executive-pastor

For the past four decades the number of executive pastors has grown across America. Before the second half of the twentieth century, the staff position was rare to non-existent. With that growth has come a commensurate growth in confusion about the position. Whereas traditional programmatic roles such as students, senior adults, music and worship, and children have had clearly defined expectations, the role of executive pastor has been nebulous and changing.

Two Historical Broad Paths

In our informal survey over the past ten years, we have noted two major roles assumed by executive pastors. Some held responsibilities related to staff oversight. In some churches, all staff except the senior pastor were under the organizational responsibility of the executive pastor. In other churches, the primary role was staff oversight, but not inclusive of all staff.

The second major role has been business/administrative. Though I am reticent to compare churches to corporations, this role does have many similarities to a chief financial officer in the corporate world.

On some occasions, the executive pastor holds both staff oversight as well as operational leadership. In those churches, there are typically other staff under the executive pastor who help him carry on the heavy responsibilities.

Five Trends

In recent years we have noticed five clear trends related to the role of the executive pastor. Not all executive pastors, of course, would be included in all of these trends, but many would relate.

  1. More executive pastors in smaller churches. Ten to fifteen years ago it was rare to find an executive pastor in a church with an average worship attendance less than 3,000. That has certainly changed each subsequent year. Now it is common to see executive pastors in churches with an attendance around 2,000 or even lower. I know of several churches in the 800 to 1,200 attendance range that now have executive pastors, or they are seeking one.
  2. More executive pastors have staff responsibilities. Senior pastors of larger churches are eagerly seeking leaders who can provide staff oversight. That has now become one of the principal reasons an executive pastor is called to a church.
  3. A growing number of executive pastors are also teaching pastors. Those who hold this dual role are still in the minority, but the numbers are growing. I hear more senior pastors say that their ideal executive pastor would have good leadership skills to oversee a staff, good business and administrative skills to lead the operations of the church, and good preaching and teaching skills sufficient to be in the pulpit at least once a month. The “Superman executive pastor “ is evolving, at least expectations of one.
  4. More executive pastors have oversight of multiple venues. I have noted in earlier blogposts the growth of churches with multiple venues. It would make sense then that more executive pastors would be expected to lead the staff and operations of each of these venues or campuses.
  5. More executive pastors have a combination of business training and theological training. It is becoming more common to see executive pastors who have, for example, one business degree and one or two theological degrees, or vice versa. It makes sense. More executive pastors are expected to be both theologians and well-equipped business leaders.

What is the Future for the Role of the Executive Pastor?

In simplest terms, more will be expected, both in responsibilities and training. The better equipped of these executive pastors will be in high demand and relatively low supply. It is fast becoming a “hot” church staff position.

When I note trends, I am often perceived to be an advocate of those trends. Many times, as in the case of the trends of executive pastor, I am still processing the information. I am a long way away from becoming either an advocate or a detractor. But I would love to hear from you. My readers typically have opinions, and most of them are good.

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Comments

  1. says

    The executive pastor position appears to be more functional than many others when you consider it from the perspective or Acts 6. I will probably never be in a church which needs an executive pastor, but I would rather call the position what it is more biblically… deacon. It is like having the chairman of deacons on staff.

  2. Tommy Rucker says

    I, too, will never be in a church with an executive pastor. I guess I’m simple minded, but what is left for the senior pastor to do if the executive pastor oversees the staff, the programs, and does the preaching?

    • Steve Smith says

      Our church believes very much in gifts-based ministry. Many senior pastors who are gifted at teaching and preaching are simply terrible administrators. Churches that expect a senior pastor to be preaching, casting vision, praying and caring for the congregation AND having to attend to the business affairs and ministry programming of the church are likely expecting way too much from him., not only from the standpoint of time and attention but also from the standpoint of gifts.

  3. Brian Preston says

    I think we would benefit tremendously from welcoming this role. My father served as a lead elder for several years before being called on staff to a similar/executive pastor roles. The comparison in the role is clear. The benefit arises from having a pastor full time dedicated to the well being spiritual nature of the staff and giving a teaching(lead) pastor an opportunity to focus of preaching, teaching, counseling the partitioners. Needed and wanted is a great way to put it.

  4. says

    As a lay leader, professional staff member and faith-based nonprofit leader, I’ve observed that many pastors are so overloaded with the expectations of church members that they be all things to all people all of the time. One of the great gifts of the Executive Pastor role is to unburden the pastor from administrative and logistics in the church. This allows the pastor to focus on those things for which he was specifically called – spending time with the Lord, studying, preaching, teaching, vision-casting, etc. without getting bogged down in the minutiae of day-to-day operations.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Karen –

      Well stated. In many churches the executive pastor complements the lead or senior pastor in the handling of diverse responsibilities.

    • Steve Quinn says

      I wholeheartedly agree, Karen. As an XP, my goal is to free up the senior pastor to do what he is most gifted, called, and charged to do — preach the gospel. My pastor is incredibly gifted to preach and share the gospel while giving broad oversight to the vision. God has gifted me to execute on his plans and to mobilize our staff and lay leadership to do the same.

  5. Heartspeak says

    The emergence of the Executive Pastor role is a tacit admission that the ‘one guy does it all’ approach and expectation for THE pastor is unrealisitic. I long for the day when leaders in the Church are funtioning primarily in their gifting AND for when they come from the congregation, and even, without pay…. anathema, I know!

    • says

      I was going to mention multiple pastor/elders leading and serving as shepherds, not an overseeing board, Heartspeak, but I didn’t wanna take the time to challenge our widely held “THE Pastor” concept. Thanks for pointing out my laziness!
      Our church plant, like many in the past few years, is organized biblically with pastors/elders and deacons.
      Ultimately this IS the answer; for with multiple pastors (elders is plural in Scripture from Acts 14:23 on), different gifts, talents, and skills serve the church much better than any one man can. I would still say, though, that the office of executive pastor – as defined in the USA lately, pointed out in this survey – is best described as a full-time deacon.

      • Greg says

        As an XP who is also an elder, I disagree strongly with your assessment of the XP role being best described as a “full-time deacon.” We have a shared leadership polity with two elders on staff at our church. It gives us a very well rounded approach to leadership while emphasizing accountability and humility.

        As an unrelated issue, I think that the senior leader model is wrought with many, many flaws. As someone stated earlier, the issue at hand is regarding gifts. We preach it for the body but ignore it for our leadership? Many churches are not as effective as they could be because of their senior leader polity.

  6. David Bond says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thanks for a very interesting post. I have also observed that the Executive Pastor title seems to be showing up more frequently and in often surprising places. It does seem to be a “superman” type of role.

    A couple of thoughts provoked by this post:

    1. Does the emergence of the Executive Pastor position correspond with a decline in a Minister of Education (or similar title) position? In other words, are churches choosing to fill a staff position with an Executive Pastor (who also speaks to large groups and administrates paid staff) rather than an Education/Discipleship staff position (who develops lay leaders, works to lead small groups)? Or are churches who add Executive Pastors doing so with an ME position already on staff?

    2. If the above is true – choosing an Exec Pastor in place of a Min Ed type – does this reflect a trend among churches to value the large group/preaching ministry (more CEO mentality) approach over a very intentional/strategic small groups strategy that may move slower at first but has the potential for greater long term, healthy growth?

    My observation is that most Exec Pastors become so consumed with administration, staff, etc. that even if they do have the background and interest in small group discipleship/Bible study/Sunday School, there is simply no way for them to invest the necessary time in it.

    Thanks for your blog and insights.

  7. Bruce Winter says

    I’m not sure I agree with Jeff’s comment about a Deacon role. I see this as a shepherding role and not just administrative. If it isn’t an equipping, shepherding role, it’s not really a pastoral role. I’ve seen it applied in several different contexts. In larger churches this role shepherds the other pastoral shepherds and provides equipping direction to paid and unpaid workers. In smaller churches, it’s more like a “glue” pastor role, making others more effective in their ministries by connecting and supporting their work. In each case, this executive pastor role is designed to be a servant and support to the rest of the church. Generally this role is more in the background than the senior or preaching pastor.

  8. says

    As a former Minister of Education now in associational work, David Bond’s questions are of great interest. As I view the various job requests from churches, rarely do I see a church seeking a ME. Has this position been sacrificed for Exec. Pastors and pastoral specialists? As for deacons serving as administrative leaders, I cannot remember a church in which deacons who saw themselves as administrators did any ministry. Thanks, Dr. Rainer, for a great post.

    • says

      Tom,

      I have seen some trends in churches who staff based on a prophet (senior pastor, teaching pastor), preist (discipleship, education, counseling [possibly categories of the ME model]), and king (executive pastor). I think these categories are more helpful in utilizing gifts and talents appropriately.

      Dane

  9. says

    Very timely topic. Our church has recently passed the 1000 mark, and as growth has occured, I as the senior leader have found more and more of my time devoted to administrative details. As I type this I have been at work for 7 hours and have not spent one minute in study, sermon writing, or pastoral duties. Outside of a short amount of prayer time, it’s all been administrative duties, which I happen to enjoy. I took a ten minute break to read some blogs, and here I am! However, for me to focus on my sweet spot (which would be more with preaching, vision, and evangelism) we simply must have the Executive position on board. If we didn’t have a large mortgage payment this position would already be here, but we needed the building! Ha ha – none of it seems easy, but I wouldn’t trade the thrill of ministry for anything. Loving every minute, but constantly looking to see how we can be more effective in expandind the kingdom. From my perspective, the Executive position is the way to go and evenually we will figure out how to get there. Thanks for the post Dr. Rainer!

  10. says

    Hello Bro. Rainer,

    It seems like so much of this has to do with branding. When I first think of an “Executive Pastor” I think of a man who is doing the work that probably the Senior Pastor ought to be doing. But after giving this some consideration I realized that the role you described is often given to what churches of my stripe call an “Associate Pastor.” To be honest, I like the “Associate Pastor” title better because it sounds like someone who is an extension of the Senior Pastor, as opposed as someone doing the tough administrative work while the Senior Pastor sits in his office surrounded by his books. (Not saying that that is what a EP is, but I can see how someone could come to that conclusion, albeit incorrectly.)

    I tend to think that this role, whatever name it may be given, will continue to be an important role in any church that is able to grow to a few hundred or more because there are only so many hours in the day, and only so much the Senior Pastor can do, making “EP’s” or “AP’s” increasingly vital to the daily management of a church.

    As always, thanks for the insights.

    • Steve Smith says

      Tom, the only issue I see with you description of the Executive Pastor (or Associate Pastor) as an extension of the Senior Pastor is that it implies that the two men have the same gifts and abilities. An Associate Pastor is just that……one who shares the workload, preaching, visiting hospitals, etc. The XP, by contrast, compliments (rather than supplements) the Senior Pastor’s role by doing the things the SP is not gifted to do, typically the business and organizational administration of the church. Not always, but most often, those with the gifts of Teaching, Prophecy, Exhortation (common to SPs) don’t have the gifts of Administration, Service, etc. (more common to XPs).

  11. says

    Dr Rainer, Our church of 200 has had a volunteer admin pastor for a couple years now. He oversees budgeting, facility improvements, legalities, and anything that deals with the “business” side of the church. He is a CPA and does an excellent job. We would be lost without him!

    • David Davis says

      I am a member of a church that is in the transition from a church plant to an organized and established church. A few months ago the assistant pastor was made the executive pastor (a church with a 100 – 150 members mind you) and since then everything the senior pastor has been talking about doing such as choosing deacons are now no longer being mentioned. The response is, ” well the executive pastor does not feel we need that or he is still praying about it.” Essentially, it feels that the Senior Pastor heard a cool title and decided that he needed one because he is now out of his league on how to organize a church. Further, many times people are left wondering if the Senior Pastor is the Senior Pastor. Frankly, i think if the position is needed great, but pastors are jumping on a trend just because its cool to have an executive pastor.

  12. Ben Overby says

    Thanks for posting this. I am in a very rare position based on the numbers you gave, as I am the XP at a 3 year old church plant with about 200 people. Our senior pastor is what I would call a starter, in that he gets people excited, has lots of new ideas, and casts the vision for where our church is going. My role is to come behind him as a builder, and develop all the systems and processes to make the vision happen. I can do the behind the scenes work of getting everything organized and providing the rails that keeps everyone running in the same direction, so it frees him up to spend time with people and preparing to preach. My job is to make everyone else better at what they do, and insure we don’t get off track of what we believe God has called our church to do. This role may not be quite as important to more established churches, but I think most church plants need someone to help them with this side of things.

    • Ted Wlazlowski says

      Hi Ben,

      I think you have very eloquently encapsulated the XP role. I agree with everything except the importance to a larger church. There are always process improvements, refinements, maintaining alignment between vision and execution. In a larger church the role transitions to more of a leader of leaders…and I believe you are well on your way to significant impact for the kingdom with your calling and dedication to “getting the right things done.”

    • Steve Smith says

      I think if the Senior Pastor is spending the amount of time he should be spending in sermon preparation, prayer, personal evangelism, and mentoring and developing younger leaders, that’s more than a full-time job. Even in a smaller church, I don’t see how he could effectively do these things and still have to manage the business affairs, ministry programs, and committee meetings that are all part of any church life.

  13. LeeJ says

    Well the way that I see it, it seems more like church is becoming a business. Where is God in this? Does God lead people anymore??? How can you use supernatural power when you have a “go to work” mentality? The church system is so much like the world until I don’t even feel the Spirit anymore. In times past, a man did tell me that his friend became a pastor because he stated that there is a “profit” in the pulpit!!!

    • Don Jones says

      I think he was talking about a “prophet”. Really big difference there! A prophet is someone gifted in bringing the Word of God to the people.

  14. says

    I think we all need one even if you are great at administration you not able to give your time to doing all the church needs one person trying to lead a flock is not going to grow it will only grow to level of what that one person can and will and grow will stop there and we become content but real grow is to grow and adjust to the needs of and demands of the churches we are call to pastor I need one and we are looking for one and win that person is in place we will grow more

  15. says

    I feel the role of executive pastor is critical in churches today. Not only does this allow the Senior Pastor to focus on vision, preaching, teaching, and shepherding, it also allows a person who is gifted in administration to make sure that the church is staying compliant with regulations and laws that are always changing and are getting more complex (human resource laws, IRS regulations, contribution processing policies, etc).

  16. says

    Great post Dr. Rainer! I am not “up” on the reasons behind the increase in the need for, or the shift to, an XP, but I can share with you our experience at Southpointe. Our Lead Pastor is a high level leader. Great vision and passion to see the reduction of lostness in our circle of influence. (5 mile circle) He leads from a 30,000 foot perspective. He is constantly casting vision with staff and the congregation. He is also connecting with other local churches to see how we can partner to reach the unchurched. For him to be in meetings and taking care of the day-to-day operations of the church would drastically limit his time doing what God has called him to do. Our XP used to be the youth pastor here at Southpointe. He is a numbers freak show! :) God has gifted him in this area. He stepped into the XP position when our current lead pastor joined the Southpointe team. Our XP has taken on the duties of giving leadership to the finances of the church, Kingdom Come, (Missions), our Groups Ministry and a few other things. Most of this was on our Lead Pastors plate which enabled him to lead from about the 5,000 foot level. Not too healthy. The shift for us been great. Both Pastors are now in their sweet spot and our pastoral staff team functions at a high level of interdependent leadership. Fun to be a part of.

    I am the Worship & Arts Pastor at Southpointe. We average 450 – 500 in worship.

  17. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    I appreciate your insight to this role in the church and your work in advancing the Kingdom. As a new XP, I have noticed that the role varies for each church. With this role being relatively new, it has been difficult to wrap my arms around a clear cut understanding of the typical expectations for the XP. A resource that has been extremely helpful to me in defining the role and helping equip me is the Xpastor network (www.xpastor.org). Also, I have come to see my role in the purest sense as helping our team and ultimately the Lead Pastor accomplish the mission and vision God has called us to. I am excited to see how the XP role will continue to develop and be used within churches to accomplish God’s mission!

  18. says

    Thom,

    I really enjoy reading your insights on the trends that are affecting the interrelational staff dependencies in our American churches. Do you see this in other countries around the globe, or is this possibly distinctly related to and a postlude of the last decade’s “Leadership” movement in the U.S.?

    Thanks!
    Joel Taylor

    • Thom Rainer says

      Joel –

      The recent growth of EPs has been primarily in the U.S. from my observations. I do have, however, a large number of international readers. Perhaps some of them can offer input.

      • Fraser says

        I’ll input re this post. I’m a full time pastor in the U.K. but studied and served in the USA for four years.
        Executive pastors are all to do with the size of the church, so the USA, having a good number of larger churches, has more than most. Church leadership can also be a little more corporate in USA churches also, something Eugene Petersen picks up on in some of his books, so it’s not surprising some churches are utilising business models or terminology here too.
        I think a relevant issue here is plural eldership, something A. Strauch of Colorado wrote well on. The full weight of the ‘ body ‘ of elders/pastors/bishops (paul uses all three terms in addressing the same group of leaders in Acts 20) must come into play – yet with scope for paid individuals thus free to devote more time to the task, whatever aspects of oversight need attention, eg. the ministry of the word, organisational issues arising, as they do with scale. I’m not thinking here of eg an elder board who hire and fire etc; that set up is hard to justify from all the NT scriptures on eldership. So XP’s or whatever it’s needed is fine, but let not the rest of the eldership team (body of elders in an established church, not a plant) be put into the shade at the same time. There will be first among equals (Luke 6v12), but a biblical leadership table is round, not rectangular (corporate).

  19. William Barnett says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thank you for your post. It was very timely for me. I have served in the church in nuerous capacities for over 25 years – except the role of pastor. My direct calling is Ministry Coordination and Church Growth. I am seeking God’s will and confirmation as to where He would like me to go with my gifting. My heart and passion is to equip people to serve the Body of Christ,while helping them to realize their potential and unique giftedness, edifying the Church and glorifying God. Our church has an executive pastor, however, my role is sometimes diminished because of overlap of duties and an unclear understanding of the two roles. I am the Coordinator of Lay Ministries and have served in this capacity for more than 20 years. I am very excited to be attending the Lifeway Transformational Church Consulting conference in February. Thank you so much for your insights and your ministry to people like me and others. I purpose in my heart to be a support and encouragement to people seeking to serve. God bless you Dr. Rainer.

  20. Lee Bailey says

    LeeJ,
    I completely understand your point of view and might feel the same way had I not grown up as a PK. As a 16-year-old, my dad hurt his back climing a ladder to change the sign in the church parking lot. He pastored, and still does pastor, a small, rural church of about 200 members. In that moment, God began to deal with my heart about putting myself in a position to help do the things that anyone could do so that the pastor would only have to do those things that ONLY he could do. So, at least for me, this is all about God giving me an opportunity to serve in a position that I believe in my heart He called me to at 16. I have A LOT to learn about this position,(and thanks to Dr. Rainer for providing much needed discussion about it) but my heart is that I want my pastor (who takes 20-30 hours per week of study for each sermon) to give himself over to the Word and allow him to seek the Lord with large blocks of uninterupted time.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thank you Lee. I appreciate what you do for your church and your pastor. In many ways you model a great executive pastor.

  21. Jonathan Fretwell says

    The Only Problem is when the Executive Pastor believes he has the Responsibility for the Spiritual Welfare of the Senior and They Respond as if the Senior Pastor is Senile or that The Senior Pastor Does not Exist, Thinking that He is the Actual Pastor or the Actual Head of the Ministry.

  22. Executively executive says

    From reading as many posts as I am able, I think what many people are missing is that Thom referred to the XP as analogous to a CFO of a corporation in some cases. When churches begin to grow and have several hundred thousands into the millions of dollars in annual givings, the responsibility of administrating that alone becomes onerous; supporting groups and missions, the human resources responsibilities of a larger staff, the analysis of income and expense, etc. I can appreciate the desire for a church to be small, nimble and effective on a personal level. That’s not my intention to argue. But with years of financial background, I can state for sure there are effective strategies to use funds with wisdom and purpose.

    An individual with a business, accounting or financial degree and with either an additional degree in divinity or simply a heart for ministry can be a great asset to a church with big responsibilities. A senior pastor will not always know which amortization schedule is best for their building mortgage or whether or not to ladder rolling CD maturities or that it may be smarter to hire two part time employees in place of one full time employee as a tax strategy, etc.

    I think as the church continues to grow in America and the operational horizon becomes more complex, in many cases I feel the role or position of an executive pastor is inevitable and necessary.

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