Broadway vs. community theater: Why pastors and presidents are not CEOs

Broadway vs. community theater: Why pastors and presidents are not CEOs May 23, 2013

John Fea shares some highlights from a Barna Group survey on the reading habits of pastors.

Here’s the finding that struck me as most distressing: “One-third of pastors are reading business books.”


I appreciate that the job of a local church pastor is in some ways analogous to that of an executive, but that doesn’t mean that a local church is in any way analogous to a “business.” If all those pastors reading “business books” — a depressingly vapid genre for which Sturgeon’s Law understates the ratio — are getting the idea that their churches should be more “business-like,” then I fear for their congregations, their ministries, their parishes.*

One way of describing the difference between a local church and a business is by looking at the difference between a Broadway production and community theater.

Consider a Broadway production reviving an old classic like Carousel. At the very same time, far enough away that the rights are still available, a small community theater prepares its production of the very same play. Both productions share some of the same goals. They both want to tell this story as best they can within the constraints of their respective budgets and talent pools (both of which are far more constraining for the community theater). They both want to make their audiences laugh, cry, yearn and ache. They both want to sell tickets.

But Broadway is a business. Like any business, it wants to hire the best possible people for every role. So the Broadway production holds auditions in which some of the world’s best actors, singers and dancers compete to land a part in the show.

Casting doesn’t work like that at the community theater. Broadway starts with a list of roles to be filled, then selects only the very best people it can find to fill them. Community theater starts with the community — with everybody — and then tries to figure out how best to employ them, how best to manage the assembled ensemble so that everyone is able to participate and to contribute to the common goal.

Think of Mr. Fish in John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. Mr. Fish isn’t a great actor, but he’s a faithful member of the Gravesend Players and every year Dan Needham, the patient director of the local community theater, finds a role that he hopes will make the best use of Mr. Fish and his talents.

That’s the real magic of community theater. Sure, I can laugh along with Shakespeare at the amateur follies of Nick Bottom, Peter Quince, Francis Flute and Starveling, Snout and Snug in their deliriously awful “craftsmen’s play” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. But let’s not sneer at them. Here you have a weaver, a carpenter, a bellows-mender, tailor, tinker and joiner working without pay. Why? Because this is something we humans do — we tell stories, we act them out. We’ve done this for as long as humans can remember anything humans have done. And if I were running a community theater, I’d be happy to have them — Quince and Starveling especially, because every theater needs a good tailor and a good carpenter. (I do wonder if Shakespeare ran into any trouble with his set-builders and costumers after they absorbed his mockery of the “craftsmen” in Dream.)

The challenge, and the beauty, of community theater is figuring out how to allow and enable all of these folks to make their best contribution to the production at hand. Mr. Fish might surprise us all and be better than expected if we cast him as “Mr. Snow” in Carousel. Starveling, Snout and Snug might fit in best as townspeople in the big “Clambake” scene.

The point is that the task for a community theater is the opposite of the task for Broadway. Broadway wants to find and to hire only the very best possible people for every role. Community theater wants to get the best possible contribution from every person in the community.

A local church should be more like community theater than like Broadway.

And so should the entire country. This is why I cringe whenever I hear someone suggest that we need a “CEO president.”

No. No we do not. A CEO is completely unqualified to be president. A CEO is someone who has spent years preparing for how not to be president.

Think of the matter of full employment. Full employment for a CEO means finding and hiring only the very best people for every position in your company. That’s easy. That’s like trying to find good dancers on Broadway.

But what about all those people who are not “the very best”? The CEO doesn’t care. The CEO doesn’t have to care.

A president does. For a president, “full employment” means that everyone who is capable of working is able to find work. That doesn’t just mean the most talented, best-educated, most capable people, but everyone — the incompetent, the perpetually confused, the easily distracted, the socially maladept, the clumsy, the dim, the schlemiels and schlimazels and every other variety of bungler and screw-up. They need work too. They need to be allowed and enabled to participate and to contribute. And just like in community theater, the challenge is to help them find the right role that will make the best of whatever abilities they have.

If you’re in charge of a business, then you simply fire the bunglers and the screw-ups, the Snouts and the Starvelings. Or you never hire them in the first place. What becomes of them after they’re fired, or if no one ever hires them? Not your problem. Not your concern.

But if you’re in charge of a country, or if you’re in charge of a local church, then it is your concern. You can’t just restrict yourself to the winners of the audition, to “the best and the brightest.” Your job is to make sure that everyone is allowed, encouraged, enabled and empowered to contribute to the best of their ability — whatever their ability may be. Everyone is your concern. Everyone is your problem.

No, wait, not your “problem.” That’s the wrong word. That’s CEO-speak. People are not problems — that’s a lie told by “business books.” Everyone is your community. Everyone is your neighbor.

– – – – – – – – – – – –

* “Parish” is an archaic term referring to the long defunct notion that a local church carried certain obligations based on its geography and not on brand-affinity, ethnic and economic demographics, and partisan political identity. The automobile abolished the parish more than a generation ago. Any church with a parking lot does not have a parish.

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  • Stockbrokers and derivatives traders, I think.

  • I love the constant statements of the Republican and libertarian defenders of personal responsibility that being given the means of living in a house with relatively decent food is somehow far worse than being homeless and dying of disease and starvation on the streets.

  • hf

    Don’t poke the crazy person unless you think it will increase the chance of the courts forcing him to get help.

  • EllieMurasaki

    How are you defining food stamps and Social Security disability, if ‘income’ isn’t it?

    And yes, everyone fucking well deserves a living-wage job. Those who can’t take one (for WHATEVER reason) fucking well deserve cash assistance. Because no one, ABSOLUTELY FUCKING NO ONE, deserves less than a roof overhead in a safe neighborhood, enough food and health care for their needs, some way to clothe themselves and get from point a to point b in a timely fashion, some access to leisure time and entertainment…

  • EllieMurasaki

    Okay. That computes. I thought they were talking about office workers in general, and wanted to have a fit.

  • hf

    I was just thinking about what I’d say to Aleister “The Great Beast 666” Crowley if I went back in time.

    AC: So how will my religion of Thelema replace Christianity?

    Me: No clue. In my timeline, the rich accept the most selfish part of your doctrine – but they call it Christianity. There was this atheist anti-Communist writer by the name of Ayn Rand who preached the virtue of selfishness, starting shortly before your death. Conservatives after 2000 would speak of her and Jesus in the same breath without a hint of irony. If you can replace her, then people might remember you as a prophet.

    Emmy Noether or John von Neumann: Why are you telling him that?

    Me: Because if someone based the goals of an Artificial Intelligence on Thelema, it might possibly come out friendly. You remember what I thought would happen if you based it on Christianity.

  • Jeff

    Ellie, when your rhetoric descends into allcaps profanity, I’m afraid you’re not having fun any more, and I don’t want to be responsible for spoiling the start to your holiday weekend. Have a good weekend.

  • That is the most pathetic passive aggressive tone argument I have ever seen. Congratulations.

  • Goddamnit, I need to stop using that word. *Edit*

  • EllieMurasaki

    DO NOT FUCKING TONE-POLICE ME. And I am in fact having fun, or I WAS TILL YOU STARTED TONE-POLICING ME. Now, since I’m sure you’re dying to answer: my assertion that everyone deserves a living-wage job and everyone who doesn’t have a living-wage job deserves cash assistance. Answer it.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Thanks for the edit

  • Oh dear, Jeff. You seem to have been having fun until Ellie out-argued you so thoroughly you couldn’t think of anything to do but take your toys and run home, tail between your legs. Poor little Jeffy-Weffy.

  • Jeff, I’m sorry, but you’re an asshole, and your attempt to moderate my and Ellie’s language as if you have the right is inappropriate and unacceptable.

    Oh, you mansplaining itty bitty boy, you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into. Or I guess you do, since you ran squealing all the way home.

  • Jeff

    AS, you and your compatriots are all over the map in this discussion, and it would be easier and more productive if we could confine the discussion to one subject and actually talk about that. And, if you could stop putting words in the mouths of those like me who dare to disagree with Fred.
    Since you are responding to my response to reynard, I will assume that we are still talking about his hypothetical, non-incompetent technical writer who has been laid off and (dubiously) can’t find a single technical writing job anywhere in the contentinental US. Good. Now, what did I say about our writer friend that leads you to believe I would prefer he die of disease than that he be given the means to live in a house?
    Anyway, it’s a false and ridiculous choice. What I would actually prefer, as you can tell perfectly well from reading my comments, is for him to successfully find employment in his chosen profession. And, unless I’m much mistaken, we do have unemployment assistance to help him while he’s between jobs. “But what if he can’t find another writing job, ever? Do you just want him to die?” I mean, where do you guys come up with these stuff? It’s either, Obama gives him a job, or he dies of disease? How about “he explores other options, considers a different career field, accepts a job that pays less than he’d like but still enough to live on, and adjusts his lifestyle accordingly,” or any of a number of other options he probably has. (We can’t know for sure, since he’s imaginary).
    Seriously, Sam, ask yourself this — why is it that you have so little faith in the ability of an /imaginary character/ that you are convinced beyond doubt that he will die homeless of disease unless the government intervenes in his life? If you treat fictional characters with such appalling disdain, imagine how destructive your mentality is to actual living, breathing people!

  • Maniraptor

    Is discussing how to make people’s lives livable supposed to be fun?

  • It’s so bloody automatic, I was literally cursing even as I hit the post button. It’s the same sort of problem as when you get halfway into a word and muscle memory (even at a vocal level) turns it into something else, like saying “Yes, I’ll have the deluxe chicken situation with bacon and ranch dressing” and knowing you fucked up two words after the mistake and still feeling compelled to complete the sentence before correcting yourself.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Six unemployed people per job opening. Sixty applicants per job opening, at least. And you honestly expect us to believe that it’s as simple as ‘get a job that isn’t ideal’? Our hypothetical technical writer can’t actually take a job at Burger King, because overqualified.

  • Maniraptor

    There are far fewer jobs than there are jobless people. (To say nothing of people who have a little work, but not enough to make ends meet, but I don’t know how well underemployment is measured.)

    This is the actual problem. Please stop acting like it is not.

  • Jeff, mon petit chou-chou, I’m a writer who was on-track to make a living wage from writing before disability. It’s fucking hard. Oopsie, I mean it’s terribly difficult, will you permit that? It also takes the following: 1) education 2) a basic amount of talent 3) knowing your audience very well 4) being able to write what your audience wants while sticking to your own voice 5) the ability to self-schedule rigorously 6) a head not just for writing, but for business, or close association with someone with a head for business who’s willing to help you with it. And that’s just off the top of my head.

    My dearest Jeffy-poo, I very much fear that you are not quite as educated on this subject as you believe you are. Oh dear, I hope I have not offended your delicate sensibilities. However, may I humbly suggest for the future that you attempt not to enter a battle of wits unarmed, especially here? Farewell, sweetie-lumpkin.

  • EllieMurasaki


  • As someone living this experience who has applied to fifty different businesses in the last month without so much as the decency of a conclusive response to in-person and telephone inquiries about the status of the job, who has been faux-coddled informed that letting the government help carry my slack would be “far more destructive” by making me dependent and irresponsible — no, eat a bag of it.

    I’m a writer. It’s pretty much my only skill, and it’s not a reliable one. I’m not allowed to draw unemployment because unemployment requires a recent income of at least a certain amount, and I haven’t had a job in years (much less one which paid me that much). I will, in fact, probably be homeless within the year. I will probably die there.

    Just thought you should know.

  • Jeff

    You’re correct that I don’t control your language, but I do have some say over the terms under which I’m wiling to participate in a discussion, and I think I do have some right to object to vile accusations being made about me when such accusations are completely baseless and no attempt at supporting or substantiating them is made.

    Lliira, let me reveal something that you have absolutely no right or business knowing, but that will show just how egregious your false accusations and shameful rhetorical conduct is. I have a son with a disability, and he receives support from the government at various levels (local, state, and federal) in various forms. It’s a great help to him and to our family, and we appreciate the assistance.

    The sad thing about you, Lliira, is that your mind is so completely poisoned with hatred and rage for conservatives, that even my revealing this won’t make you rethink your disgusting allegation that “you don’t want the president of the country to help me or anyone else who’s disabled.” No, it will just make you think that I’m a hypocrite — happy to take government help when it benefits me, but eager to block others like you from receiving it.
    The reality, of course, is that the situation that Fred describes, and the one you’re in, are completely different, and I have been talking exclusively (and correctly) about the former the whole time. This person that you have slandered in such a profane way is simply a creation of your own imagination.

  • Jeff

    A lack of jobs is the current /problem/, but it isn’t the subject of Fred’s /post/. Again, please stay on topic.

  • The sad thing about you, Jeff, is you think you can read my mind. Another sad thing about you, Jeff, is you think you’re better at understanding what people mean when they write essays than I am. And a third sad thing about you, Jeff, is you feel you have the right to condescend to women. Fourth sad thing: in your fervor to disagree with Fred, you cannot see that he’s talking quite precisely about your son’s situation. Oh dear oh dear. You’re a very sad person indeed, Jeff.

    Jeff, if you’re not willing to participate in discussion with me, then you have every right to stop. Jeff, you do not have a right to tell me how to use my language. Jeff, I will fucking say whatever I fucking want and if you don’t fucking like it you can fucking ignore me. Is that fucking clear, Jeffy-poo?

  • EllieMurasaki

    What in hell did you read? Because it bears little resemblance to what I read.

  • Jeff

    Lliira, of course it’s hard, and on top of that, it probably doesn’t pay well, even if you’re good at it, unless you’re extraordinarily lucky. None of that changes the core structure of my argument — that, if you want to be a writer, you, and not the government, are the best-positioned to actually make it happen. If it doesn’t work out (or while you’re waiting for it to work out), maybe you take a different job to make ends meet, or consider other options. I don’t think this is exactly shocking.

  • Jeff, dearie, did Fred appoint you moderator of his comment section? Please do tell us if he did, Jeffy-poo, so we can know if you are acting this way legitimately, or if you’re just an ass.

  • Jeff

    Sam, I’m in no better position to trouble-shoot your situation than I am our imaginary writer, so I will simply say that I’m sorry for your struggles, and wish you the best in the future.

  • Jeff

    Lliira, the problem is that I’m talking about subject X, and people like you show up and say, “yes, but what about tangentially related subject Y, Z, P, or Q?” You and your friends are conflating a bunch of different things. Staying on topic would help the discussion go somewhere, instead of just veering off in a bunch of random directions that mostly amount to “we don’t like conservatives.”

  • I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who gets a little irritated with having someone say my name repeatedly in a message addressed to me. XD

  • Touchdown Al

    “Wells Fargo, Sallie Mae, and EA”

    One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.

  • Jeff

    Lliira, I can’t read your mind, but I can read your words, and you are lashing out at me in a vile and profane way for things I did not say or think. And now you’ve added misogyny to the list (notwithstanding the fact that I wouldn’t have actually known whether you are a woman or not — I suppose “Lliira” probably sounds feminine, but maybe it’s Italian, or maybe you’re a guy who uses a feminine-sounding handle. How the heck should I know?). Sorry Lliira, this in 100% a you problem. I’ll take your advice and ignore you henceforth.

  • Jeff

    Err…I thought it was just good practice to use someone’s name to help make it clear who you’re responding to in these long, zillion-post discussions. I guess that with Disqus’s threaded discussions, this practice isn’t really necessary. A few extra usages may have slipped through… Anyway, sorry if it gave offense.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I get the impression I’m being ignored. I like that nearly as much as I like being tone-policed.

    So. Do you agree or disagree with the statement that everyone deserves a living-wage job and those who don’t have a living-wage job deserve cash assistance? If you disagree, why do you disagree?

  • LMM22

    but that will show just how egregious your false accusations and shameful rhetorical conduct is. I have a son with a disability, and he receives support from the government at various levels (local, state, and federal) in various forms. It’s a great help to him and to our family, and we appreciate the assistance.

    No. No, you don’t. You take the assistance for granted, because you assume that, should an inspector come to evaluate, your son — or, rather, your family who cares for your son — would turn out to be someone worthy of support.

    Appreciating the assistance means assuming that other people deserve the same thing.

  • Everyone deserves a living. Our cultural insistence that a living must be made from a job requires that we add jobs at least as fast as we add people, and that’s without innovation ever making jobs obsolete.

  • EllieMurasaki

    True. Amendment accepted.

  • Point


    I think you may have juuuuuuuuuust missed something a little bit.

  • Simongren

    I know this is probably going to sound ‘stupid’ to you, but I have absolutely no idea what you are trying to say in this strange, capitalized, links to nothing, post of glommed together nonsense.

    Are you trying to say that skeptics all died on a specific day in December 2012? Because that is patently a provably false statement. Are you trying to say that people stop believing in stupid end-of-the-world scenarios? Because sadly, that is also a provably false statement. Are you trying to say that Depeche Mode did a video on top of the WTC before 9/11? That one is true. Are you trying to say that someone has won the James Randi Paranormal challenge? Because that is a provably false statement.

    Is it just that I have not had enough coffee yet this day to see the whatever people are supposed to see or are you just a dipsquad?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Consensus seems to be he’s dmabus, actually. In which case, he’s not supposed to be on the Internet at all, that’s a condition of his parole after being jailed for harassing people on the Internet, or some such thing. Ignore him.

  • Physical stalking too, in the case of PZ Myers, which is where the first police report originated.

  • Lliira, I can’t read your mind, but I can read your words, and you are
    lashing out at me in a vile and profane way for things I did not say or

    Oh my fucking God, stop with the faux wide-eyed innocent lip-quivering you’re doing here.

    You come across as being seriously patronizing here.

  • Ima Pseudonym

    Also not going to happen, and there’s no “we” unless you’ve got a rat in your pocket. There’s just you. Grow up and get over it. Do the Montreal police know you’re stalking online again? Maybe someone should let them know, so you can be put somewhere where you can be stabilized with medication.

  • reynard61

    Plus pretty much anyone with CEO, CFO or some such as their title — or the letters MBA behind their name. (There might actually be an exception or two — the late Steve Jobs comes to mind.) But, yeah; I probably should have been a bit more specific there. Secretaries (who do the *real* work in any office) get enough crap piled on them and rarely get paid enough for it.

  • Simongren

    Thanks. It’s weird, I can usually follow what a troll is trying to say but this made less sense then Timecube.

  • Jeff D.

    This is at best an outdated comparison to community theatre vs broadway. While “community theatre” has all sorts of pre-conceived notions as to it’s supposed quality, I’ve been involved in community theatre for about 30 years, and even though they are non-profit (while Broadway is profit-driven), community theatres generally do not throw everyone who shows up to an audition up on stage. That sounds more like a school production. Community theatres also start with a list of roles to be filled and try to find the best possible talent possible to fill them – for the least amount of money, which is for the most part, volunteer. Quality of talent is still the main goal, for both non-professional and professional theatre, within their respective budgets.

  • Jenora Feuer

    Well, one theatre group I was involved in (FASS at the University of Waterloo) explicitly made it a goal that anybody who wanted a part on stage could get a part on stage, so there were always lots of bit characters around. Usually you’d end up with a number of people taking two bit parts and swapping costumes backstage during the intervening scenes.

    Sometimes the parts weren’t even speaking parts. One show had the theme of ‘Hell’ (or, as they said in the introduction, ‘we polled people to see what they thought would be a great theme, and this year, as a result, FASS goes to Hell!’). One scene involved a walk-on keyboard like the movie Big, with damned souls underneath played like the Muppephone… all used to do a version of ‘Do Re Mi’ using the Seven Deadly Sins. (Reverence was not a big thing in FASS.) All you had to do as the part of one of the ‘keys’ was sing the note name on pitch when the guy playing the demon stomped on your key.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    George W, Bush talked a lot about how he was going to run government like a business. If the mass media had bothered to report the simple fact that every business he ran either went bust or got bought out by his rich friends, they would have understood that was a WARNING, not a promise.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    You come across as being seriously patronizing here.

    I’m reading all of Jeff’s posts in the voice of the Smart Gremlin from Gremlins 2. Seems about right.

    (As a bonus, the best financial advice I’m heard yet.)

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    No, OBVIOUSLY that writer needs to be retrained (on their own dime, OF COURSE) to a new trade!

    Hope they like scrubbing toilets.