Executive Pastor

June 7, 2013

See our book Staffing Effective Church for a section on Executive Pastors including what they should be doing.

From Leadership Network


To help answer these questions, we convened a small focus group of Senior Pastors/Executive Pastor teams who have a variety of experiences with this concept. In addition, we inquired with a few other healthy teams to develop some responses to these questions


Consider this document “beta code” for helping you determine some of the paths and questions your church should consider.


1. What’s driving this issue at your church? At the root, there are two basic, interwoven answers. Growth and/or pain. The system has outgrown the team as it is currently structured and gifted. Staff, whether Senior Pastor or other team members, is feeling the stress. Often the board makes note of this and wonders: Is there another way? Also, it is usually a Senior Pastor’s initiative to seek a solution such as an Executive Pastor.


2. What is the actual role we need? Decide if you are talking about an Administrative Pastor or an Executive Pastor. These are some of the titles used to distinguish between roles. Most commonly, an Administrative Pastor, or Church Business Administrator, is deployed to oversee the areas of the church such as facilities, finances, support teams, etc. This person may or may not be on the Leadership/Management team of the Church. This person may or may not have pastor/shepherd gifts.


An Executive Pastor (other terms include Staff Director, Executive Director or similar) is deployed to oversee a large percentage of the staff, including the Administrative pastor. In this case, the Executive Pastor operates like the Executive officer of a ship, handling much of the day to day operations and programs. This person is an integral part of the Leadership/Management team of the Church. This person will also usually have pastor/shepherd gifts. Some of the other metaphors include pilot as Executive Pastor with Senior Pastor as Navigator. In corporate language, some see the role as CEO for Pastor and COO for Executive Pastor. In general the larger the congregation, the more they lean towards the Executive Pastor role.


3. Who does the Executive Pastor Serve? In our view, the Executive Pastor primarily serves the Senior Pastor. The Senior Pastor is looking for a person to help guide the overall direction and function of the church in leadership. For this reason, the Executive Pastor’s gifts and competencies must complement the Senior Pastor. This means that the Senior Pastor must clearly define for them what they need in an Executive Pastor. They should then examine what gifts are missing and needed. The Senior Pastor will have adaptations to make but the Executive Pastor must adapt to play to the Senior Pastor’s strengths. The Executive Pastor also serves the staff as supervisor. In many cases, staff have desired more input than the Senior Pastor had time to give.


The Board is also served in that many now feel they have a person to help carry out some of the functional work in the church. Most often both Senior Pastor and Executive Pastor attend Board meetings.


4. What is the key issue to making this work? By our experience, the key issue is a high level of trust between the Senior Pastor and Executive Pastor. Those teams that don’t trust each other don’t last long. A key factor in trust building is constant, honest communication.


5. Who does what? One of  the best ideas developed from the focus group came from a church that sat down with their board and wrote a three column statement of what was needed from the Senior Pastor, the Executive Pastor and the Board. It is not static document, as needs change, adjustments are made. The process is unique for each church and team and it cannot be static. We are often asked for sample job descriptions. Because of the unique nature of each congregation, we feel this process of clarification of roles is the best way to design each description to fit the team.


6. Who leads Staff meeting? This type of decision is an example of the numerous issues that Senior Pastor and Executive Pastor need to clarify. In some cases the Senior Pastor continues to lead the bulk of the staff meeting. In other cases, the Executive Pastor takes over primary leadership. In still yet others, there is shared leadership. Each should clarify these issues with each other.


7. Do you seek a person within the organization or outside? The key issues are gifts and trust. We most often see that in an internal candidate. In some cases, the person may already be on the staff, have the gifts to serve as the leader, and have the trust of the Senior Pastor and Board. On many occasions the person is a lay member of the church with giftedness and the trust of the leadership take on these responsibilities.


If a church goes outside the organization to find this person, make sure the gifts are there and there are seeds of trust. I have recommended that if a church is serious about an outside candidate, then the Senior Pastor and potential Executive Pastor spend several days together in a retreat, sharing their hearts, values and vision before any decision is made.


8. What about salary? We asked our focus group what was the maximum, minimum and “about right” difference between the Senior Pastor and Executive Pastor salary. Each church is different in terms of tenure and experience but our respondents said the maximum difference between the Senior Salary and Executive Pastor would be 39% less, the minimum 13% less with 23% less being “about right.”


9. Who makes the biggest adjustments? Everyone has to make adjustments once this position is implemented. The Senior Pastors feel they have to make big adjustments in their work style with the staff. Senior Pastors tend to continue to over function in a supervisory type role with other staff during the transition period.


The staff has to adjust to working with an Executive Pastor as the team leader. Many long-term staff may say, “I came to work with the Senior Pastor not this person.” The role of Executive Pastor requires strong but gentle leadership.


Most Executive pastors have to adapt to both situations. They must learn to translate the Pastor’s vision and direction and focus the organization and resources towards that vision and direction. They must learn to give the Senior Pastor appropriate feedback from the staff team. Basically, the role must over communicate with both pastor and the rest of the team.


That’s the end of the official document. Most of the other questions we get tend to be very specific church situations. The general answer to most of those questions is “Well, that depends..”


If you have something to add, we would love to see it. Send it in by hitting the reply button on this email. In a few weeks we will take the adjustments and post them on the web site under the special reports section.


By the way, Warren Schuh, a former Executive Pastor and now member of our Leadership Network team helped prepare this code.

  1. James March 20, 2014 Reply

    What have you find or do you recommend in regard to Executive Pastor as successor for a Lead Pastor? Our church (approx. 1450 in average weekend attendance, staff of 20 with full and part time pastoral, support, and custodial) is facing a transition soon as our pastor is probably about 7 years from retirement.

    I appreciate your input on the matter.



    • Bill Tenny-Brittian March 20, 2014 Reply

      James, in our experience the exec pastor is typically the administrative manager of the church. Rarely do they have the calling, personality type, charisma, vision, or skills to step into that job. An Exec is usually a detail person who can see the big picture and may even be able to fill in the blanks to see that the church needs to attain their vision (especially logistically). But when it comes to seeing the future, they rarely have the ability to see the big picture or to cast a big vision. Presuming the church is still committed to community reaching and growth, then you're going to need someone who can see a future and then convince the congregation to go there with him.

      Our staffing book (Effective Staffing for Vital Churches) has a section on the skills and values needed by a large church pastor. You might want to start by looking there and then determining if the exec has those skills.

      Bill T-B

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