessary (but difficult) to walk the balance of examining all things in light of Scripture but at the same time, trying not to nurture a critical spirit.
The thing is, all of life is filled with problems (call them “issues”) and all of life is finding answers to those issues. There are always at least two answers: God’s and others (and often a syncretism).
God calls us to avoid the idols of the world.
But your leadership consulting would barf at any leadership that was only skin deep. (I know because I know you.)
The world’s answers — in the end — are only skin deep.
Sam, to go back three weeks, the pastor/CEO, elders/board of directors, model is one more example of the church swallowing the world’s prescription for effectiveness hook, line, and sinker.
We can leave the COVID discussion for another day.
“Dr. Doom & Gloom,” Senior Elder, FBC Prineville
Yes, it’s not that I oppose practical wisdom (though my wife might think I do), it’s that the “success” of the church need be supernatural. Yes, let’s be smart about how we run meetings; but let’s also make sure that God is worshipped, not a celebrity pastor’s brilliance.