To Improve as a CEO, Operate Like a Pastor

It’s not uncommon for pastors to be admonished to operate more like a CEO, but seldom is a CEO admonished to operate like a pastor. At first glance it would not appear that pastors and CEO’s have much in common. Yet, if they’re effective, the best pastors and their churches have a great deal to teach CEOs.

For example, in 2006 Bob Russell retired as pastor at Southeast Christian Church after over 40 years. During his tenure the church grew from 125 to more than 20,000 members. When asked about the Church’s success, Bob would respond simply that it was God’s blessing and “keeping the main thing the main thing” (preaching, teaching and living the Gospel). Translated, success means understanding the purpose and keeping it in the forefront of everything we do.

For many years Bob reinforced that purpose so it was commonly understood and embraced by a majority. The mission was printed in church literature and posted around the church. Also, the pastor regularly taught on the scriptural basis for the mission, and organized church ministries around it. Bob said he also challenged the church to achieve big goals through strategic planning every few years. This kept them focused and moving in a positive direction.

To ensure the congregation understood it all, Bob also offered eight one hour classes entitled, “What We Believe,” for new members. They learned about the church mission and doctrines, but they also learned what was available to and expected from them as members. Bob commented:

“People learn up front what they can expect from this body. It gives them an opportunity to plug into the values of this church. And we say, ‘Ok, here’s what we stand for; here’s what you can expect from the pulpit.”

With 20,000 members and 300 employees, the church long ago outgrew his ability to control everything. Bob explained how he adapted:

 “When I started I had 125 people. I could visit the hospital, counsel marriages. I knew everyone’s name. And then it started growing beyond my control. I could panic, feel like I am losing it and clamp down, or I could change.  I had to change and become an administrator and then eventually a shepherd of the staff and the leaders of the church.”

Bob noted that another part of church growth is recruiting the right staff and volunteer leaders and then giving them freedom to use their talents. He explained,

“90% of leadership is finding the right people. You get wrong people and it doesn’t matter how much direction you give. Get the right person and give them responsibility, resources and encouragement, its amazing what they’ll do. You can’t smother people and box them in. (You must) give them freedom to do what they’re gifted to do.”

Clearly, if pastors intend to lead, then their duties must expand. In Bob’s case he’s a model of leadership for any organization. Granted, the mission and dynamics of a church are different and there are probably as many power wielders in the pastorate as there are leaders. Nevertheless, as far as communicating, knowing how to motivate church members, building consensus and leading around a common purpose are concerned, CEOs could learn a thing or two from effective pastors like Bob.