Jim Blake took a circuitous route to ministry—by way of the corporate world and the CEO’s office.

Jim Blake used to see himself as a businessman with a deep interest in spirituality. Now he knows himself to be a spiritual man with a knack for business. And that has made all the difference.

Five years after he was chosen to be CEO of Unity World Headquarters, Blake was ordained a Unity minister in a quiet ceremony at Unity Village. Although he was well into his tenure as CEO, having the ordination stole draped around his neck changed his outlook.

“Immediately I felt a call to a greater responsibility,” Blake says. “It made me more sensitive to how I showed up and what people expected from a reverend.”

Blake, 54, is in an unusual position as both business leader and minister. Although ministers are sometimes considered CEOs of their churches, Blake does not foresee himself heading a church. But being a minister in the position of Unity CEO has helped make inroads not only with other ministers but also with partners and donors.

The only place it does not heighten his credibility, he notes, is in the secular world.

“People want to know more about your corporate credentials than your ministerial credentials,” he comments. Blake has both.

First He Laughed

Becoming a minister was a circuitous route for Blake—in and out of seminaries, back and forth between Unity and the corporate world.

Fifteen years ago, Blake was working at Unity as chief information officer and vice president of operations when he was not so much called to ministry as prodded. After he made a presentation at an employee meeting, he was summoned to speak with Rev. Dorothy Pierson, a longtime Unity matriarch who was near 90. She didn’t mince words.

“You need to go to ministerial school,” she told Blake.

“My initial reaction was to laugh,” Blake remembers. “And she said, ‘No, I’m being serious. There’s a bigger work for you to do here, and you need to go to ministerial school to do it.’

“And for whatever reason, that moment meant something. There was a power in that moment.”

Yet he didn’t accept it or believe it at first, so he didn’t act on it. A couple of weeks later, Pierson asked him point-blank if he had enrolled yet.

“No, Dorothy, I didn’t,” he told her. “I don’t know that that’s my calling.”

“If you look deep enough, you’ll find it,” she replied.

So he took it into meditation.

“Sure enough,” he says, “there was a calling that had become very loud, that this was something I should at least look into. And then the synchronicities started to happen.”

Unity suddenly offered to pay tuition for any executives who wanted to enroll in its ministerial school.

Blake still didn’t know why he was being guided toward seminary, but he applied and was accepted. He attended happily with classmates he still holds dear.

He was in a great job, studying for ministry, rising in the organization—when his path took a turn.

A friend recommended Blake for a corporate job. It hadn’t occurred to Blake to leave Unity, but his inner voice started insisting: Leave the nest.

“I took it into meditation probably half a dozen times because I was not getting the answer I wanted!” he remembers. Ultimately, he followed the guidance.

Accepting the corporate job meant abandoning seminary because there were no online classes at the time. Blake entered his new job steeped in spiritual principles but wondering how he could possibly translate them for a hard-core business group.

Spiritual Teachings, Secular Language

“When I showed up, the first thing I started to notice was how much they had lost confidence in themselves and didn’t believe in what they were capable of as an organization,” he says.

At Unity, he would have devised an affirmation for his team to use. So that’s what he did. He just didn’t call it that.

“I created what I told them was a mantra,” he said. “The very first one was Change is our friend. I told them we were going to be doing a lot of change and that we needed to embrace it and that it was going to get us to where we wanted to be.”

Blake increased the team’s prosperity consciousness by constantly talking up their successes. He taught them to set intentions (which he termed goals) and used the methods of Nonviolent Communication he’d learned at Unity to diffuse tense meetings and deescalate conflicts.

Higher-ups began to notice.

“People in the corporate world called me out for that particular leadership style,” he says. “[They were] thinking I was a linebacker and expected me to lead through fear and intimidation, command and control. And I was the opposite. That led to some criticism from my peers, from my bosses—not necessarily that I wasn’t doing my job well or critical of my performance. I just didn’t fit in.”

He spent five years directing customer operations in the utility industry then overseeing product development for a traffic engineering firm. One evening he was invited back to Unity for a retirement party honoring Charlotte Shelton, who had been CEO during his previous tenure.

Blake was inundated by people suggesting he should be the next CEO. He demurred but sitting in the room with 50 old friends from Unity, he was overcome with a feeling of love and respect for each of them—an experience he noted was foreign in the corporate world.

I could come back to Unity and be my whole self, without ridicule or criticism, he thought. I could take my spiritual work directly to the workplace, and it would seem natural, it would be loved and appreciated, it would not be criticized. I wouldn’t be different. I would get to be a whole person in this role.

He moved into the Unity CEO chair in September 2016.

Jim Blake took a circuitous route to ministry—by way of the corporate world and the CEO’s office.

An Unexpected Path

Settling into his new job on the prayer-saturated grounds of Unity Village, Blake turned his thoughts to his seminary education. “It started to feel like unfinished business, like something I had committed to Dorothy [Pierson] and myself that I needed to go ahead and complete.”

He researched New Thought schools and—again through a series of synchronicities—enrolled in the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, which offered online courses.

Colemon had been a Unity minister who in 1974 formed a predominantly Black branch of New Thought called the Universal Foundation for Better Living, based in Chicago.

“What I found was just an incredible level of teachers and professors there,” Blake says. “And the curriculum was quite different than anything else I had experienced.”

His favorite course was Womanist Theology, the study of Christianity from the unique perspective of Black women.

Blake had already instituted diversity, equity, and inclusion goals at Unity, but his coursework and time with Black teachers and classmates deepened his interest and commitment.

“There was much to be learned about the Black experience in this country, in church, and in religion that I had no idea about,” he says.

In 2021, with his accredited Master of Divinity degree from the Colemon seminary, Blake was ordained a Unity minister. He remembers sitting quietly in Fillmore Chapel on the day of ordination until his name was called, with most of the other ordinands joining the ceremony by Zoom because of the pandemic.

“It felt like a private accomplishment,” he notes. “It felt more sacred to me and more meaningful because I’m really the only person who understood why I was doing it anyway. Not a lot of fanfare, just a sacred moment for me to bring it to a conclusion.”

Practice Meditation, Trust Intuition

Blake says his five-year stint in the corporate world prepared him to reinvigorate the 130-year-old spiritual nonprofit that is Unity.

It familiarized him with world-class methods of product development and innovation, and he learned how successful organizations stay on top. He also practiced spiritual principles in business.

Leadership starts within, Blake says, and a shift in consciousness at the top of an organization can improve the lives of everyone.

The same is true for a family or for personal relationships. Not everyone will feel called to ministry or business, but Blake notes we each have a purpose.

Tools like meditation and trusting our intuition lead us to each next right endeavor on our journey.

When he took the job as Unity CEO, Blake committed to a daily meditation practice because he had seen stress destroy some executives.

Meditation, he says, “has been a huge contributor to my ability to have success and longevity and deal with the things that come up unexpectedly and help me to respond rather than react.”

He also has learned to rely on intuition, although he started with doubts.

“I didn’t even know I had intuition,” he explains. “I thought intuition was reserved for psychics and gifted people. But a deep understanding of Unity teachings tells us all we have access to divine wisdom and the wisdom within.”

Facts and data remain useful, but at Unity Blake naturally combines his spiritual nature with business acumen.  “Whether it’s using my spiritual practice to guide my decision-making, or whether it’s us as a leadership team using affirmations and prayer to guide our group decisions, we don’t make decisions without some form of spiritual practice or spiritual principle involved.”

Jim Blake writes about the convergence of spiritual principles and best business practices in The Zen Executive: Gems of Wisdom for Enlightened Leadership (Unity Books, 2022). The book spells out his system for creating a culture of trust and innovation, working from the inside out. To order, visit unitybooks.org/zenexecutive. For more information, visit iamjimblake.com.

This article appeared in Unity Magazine®.