Church Leadership Myth – the CEO

kinnon —  July 19, 2005 — Leave a comment

I’m a big fan of Jim Collins. Good to Great and Built to Last are two well researched and written business leadership books – ones I recommend highly. They are even good books to read for church leaders – to a point.

In an earlier post about the Emergent Church, I pointed to an article written by Dr. Alan Roxburgh, in the June MLI Newsletter. Alan spoke of the corporate leadership model that began to take precedence in the church in the middle of the last century. The focus on the church was in the delivery of services (whatever those might be – child care, Sunday School, preaching, music, etc.) by a professional team, led by a Senior Pastor – the church CEO, if you will. The church no longer was the ingathering of God’s people in community, but was rather a gathering place where people went once or twice a week to sing and to receive teaching that might have some impact on their lives – a corporation in its own right – rather than a corporate body of believers. (I admit that this is a gross over simplification, but stay with me for a moment.)

Church leaders began to adopt the language of the marketplace. Setting goals, detailing budgets and measuring success by the numbers of bottoms in the pews. We created Big Hairy Audacious Goals, attempted to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off and wanted to be able to say to the Lord at Judgment – see what we did with the talents you gave us. And in the process we forgot that we were called to be in relationship first and foremost – that people aren’t numbers, they are creatures made in the very image of God, with value beyond measure. (If the creator of the universe was willing to lay down His life for each of us, how can we devalue anyone.)

Jesus did not call us as church leaders to build corporations – he called us to grow up disciples – in the manner of a Jewish Rabbi – a Rabbi who spent three years in intimate relationship with twelve disciples, eleven of whom would go on to rock the world – even as they laid down their own lives. He was with them day in and day out. Eating with them, laughing with them, chastising them, teaching them and always loving them. And when He left them, he left them with the power to forever change the planet. (The best teaching on Jesus rabbinic teaching style I’ve ever heard was by Rob Bell on the DVDs from this year’s C3 Conference @ Fellowship Church in Texas.)

The great leaders that Collins speaks about in Good to Great have many admirable leadership qualities – a profound level of selflessness in most, a commitment to the organization over themselves and a desire for the ongoing health of the organization long after they are gone. Rather than desiring this kind of leadership for the church, we should recognize the Biblical principals being honoured in these leadership attributes – not confusing the source of the leadership insight in the process.

Don’t buy into the Jesus CEO nonsense. Jesus is the relationship restorer –  the relationship builder – and that is what we are called to be – both becoming and building disciples who will rock the world through radical relationships that transform communities. It’s a lot more exciting than building corporations.

UPDATE: After I wrote this post I came across this quote from Saddleback Pastor, Rick Warren:

I happened to be, probably 20 years ago, at a philanthropy conference, and I met (Peter) Drucker, and he said something that I thought was very important. He said, "The purpose of management is not to make the church more business-like, but to make it more church-like." And I thought, that’s what I want because I don’t think churches should be a business. I think fundamentally that’s the wrong motif; the church is a family, it’s built on relationship. (Hat tip: Bagga’s Blog)




A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

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