Shepherds or CEOs?
A new leadership paradigm is emerging, but is the church listening?

Recent excerpts we've posted from An Emergent Manifesto of Hope (Baker, 2007), edited by Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones, have generated a lot of discussion. This final installment should keep the trend going. Sally Morgenthaler writes about our cultural shift away from an autocratic CEO model of leadership toward a more reflexive and cooperative model, and why many churches have failed to get the memo.

Significance, influence, interaction, collective intelligence - all of these values describe an essential shift from passivity to reflexivity. We are no longer content to travel in lockstep fashion through life like faceless, isolated units performing our one little job on an assembly line. This attitudinal shift is nothing short of revolutionary. True to form, Western Christendom seems oblivious to its implications. But it is the entrepreneurial church (congregations of roughly one thousand and above) that seems particularly clueless about the shift from the passive to the reflexive. And this, despite all its posturing about cultural relevance.

This disconnect shouldn't really surprise us. Large-church leaders have been trained in the modern, command-and-control paradigm for thirty years. Here, organizations aren't seen so much as gatherings of people with a common purpose but as machines. There is no irony here. Machine parts don't have minds or muscles to flex. They don't contribute to a process or innovate improvements. Machine parts simply do their job, which is, of course, to keep the machine functioning.

The mechanical paradigm of organization largely explains why modern church leaders are trained as CEOs, not shepherds.

Sheep have their own ideas of what, where, and when they want to eat. They may not want to lie down by quiet waters and go to sleep at eight. They just might want to check out the watercress down by the streambed. Or they might want to head out over the next ridge to see if there are any other flocks out there. Conveniently, machine parts don't get ideas. They just get to work, and they work according to specification.

Church members who don't comprehend this three-decade shift in leadership paradigms are frustrated that their CEO pastor is so self-absorbed. They were looking for a shepherd - albeit, one with a big

name and a big flock. What many of them ended up with instead was a "my-way-or-the-highway" autocrat - a top-down aficionado whose ecclesiastical machine whirs only to the sound of his own voice and functions tightly within the parameters of his own limited vision. One doesn't have to be on the pastors' conference circuit long to figure out that prime-time clergy (ages forty to fifty-five), are marinated in this kind of thinking. They have been told repeatedly that this is the only leadership model that will ensure success. (And make no mistake: in new millennium America, success equals the greatest number of seats filled on Sunday morning.) Theirs is a mono-vocal, mono-vision world - one that affords the most uniformity and thus the most control. It is a world of hyperpragmatics where the ends (church growth) can justify the most dehumanizing of processes.

April 26, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 33 comments


May 06, 2007  7:03pm

Megachurches aren't necessarily more spiritual or biblical in nature than small churches, although they can be. Sometimes, megachurches are churches that for one reason or another were able to attract a lot (or even a few) of wealthy donors. Small churches sometimes can't compete in the money department, and some changes take money. But then, church shouldn't be a competition, should it? Pastors, be they male or female, are leaders but shouldn't be autocrats. If you pastor a large church and have a my-way-or-the-highway attitude, then perhaps you need to delegate more authority. That probably wouldn't happen.

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fresno dave

May 03, 2007  10:20am

Alex: I really really appreciate your concerns, and those of many others here. So I want to engage. I clicked onto your blog, and the top post was titled: "I Made it to the Platform" (about your first Sunday helping lead worship "up front") Can you at least see what many might think as a potential problem with the perception re: that headline? Please, this is no judgment. I have pastored a larger church as CEO,now i am pastoring a more organic community. We need each other. We in the more emerging movement can still leadlike CEOs..we just dress down...see this wonderful paragraph by Dounglas Wilson on that

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May 03, 2007  9:32am

Great thought provoking article. I believe we let too much of what happens in the workplace chain of authority manifest itself in the life of the church. We are not to run the church like a business, but like the body of Christ. There are principles which are vital to each (business and church) but many of the principles started in the church first. Example - the golden Rule)

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Paul D

May 01, 2007  5:47pm

Listen to Mark Clark, he knows what he is talking about. There ARE some who take a directive leadership (the CEO) and there are some who take a more pastoral or encouraging role in leadership. Does this not seem logical? Is this not how the gifts function? If all were gifted in mercy or all in prophesy, none would be well off. Read your bibles on this. But it seems that much of the Emergent movement is toward a pure mercy/encourager/pastoral gifting with a fine disregard for those who lead, teach, have wisdom, or call for repentance. As for "Pastor" Art's comment on my hometown of Chicago. Please have a little grace on the men who lead here. They aren't perfect, yet nor are they all as he has characterized them as. His comments strike me more as jealousy than wisdom. Being in a church plant in Chicago myself and my brother planting here as well, I find a great deal of support from the mega churches in their pastors for new ministries. It is a crazy town, but there are some solid mega-church senior pastors. Art, repent of your slander of your brothers please. It is unbecoming of a "pastor" to throw such generalized, unloving, unhelpful criticisms to the masses. If indeed you are a pastor, consider your own heart and if you consider, as Paul did in Philippians, the preaching of the gospel the prime good.

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Mark Clark

May 01, 2007  12:26pm

How striking is the "either/or" mentality in the positions taken. It is all or nothing when it comes to church size, methodology, personaility, or leadership style. I have had the priviledge to minister in churches of 125 a Sunday and of churches of 1800 a Sunday. Each had its strengths and each had its weaknesses. I have ministered with "CEOs" who brought strength, understanding, and adaptability to the plate. I have also served with "monomaniacals" who followed the simple principle of "their way or the highway". What seems to be lacking from much of the discussion is a striving for balance. The accusation of "trend following" can be rightly directed to mega church or emergent church–the question is just which trend is most current and in what geographic or cultural region. Take a look at Ecclesiates 7:18b (NIV) "The man who fears the Lord will avoid all extremes." Shouldn't we be placing a greater emphasis on striving for balance within our lives–individually and corporately? The congregation/gathering/church/house church/small group that is out of balance will be unhealthy–destructive to itself and to those whom it has contact with. The leader/shepherd/pastor/minister/facilitator who serves self first in attitude, action, and purpose will not lead to quiet waters and green pasture–whether the flock is 35 or 3500. The only difference is whether to term the results a cult or a movement. Please forgive the rapid shift in metaphors but it is necessary–the church is called a body for excellent reason. It is made up of many parts–not all hands, not all feet, not all ears. A congregation may be more homogeneous, but should not be to exclusion. It is the nature to be drawn together by similar interests, background, heretage, desires, goals, etc. Some are most comfortable in small house church environments seeking a contempalative style. Others are more comfortable in a large high energy environment. As long as both are seeking first and foremost a living and vibrant relationship with Christ the more power to them. That living relationship will not allow them to be content to keep that relationship to themselves. They will seek share it with others of like interests, background, and experiences. Meet, know, grow, share. Isn't that what it is all about anyhow, regardless of the size or leadership model? Speaking of leaderships models: Paul–CEO or shepherd? Peter–CEO or shepherd? Barnabas–CEO or shepherd? My personal experience is that every "successful" CEO model has a good "second chair" (shepherd/nurturer) somewhere in the wings to compensate for their weaknesses. Again, balance.

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Pastor Art

May 01, 2007  12:21pm

You said: "What many of them ended up with instead was a "my-way-or-the-highway" autocrat—a top-down aficionado whose ecclesiastical machine whirs only to the sound of his own voice and functions tightly within the parameters of his own limited vision. One doesn't have to be on the pastors' conference circuit long to figure out that prime-time clergy (ages forty to fifty-five), are marinated in this kind of thinking. They have been told repeatedly that this is the only leadership model that will ensure success." You have accurately described all of the senior Pastors of mega churches in the northwest suburbs of the Windy City. I'm not happy about having to agree with you. I really wish it wasn't true, but it is. And in case you are confused about where the Windy City is, please note that I'm a Cubs fan! I'm about to plant a new church and I pray it will grow, and I also pray that I won't ever get that way myself. And since I just had a birthday, I'm now officially out of that age range, so I think I'll be OK! God Bless, Pastor Art

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Sam Andress

April 30, 2007  2:39am

Much of what passes as evangelical Christianity is really just a free-market version of catholicism. Evangelicals have their Popes (Dobson, Warren, Graham, etc.) with a vatican(s) located in Colorado Springs, Bishops (Colson, Stott, etc.), and priests (CEO pastors). The problem is that the ministry of the church and its leadership was never supposed to be placed on one person, let alone one man. It was for a community, a community of students who continually desire to learn the way of Jesus and follow that way in the world. For the first few hundred years these communities got the hell beat out of them until the state said, "Hey, want an office, with a name plate?" I'm one of those twentysomethings who is so tired of Churches in America trying to preach Jesus CEO (yes the pun is intended on that lady who wrote that crazy book). Jesus, Jesus' way, Jesus' call does not just nicely fit into the patterns of this world. My read on the biblical account is have a plurality of leadership, be in ongoing conversation, be willing to repent communally of misdeeds and emphasize bivocationality.

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April 29, 2007  8:05pm

Well said Sally, as always!

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Jim Kane

April 29, 2007  7:46pm

How many pastors have answered the call to ministry in a smaller church setting? How many in a larger or mega-church setting?

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April 29, 2007  11:41am

Andy Crouch, Thanks for your thoughtful response. I had many of the same questions as you. I've appreciated Sally's writing in the past but felt like the portrait she painted of the CEO/megachurch pastor was the same kind of generalizations and caricatures that emerging leaders have so disdained from others. Admittedly, I work at a megachurch under a senior leader who is very comfortable with corporate language/imagery/methods when done well. But I sense no hint of "command and control," a "self-absorbed" leader, being a "machine part," or being part of a "mechanical paradigm." In fact, I've never felt more valued, more liberated, more equipped, more resourced, more creatively challenged, and more unleashed to do ministry with a team of people and under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Because this is the kind of environment that a good CEO creates. I know this is only one anecdotal piece of evidence and I'm sure there are bad CEO pastors out there (just like there are bad shepherding pastors out there.) But like Andy Crouch, I see little correlation between the size of the church and how well the senior leaders steward their roles.

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