August 2, 2023

2 Roles an Executive Pastor Can’t Delegate – Episode 307 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

2 roles an executive pastor can’t delegate

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Sharpening Your Executive Leadership Skills

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When the executive pastor role isn’t working right, the results are pretty predictable… vision stalls out, staff teams can get dysfunctional, and tension can develop in the relationship between senior pastor and XP.

And when the senior pastor role isn’t working right–if they’re bogged down trying to do too many things or leading outside of their giftings–that’s not a good sign for the future health of the church as a whole.

On the other hand, when both senior leaders are clear on their roles and their giftings complement each other, the church is well positioned for health and growth.


We’re starting a brand new series on “Sharpening Your Executive Leadership Skills” where we’ll define these two key leadership positions by explaining the roles they can’t delegate. By the end of the series, you’ll have a better understanding of how these key roles should work together and complement one another to produce a healthy, growing church.

This week, we’ll kick off our series with a conversation on two of the key roles an executive pastor can’t delegate, including:

  • How to make vision actionable
  • Key traits of an effective XP
  • How XPs drive core initiatives
  • 2 keys to maintaining alignment with your SP
While vision answers, “Where are we going next?” A strategy answers, “How are we actually going to make that a reality?” [episode 307] #unstuckchurch Share on X A great way to figure out if you’re actually leading or just managing people is by asking yourself the question: Are you out in front of your team? [episode 307] #unstuckchurch Share on X Executive Pastors must own the responsibility of closing the gap between vision and execution through strategy.[episode 307] #unstuckchurch Share on X Executive Pastors need to manage the tension between delegation and micromanagement, maintaining organizational alignment while empowering their team to do the work. [episode 307] #unstuckchurch Share on X
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This Episode is Sponsored by PlainJoe Studios:

PlainJoe: A Storyland Studio partners with churches, nonprofits, faith-based organizations, and educational environments to create unforgettable strategic, digital, and spatial stories that lift the Spirit. 

Through architecture, branding, interior design, website development, themed environments, and more, PlainJoe champions churches as Sacred Storytellers and collaborates with a wide range of world-changing people and organizations. 

To learn more about working with PlainJoe’s team of down-to-earth specialists, architects, strategists, artists, and problem solvers, visit

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Sean (00:02):

Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we are exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. When the key senior leaders in the church are clear on their roles and their giftings complement each other, the health of the church can grow exponentially. On the other hand, when those same leaders aren’t owning the responsibilities they can’t delegate, the vision can begin to bog down. On this week’s podcast, Tony and Amy kick off a brand new series on sharpening your executive leadership skills with a conversation on some of the key roles an executive pastor can’t delegate. If you’re brand new to The Unstuck Church Podcast, before you listen, stop and go to to subscribe to get the episode show notes. When you do, each week you’ll get resources to support that week’s episode, including our Leader Conversation Guide, as well as access to our podcast resource archive. Again, that’s to subscribe. Now, before we get into the week’s conversation, here’s a word from Tony.

Tony (01:02):

PlainJoe, a Storyland Studio, partners with churches, non-profits, faith-based organizations and educational environments to create unforgettable, strategic, digital and spatial stories that lift the spirit. Through architecture, branding, interior design, website development, themed environments and more, PlainJoe champions churches as sacred storytellers and collaborates with a wide range of world-changing people and organizations. To learn more about working with PlainJoe’s team of down-to-earth specialists, architects, strategists, artists and problem-solvers, visit

Amy (01:51):

Well, Tony, you know what’s great about this week?

Tony (01:54):

No, Amy, what is great about this week?

Amy (01:55):

Fantasy football has started up. Thanks for sending me the link. I know that’s gonna help our, both our team and, I think, even the podcast ’cause there’s always some inspiration with fantasy football.

Tony (02:07):

That’s right. But I like to win. That’s the problem. And so I get my competitive juices kick in, but I think this is gonna be the year for the, the Tony Morgan Fantasy Football team to bring home the championship, Amy.

Amy (02:21):

All I know is that the Vikings are currently undefeated, so I am in a good place. All right. Well, this week, Tony, we are kicking off a new series on Sharpening Your Executive Leadership Skills, and I think you said we could have called it, what was it? What senior pastors wish their XPs would do and what XPs wish their senior pastors would do. But I, I think our marketing team didn’t think that was as catchy. So can you explain a little bit more about this series?

Tony (02:47):

Sure. The heart behind the series is this, when the executive pastor role isn’t working right, the results are pretty predictable. Vision stalls. Staff teams, they can get dysfunctional. Tension can develop in the relationship between the lead pastor and the executive pastor. And when the senior pastor role isn’t working right, meaning if they’re bogged down trying to do too many things and leading outside of their giftings, they probably aren’t doing anything very well. And well, that’s not a good sign for the future health of the church as a whole. So in the first two episodes of this series, we’ll cover the three key roles an executive pastor can’t delegate—two this week and one next week. And then, in the next two episodes, we’ll discuss the four key roles the senior pastor can’t delegate. Hopefully, by the end of the series, you’ll have a better understanding of how these two key leadership roles should work together and complement one another to produce a healthy, growing church.

Amy (03:44):

Got it. Well, I think a lot of our podcast listeners actually fall into one of those two roles, so I think the series will be really helpful. You said that today we’d be diving into two of the three key roles that an executive pastor can’t delegate. So, where should we start?

Tony (03:58):

Well, the first key role an executive pastor can’t delegate is making the vision actionable, or in other words, owning the responsibility for closing the gap between vision and execution. I mean, clarifying and casting vision is a key role for the senior pastor, and we’ll dive into that later in the series. But on its own, it isn’t enough. Eventually, the church needs to define how the vision will be accomplished and then execute an action plan to actually see that vision through, and that’s where executive pastors come in.

Amy (04:29):

Can you quickly just explain the difference between casting vision and making it actionable?

Tony (04:35):

Yeah. The gap between vision and making it reality is called strategy. And while vision may answer the question, “Where are we going next?” A strategy answers for everybody in the organization and within the church, “Here’s how we’re actually going to get that done.” How are we going to get there and get those things done so that the dream actually becomes a reality. And those are the questions the executive pastor is responsible for helping to answer.

Amy (05:02):

Yeah. Now. That’s key because a lot of complaints we hear when working with churches is they say things like this quote, “We have a great vision for what we wanna do, but we struggle to carry it out. We get stuck on the execution piece because, of course, the day-to-day busyness of ministry wins out. And no one on our team is responsible for keeping us moving forwards towards the big picture.” So, Tony, making the vision actionable sounds nice enough, and many churches would acknowledge it’s the piece that they’re missing. But what does that actually look like?

Tony (05:31):

Yeah. Senior pastors need to make the vision very clear and then release the how to their executive pastor. And from there, it’s really the executive pastor’s job to organize the teams, create the systems, define the deadlines, and to see the vision through and to delegate key initiatives into smaller steps along the way. The executive pastors are the ones that really need to manage the tension between total delegation and micromanagement, meaning they need to maintain organizational alignment while also empowering their team to actually get the work done. And it’s their job to keep these teams’ key initiatives and priorities top of mind and moving forward alongside the execution of day-to-day ministry responsibilities.

Amy (06:16):

You know, Tony, we’ve worked in churches long enough to know that these aren’t easy tasks. I wonder if we could maybe stop for a second and consider the characteristics that someone in this role needs to perform so that these things get done effectively. So, could you paint a picture of what kind of person or what kind of skills are needed for an executive pastor to be able to do what you just said? Right? Work the strategic plans alongside day-to-day ministry.

Tony (06:41):

Well, I would say the first, and maybe foremost, responsibility this person really needs to be strategically gifted, meaning they’re wired to drive the creation and execution of organizational goals and priorities. And that includes things like this, Amy: being easily able to lead the establishment and execution of organizational goals and priorities and then aligning that work to the church’s mission and vision. They also need to have an uncanny sense of alignment. It’s like playing chess, not checkers. They’re constantly working and reworking the organizational alignment.

Amy (07:20):


Tony (07:20):

Things like staffing, finances, facilities, ministries, all of these, all these components of what it is required to engage the church’s ministry strategy so that none of these things become a lid to growth. And then, they need to be thinking about how are we going to get there? But they’re not negative about that how; they’re more solution-oriented. Also, a person in this role, role needs to be wired as an activator implementer, meaning they’re able to lead strategy and execution in an accomplishment of the vision. They need to be able to manage, prioritize and delegate tasks quickly and intelligently. They need to be able to solve complex problems. They need to take the initiative. They, they can’t wait for a direction. They need to initiate that, and then, they need to see the needs of the organization and act on them. And then, Amy, finally, I think this person really does need to be organized and a systems builder. The senior pastor has to trust that with this person, things will not fall between the cracks because they’ve created systems for all the things that he or she has to juggle.

Amy (08:30):

You know, as you’re describing the executive pastor, that strategic wiring, activator implementer just reminds me of my days in ministry. I was over the weekend, and so I was always focused on the day-to-day ministry. We were always, you know, we were kind of a-week-of church when it came to the weekend. And I’ll tell you, our executive pastor Scott Anderson was just, looking back, just a master at this. He was always the one living out in front of us, you know, clarifying the important things as an executive team that we needed to be thinking about and driving. And, you know, I don’t, if we wouldn’t have had him in that seat, I just think we would’ve been a much different church. But, as you’re reading it, so just to shout out to all those executive pastors who are able to bring that to their organizations.

Tony (09:15):

Yeah. And, Amy, many times, we hear then from senior pastors that don’t have executive pastors, “When do I need to begin to adding this person to my team?” And I think what you just alluded to—Scott for Eaglebrook was thinking about future. And when it gets to a place where you need key senior leaders in place to manage the day-to-day of ministry but still have somebody that’s thinking about: long-term, where are we going next? That’s when you know you need that executive pastor on your team.

Amy (09:47):

Yeah. And, you know, I get that question actually a lot in the staffing structure engagements, especially if I slide into a mid-size church. Now and again, they’ll ask, you know, “When do we add that role?” I typically coach them around the thousand mark to add that role. And prior to that, whoever that top leadership team is, they have to cover all those things that you just mentioned because they still need to get done if you’re going to be able to get to a thousand people. Yeah. And let me just add one more thing. You know, that XP wiring, it’s what a lot of churches complain about, you know, having a lack of execution on their team, that it’s missing. But like you said, it also requires a lot of trust for the senior pastor to truly hand those responsibilities off to their XP and let them be in that driver’s seat. And then, on the flip side of that, the XP does have to be comfortable leading though as a second-chair leader. So having two people with opposite but complementary wirings and skills definitely makes that relationship work a lot more smoothly. All right, let’s keep moving on, Tony. What’s the second of the three roles that an executive pastor can’t delegate? Or, as we said before, what’s the second role an SP really wishes their executive pastor would do?

Tony (10:57):

Well, I think the second role that an executive pastor can’t delegate is all about driving core initiatives. I mean, the key thought here is that executive pastors have to own the responsibility for moving these priority initiatives forward in order to free up the senior pastors to focus on only the roles that they can be need to be responsible for. And we’ll discuss those roles later on in the series. But, they are being the primary vision caster, being the spiritual leader for the church, primarily through teaching, being the champion of culture and then being the leader of leaders within the organization. These are all the roles that the senior pastor, especially in larger churches, that senior pastors can’t delegate. So in order for them to live out their role, that means one of the roles that the executive pastors can’t delegate is then driving key core initiatives forward for the ministry. And obviously, that fits together pretty well with the first role of driving strategy since the executive pastor is the driving force behind closing the gap between vision and execution. That’s a key responsibility then that frees the senior pastor up to do those four roles that I just mentioned.

Amy (12:13):

You know, I was thinking back to the webinar, Tony, that we did around this topic a few years ago, and I was reminded of an insight that Dan Reiland, who was the executive pastor of 12 Stone Church for 20 years. He shared that executive pastors have to always be working ahead and out in front of their team. And then, specifically he said, “A great way to figure out if you’re actually leading or just managing people is by asking yourself the question, ‘Are you out in front of your team?’ Because if you’re not intentionally looking five steps ahead and driving these core initiatives, they’re probably not gonna happen. And in order to stay ahead of your team, it’s your responsibility as the executive pastor to keep your head out of some of those details and focused on the big picture.” So it’s okay to not know everything that is going on. The executive pastor role should be filled with bigger and better things than to know each and every detail.

Tony (13:05):

Yeah, you’re absolutely right, Amy. And that’s a great reminder. In fact, we’ll cover this more in next week’s episode, but another key role for executive pastors is shaping the culture of the team. And whether that’s through leadership development or recruiting or other functions of the role, if you’re too into the details with other things, you can’t rise up and use your time and energy to shape the culture in those ways. And those important things will end up taking a back seat unfortunately. One other key part of driving core initiatives is keeping the team focused and aligned and that even includes the senior pastor. In that same webinar, we talked about how there are senior pastors out there that are overflowing with new visions and new strategies, and they’re just one conference away from wanting to implement a brand new idea. And on that topic, Jenni Catron shared some thoughts on how executive pastors can keep the focus on completing key initiatives when senior pastors are continuing to dream bigger dreams. And one thing to consider here is to kind of be the bridge between reality and possibility. Obviously, you don’t wanna be the wet blanket on your senior pastor’s dreams, but you do want to help translate what their new ideas would require in terms of the team’s energy and resources, including how that that might actually impact the progress of other key initiatives that have already been identified. And then, secondly, you need to help your pastor recognize momentum. Visionary people tend to thrive off of energy and momentum, which is what often attracts them to new ideas. So as an executive pastor, it might be helpful to regularly find ways to communicate the steps your team is taking towards fulfilling your strategy and the progress that’s being made on those initiatives to your senior pastors so that they can feel that sense of momentum as well.

Amy (15:10):

I think that’s great wisdom, Tony. And it just highlights again, how when an executive pastor and a senior pastor have those skills that complement one another and can work together, it’s just done correctly. Right? The work is done correctly, and as I’ve mentioned, we’ll get to that third and final role that an executive pastor can’t delegate next week. I think we’ve probably have our brains full from the conversation today, but do you have any other final thoughts as we wrap up today’s conversation?

Tony (15:37):

Yeah, Amy, I’d like our listeners to know about an exciting opportunity for executive pastors that we have coming up. First time, we’ve done this in a long time, but we’re launching a year-long cohort for executive pastors that’s kicking off this October. This cohort will kick off with a two-day gathering hosted by Amy and myself, where executive pastors from across the country can get away from the whirlwind and enjoy a fantastic event, including great accommodations, fabulous food because, Amy, you know that when I have a gathering I want to eat well. And then, it’ll give you the opportunity to connect with other gifted leaders who serve in their executive role at their churches. And then, we’ll continue in virtual meetings for the remainder of year so that we can stay connected with those that are participating in the cohort and continue to talk about some of those roles that executive pastors really can’t delegate. So, if you’re interested in joining us, you can learn more by checking out the link in your show notes.

Sean (16:38):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Like Tony mentioned, if you’d like to learn more about or register for our upcoming executive pastor cohort, you can do so by using the link in your show notes. And if you don’t yet have the show notes, just go to to subscribe. Next week, we’re back with another new episode in our series. Until then, have a great week.

Tony Morgan

Tony is the Founder and Lead Strategist of The Unstuck Group. Started in 2009, The Unstuck Group has served 500 churches throughout the United States and several countries around the world. Previously, Tony served on the senior leadership teams of three rapidly growing churches including NewSpring Church in South Carolina. He has five published books including, The Unstuck Church, and, with Amy Anderson, he hosts The Unstuck Church Podcast which has thousands of listeners each month.


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