Over the last three years our staff and elders have worked tirelessly towards bringing vision, evaluation, leadership development, health, and multiplication to every part of the church. Early on, as we sensed our church’s rate of growth would continue, we prayerfully assessed future staffing decisions. The results became clear: We needed to hire a Worship Director, a Children’s Ministry Director, a Congregational Care/Counseling/Seniors Pastor, increase our administrative office support, and ultimately hire an Executive Pastor. All of those have become wonderfully blessed realities, except for the Executive Pastor, and we are right now in the midst of searching for God’s man for this ministry position.
At the close of 2021, the congregation approved a budget for 2022 which included an Executive Pastor’s salary for the final quarter of 2022. A candidate was not found in 2022, so those budget dollars are accruing (which is good since inflation is soaring.) When the right person is found according to God’s timing through the Executive Pastor Screening Team and approval of the Elders, the congregation will have opportunity to interact with him before a congregational vote is called. We had hoped that would align with our annual meeting on January 22, 2023, but if it does not, a special vote will be called as necessary.
We have spoken and written a fair amount about this additional staff hire, but now that this search process is underway, we considered it time to produce this article answering the questions: Why are we hiring an Executive Pastor? And, what does that mean?
These questions will be answered thoroughly in this paper, but in short at the outset, the key characteristic of an Executive Pastor over any other kind of associate pastor is his direct partnership with the Senior Pastor. He partners with the Senior Pastor to make the church’s vision a reality, with the goal of engaging everyone and maximizing all efforts. Consider the following quote about this partnership:
“It has been said that an institution is the lengthening shadow of a visionary leader. What rarely is said is that in the shadow of that visionary leader was another leader who executed the primary leader’s ideas, monitored the budgets, built the infrastructure and systems, and, along the way, cleaned up a few messes. Such is the life of a leader who is ‘second in command.’” (Bruce Hornsby)
Community Grace’s job posting which we have distributed nationally begins with these words…
If you are interested in serving as an Executive Pastor to help move a growing church to the next level of effective ministry, then Warsaw Community Grace is a church you need to consider. Our mission is to glorify God by being Christ-followers who make Christ followers. Our vision is expressed in three statements: WORSHIP THE KING • MATURE AS FAMILY • ENGAGE THE WORLD
The Executive Pastor will partner with the Senior Pastor in overseeing, designing, and multiplying systems to make this mission and vision come to life in our church.
The church is positioned to continue growing, and we believe that hiring the right strategic Executive Pastor is the next crucial step in this process.
In other words, a visionary Senior Pastor and Elder Board operates largely at a “30,000-foot level,” but they must also ensure that on the “ground level” every detail is functioning well and ministries are being developed and overseen to meet the needs of every Christ-follower and Un-churched person we reach. This is a great challenge, and the Executive Pastor fills these operational gaps. I am personally somewhat wired to think this way and have worked on developing our church’s systems. But I know my limitations. I also know the enormous potential of a church having all its systems matured and streamlined to serve every person, family, and ministry in the church, and every person we will reach in the community.
I admire John Piper, former Senior Pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, in many ways. When they were hiring an Executive Pastor back in the 1990’s (when this role was less common than it is today) he described it in these helpful ways:
There are two impulses behind this staffing decision. One has to do with the growth and complexity of Bethlehem’s ministry, and the other has to do with my calling, gifts, and limitations as Senior Pastor.
The Executive Pastor differs from the Senior Pastor in that he gives more immediate oversight to organization: planning, directing, and evaluating the ministries of the church. He is the human nerve-center for the creation, development, staffing, coordinating, and direction of ministries in the church. He sees that these things get done, so that communication, harmony, and faithfulness to the vision prevail. Most immediately he relates directly to the staff as the central sprocket that all their cogs fit into. He serves them by seeing that their efforts cohere with the mission of the church and the other areas of ministry, and that they have the share of resources they need.
Example: Someone gets the vision of implementing a “2000 by 2000” hotline for the next three years and writes up a proposal. This would have an immediate impact on office staff, phone usage, and the ministries of David Livingston (E1) and Tom Steller (E2). It would require not only initial conceptual planning, but weekly design and interaction from someone. This proposal would be funneled to the Executive Pastor. He would bounce it off relevant people, both staff and lay people, and possibly bring a refined proposal to the pastoral staff. The green light would release him to seek out a layperson to put in charge and to oversee the process of how the ministry would be carried forward. There are dozens of such ideas every year in a healthy and dynamic church. And that is just one kind of example.
I love this description because it reflects our reality at Community Grace. We are a growing church, and every idea for new ministry must go through these kinds of processes. This creates a heavy load on our staff and volunteers who may or may not be gifted at these processes. These efforts also require excellent communication and alignment with our mission and vision. Having an Executive Pastor who oversees these processes unleashes the ministries of the church and maximizes the contributions of each staff member and leader.
Piper’s second reason for this hire is that the Senior Pastor is freed up by the Executive Pastor to focus more on study, preaching, trumpeting the vision, and his other giftings. It is much better for a church if their Senior Pastor is operating in his strengths and serving the church in the ways it needs its senior pastor to serve them. I am continually understanding more how I must grow as a leader and what I must defer to others.
Let’s talk more about what an Executive Pastor can mean to us as a church. Much of what comes next is from the book Defining the Executive Pastor Role, written by Phil Taylor.
What kind of person is an Executive Pastor? How are they “wired” by God?
One Executive Pastor tells the story about discovering how he was wired by God to be an Executive Pastor. The pivotal moment came while attending the musical “Les Miserables” with a group of friends. As they watched the spectacular musical, rather than be impressed with the skill of the actors or the sweeping musical score, all he could think was, “There must be someone behind the scenes making all of this run perfectly. Who is running this thing? Who makes sure that everyone is in the right place at the right time? Who calls the under-study when the main actor gets the flu? Who deals with squabbles between the people on stage and those in the orchestra pit? Who is in charge backstage?” It wasn’t long after this that he discovered his calling in the increasingly common role of “Executive Pastor.” This story demonstrates that as with every function in His body, God “wires” some people to serve in this role.
What does the role of the Executive Pastor involve?
Essentially, the Executive Pastor’s role is to oversee the effective detailed implementation of the church’s vision. Led by the Senior Pastor, the Vision Team and Elders form the vision and direction of the church and cast that vision from the pulpit and every other avenue of communication. But, if those leaders get bogged down in the specifics of implementing vision, it limits their availability to lead, kills creativity, and burns them out.
The Executive Pastor takes on the responsibility of leading vison implementation. With the entire organization in mind, he zooms in on every detail and breaks them into manageable bites for the moving parts of the church body. He enacts unified plans of action to prevent loss of momentum. He brings order where there is chaos. He ensures people are equipped, supported, and appreciated.
Further, he helps ministry leaders understand how their ministries fit into the larger vision of the church, whether it is the men’s or women’s ministry, the security team, the assimilation team, the building project, the budget, or any other ministry. He helps leaders understand the goals and metrics of the vision so there are no silo ministries.
Who is the “right” Executive Pastor for our church?
Every Executive Pastor’s job description is different because every Senior Pastor is different, and every church is different. An Executive Pastor’s job description is malleable to fit the context. Numerous tools exist to help determine the best job description and best fit for each Executive Pastor. [Our present Job Description and posting for this position can be read by clicking here. As mentioned, it can be tailored to some degree to fit the best candidate.]
Another useful distinction among Executive Pastors is that some are wired more as EXECUTIVES while others are wired more as PASTORS. The “EXECUTIVES” will gravitate toward policies, procedures, human resources, budgeting, and capital campaigns. The “PASTORS” will identify team members or experts who will do those tasks well, while they focus more on shepherding. They will be the guys focusing more on discipleship during performance evaluations. Is one better than the other? No, and at present, we are looking for an Executive Pastor who brings a healthy balance of both.
As you can see the Executive Pastor can be an enormous blessing to a growing, healthy church. I describe this role as one which removes bottlenecks in our church systems which will allow exponential growth. In my estimation, our work over the last three years has brought many of our systems up to 80-90% of their potential effectiveness, but it’s that final 10-20% development that is the hardest and where key breakdowns occur.
Community Grace is a healthy church, positioned well in our community, with huge potential and a vision to match it, while we aim to maintain our family feel while we grow. It is exciting to be part of this church with you. I ask for your partnership and for your prayer for me, the Elders and Staff’s continued wisdom. The Bible makes clear that a church who prays for its leadership will experience great blessing.
Seeking your support and prayers for our Screening Team, this man and his and his family’s transition, and God’s preferred future for Community Grace,