4 things that make a great executive pastor
The most significant relationship in the church is between the Senior Pastor and the Executive Pastor. It’s almost a given that these two influential leaders need to be unified regarding vision, complement each other’s strengths, and compensate for each other’s weaknesses. While their roles are very different, each plays a unique and significant part of your church’s ministry. Therefore, having the right Executive Pastor on your staff is critical. So if you are looking to hire one, or you currently are one wanting to increase your effectiveness, here are four things that make an exceptional Executive Pastor.
Reflect the heart of the leader
The chief aim of a great Executive Pastor is to reflect the heart of the leader. Getting to know the Senior Pastor’s passions, goals and priorities is vital. The Executive Pastor should be the Senior Pastor’s chief representative, main confidant, and most reliable associate. This relationship must be characterized by trust and transparency. And that takes intentionality. It won’t happen by simply sitting in meetings together or working on the same project. Instead, it will require relational interdependence that comes from common experience and shared passion for the mission of the church.
Recognize your role
An exceptional Executive Pastor recognizes his main role is to make the Senior Pastor successful. Once the Executive Pastor knows and reflects the heart of the leader, he can begin to re-cast the leader’s vision, - not his own. When it comes to defending the leader, a wise Executive Pastor knows he must support publicly, yet confront privately. Again, the relationship must be healthy enough for the Executive Pastor to challenge, question, and give direction to the Senior Pastor. But all these conversations must be done in person, and in a private environment.
Lead from the second chair
Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson wrote a thought-provoking book called Leading From the Second Chair. In it, the authors discuss the unique role of “second chair” leaders. Those leaders who have substantial authority and influence, but are not the organization’s highest, “first chair” leader.
Bonem and Patterson discussed three paradoxical themes. The Subordinate - Leader paradox, the Deep - Wide paradox, and the Contentment - Dreaming paradox. Most Executive Pastors can readily relate to these tensions. They probably have significant leadership abilities, but still are in a subordinate role to the senior leader. They most likely have advanced technical skills, yet need to remain at a 30,000 foot level and focus on the big picture. They undoubtedly are highly driven individuals who dream big, yet still need to manage the tension of being content in their current role.
Good second chair leadership will be a critical factor in the success of any Executive Pastor.
While different Executive Pastor’s job descriptions will vary greatly, one significant responsibility common to them all is to bring stability to the organization.
Effective Executive Pastors need to solidify ministry structures so that the infrastructure can support the demands of ministry. They need to champion the church culture - that intangible atmosphere in which the church functions. Whether it needs to be defined or re-defined, the Executive Pastor needs to own the responsibility of promoting a positive church culture.
Executive Pastors need to implement effective processes, lean into congregational unrest, and be the glue for the staff. When an employee leaves a meeting with the Executive Pastor, she should feel strengthened, affirmed, and that she and the church are on solid ground.
In his best-selling book, Integrity, Dr. Henry Cloud talks about two sides of a wake. The task side, and the relational side. More than any other church staff person, the Executive Pastor must be keenly aware of the tension between what is accomplished (tasks), and how people are treated (relationships) during the process of doing ministry. So as an Executive Pastor, be continually aware of your actions, but also consider how your actions relate to the people around you. The congregation. Your staff. And your Senior Pastor. This awareness will greatly contribute to your success in ministry and the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Mark J. Lenz is a pastor with a masters degree in Organizational Leadership. He is the CEO of Interactive Church Resources which seeks to empower ministry through interactive technology. He also leads Interactive Church Consulting where he helps churches create organizational health, and brings clarity and focus to ministry and mission.
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