May 31, 2012
This is Part 2 of a blog on hiring an executive pastor. The first part focused on the good (and bad) reasons for creating the position. Here I address the keys to success once an XP is hired.
Let’s assume your decision to hire an executive pastor is based on the right reasons, you’ve conducted a thorough and prayerful search, and you have just brought a great person on board in the role. Now what? What are the keys to success as you launch this new position?
- Clearly define the role – have you created a written job description? In my experience, job descriptions for executive pastors are only a starting point, but they are still important. The new XP needs to understand what is expected of him or her. Beyond the job description, the senior pastor needs to be prepared to spend at least the first year providing clarification. For example, if the XP is to “run the staff meetings,” will the senior pastor still attend the meetings? Does the XP set the agenda? If so, does the senior pastor need to review it first? If not, how should the senior pastor be involved with the staff?
- Leverage complementary gifts – you don’t need an XP who is just like you. You need someone who is different, whose strengths and gifts line up with the areas where you struggle. But this means that you have to recognize and deal with three challenges. First, you have to be willing to admit your weaknesses. Second, you have to allow someone to be better than you in those areas (without getting defensive or jealous or feeling insecure). And finally, you must realize that differences in abilities and perspectives will create moments of conflict.
- Create a true partnership – the best senior-executive pastor pairs are partnerships. Think of Paul and Timothy. A defining characteristic is that the senior pastor wouldn’t hesitate to have the XP represent him in a key conversation or meeting. This is only possible if the trust level is very high between them. And high trust only comes when they intentionally spend time together and invest in each other’s lives.
- Be patient – don’t expect dramatic results instantly. When you’re wondering if the new XP will ever get up the learning curve or reach his or her full potential, remember that great partnerships aren’t created overnight. And when you butt heads because of personality differences, remember that those difference will make you and the church stronger. It takes several years for an executive pastor to hit his or her full stride.
- Close the back door – the first time that a church hires an XP, everyone else on the staff takes a “step down.” Rather than reporting to the senior pastor, they now report to the second chair. Some staff members won’t like this and will test the system by going directly to the senior pastor for advice or approval. If you allow this to happen, you will greatly diminish the XP’s role. It’s better to be unavailable or to listen politely and then redirect them to the executive pastor without making a decision.
- Share the vision – for the XP to be the “go to” person for implementing the vision, he or she must fully understand and support it. In the best partnerships, senior and executive pastor dream together. It’s not just the senior pastor’s vision; it’s theirs together. This takes time, but great power is unleashed by a vision that is truly shared.
One final thought: make a point to have periodic check-up visits during your new XP’s first 12 to 18 months and ask for their perspective on how things are going. Easy? Not at all. But investing in these key factors will pay great dividends for you and your church over the long haul.
May 29, 2012
A couple of months ago, I was asked to give a presentation entitled “Executive Pastor: If, When, Why, How?” As you can guess from the title, the focus was on churches that were thinking about creating this role. It was fun to pull my thoughts together and interact with a group of senior pastors who were looking for perspective on these questions.
So what did I say? Let me start with 3 bad reasons to create an XP position in your church:
- “I don’t like people” – some senior pastors seek to be insulated from the staff and church members. It’s true that people can drain huge quantities of time that a senior pastor needs to spend on other matters, and an executive pastor can be helpful in shouldering some of this load. But a senior pastor should never be detached and out-of-touch with the congregation. After all, we’re in the people business.
- “I don’t like administration” – just like the first reason above, there is an element of legitimacy in this. Any pastor who wants to find more hours in the day should be looking for ways to delegate administrative tasks to someone else. But if this is the only reason for hiring an executive pastor, then you are really looking to hire an office manager, business manager, or church administrator, not an XP.
- “Everyone else is doing it” – this is the worst reason of all. If your motivation is to keep up with the church down the street or simply because you heard another pastor raving about the benefits of having an XP, you are setting yourself up for disaster. An executive pastor role must be crafted to fit your personality and the needs of the church. If you are simply a copycat, then you have not identified those unique needs.
Perhaps you’re not guilty of any of the wrong reasons, but you’re not sure if your next staff position should be an executive pastor. After all, the role comes with a significant financial commitment. How do you decide whether to spend that money on functional positions (e.g., youth, technology, support staff, etc.)? Some of the right reasons for creating an XP position are:
- The leadership burden has gotten too big – there’s just not enough of you to go around. As a result, you don’t ever feel that you’re able to spend the time that’s needed on major decisions or casting vision or preparing sermons or investing in your family. You can sense that the church is struggling because of this lack of clear leadership.
- Staff and church members see the need – it may be that others see the need for an XP before you do. They are concerned that you’re close to burn-out or that you’ve become the limiting factor in the church’s ability to take more ground for the Kingdom. If a staff member says that he or she would rather report to an executive pastor than the senior pastor because an XP would have time for them, pay attention!
- You’re ready to let go – even if the first two reasons are true, you have to be willing to hand-off some of your responsibilities or you won’t realize the benefits of hiring an XP. Don’t overlook this reason – the “failure” of many second chair leaders can be traced to a first chair who wasn’t ready to share the reins of leadership.
- Supervising others is not your strength – don’t confuse this “good reason” with the “bad reason” of not liking people. Many senior pastors struggle with supervision. They don’t have time to do it well, aren’t skilled at developing people, and/or don’t know how to give meaningful feedback (positive or negative). If the staff acts more like “free agents” or contractors than team members and if you are not happy with their performance, then an XP may be part of the solution.
- Big vision but little implementation – many visionary pastors wonder why the church isn’t making more progress toward their vision. The reason is that no one has been able to translate the vision into concrete steps that can be implemented. Some of the best first-second chair combinations occur when a gifted and trusted XP comes alongside the senior pastor, is able to understand the vision at a deep level, and then brings it to life by fleshing out the details and getting people moving.
This is not an exhaustive list, but it covers the most important reasons for creating an executive pastor position across a wide variety of churches. Part 2 of this blog will look at the keys to success when you hire an XP.
May 24, 2012
I’ve been struck lately of how often urgent things overtake the important matters in church life. There’s nothing profound in that statement – we all know that we should “put first things first” (per Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). But knowing and doing are two totally different things.
Let me start with an obvious qualifier – we will never escape the urgent in ministry. When a wife calls to say her marriage is falling apart, it’s an urgent matter that requires immediate attention. Meeting with grieving relatives after the death of a family member is not something that can be put off for a couple of weeks. If a staff member says, “I’m thinking about leaving the ministry,” I don’t advise you to say, “That sounds like a good topic for next month’s scheduled career development conversation.” In truth, it’s not fair to use a black-and-white distinction such as urgent vs. important for many of these situations. To the people who are in the midst of the crisis, the issue is urgent and important.
We will always have to deal with urgent matters, but if we’re not careful, the urgent will completely overwhelm the things that are of long-term, strategic importance. The result is that far too many ministries (and their leaders) only live in the moment and fail to ask and address the bigger questions that should shape their future direction. If you’re just trying to get through the day’s crisis, you won’t think about the next big dream that God has for you.
So what is the counterbalance for a busy ministry leader? Each person will need to develop his or her own plan based on personality and the demands of the ministry, but here are 4 core concepts:
- Create margin for urgent things. If your calendar is already full a week in advance, then even a small urgent issue can wreck your week. You may not know which urgent item is going to intrude into your schedule, but you know that something will. So leave enough breathing room to handle the unexpected.
- Know what is truly urgent. I’ve always like the saying, “Your failure to plan does not constitute an emergency on my part.” Whether due to someone’s negligence or inappropriate hype, followers may attach urgency to cases that are not. A good leader determines what is truly urgent rather than letting others make that decision.
- Know what to delegate. Some situations are truly urgent but can be handled by someone else. Leaders who want to make time for important things learn how to say, “That sounds like it needs immediate attention. Let me ask ____ to help you.”
- Schedule time to dream. Don’t wait for a break in your schedule to work on important matters, because the break will never come. Make a regular practice of putting a block of time on your calendar for big picture thinking, and treat it just as untouchable as any other significant meeting.
I hope you’ll start today to escape the urgent and work on the important.
May 22, 2012
This has been a rich, busy, exciting season for me. In addition to the release of my new book and the transition into a full-time consulting ministry, one of my sons is graduating from high school and another is getting married. As a result, I often start my mornings with a full “to do” list and an anxious buzz in my mind that there aren’t enough hours in the day.
From a human perspective, this is exactly right. There aren’t enough hours for me to cross everything off that list. But I don’t think this is a biblical perspective. After all, what does it mean that God’s yoke is easy (Matt. 11:30)? Or that I shouldn’t worry about tomorrow (Matt. 6:34)? Or that there is a time and season for everything (Eccl. 3:1)? Or that I can’t add a single hour to my life (Matt. 6:27)?
So how do I make sense of this? I believe that the God who loves me is not a cruel taskmaster who will load me down to see how much I can take before I break. I believe there are seasons when we are very busy and seasons when we can rest and be refreshed. And I believe that I have a choice to make when I am faced by an overwhelming list of things to be done. I can decide which of these things are truly important and which to let slide. I can choose to trust God and not be anxious about the things that go undone. I can decide whether to keep piling things on that list in order to feed my ego. I can choose whether to make time for family and friends or focus strictly on tasks.
I recently listened to a message by John Ortberg in which he pointed out that God was able to run the universe without my help before I was born and that He will continue to do so after I am gone. I may not think there are enough hours in the day, but they are all I’ve got. So I’m going to try to make the most of them, thankful for what I have rather than being anxious about what is missing.
May 17, 2012
There’s an old joke that consultants (and lawyers) must get paid by the page, and that’s why they create lengthy documents. I’ve seen plenty of those reports, and so have you. And we know what happens with them. They’re inserted in a 3-ring binder with a nice label on the spine and then put on a shelf, never to be used again. Frankly, the same thing happens in a lot of planning processes even when a consultant is not involved.
If you look inside those binders, you will typically discover several things. In an appendix in the back will be data – lots of it. It will include internal data on attendance and finances and programs and anything else that is measured. It will include external data on demographic trends. The binder may include notes from interviews with various constituents. And, of course, it will include plans. The plans may be extensive in their detail, sweeping in the number of initiatives that are recommended, and far-reaching in the number of years that are covered.
The problem is that a binder doesn’t produce results, and this kind of binder can actually hinder progress. This stereotypical report is a compilation of ideas, as if more pages will lead to more good things happening. I don’t share that perspective, and my guess is that you don’t either. I would much rather create a simple plan with measurable impact than count the pages in a weighty tome.
How do you do that? You start with clarity around your unique strengths and what God is calling you to be. You are realistic about your resource constraints, not limiting God but recognizing that some good ideas need to be done later (not now) and some need to be done by some other church or ministry (not yours). This means that you must be willing to say “no,” and even upset some people, so that you can run hard after a few great opportunities. It’s not easy, but when you quit counting pages and focus on impact, great things can happen.
May 15, 2012
Have you ever heard of the “Peter Principle.” No, it has nothing to do with the apostle. It’s a term that was coined in a 1969 book by Laurence Peter and it explains that a person will tend to be promoted within an organization until reaching a position where he or she does not have the abilities to do the job. The shorthand phrase is “promoted to the level of their incompetence.” Not a very cheery thought, is it?
It strikes me that rapidly growing churches (and other ministries) must deal with their own unique version of the Peter Principle. When God is moving powerfully and the number of people grows dramatically, the early-stage staff members don’t get promoted. Rather, the scope of their responsibilities tends to grow rapidly as the number of people and things that they manage expands. A gifted worship leader who led one service may end up overseeing multiple bands and vocalists and a creative team. A person who started as the up-front person for children’s worship must recruit and train and direct a team of volunteers and manage programming that runs 7 days a week.
The gifts needed for the early-stage roles are vastly different than those needed in the later, larger stages. And yet, churches are ill-prepared to make these shifts. They don’t invest enough in training, lack good evaluation processes, and are often reluctant to bring in a leader with the needed skills to replace or supervise these long-tenured staff members. As a result, the ministry falls victim to this particular strain of the Peter Principle. If you are in a growing church, what are you doing to prevent the Peter Principle from derailing what God is doing in your midst?
One final note, I didn’t talk about senior pastors in the above illustrations, but I could have. This shift in essential leadership skills is just as notable for first chairs as for any other role. If that’s you, are you investing in your own development as a leader? Your church needs you to!
May 10, 2012
In many ways, my life has been defined by competition. For me, that has not been a bad thing, because I’ve had more than my share of “wins” in the arenas in which I’ve competed. But an unsettling thought has rattled around in my brain recently: is competition good?
At the risk of sounding un-American, I wonder if we push too far in this direction. I certainly see a level of intensity that makes me cringe when I watch kids’ sports. When parents get into literal fights over the outcome of a 10-year old baseball game, something is wrong. And I’m equally uncomfortable with the enormous lengths that people go to so that they can win the “college admission competition” (including hiring specialists to help fill out applications or downright cheating to get into the “best” school).
Someone may reply, “Competition is a way to motivate people to do their best and to select those who most deserve advancement.” I agree, and this has served me well in life. My competitive drive pushes me to do my best. I love an objective standard that tells me whether or not I won.
So what’s the problem? For those who succeed often, every victory can push us further away from God. The very thing we are running after can hurt us as we begin to believe that we truly are superior to others and deserving of praise. We forget that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). That’s a dangerous place for any Christian to stand.
In addition, the competitive drive may spill over into other areas of our lives and we may end up defining every situation as a contest. If you tend to see colleagues as rivals and can’t celebrate their successes, or if it’s impossible to play a friendly family board game, perhaps it’s time to recalibrate your attitude and your inner drive.
This blog is for me as much as anyone. I want to compete for “a crown that will last forever” (1 Cor. 9:25). I don’t expect to lose my competitive drive, but I hope to have a different outlook on this question in the future.
May 3, 2012
In my last post, I mentioned Bill Hybels’ book, Axiom. I thought it would be worth posting a book review that I wrote a couple of years ago.
When Bill Hybels’ Axiom: Powerful Leadership Proverbs came out, I debated whether to add it to my “must read” stack. On one hand, I’ve been enriched by everything I’ve consumed from Willow Creek. On the other hand, with 76 short chapters of pithy sayings, Axiom is not the type of book that I typically enjoy.
So once I started reading, I was pleasantly surprised by how much Hybels spoke to me in many of the chapters. In fact, I liked it so much that I bought copies for all of our pastoral and program staff, and made it the focus of a staff development day. We each read the book, and then came prepared to discuss which axioms we considered to be most applicable for our personal leadership development and which would most benefit our staff team collectively. It was a rich time of discussion, and I see it offering ongoing benefits.
Hybels accurately points out that axioms, when they are owned by a group, can become a powerful way to communicate and reinforce important values. I’m working on the axiom of “create your own finish lines” and “real-time coaching.” As a staff, we’re trying to adopt the axioms “excellence honors God and inspires people” and “vision: paint the picture passionately.”
I’ve also found it helpful to think about other important axioms for our church, both those that we currently practice and ones that we need to put in place. Currently I’m thinking about an axiom that might be expressed in the phrase “email doesn’t solve problems.” It might not be quite as profound as some of Hybels’ sayings, but it would sure make a difference in how we handle some “situations.” Pick up a copy of Axiom and as you read, make notes about the leadership concepts that will help you and your team go to the next level.
May 1, 2012
Shortly after one of my children was diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes, we met with our endocrinologist. The key to good long-term health as a diabetic is keeping your blood sugar between 80 and 120. I remember the doctor telling us, “There are no good or bad numbers. The numbers are simply in range or out of range.” What she was really doing was giving me an important caution as a parent. The tendency is to criticize a diabetic child whose blood sugar is high, which only compounds the emotions that the child is feeling as he or she deals with a serious, chronic disease. The better approach is to come alongside the child to help figure out how to achieve the desired goal for blood sugar.
Numbers are funny things. They are an important tool for helping to define reality and evaluate effectiveness. But far too often, especially in ministry settings, numbers acquire “good” and “bad” labels. When this happens, many ministry leaders shut down. These leaders are being asked to do something that does not come naturally to them – to think analytically. They may think that they are being held solely responsible for the numbers and feel threatened if the results are “bad.” They may see numbers as a simplistic way of looking at a very complex issue. So rather than asking what can be learned from the numbers, these leaders reject the use of quantitative measures.
Bill Hybels is known for saying “facts are your friends.” In his book, Axioms, Hybels describes his initial discouragement when he was presented with the results of Willow Creek’s Reveal study. This data came from a congregation-wide survey that explored the spiritual habits and maturity of the church’s members. Even though he didn’t like what he saw, Hybels explains that the church took a hard look at this data and made positive adjustments in its ministries as a result.
This is a great picture of the power of numbers. They help us define reality so that we can make appropriate adjustments. Without a blood glucose meter, my child would just be guessing at the amount of insulin to inject needed to keep blood sugar in range and to have good health. And without some sort of meaningful data, you’re just guessing how to lead your ministry.
For more information on this topic, see my article on “Measuring What Matters” in the current issue of Leadership. The online version can be found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/2012/spring/measuringmatters.html.