After decades working with churches around the world, I’ve discovered one of the most difficult challenges pastors face is finding the right “Executive Pastor.” Smaller churches don’t usually need one, but as churches grow, a leader in that role becomes more and more important. But in a significant number of cases, local pastors don’t really understand the job. In my opinion, one of the best XP’s in the country is Mike Buster, executive pastor at Prestonwood Church in Plano, Texas. He’s worked with Pastor Jack Graham for 28 years, and they’ve become a remarkable team. In fact, in my opinion Jack Graham is one of the greatest leaders in the church today, therefore the standards at Prestonwood are high. So I asked Mike to tell me about the purpose, role, responsibilities and challenges of being an XP. Here’s what he said:
Phil Cooke: What’s the purpose of an “Executive Pastor”?
Mike Buster: The executive pastor should know the heart, vision, goals and desires of his pastor. He should have the fortitude and wisdom to take the skeleton vision provided by the pastor and put flesh on it. He is to be a steward of the church’s resources and the pastor’s vision. The XP should be able to see the big picture but at the same time must pay attention to minuscule details. It is a challenging and complex role that involves long-range planning and specific strategies. From the church’s spiritual maturity to parking space availability, the executive pastor must be both deep and wide. He flies at 30,000 feet but notices a shrub that needs to be replaced. Always keeping the mission of the church at the forefront, he must look at every problem or opportunity though the eyes of his pastor. The XP should be focused on fulfilling the mission of the church through the vision of the pastor. Daily prayer for wisdom and discernment is paramount. An executive pastor must be first and foremost a spiritual leader with a heart for serving his pastor, staff and congregation.
Phil: What are the three most important abilities a good executive pastor needs?
Mike: In an ideal world, this person would have a seminary degree and experience in all aspects of church ministry including students, children, singles, married adults, missions, music, recreation, business, counseling, pastoral care, deacons, education, personnel, denominational work and the list goes on. He should be analytical, have wisdom and discernment, as well as being a spiritual leader with excellent people skills. An effective XP would also have a great relationship with his pastor, with trust and confidence that has been built over many years
Phil: How should a pastor and executive pastor divide their roles, so there’s no conflict?
Mike: An executive pastor should be able to represent the church and pastor in any setting. Simply put, he is an extension of the pastor, relieving him of most administrative responsibilities and management of staff so that he can focus on the critical aspects of the ministry—pastoring, shepherding, preaching and teaching. The XP should take the leadership burden from the pastor without undermining his authority.
Phil: What’s the area where most challenges happen between a pastor and executive pastor?
Mike: Trust is paramount but takes time to develop. Pastors often have a difficult time letting go and truly delegating. A pastor must have great confidence in his executive pastor. At the same time, the XP must have a “second chair” mentality, always seeking the best interest of the church as well as the pastor. I think of John 15:13 in paraphrase: “Greater love has no one than this, that an executive pastor lays down his life for his pastor.”