Your Pastor: Shepherd or CEO?

T. David Gordon

Many observers have recently expressed concern that the biblical model of the pastor as shepherd has been replaced with the model of the pastor as manager. Some biblical priorities are threatened when such a managerial model of the pastorate replaces the shepherding model. In what follows, I will place the priorities of a managerial model in contrast to what I believe to be biblical priorities. I do not intend to suggest that such priorities are inherently opposed to each other, but I do suggest that lower values have replaced higher values.

Quality vs. Quantity

The effect of a managerial model on the church is that the number of people is a higher concern than the quality of those people. How many are reached by various outreach efforts becomes more significant than what actually happens to those reached, in terms of spiritual vitality. How many people attend a special program becomes more important than whether that program actually makes people stronger, more pious Christians. The apostolic "Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18) is not so much overtly challenged as it is shuffled over into a corner somewhere and forgotten.

Biblical ministry never sacrifices true quality of spiritual experience for its quantity: Paul visited the Ephesians for three years, declaring to them the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:18-21). His prayers for them and for others were filled with concern for the quality of spiritual life: "For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding" (Col. 1:9).

We must raise the question of how large a congregation can be while still retaining a biblical ministry. If the God-ordained responsibility of church officers is to "watch out for your souls, as those who must give account" (Heb. 13:17), does there not come a point when the sheer size of a church makes such care difficult, if not impossible? Indeed, does not the very size of some churches promote anonymity? In the corporate model, bigger is always better. In a biblical model, it is not clear that bigger is necessarily better.

The CEO vs. Plurality of Elders

A given business has one chief executive officer, under whom various other managers function. The CEO is given final authority for decision making, and a good CEO listens to the counsel of the managers who work under him. Biblically, there is nothing analogous to this in God's order for his church. The pastor is not a CEO. He has no more or less governing authority than do the other elders; he is not more or less responsible for the church's programs and vision than the other elders. He does have a greater responsibility to administer the Word of God and the sacraments, but he does not have a greater responsibility in governance. Biblically, governance in the church is genuinely plural, as God provides for his flock those benefits that come only from the proverbial "multitude of counselors."

Such a managerial model degrades the role of elder to that of a corporate "yes-man." Many mistakes have been made when lower-level managers, themselves more familiar with the details of some aspects of corporate life, have been unwilling to express reservations about a policy that enjoys the CEO's enthusiastic endorsement. Similarly, there are churches in which the elders have abdicated their responsibility to govern by complying with the wishes of the pastor in areas where they respectfully disagree with him.

Equally problematic, when the minister-as-CEO model of ministry is embraced, is the degrading of the office of minister of the Word. Ironically, the minister becomes more influential than he should be in areas of governance, yet less influential and effective in the area of ministry of the Word. Hours in the day that ought to be devoted to prayer and the Word (Acts 6:4) become devoted to developing strategies and programs.

The Program vs. the People

One of the dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution (and its first cousin, the managerial revolution) has been the creation of a work environment that rewards conformity while discouraging individual initiative and creativity. Reminiscent of the prophetic decree against idol worshipers, that "those who make them will be like them," those who stamp out cogs on an assembly line virtually become cogs themselves in a large corporate machine. For the program to run efficiently, individuality must be removed from the process. The program is sovereign, and people must learn to work within it.

Regrettably, this model has made its way into the church also. The church's strategies, vision, and programs are determined by the CEO and the managers, and the people must work within the program. The program is inflexible; the people are flexible. We might suggest that the opposite should characterize the church. God's (ever-changing) providence of people with particular gifts and particular needs (not necessarily perceived needs) should shape the ministry of a given church. Program-oriented churches should not replace people-oriented churches.

A managerial model can produce a minister whose interests are only tangentially related to the well-being of his sheep. Some ministers are happy to stay up to 11 p.m. at a planning meeting, but are less happy staying up to 11 p.m. on a hospital visit or with a couple whose marriage is about to dissolve. The Good Shepherd, by contrast, lays down his life for his sheep—not for programs. He expends his labors, his energies, his resources on his sheep. Paul, the apostle whom we consider a brilliant thinker and theologian, was also a shepherd, whose ministry to the Ephesians was accompanied "with many tears" (Acts 20:19), and who said things such as this about his affection for those he served: "But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us" (1 Thess. 2:7-8).

Oversee or Overlook?

Where the managerial model replaces the shepherding model, God's overseers become overlookers. Ninety-nine sheep are herded into a program, while the one straying sheep perishes apart from the loving pursuit of a faithful shepherd.

The author is now a professor at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa. He quotes the NKJV. Reprinted (slightly edited) with permission from Tabletalk, October 1994. Reprinted from New Horizons, May 2002.

New Horizons: May 2002

How the Good Shepherd Cares for His Sheep

Also in this issue

The Heart of Presbyterianism: Christ's Saving Rule

By His Word and Spirit: How Christ Exercises His Saving Rule

Shepherds and Sheep

Weak Shepherds and Hirelings

The Counsel of the Elders

Download PDFDownload ePubArchive


+1 215 830 0900

Contact Form

Find a Church