Pastor as CEO vs. Priesthood of all believers

I commented on a Pastors Discussion group I’m a part of via LinkedIn on the question of “Pastor versus CEO: Should the Pastor be a Pastor? Should the Pastor be a CEO? Is it an either/or? Or is it both/and?” I thought I’d share my thoughts here and would love to hear your thoughts, agreements, disagreements or what have you on this topic. (I hope I don’t offend anyone and I know that I am incredibly flawed and imperfect and desire grace from those who have seen my many failures or who I have hurt just as I pray to be able to impart grace to others.)

I’ve had 15 years experience as a “staff” pastor. My experience has been one of seeing a lot of abuse by the pastor of their role where they have fallen into a church as corporation and pastor as CEO mindset. [Edit: not necessarily pastors I’ve worked on staff with, I’ve worked with some amazing pastors.] In these situations power and authority is hoarded at the top. These pastors have very little to zero accountability and oversight for this abuse and the people that fill their leadership committees or teams are either “yes” people or those that feel unqualified, intimidated or that it’s inappropriate or un-Christian to offer any opposition to the pastor.

I appreciate Alan Hirsch’s critique of this where he talks against the hoarding of power in the church using Matthew 20:25-28, ‘Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…’

Today even many businesses are using new methods to incorporate greater buy-in and sharing of authority within their own corporate landscape (e.g. Starbucks employees are called partners). But what I’ve seen is these pastors are clinging to the old corporate mindset of top-down authority.

I see this as un-Biblical and dangerous. Edward C. Zaragoza in his book, “No Longer Servants, but Friends: A Theology of Ordained Ministry” lays out a great Biblical challenge to this notion. Here’s the book description: ‘…Building on the horizontal nature of this relationship, he suggests that we begin to think of a friendship model of ministry. In this model the authority of the ordained arises not from the quality of their service to the congregation (a service which can too easily lead to subjugation or superiority), but from the fact that the church has set them apart to minister with and among them, carrying on their own ministry of prayer, proclamation, and teaching, in ways that enhance and facilitate the ministry of the whole people of God. In this timely and constructive theological analysis, Zaragoza offers a new paradigm for understanding the function of ordained ministry in the life of the congregation. After presenting a critique of the “servant leadership model” and explaining the risks inherent in it, the author presents a “friendship model” of ordained ministry and explains how this model arises from and takes place within the context of the whole people of God.’

As a staff pastor or a parishioner, I do NOT want to be a part of another corporation as my church with a CEO pastor. I want to be a part of something greater than this.

After I received the response of “very well said. In view of your comments, how do you see the biblical role of shepherd (pastor) with sheep?” I answered with the following:

Thanks! I certainly agree with you that “pastors must have some CEO skills such as vision-casting, corporate discipline (focus), and leadership.” So there definitely is some carry-over. But I hesitate even using CEO in the same sentence as pastor, because of the danger of a pastor falling into seeing themselves as a CEO and neglecting the much deeper and higher calling in regards to the focus on love (1 Corinthians 13), being guided by the Spirit and living with a focus on humility as a defining attribute in leadership. God’s wisdom and Kingdom is a paradox to the wisdom of the world, so there is a huge danger in trying to emulate the constructs of the world even when they appear to be wise and “right”. And often God calls us and can use us in much greater ways to operate out of our weaknesses and failures!

A big contribution in rediscovering the Biblical mandate for leadership in the church, is coming from Postmodernity in deconstructing modern constructs of leadership and structure in the church. Tony Jones in his book, “The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier”, lists these dispatches: “[Emergents] reject dichotomies between the sacred and the secular (Dispatch 6) or the clergy and laity (Dispatch 19). They favor a church that functions ‘more like an open-source network and less like a hierarchy’ (Dispatch 16).” These brings to mind the priesthood of all believers.

Another example is in my father, Howard A. Snyder’s book, “The Problem of Wineskins”, where chapter 6 asks the question, “Must the Pastor be a Superstar?” I am in the field of youth ministry and I’ve seen many job descriptions that seem to be looking for a Superstar Youth Pastor as well. After looking at one job description, a friend of mine joked that the person that could fit that job description could vie for a fourth spot on the Trinity. There are obviously very few people that can fill the roles as a Superstar Pastor. We know some of the big names that do it with mega-churches and we look at them with envy and try to emulate them (or emulate successful CEOs) instead of trying to emulate Jesus (I have a special admiration to Eugene Peterson, Dallas Willard, Parker Palmer and Richard Foster for helping me see a better way).

But why must we be so wed to this notion instead of seeking the Biblical mandate of the priesthood of all believers, where some are called to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some shepherds and teachers. And why? And to answer your original question, “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13). Key word here is equip – which goes along with enable, encourage and empower – all out of a deep love for and service to God and each other.



About howie snyder

Love Jesus, love my family, love meeting new people and sharing life with them!
This entry was posted in General Interest, Spiritual, Theology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Pastor as CEO vs. Priesthood of all believers

  1. Daylon Welliver says:

    Interesting thoughts. I would be cautious of calling a theology of leadership something about friends, because I don’t believe in context that is what the title verse of that book talks about. It is talking more about relationship to Jesus than it is a comment on leadership. However, I think you point out real dangers. I think it is alwasy incumbent on us to reexamine our theology and assure its Biblical roots. However, if you have come from difficult situations, I think we always have to be careful to make sure our theology is not a reaction to anything, but rather comes from a Biblical understanding. I am concerned about a CEO mentality as well, although there is a place for good practical leadership skills.
    (a copy of my FB comments)


    • howie snyder says:

      Good thoughts, Daylon – thanks! On the difficult situations, that’s a valid point, though sometimes the reaction of the pendulum swing in the other direction is needed to help institute change – i.e. holy discontent. Yes, there definitely is a place for good practical leadership skills in keeping with seeking wisdom in all things. I do differ on your thoughts on the context of the passage in John 15. I would venture that Jesus was discipling, teaching and modeling the radical notion of just that very type of leadership. How could it not be? He was the leader/teacher/shepherder to this band of followers showing a new way. Along with John 13, here in John 15:

      12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

      What strikes us difficult with the idea of the Pastor as a friend is our nearly 2000 years of tradition going a different way. But we have to go back to Jesus. What did Jesus say and how did he live this out with his followers (flock)? To quote Alan Hirsch, “We’ve got to get to the place where we believe Jesus is absolutely right about absolutely everything.”

      Think of the New Testament church. There certainly were different levels of leadership, e.g. Paul rebuking and correcting and so forth. But you also see in Paul’s letters an incredible amount of emotion and feeling in his love and passion for his brothers and sisters in the faith. And all centered on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.


  2. buddy says:

    Interesting. I believe church leadership shouldn’t be too top-heavy, but I don’t see completely horizontal as viable. We are all equal in importance, but not equally, or evenly, gifted. Those who are gifted with insight and leadership skills are responsible to use (not abuse) them.
    Its hard to imagine a leadership structure that will work in every church everywhere. It is crucial, though, that pastors and lay leaders always remember their status is no higher than anyone else’s, they answer to Christ, and are supposed to be drawing closer to Christ and Christ-likeness every day, not taking His place on the throne.


  3. howie snyder says:

    Thanks Buddy! Appreciate you taking the time to read this and share your thoughts. I agree that it is not completely horizontal as well. See my response to Daylon above. The disciples certainly recognized that Jesus was their leader and he was often addressed with a title of respect of Rabbi or Teacher. And good point about leadership structure and the need for contextualization – definitely! And loved your last sentence – well put! I’ve meditated on some Scriptures on humility over the past couple months and really believe that we need to seek humility as a defining characteristic of our identity as Christ-followers to the world and each other!


  4. Kyu Whang says:

    I think throughout the Bible God generally tries to close the gap and men seek an intermediary instead of a direct line, mostly for their own convenience. That’s kind of what idolatry is, isn’t it? In some ways I guess Jesus was like a hybrid intermediary/direct line. That’s probably the limit of God’s concession. I don’t think God wants any more delegation. The veil in the temple was torn when Jesus finished his mission. It’s what Jesus died for and evryone should get up and get some of whatever was behind that veil instead of just hearing about it second hand.
    And as a disciple of Jesus, one should probably emulate his spirit and not his charisma. I hope I don’t offend anyone, but even the terms reverend and pastor seem a little presumptuous. I think pastor is Latin for shepherd. Isn’t God the shepherd? Anyway it’s probably too much in use to change it now. Just keep in mind that on special occasions, shepherds sometimes eat one of the sheep.


    • howie snyder says:

      Kyu, awesome – brilliant! I sent your response to my wife. 🙂 I loved, “everyone should just get up and get some of whatever was behind that veil”!! That’s quotable – may have to use that sometime in a talk with youth. I also agree with the struggle with the terms reverend and pastor. I used to be a part of a church where they had a pastoral team of like 5-6 different teaching pastors but nobody referred to them as pastor, they were just Jim, Craig, Brenda, Kevin and Howard (my dad). That just seemed so much more like the New Testament church than anything I’ve ever been a part of. When someone in our church has the gift of Evangelism or Administration, we don’t call them “Evangelist Susan” or “Administrator Bob”. We’ve lost sight of the “priesthood of all believers” and have done what we can to perpetuate the separation between the clergy and laity. Those terms aren’t even in Scripture! (at least not used as such.) Good thoughts on idolatry in this. I think it’s also laziness (which may be a key component of idolatry) – keeping up the dichotomy allows us to be a part of the church at our own convenience as consumers as opposed to full partakers and participants in the body of Christ.

      And I loved, “Just keep in mind that on special occasions, shepherds sometimes eat one of the sheep.” Awesome! 🙂

      I found this intriguing: “And as a disciple of Jesus, one should probably emulate his spirit and not his charisma.” Can you unpack what you mean by that for me?


      • and, it is interesting that in the Eph 1 passage it says, “he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Christ is made head over all things–FOR the church which is his body, not Christ is head OF the church–and the church is the fullness of Christ–and later, in chapter three, the “fullness of God.” Christ has authority over everything for the church–the reason Jesus has any of this power (which is the incredible, inconceivable vastness of love) is for the church, Christs body, the fullness (nothing held back) of Jesus who fills ALL in ALL–not some parts more than others. ALL. And all for love. Not to have power over someone else, not to expound on one’s great learning or charm or administrative skills 🙂 Love. It’s our superpower 😀


      • howie snyder says:

        “It’s our superpower” – Awesome! 🙂 And you have the superpower of wisdom! 🙂 You got me thinking of the song, You Are My All in All: “You are my strength when I am weak, You are the treasure that I seek…” Again, that reminds me of the paradox of the incredible power we have when we seek to operate out of our weaknesses to allow Christ to be our All in All more fully and all things under Him in unity as the body.


  5. Michael Doll says:

    I see a problem with all top down leadership included within any subset. For instance, Christians > Methodists > local church or Corporation > company > local branch.
    This builds multiple bubbles of interest or responsibility without any connection to the whole. CONSEQUENTLY.. We have multiple petty dictators ((superstars) controlling people in personal paradigms. We have churches who view themselves independent of all others, corporations who are controlled by the dollar and govts. who serve the will of their leader instead of the people. The true paradigm of “this” reality is ego and the separateness of mankind.
    We are all One — the killer and the servant, the prince and the pauper, the muslim and the christiain. Perhaps humanity is too immature at this point to understand and acknowledge this paradigm of oneness. We seem to be too invested in the accomplishments of our short earthly lifespans. We view life as 70 years. This, while true in an earthly sense, is false. We are infinite children of God whose purpose is contained in the Oneness. We are to love. That is everything…..


    • howie snyder says:

      Wow – very well put, Michael – thanks for sharing! Makes me want to bust out singing Switchfoot’s “We are One Tonight”. 🙂

      Obviously a big issue in this are the sins of pride, selfishness, ego, lust for power and so forth – all looking out for ourselves, perpetuated by a culture that is more individualistic in it’s focus, neglecting the idea of viewing oneself in the context of the greater community – whether that be an individual family, neighborhood, job, church, nation,…


  6. Michael Doll says:

    Individualism is the goal; keep everyone separated – easier to control. The point is: individualism is a result of ego and ego is illusion. Just keep people immersed in their illusion and then they will never see that they ARE God. For me, religion and “church” are ego based and not spirit based; Part of the problem and not part of the solution. Why else would there be so many religions, so many denominations of the same religions, so many flavors of the same denominations? And then so many power groups within the same denomination? Ego = illusion = loss of divine identity. Religion will not be the answer to any of our “big” problems. Religiosity only serves to create deeper and deeper divisions and lack of acceptance of the love of God that is in others. Any thought form which creates contraction instead of expansion opposes the will of love. Ego and contraction are the same. Love and expansion are the same. Love is the basis of all abundance in the universe. Love is the matrix which holds this universe in its path, the trillions of the galaxies in their purpose and the innumerable planets and their divine souls as the very body of the creator.
    (In my house there are many mansions)
    Yes indeed we are all one.
    When I consider the petty skirmishes we construct daily, I sometimes am ashamed how little we actually resemble the creator. In saying this, I am reminded that all of this fantastic creation and my experience, would not exist if not for the Love of the creator. Most of us get bogged down in the little stuff and choose to limit our expression to what’s sensory based. My goal, no matter how difficult, is to reject this illusion. It is what I (we) came here to do. Did I come here to fix drywall, patch wood floors and take care of plumbing problems? Smack my dog, infuriate my wife and kids and wash my car every Saturday? I do believe that this would be shooting a bit too low. We need to see that the love of God is abundant throughout the fabric of our daily lives. Human behavior CAN be divine behavior (the corollary works also). What S/he wants is what we want: eternal, abundant Love.


  7. Kyu Whang says:

    Hey Howard. I’m really glad you like my comments. I always thought we were on the same plane. When I think back on Junior High it’s like a mix of “Lord of the Flies,” “Stand By Me” and “Peter Pan.” You were the Pan of course, and not just because you wore green tights. You had the charisma. It was something that validated all of us, though none of us knew it at the time. The best way to know if you are emulating the spirit or the charisma is by discerning: is this person following Jesus, or is this person following me? Or, does Jesus validate this person, or do I? Or, does this person look to Jesus for validation, or to me?


    • howie snyder says:

      Wow – dude, you really blessed me with your words. Thanks so much! Those Jr. High days were interesting and fun and crazy. I certainly think back fondly to our fun times and shenanigans. Your references to “Lord of the Flies”, “Stand By Me” and “Peter Pan” certainly ring true to me – awesome! 🙂 I felt like Peter Pan sometimes with jumping over branches and walls playing hide-n-seek/catch-one-catch-all! I struggled a lot in those days with the whole Jesus/faith thing – as typical of adolescents trying to come to grips with trying to be a good Christian, not understanding faith & grace very well and the struggles of youth & puberty. But happy that you saw some semblance of Jesus in my life in those days. You also had that charisma and leadership and great sense of humor that we connected on. We’ve also always connected well with thinking beyond the simple answers with faith in Christ – which is awesome. Peace bro.


  8. Kyu Whang says:

    By the way, say hi to Nicole for me. The force is strong within her.


  9. Pingback: Pastor as CEO vs. Priesthood of all believers – Continued! | Howie's Blog

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