What Peter Drucker said about pastors and churches

Peter Drucker has a living legacy as the father of modern management for his keen insights and observations about people and organizations that have revolutionized the for-profit and the non-profit sectors. Many multitudes of organizations have accomplished more results and become more effective by applying Drucker’s principles.

One commentary about the most difficult leadership positions is often attributed to Peter Drucker. It goes something like this:

Peter Drucker, the late leadership guru, said that the four hardest jobs in America (and not necessarily in order, he added) are the president of the United States, a university president, a CEO of a hospital and … a pastor.

The earliest mention of this quote that I could find was back in 2006. However, I have not yet been able to find the source, unable to confirm or deny the truth of this quote. Someone else is also wondering if it’s an urban legend.

What I did find was this first-person narrative from Steve Sjogren about what Peter Drucker said:

… With his noticeable Austrian accent he said, “You know Steve, over the years I have made a career out of studying the most challenging management roles out there. After all of that I am now convinced the two most difficult jobs in the world are these—one, to be President of the United States, and two, to be the leader a church like yours and Rick’s (Warren) – where you start it then lead it to serve others in greatness. This week, after spending some quality time with you all, I am convinced of this—the most difficult job is being one of those kinds of pastors.”

Apparently, Peter Drucker did deeply consider the valuable role of churches and pastors, under the category of making a better society. This recently published book by Bob Buford, “Drucker & Me: What a Texas Entrepreneur Learned from the Father of Modern Management,” tells more of the back stories. I just downloaded it on my Amazon Kindle, eager to read it. 2 chapters directly relate to the topic of this blog post: Chapter 9 titled, “Peter and the Preachers” starts with this quote: “The function of management in a church is to make the church more church-like, not to make it more business-like.” And, in chapter 13, “The God Question,” Peter does succinctly reveal his faith in his last interview.

And, this lengthy article in Leadership Journal (Spring 1989) [subscriber-only] “Managing to Minister: An interview with Peter Drucker” drips with more sagely Drucker wisdom:

Second, as far as I’m concerned, it’s the other way around: I became interested in management because of my interest in religion and institutions. I started out teaching religion, and all of my personal experience in management has been with nonprofits-working in academia and serving on boards of everything from Blue Cross to museums.

… On the supply side, more and more churches are what I call “pastoral churches.” Their purpose is not to perpetuate a particular liturgy or maintain an existing institutional form. Instead, they’re asking what my business friends would call the marketing question: “Who are the customers, and what’s of value to them?” They’re more interested in the pastoral question (“What do these people need that we can supply?”) than in the theological nuances (“How can we preserve our distinctive doctrines?”).

These churches are growing partly because the younger people need pastoring and not just preaching, and partly because, very bluntly, people are dreadfully bored with theology. They can’t appreciate the subtleties. And I sympathize with them…


3 responses to “What Peter Drucker said about pastors and churches”

  1. I am totally agree with Peter Drucker. These days pastors are working like a greedy d*gs. They don’t care about jesus quotes.

    Some times I feel so sad to think about it.


  2. Love this post! Peter Drucker continues to impact our thinking around the interplay of theology and management.

  3. Paul, Diana: thanks for your comments. I’m just beginning to discover how Drucker has valuable insights far beyond the corporate business world, and how deeply he cared about social good, non-profits, and churches too.

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