Hiring an Executive Pastor? (Part 1)
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.