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My First Four Lessons as an Executive Pastor

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I won’t forget when years ago my pastor called me in to his office and told me of his need for an Executive Pastor, of which we were all very aware. The church had grown in complexity and he was being inundated with matters that hindered him from focusing on the things God had called him to do. What I didn’t anticipate was his suggestion (and by suggestion I mean edict) that I become his Executive Pastor. I anticipated I might be asked to assist the new Executive Pastor or help somehow in this new staff transition. I wasn’t expecting to BE the transition.

Don’t get me wrong–I knew an awful lot about our church and how she runs! I’ve worked at the church nearly since it’s inception. It’s the longest I’ve ever worked anywhere, actually. The first fours years I assisted and managed the office, which is to say I did a little bit of everything except the preaching! I have a solid grasp on Pastor’s vision and am completely committed to the mission we are on to join God in renovating lives. In those ways I was more than qualified to be his XO (I’m an army brat…that’s military speak for Executive Officer-the guy that the guy counts on). However, prior to that moment if you had asked me to describe an Executive Pastor, my honest descriptors would have been along these lines:

A middle-aged man with 10+ years experience in a corporate work environment, perhaps as a CFO or Vice President of Human Resources. Or maybe Director of Development at a national non-profit or something else with an equally as impressive title. Oh, and holds two post-graduate degrees (MBA & MDiv preferably). On paper, if I were the one recruiting for the position, that’s who I would’ve been looking for. Fortunately for me, that wasn’t who our Pastor was looking for and I wasn’t asked to find the next Executive Pastor, just to become her! Needless to say, it has been quite an adventurous year.

4 Lessons I Learned As A New Executive Pastor

1.  The Lead Pastor determines the role & scope of the Executive Pastor.

What I mean to say is that the job is largely subjective. It is contingent upon the strengths, needs, personality, and preferences of the Lead Pastor. It is a dynamic relationship with a number of variables and as such, the position will not look, but in fact be, very different from church to church. Because of that, I want to work really hard to understand on every level what my Lead Pastor expects of me and how he defines success.

2.  Executive Pastors Execute.

This is not one that I’ve had to learn, honestly. I place a high premium on follower-ship naturally, but I think is a very important point and can’t be overstated. It is not uncommon to hear of power struggles between the Lead Pastor and his or her second in command. This is almost always because of competing visions. Scripture is very clear about respecting and submitting to those in authority. The Lead Pastor is accountable before the Lord for the church, and as such, it is only appropriate that the vision he has be the one that is carried out. If you cannot support that vision you will end up creating your own, even if only internally, and it will cause divisiveness in your life, and ultimately, in your church. Trust God’s lordship over your pastor. Loyally follow him as he follows Christ.

3.  Be Fiercely Protective.

In this position you are privy to a great deal of “scoop.” For some reason, church people love to have the scoop, which means you are a walking target.  Discretion, tactfulness, propriety, and self-control are crucial. Always speak honorably of others, specifically of your pastor and the staff. The churches who battle the least with gossip and slander are the ones whose leadership has made it a non-negotiable to protect unity within the body.

4.  Be Intentional.

My first few weeks and months in the job were spent largely responding- to emails, to event details, to conflicts, to situations. There will always be some measure of responding in any position. However, I quickly learned that I would have to actively choose intentionality and then fight to keep it amidst the day to day chaos! The position was new to the church and we were figuring out what it needed to look like and what areas needed my attention the most. I couldn’t wait until things settled a bit, until the church calendar was a little lighter. That day wouldn’t come. It would always be the default option to let the circumstances & crises of the day dictate my priorities. That’s no way to lead. Plan the work, work the plan, and guard it like crazy unless the Lord or the Lead Pastor tells you to do otherwise!