The Modern Pastor and the Business(wo)man

This is the second post on the modern pastor. The first suggested that pastors are neither sent nor called.

I was stopped last week by someone about to be commissioned as an elder in the United Methodist Church. She was having second thoughts. One of her primary reasons: the amount of business/administrative responsibilities she saw her pastor having to take on. In her current role, she says she is spending her time in ministry, not business meetings, and she’s concerned that might change if she becomes a Methodist elder (in other denominations, read: likely head pastor).

In her words, “It seems like spending so much time on business meetings when you’re supposed to be in ministry could really be draining on your soul.” Indeed.

Most American pastors seem to function like the CEOs of their churches. This probably isn’t news to many of you.

The church looks to the pastor for a “vision” of where the church is going. That “vision” usually goes well beyond a discipleship plan into a full, strategic business plan. How will we market? What do we offer that sets us apart? What buildings and staff and programs do we need? And how will we fund it all? The pastor is at the helm of that strategic machine, often expected to give major vocal leadership and spearhead fundraising.

I am far from the first person to suggest that the pastor-business(wo)man role is a problem. I’d like to push the discussion a bit further, though, regarding the particular problems this is causing and possible solutions.

A few major reasons this is a problem:

1 – Bait and switch. Some of our pastors are not very good at being enterprise CEOs. Others may do it okay, but it’s not what they signed up for. Before they got into it, some had no idea how all-consuming the “business” of a church can become. They feel bait and switched. We have lost some good pastors because they got in and realized they were running businesses, not being pastors.

Some people may say, “It comes with the territory.”

I don’t think so.

I think we’ve created that territory. In the times and places when the Christian movement was spreading most rapidly, I don’t get the impression that its leaders were spending nearly as much time managing personnel, properties, finances, and strategic plans.

2 – The effective CEO. Some come in and thrive in a strategic management setting. So much so that they forget they are pastors. They are likely to sit in three or four management meetings per day, but may not have sat in someone’s living room for several weeks, months, or years. They may have started into pastoral ministry because of ministry, but they thrive on being in charge, running things. Somewhere, concerns about direct ministry fell to the side.

3 – Being a strategic business leader compromises ministry effectiveness. From all that I have seen and understand, people in previous eras had greater respect for pastoral authority. See, for example, the strong exhortations in John Wesley’s sermon 97: On Obedience to Pastors.

Could that pastoral authority have been eroded in part because we have muddied the waters regarding their leadership and authority? Do we submit to our pastor’s spiritual guidance? What about whether to take out debt to build a gym? Is it more difficult to submit to the pastor’s spiritual guidance in preaching and counseling when we disagree with the debt-for-a-gym decision?

I trust my trainer. I submit to his direction when I workout, even when I don’t fully understand it. I am convinced he knows more than me and is working in my best interest. But if he began also giving me financial planning advice and expecting me to go along with it, the whole relationship could get weird.

What do you think? Have we compromised pastors’ responsibility and authority by making them into strategic business leaders? Or am I blowing all of this out of proportion? How do we get away from this?

10 thoughts on “The Modern Pastor and the Business(wo)man

  1. so interesting…Paul relegated the task of mediating complaints over support for the Greek vs Jewish widows very quickly… in doing so he could continue covering territory as a missionary, not losing focus of God’s specific request of him. Another thought that comes to mind is that continued division of the church over time has certainly added to pastor’s responsibilites…less hierarchy to delegate within?? Responsibility and authority are very charged words…thought provoking!

  2. I do think pastors lose credibility when they stray into areas that aren’t pastoral. We may say things like “casting vision” or running a campaign are pastoral, but at a certain point, what do you do when you’r eluting your influence behind things that may or may not work, or cause division? If there is going to be division, let it be because you stood up for scripture when the people wanted an easy word or an easy way. Pastors are taking on too much, and we do it because we like it. We think it will be easier to be in charge! I would add another piece to anecdotal history: the Methodists grew most when the pastors only stayed two years. Apparently, the laity were strong enough to run the church…

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