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September 2, 2020
The executive pastor role is difficult to describe, and it can be even harder to fill.
Many executive pastors feel that their role is a catch-all for chaos—the everything-and-anything pastor who doesn’t let any of the important details fall through the cracks.
This responsibility can feel daunting. Especially for a church that is growing and figuring out how to delegate new resources, hire new staff, and create new programs.
The executive pastor role can easily feel, at the same time, both impossible and necessary.
But there are many gifted people out there who are perfectly suited for this position. They thrive when tasked with these responsibilities. They are gifted in the way a corporate executive needs to be gifted, but they have the heart, character, and calling that pulls them toward local church ministry.
Whether you’re an executively gifted pastor, an executive pastor looking to round out your skillset, or a growing church searching for an executive pastor, here are the 14 skills every executive pastor needs.
Being administratively gifted is different from being detail-oriented. A book editor can be helpfully detail-oriented. A box boy at Target can be helpfully detail-oriented. But being administratively gifted is more than that—it is a meta-skill.
Being administratively gifted means that you know how to create and manage systems that make the details work for your church. This may include hiring and leading a team of detail-oriented people. But being administratively gifted means that you need to know how to creatively work on the back end of details—on the models and systems that keep the inflow and outflow of details efficient, smooth, productive, and comprehensive.
Not every executive pastor would fit in every church. If your church already has a highly competent administrator and a senior pastor with strong visionary skills, the executive pastor may need to take on more preaching, budgeting, and boots-on-the-ground team leadership responsibilities. If the church has an administrative vacuum and a strong preaching pastor, but no vision and a bloated leadership staff, then the executive pastor position would make more sense as an administrator/efficiency expert.
Some of these variables are fixed, and some are flexible. Some people can choose to fulfill an executive pastor position that they’re not most suited for—and they can do it well—and some of them can’t. The church’s hiring committee or human resources department needs to do the hard work of figuring out what kinds of executively gifted people they are looking for, what kind of people they would be willing to hire even if they aren’t perfectly suited for their job description, and what kind of fixed traits are deal breakers for the position.
An executive pastor needs to be able to cast a vision for the church. And, if the senior pastor has a visionary skillset, then the executive pastor needs to be able to participate in dialogue with the senior pastor in a contributive role. More than that, the executive pastor is typically responsible for translating larger visions into concrete details so that the team can evaluate whether the vision, timeframe and methods are doable and affordable.
At the end of the day, the executive pastor should be tasked with being the numbers person. This means that the executive pastor will lead the team in everything related to church finance, even if that means outsourcing most of the tasks to others who are more gifted in their respective domains. For example, while the church administrator may be highly gifted in accounting, the executive pastor will not only oversee that position, but also the church’s investments, overall financial strategy, and short- and long-term financial goals and relationships.
The executive pastor will have an eye for achieving small percentile advantages in every financial tool the church uses in order to enable the church to build wealth so that it can more successfully and sustainable resource its ministry interests.
The average church staff member will have the luxury of focusing on day-to-day tasks related to the business of the church itself. Preparing lessons. Cleaning rooms. Planning events. Counseling. Outreach.
But while everyone else is playing checkers, the executive pastor needs to be playing chess. The executive pastor is ultimately tasked with enabling the church to win the longer, more complicated game of building a lasting and powerful legacy in the community so that other church staff members can focus their concentration on achieving excellence in each of their respective domains of responsibility and expertise.
A leader who freaks out when chaos strikes will lead their church to ruin. Other staff members can panic when something goes wrong, but it needs to be someone’s job to maintain emotional stability and clear-headedness when everything feels off-tilt. That’s the job of the executive pastor. Because the executive pastor is tasked with managing the complexities and chaos of the church, it falls to that position to set the emotional tone for the staff when handling difficult issues.
As the executive pastor, you should be able to compartmentalize what are your personal feelings about a situation from your job, which is to keep your church organization running smoothly.
The executive pastor is, ideally, the person who can step into any role and do it very well. Yet—and this is a bit counterintuitive—the executive pastor’s job is itself not to do any of those things. The executive pastor is tasked with leading the teams that execute the necessary tasks that keep the church running.
The more on-the-ground tasks the executive pastor insists on doing, the less able he or she is to carry out his managerial duties. If the executive pastor decides to participate heavily in the accounting process because he is gifted in accounting, then he is underserving the other teams of volunteers and staff who need a leader.
Because the executive pastor position can easily become a catch-all for every random detail, it’s easy for the job itself to balloon into something unmanageable. It’s important that the executive pastor has a very clear sense of his or her own job description so that other staff and volunteers have the opportunity to grow into more responsibility and so that the executive pastor position doesn’t become something that should really take 2-3 pastors to successfully complete.
Executive pastors are often very gifted communicators, and more than other church staff positions will receive opportunities to write, speak, and engage with the culture on a larger stage. While these opportunities can be fantastic platforms to grow the church and have an impact for the kingdom, it’s important that the executive pastor focuses a majority of his or her work hours and energy on the church itself.
The role of the executive pastor should not be a ceremonial position—it should not be something that is determined by cultural praise, but by personal character and competence. The valuable executive pastor will always work diligently to keep a strong connection between his giftedness and the wellbeing of the church in this respect.
The executive pastor should have a steady hand in the shaping of the church culture. This starts with the senior leadership team. It is important for someone on the senior leadership team to take ownership of this major product—cultivating a healthy personal culture within the church.
How your senior team relates to one another, and consequently how they relate to junior staff, and consequently how those staff interface with members, will directly determine how people feel when they enter and participate in your church.
As we mentioned earlier, attention to detail is different from administrative giftedness. It is most important for an executive pastor to be administratively gifted. And yet, it is likewise important for the executive pastor to have attention to detail—for two reasons.
First, if it falls to the executive pastor to hire detail-oriented people, then it is necessary for him to be able to assess their level of competence in this regard, which requires that the executive pastor himself or herself must be detail-oriented to some degree.
Second, there are busy seasons in which the executive pastor must compensate for a staff shortage, vacation, or abundance of work by taking over for other roles. Because it falls to the executive pastor to manage the efficiency and effectiveness of these teams, it is important for him to be able to flex into these positions when necessary.
Church leaders are called to be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2). One of the most important ways a church can remain above reproach is by having a human resource department to manage hirings, firings, on-boarding processes, training, and to ensure compliance with all federal, state, and local employment laws. This not only protects the church from liability but also contributes to the healthfulness of the church culture.
The executive pastor should have a very clear sense of how to integrate new members onto the team. Because many churches have teams composed of a mix of staff and volunteers, the executive pastor must shape the onboarding process in such a way that helps new team members to internalize the culture of the church so that they can extend the mission of the church in the ministry in which they participate.
A church culture is very delicate, and the onboarding process very often sets the tone not only for the team culture of a specific ministry but every individual that ministry touches.
There is an important distinction between an executive pastor and a church administrator—and it is that the executive pastor is an actual pastor.
While the executive pastor is valuable to the church because of his business-oriented skills, it is important to remember that part of his role is to exercise real spiritual responsibility for the sake of his church staff and members, and the manner in which he conducts himself as a pastor has greater spiritual implications than the average corporate executive. The executive pastor must be able and willing to teach, counsel, and pastor when called upon—this is, after all, half of the job title.
Does your church have an executive pastor? Are you an executive pastor looking to improve your professional skills? Are you a growing church considering the addition of an executive pastor?
Be sure to carefully consider the skills here, and whether or not those who you are considering for the position bring these qualities to your team. More than that, as you craft the job description for your executive pastor, carefully consider not only what skills you hope he or she will bring to your team, but what sort of executive pastor your church specifically needs. Ideally, you want to make a 30-year hire. Make sure that the thoughtfulness you put into choosing and fashioning your executive pastor is suited to this ideal.