Over the last few years, a stunning shift has taken place in church culture. Successful, influential, and powerful pastors are being dismissed from their churches. Not for the typical moral failures or money scandals but for unhealthy leadership practices. Why has this become such an issue?
Understanding the problem
The simplified version is that decades ago as the church began to lose new generations and influence in the culture the church began to adopt a more complex strategy to compete with society. Basically, everything the culture offered people, the church tried to make a Christian alternative. The church became increasingly complicated which changed the role of pastors dramatically. A good pastor was now expected to manage multiple staff, cast vision, oversee building projects, train high-level leaders, and look really good while doing it. Basically, become a Spiritual CEO. Eugene Peterson made this piercing observation, “The vocation of pastor has been replaced by the strategies of religious entrepreneurs with business plans.”. Soon plans began to suffocate the soul of the pastorate.
The lost soul of a pastor
As churches ballooned in size pastors began trading in their shepherd’s staff for S.M.A.R.T. Goals, their counseling couch for a conference table, and their relationships for staff. Pastors were forced to think in terms of efficiency and effectiveness, instead of faithfulness. Once the machine starts it doesn’t slow down for anyone, even for the those keeping the machine running. Success was measured in “How many people are we are reaching?” but a more important question wasn’t being asked, “How many people are we burning out to do this?”. All that mattered was the “mission” and building a platform for Fortune 500 Jesus.
Fortune 500 Jesus
Fortune 500 Jesus wants you to join his dynamic team. Be a part of something bigger than yourself and build a legacy that will last for eternity. I was once given this sales pitch by the pastor of a large church. He was trying to find staff to volunteer to keep up with the growth and shed some responsibilities from the more “needy” members and staff. Which was confusing because he had been so excited to have reached them just a few weeks earlier in the big baptismal service. He let me know we would not be spending much time together and I should not expect a relationship because he was so busy meeting “new” people. That I should also plan on working 40 to 50 hours a week and somehow work another job that actually paid. This was a rising compa…church that had so much potential if I would just sacrifice my family, my health, and my life. Fortune 500 Jesus didn’t sound so good. To his surprise, I didn’t bite but others did and it cost them dearly. Those who made the sacrificial plunge soon found out the thriving church ran off their lifeblood. Those who didn’t make his cut were quietly ushered out the back door as the new recruits were brought through the front. Anyone who spoke up was labeled as trouble makers who didn’t get the “mission” but something was changing. There began to be too many trouble makers…
C.E.O. Vs Shepherd
Remember the premium mentioned earlier? It came due and the aftermath has been devastating. Abusive pastors have been dismissed which caused some churches to close and others to struggle to restore a healthy culture of leadership. Worse than that, it’s left a high body count of staff members who didn’t meet the unrealistic expectations or dare stood up to the C.E.O. So what’s the answer? Close all megachurches? Burn all the business books on your pastor’s bookshelf? No. We must reclaim the calling of the shepherd. In John 10:11 Jesus said to his disciples, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This one verse teaches more about ministry than all the ministry strategy books ever written put together. There is nothing wrong with having a plan but it is sacrificial love that transforms people. Zach Eswine writes, “But for a church, when greatness is defined as “big, efficient, and now,” ruin follows, even if the shell of the ministry boasts of strength. Imagine if Jesus would have followed the council of many well-meaning ministry strategy books written today. I wondered if he would have stopped to speak with the woman at the well? If he would have picked more efficient disciples based on their enneagram or entrepreneurial score. If would have bothered to stop for the leapers or those who afforded him no platform. If he would have leveraged Zacchaeus’ wealth to expand his brand. Or if he would have gone to the cross for all those needy people desperate for grace. Thankfully he didn’t, he painfully and slowly loved people. He only had 3 years of earthly ministry yet he extravagantly loved those in obscurity, those who had been pushed to the margins by the important. Not only did his example defy common wisdom; he changed the world.
It would appear the church in desperate need of shepherds instead of C.E.O.
A word to the shepherd pastor
You may feel like your life has been spent without any recognition or accomplishment but I beg you to reconsider. When you brought food to a family struggling you had an audience. When someone asked you to visit their neighbor’s brother-in-law in the hospital and you went even though you didn’t know them, you had an audience. When you mowed the church’s lawn because no one else did, you had an audience. When you stayed up late working on the bulletins, you had an audience. When you talked to that couple for the 20th time about their marriage who just isn’t getting it, you had an audience. When you spent time discipling and training people to serve the church, you had an audience. When you serve God with a shepherd’s heart you might not work under the spotlight but you do work under the smile of your Father. I pray you know your worth is in the acceptance of Christ and not the audience of the church. Thank you for faithfully serving God and the church.
The Shepherd and the C.E.O
Below is a comparison between the Shepherd and C.E.O. I pray God moves in our hearts and we reflect the heart of The Good Shepherd.
- C.E.O. Leaders use people for progress
- Shepherd Leaders love and invest into people
- C.E.O. Leaders see friendship and pastoral work as an obstacle to success.
- Shepherd leaders see friendship and pastoral work as success.
- C.E.O. leaders see accountability as a challenge to their authority.
- Shepherd leaders see accountability as caring for their heart.
- C.E.O. leaders know how to work the system and manipulate to get their way.
- Shepherd leaders know how to work through things with others to get God’s way.
- C.E.O. leaders build a talented team to carry out their vision.
- Shepherd leaders build a talented team to cultivate the church and each other.
- C.E.O. leaders see other churches as competition.
- Shepherd leaders see other churches as family.
- C.E.O. Leaders use the Bible to reveal their vision
- Shepherd leaders use the Bible to reveal Jesus
Clayton Pruett is an SBC pastor and woodworker living in Illinois.