December 15, 2021

3 Roles an Executive Pastor Can’t Delegate (Replay) – Episode 224 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

roles an xp cant delegate

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Clarity for XPs = a Clearer Path from Vision to Execution

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Clarifying and casting vision really isn’t enough. Eventually your church needs to define how the vision will be accomplished and then execute an action plan to see it through. 

That’s where executive pastors come in.


We first posted this conversation back in 2019, and it’s been one of our most downloaded episodes since. Clearly this content is more relevant than ever as churches seek to drive their vision forward toward action.

In this episode, you’ll hear a replay of a webinar that featured Paul Alexander of Sun Valley Church, Jenni Catron of The 4Sight Group, and Dan Reiland of 12Stone Church. Specifically, we addressed:

  • What happens when “the how” is not defined and what it takes to lead through that challenge
  • How an executive pastor can develop trust and influence with the staff when the senior pastor’s visibility is far greater with both the staff and the congregation
  • A foundation for a more effective working relationship between lead and executive pastors
  • How senior pastors can empower their executive pastors to truly drive core initiatives, and how XPs can avoid “wet blanket” patterns
Executive pastors have to own the responsibility of building and leading a staff team that embraces both health and performance. [episode 224] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet XP’s firing on all cylinders = a clear path from vision to execution, high impact staff teams, and a lead pastor free to focus on what only he or she can do. [episode 224] #unstuckchurch Click To Tweet

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4 Roles a Senior Pastor Can’t Delegate series on The Unstuck Church Podcast

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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. In many churches, the role of executive pastor is essential to accomplishing the vision and keeping ministry moving forward. When it’s working right, churches get results and see more ministry accomplished. When it’s broken, vision stalls out, the staff team gets dysfunctional and tension can develop in the relationship with the senior pastor. On this week’s episode, we’re revisiting one of our most downloaded episodes in sharing a conversation Tony had with Dan Reiland, executive pastor at 12Stone Church, Jenni Catron, founder of the Foresight Group, and Paul Alexander, executive pastor at Sun Valley Community Church on the three roles that executive pastors can’t delegate. Before today’s episode, though, we wanna offer a free resource to help you as you plan for the coming ministry year. Having a ministry calendar allows us to communicate what’s important, identify what’s essential and maintain team alignment despite the curve balls. That’s why we’ve created “Planning Your 2022 Ministry Calendar,” a free comprehensive resource with video and written content to help you identify your next steps for planning your 2022 ministry calendar. You’ll get insights from Tony Morgan and pastors Derwin Gray, Tim Stevens, and Eric Geiger on the topics of planning, your teaching calendar, planning your events and outreach calendar and planning your leadership development calendar. Identify your priorities, define your goals, and then plan to win in this ministry year. Visit to download today. Now let’s join Tony and our team of panelists for a conversation on the three roles an executive pastor can’t delegate.

Tony (01:48):

Let’s just dive into the conversation. As I mentioned, we’re going to be looking at these three roles that executive pastors should not be delegating. And the first one I want to highlight is owning the responsibility for closing the gap between vision and execution. So we’re looking at how do we make that vision actionable? And Paul, I’d like to begin with you. Clarifying and casting vision really isn’t enough. Eventually you need to define how the vision will be accomplished and then execute an action plan to see it through. So can you describe the role that executive pastors have in helping vision become reality?

Paul (02:30):

Yeah, sure, Tony. I think there is a really big gap between a big dream or vision and what’s actually really happening in the church and what fills that gap between vision and reality is this thing called strategy. And while vision may answer the question, Where are we going next?” A strategy answers for everybody in the organization, within the church, “How are we actually gonna do that? How are we actually going to go there and get those things done so that dream becomes a reality?” And just like the senior pastor, there’s things that they can’t delegate away from their responsibilities in their role, like vision, where the church has going, the executive pastor cannot delegate strategy away from their role. It’s their job to provide organizational alignment and help the whole animal move towards accomplishing that vision.

Tony (03:22):

Yeah. Paul, can you give some specific examples of how you do that? How you move the strategy forward? I mean one might be, in a recent podcast, you and I were talking about a leadership development strategy. So either elaborate on how you in your role do that or maybe pick another strategy focus area just to help us understand what that looks like.

Paul (03:44):

Yeah, so one of our strategies for expansion and reaching new people for Jesus is multisite. So a while that vision of reaching new people in new places rest and resides with the senior pastor, he is doing the vision casting part of that. He’s building the public ethos and getting the church on board, kind of pointing the direction. What then falls to me is then how do I align all the pieces of the business function of the church, the staffing function of the church, the site procurement, funding. Now adding the ministries, what ministries come first that first year, the second year. If you think if the senior pastor had to think about where we’re going and reaching new people in the new location and he had to carry the weight of all those other details in the strategy execution side of things, that job would be overwhelming for anybody. I’m not sure Jesus could do that job.

Tony (04:37):

I think he could, but you’re right. For the rest of us, it would be challenging. Jenni, what happens if that “how” that Paul mentioned is not defined? So it’s not enough just to have the vision and then the strategy, but we need to know how we’re going to execute the strategy. Do you have any examples that you could share and how do you lead through that?

Jenni (04:58):

Yeah. Yeah. And this one I feel like is a really important one for executive pastors to find the right balance to because, you know, I think sometimes what I’ve seen in myself and I see with a lot of leaders is in some cases we can be too detailed in the how, like micro-managing every nuance so that our team doesn’t feel empowered to help bring their ideas and perspective. Or we can completely kind of abdicate any direction and then we’re off, you know, all of a sudden the team is bringing things back and it’s not in alignment with what the vision was or what we hope to accomplish. And so I think one of the first things we have to figure out as a leader is, you know, where do I naturally land? Am I one who’s inclined to be a little micromanage-y because I’m so particular about every piece or do I kind of—I can sometimes be guilty of this—I deeply believe in my team and I’m like, “Oh yeah, go do it and make it happen.” And all of a sudden I haven’t given enough of kind of those guard rails for how we want to implement, you know, whatever the strategy piece is. And then they’re kind of off course and I’m frustrated, they’re frustrated, then I do feel like I’m zooming, you know, sweeping in and being a micromanager again. So I think this is really important for us as executive pastors to kind of grasp where do I land on that continuum and in fact, what does my team need right now. So I think defining what is needed in how we accomplish, you know, how we lead through things we need to be aware of is this a brand new initiative? And so I do actually need to give a little bit more specifics to how, because it’s new to all of us.

Jenni (06:34):

And so the vision is, you know, myself and the lead pastor are probably a little more tied to vision. Or is this something that, you know, we’ve got more reps, we’ve done this more, the team know what we’re, what we’re shooting for. And so I don’t have to give quite as much detail. So that’s been a big piece for me is the awareness of what level of detail is needed in informing how to carry out a project. I had one of the stories, kind of an example, of this for me with my team at the church in Nashville. Again, I, it was a season where I was probably a little bit too instructional, giving too many details and the team came back to me and they said, Jen, we really need you to tell us what and why. Like we need you to give us really clearly the vision. We need you to tell us what it is you’re looking for. Be incredibly clear about that expected outcome, but then release the how to us. Like, you know, they were saying we need some freedom because otherwise you start to become the bottleneck in your organization. And so they said, we need you to be super clear about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, but then give us some latitude. But along with that I had to also be clear about are there some guiding principles, some values that I want them to have in determining how they’re going to accomplish that vision. So that’s, I think sometimes when we’re trying to describe, you know, we’re trying to define that, how it might not always be the specific tactics, but it might be the clarity of what, and then it might be guiding principles or values that help them make more decisions about how to implement, if that makes sense.

Tony (08:10):

That’s very good. Yeah. Dan, you have the opportunity, you’ve worked for a great vision caster in the past and your work for one. How does your pastor set you up for success in your role in helping you allow that vision to become?

Dan (08:27):

Yeah, Tony, Kevin is a great vision caster for sure, but one of the advantages is he’s also a great big picture strategist. He has good instincts and an intuition on bigger strategy, so that helps. But what does he do to help that? One, I think he, not I think, he seeks my input before he goes public and that really helps. He allows me to shape it and along with the board and other key leaders of course. And, and then like Jenni was saying, he makes the what really clear but releases the how. I’ll give you a quick story actually, it’s not a quick one, but I’ll make it quick here. Several years back when we launched five campuses on one Sunday, which by the way, don’t do that. Although I can report the quintuplets, as we affectionately call them, they’re all fine and well, you know, they’re all have their own buildings now except one. And so that’s going well, but on the what and the how, I remember going back and forth, remember I said he lets me have input and I was just near begging, you know, let’s, can we, we’ll launch one a week, we’ll launch one a month, we’ll launch, you know, but not, not five on a day. But he made the big strategic piece clear. No, we’re going to do—and it was really a God call, a good call is the right thing. We did them all in on one day. So that was part of the what, but then the how, which is was massive. How you do that, from there, that was all up to us and of course an executive team. And from there he really did let go and let us have at it. The last thing that comes to mind is that Kevin really puts his head deep in the game before he steps out. For him, it’s never like a bunch of pizza and you know, night last night and he just came up with a new, you know, he goes deep in it. It’s not idea of the week and thinks it through really well before he steps out and empowers.

Tony (10:42):

That’s very good. Alright. So that’s the, that’s the first role as executive pastors that can’t be delegated—it’s really making sure that action plan is aligned. If we’re closing the gap between vision and execution, because we do, we want the vision to become reality. The second role, key role that an executive pastor can’t delegate is leading high impact teams. And the key thought here is that executive pastors really do have to own the responsibility for both building and then leading a staff team that embraces health and performance. And Jenni, on this question, I’d like to begin with you. Because the senior pastor is so heavily invested in the roles that he or she can’t delegate, it takes another strong leader in a church organization to build and lead the team itself. So how do you develop and create this trust and increase influence with the staff when it’s actually most oftentimes the senior pastor that’s more visible with the staff. I mean they’re the person that’s teaching every Sunday. They’re the person that’s vision casting. So the staff sees that person as a leader. But in reality, especially as churches grow, the executive pastor has to take on that leadership role with the staff team. So how do you do that?

Jenni (12:11):

Yeah, it’s such a good question because it is a little bit of a like a tricky dichotomy there that, you know, the lead pastor is typically more visible and his voice carries the greatest influence and and rightly so. But as the executive pastor, that development of the team is super critical. And I think one of the key perspective shifts we have to make as an executive pastor is to recognize that that is one of our primary responsibilities is actually the development and care of the team. The senior pastor is going to care about that, that’s important to them, but it’s not something they’re going to be able to devote a ton of time and energy to. And so I think it’s really important as the exec pastor to just recognize that that’s a primary part of your role. And you know, as far as that earning influence thing because it does feel it can get a little clunky because the senior pastor walks by and has an idea or a thought and says that to a team member and it carries disproportionate weight. And they may not know that you’ve actually been coaching something different and then you’re having to go back and you know, and it’s like you’re all smiling because we’ve all faced that. But I think, you know, getting comfortable with the fact that over time as the executive pastor, when you’re intentionally developing your team and they know that, you know, in the ins and outs the highs and lows, you’re going to be the person who’s constantly there coaching them, developing them, investing in them. The senior pastor cares and he, he or she’s going to have episodic influence in that. But, as the executive pastor, you consistently can be that voice and ultimately that helps you earn that trust and have that influence that is going to give you the credibility in that space. So I think you just have to kind of recognize all those dynamics and then really own that. That’s a big, big part of your responsibility as the executive pastor and just really committing to developing your team and earning, you’ll earn their trust that way.

Tony (14:07):

It takes time. When you’re especially new in the role of executive pastor or the executive pastor role is new to your church. Any wisdom, Jenni, for those that are experiencing either one of those situations at their church right now?

Jenni (14:26):

Yeah. Yeah. And I remember very specifically when I stepped into one of my roles that it was a season where previously the team was pretty small. We had just introduced the executive—executive director was our title. We had introduced that role to the organization and previously everybody had reported to the senior pastor. So now they’re getting redirected to me. I’m in this new role that hasn’t existed before. And so everybody’s behavior was to default back to talking to the lead pastor. And so we were, you know, we’re trying to constantly coach and redirect that behavior. But there were, honestly, there were a lot of really key conversations with me and the lead pastor for me to help identify when sometimes he was unintentionally kind of perpetuating the old system. And so for me, there were places where, you know, first I had to just build relationships and earn trust and be patient with the process of earning the influence. So I’ve got to make sure I’m being patient with that. But then there were some points where I had to talk with the lead pastor to say, Hey, you know, we’re, we still haven’t quite shifted some of this and so here’s where you could help me. You know, when they come to you to solve this, just ask them if they’ve checked with Jenni yet. So anywhere where you can redirect—and that can be touchy. So you’ve got to make sure that you’re coming with a posture of you’re really there. It’s not because you’re insecure or whatever, you’re there because you want to help the organization succeed in this new structure. So the conversations with my lead pastor were really critical in that process as well.

Tony (16:03):

Just a side note, that’s a great parenting tip too because believe it or not, kids will play parents off each other. So thank you, Jenni for offering that as well. Saying I’ve lived by experience. That’s all. Alright. Dan, we talk a lot at The Unstuck Group about both the health and the performance of teams. Both are critical, especially in the church. We want the church to accomplish a great mission and we want the church to have a team that’s healthy when they do that. So, in large growing churches, which side of that equation do you think tends to get most neglected and how would you encourage other executive pastors to help overcome that tendency?

Dan (16:51):

Tony, I think that’s an important question. And in the churches that I’m in, around the country, I actually, I see both sides. It’s potential for both sides to be neglected. Either side can be neglected depending sometimes on the culture of the staff or the circumstances of the church or where the church is and their life cycle kind of thing. But I would say that private, primarily because of speed and pressure, the health side of the organization tends to get neglected a little bit more. But I want to be quick to say not because people stop caring, not because they don’t, they don’t care anymore. But because the larger you get, the more difficult it is to keep a pulse on it. It’s much, much easier to measure performance than it is health. I mean, subjectively you can intuitively you can. But again, when the organization’s larger, it’s easy to get it, you know, squishy around, you know, you can’t see it. So I think to encourage, you know, what can you do? What can we do? What do churches do? I think establishing values, establishing cultural values, cultural behaviors that really cultivate health, that they help you monitor it, help you talk about it, help you stay in the game. I’ll give you a couple of examples of things that we do that are live here very much in the water. One is, Kevin put it—Kevin established just a long time ago as the founding pastor of the church. We call it MVP—mutual, voluntary submission. MVS, I’m sorry. MVS—mutual, voluntary submission. Here’s what it looks like. Kevin’s the senior pastor, founding pastor, clearly my boss, no question about it. He’s my boss. But in 18 years he’s never treated me like he’s my boss ever.

Dan (18:45):

Our kind of pattern, our picture where John Maxwell and I were always a Paul and Timothy. Kevin and I are more of a Lewis and Clark. We kind of brought certain skills together to the mix and we’re traveling off the map together, just trying to figure this out and, and there’s just a mutual voluntary submission to each other and that’s really embraced across our staff and that that practice helps in a big way. Another one that you would find in our, in our culture here that helps on the health side is we do something called the last 10%. You’ll hear that phrase a lot, the last 10% where most of the time, the first 80 or 90% of our conversation is good, but you really don’t get to the heart and the trust developing kinds of things that need to be said in a healthy way to produce the health that you really need. So we actually practice saying the last 10% in a healthy way and those, those kinds of things—I’ll give you one more, another thing that would be in the water here, very much in the culture. There’s a phrase that’s just true for us is that we want more for you than from you. And those kinds of things, they can’t be just like little plaques on the wall. They have to be the real deal. But if you were here and you, we’ve known each other a long time, Tony, those things here, those are really true things here that help us monitor the health and the vibrancy of their health in the organization.

Tony (20:13):

Yeah, and I appreciate your insight into as far as just the size of the team and as that grows, how that can naturally become more of a challenge on the health side of that equation. And personally, I have found that to be true in my leadership. As the number of people that I am supposed to be leading and I care for grows, what I’ve learned is I’m able to stay on top of all the tasks and the projects that they’re responsible for, but where I begin to slip is on the other side of the equation. In other words, I don’t know what they’re celebrating in their life. I don’t know the challenges they’re facing in their life. I don’t know how they’re trying to take their next step in the development of their leadership. More importantly, I don’t know how to pray for them. And those are all indicators that my span of care has gotten too big. And in those situations, like I said, I think because the way I’m wired up, I can stay on top of the performance, but it’s the other side of the equation that gets dropped. And too many times we see this not only with senior pastors, but also with executive pastors because it’s not uncommon as the church grows for the senior pastor to recognize I can’t lead the entire staff team anymore. So an executive pastor gets hired, but that unhealthy span of care was just transferred from the senior pastor to the executive pastor. So whatever seat you sit in within the organizational chart, particularly in a church, you just need to be mindful of do we have an appropriate span of care in place so that we can have healthy performance and health on the team as well. Dan, were you going to follow up?

Dan (21:59):

Yeah, just real quick and there are things you can, besides the kind of, you know, behaviors and culturally shaping kinds of things, there are actually things you can do with the staff together. For example, just yesterday, you know, we were—Kevin was talking about the fact that, you know, we, we pour an extensive time for prayer over the staff and we’ve, I’m sorry, over the church and we’ve had some two and three and four hour prayer times. We’re inviting the congregation to come in and they’ll literally wait in line for hours to be prayed over by large prayer teams. We did that yesterday for the staff. We had a prayer gathering for a little over two hours for the entire staff and anybody who wanted to be prayed over for any reason, for anything, personal work, whatever it might be, and it went over two hours where the staff, and it was just a warm, just really cool thing where they were prayed over and it was intimate and close and connected. But there are things we can do like that that we don’t always think of because we’re the ones praying for everybody else. But it was good to stop and say, you know, our team needs to be prayed over. And it was powerful.

Tony (23:09):

That’s great. All right, Paul, let me turn to you then for the final question on this particular topic, it seems like there’s a danger for someone in this executive pastor role, that there could be an unintended barrier that gets created between the senior pastor and the rest of the staff. When somebody steps into this executive pastor position. Now I know, Chad, your senior pastor, you have a healthy staff team. So I trust that this isn’t happening at Sun Valley, but how do we make sure it doesn’t because I would think that this could be a challenge, especially for the senior pastor that he or she might feel disconnected from the rest of the staff because of the existence of this executive pastor role.

Paul (23:59):

That’s great. Alright, Paul, let me turn to you then for the final question on this particular topic. It seems like there’s a danger for someone in this executive pastor role that there could be an unintended barrier that gets created between the senior pastor and the rest of the staff when somebody steps into this executive pastor position. Now I know, Chad, your senior pastor, you have a healthy staff team. So I trust that this isn’t happening at Sun Valley, but how do we make sure it doesn’t? Because I would think that this could be a challenge, especially for the senior pastor, that he or she might feel disconnected from the rest of the staff because of the existence of this executive pastor role.

Tony (24:23):

Yeah, sure. You know, to your point, Tony, there was a point in time where Sun Valley and the team was at such a size where Chad and I wanted to go to lunch with the staff and go to Subway and grab a sandwich or something like that. We all sat around a table and we talked and maybe something came up, and we made it an organizationally directional changing decision over subs at subway, you know. It’s unfortunate that you couldn’t find a better restaurant to go to.

Paul (24:30):

You know, things change.

Tony (24:31):

Oh, sorry, sorry for the subway fans that are listening. I apologize. All right, carry on.

Paul (24:38):

You get the point. But as the team grew, there’s naturally more distance created between Chad and those kinds of conversations where he could just be with a team, hear their voice, hear their heart and maybe even more importantly vice versa. And I’ve learned over time and you know learnings or things you’d pick up that you should’ve known ahead of time, I guess, that distance actually doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Distance actually makes the heart wander a little bit. And when there’s gaps in relational distance, those are oftentimes, more often than not, filled with distrust instead of trust. We begin to be suspect of people’s decisions and their motives, and we begin to think and fill in the gaps when we don’t hear the story directly from the person, we begin to fill in those little stories ourselves. And so we’ve got to be very intentional to try to create access with Chad and the rest of the team. And we do this lots of different ways where I focus more on leading the team, providing direction. We try to help our staff understand that Chad’s their pastor, even though they may be in a different location, that he loves them, cares for them, deeply praise for them often. We do this through, we’ll go and we’ll grab lunch with different teams on different campuses and we’ll sit around and we’ll still, Hey, whatever you want to ask. Nothing’s off limits now. It takes time. But to Dan’s point, health takes time. And your friendship with Jesus doesn’t happen in a hurry.

Paul (26:30):

And so, your friendship with your team doesn’t happen in a hurry either. So simple things like literally scheduling in time to go have lunch with a team on a particular campus and just provide a little bit of access to have conversations. Once a month, we have an all staff gathering where Chad’s providing not just direction, not just leadership, but he’s pastoring the staff. I help try to keep him informed of, you know, what are the decisions we’re making that are affecting everybody, but also what are the one off situations where we have a team member and they have somebody that they love deeply in their family who’s in the hospital—Chad’s not going to go to every hospital visit, but when it comes to our staff, we’re going to treat our staff a little bit different. They’re going to get a little more access to Chad than the rest of the church is going to get. So it’s a little bit of a two way street, Tony. Part of it is how I can help with that from a scheduling standpoint and scheduling a value in our organizational rhythm. But part of that is Chad actually cares about the team. You know, his heart is not just for plowing forward and reaching more people with the gospel and that that’s the truth, but he cares about how our team’s actually doing and what’s going on in their lives.

Tony (27:31):

Very good. Alright, let’s jump to this third role then. This is the third role that executive pastors can’t delegate. And it’s all about driving core initiatives. So the key thought here is that executive pastors have to own the responsibility for driving these core initiatives in order to free the senior pastors to focus on only the roles that they can be responsible for. And we’ve talked about some of those roles for senior pastors in the past on previous podcasts as an example—being the vision cast or being their spiritual leader, the primary teacher, being the champion of culture, being the leader of leaders within the organization. These are roles, especially in larger churches that senior pastors can’t delegate, but in order for them to live out their role, that means one of the roles that executive pastors can’t delegate is really driving key core initiatives for the ministry. And Dan, I want to begin with you. You’ve worked for a couple of incredibly gifted senior pastors, both very high capacity leaders. One of them famously said, “You have to give up to go up.” So for a lot of high capacity senior leaders, that’s easier said than done. Can you share an example where you really had to work to get your pastor to give up something to free him up to do what only he could do? And what did that conversation look like? Because that doesn’t sound like a fun conversation to me.

Dan (29:05):

Well, it can be a difficult conversation. You know, when I joined the team here at 12Stone, actually was Crossroads back then 18 years ago. But, it was when I joined the team, the staff then sort of affectionately said about Kevin that he would never give the keys away. He wouldn’t give the keys to anybody because it was his baby. He was the founding pastor. But I can, I can tell you today he did give the keys away. He’s never taken them back. As a matter of fact, I’ve tried to give them back on occasion and he does. And, but we, cause we really put more energy than also into something I think that sometimes those partnerships as we, the phrase we use is, is reclaimed the margin. You know, when a senior pastor gives up half his job and Kevin would say, he literally gave me half his job and he did without paying attention to now what do you do with the half of the new margin you have, you can really lose out and the staff does, doesn’t move forward. So we put a lot of energy into, so what does he do and, and what is the new and the fresh and, and how does he utilize that margin by doing that? His calendar is so full with bigger and better things. It’s easier for him to let go of stuff. And I would actually tease him, laugh at him because it was, it didn’t take long where he didn’t know what was going on. And you know, he would say, well, what are the ministries? What are we doing? And I’d say, you know what, I would laugh at him, but then the tables turned because about, I don’t know, nine or 10 years later, I didn’t know what was going on. And he’s no mercy now, just like, you know, and, and cause now I’m in the same position he’s in. But honestly that was perhaps as big of a struggle for me, maybe bigger for me than it was for him. And we’re both good empowers. But I remember what it felt like in, amongst the leaders in the church when they would say, so, Hey Dan, you know, catch me on the lobby or something. So when is the student ministry, the middle school, high school ministry at such and such campus meet. And I’d go, I don’t know. And they would have a whole litany of those questions and it took me a long time to accept the fact that, I don’t know, I shouldn’t know. I don’t need to know. We have a super capable team, but I think it was this complicated for me as a longterm XP as it was for the senior pastor.

Tony (31:43):

Dan, that’s such a key point. In fact, I, I was having a conversation with an executive pastor just in the last couple of weeks and we were talking about these roles that really he needs to lean into more. He needs to give more of his leadership to these roles that we’re talking about today. But one of his concerns was if in order for me to do that, I’m going to have to pull out of some of what I’m responsible for currently. And then it was, you could almost see his mind processing—I’m concerned I won’t have a job. There’s not going to be stuff for me to do. So why is it important do you think for executive pastors, especially as the church grows to get to the place where they don’t know all the details?

Dan (32:28):

You know, are you asking me Tony?

Tony (32:30):

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dan (32:31):

Yeah. I think in the same way that the executive team or whatever you want to call them, senior staff, senior pastor in particular board, you know, we want to see around the corner. We want to be able to see ahead. We want to be able to anticipate. I think for the executive pastor in particular, there are things like we might be more in the moment a little bit more in the day, but, but you, you still have to be working in advance. You always have to be in front of the team on at least one thing if not two or three. That’s a great way to figure out if you’re actually leading or just managing by asking yourself the question, what are you out in front of the team? Meaning if you’re not driving this particular thing, it’s not going to happen. And that’s really important even on a more subjective things like culture. A good way to say it metaphorically is, you know, are you putting in the water that’s good and what are you trying to take out of the water that needs to be taken out of, out of the culture. And that kind of, that kind of thing takes a lot of very dedicated thinking, very longterm processing. And if you’re in the details and messing with stuff like that, you can’t rise up to that stuff that like you’ve mentioned before, Paul, the how long it takes to shape the culture. You know, if you’re working on a culture shaping and development and learning, you know, raising the bar for who you’re hiring, those things take a lot of effort, a lot of energy, a lot of thought, a lot of time. And you can’t really do it if you’re stuck in the details.

Tony (34:04):

That’s good. Well, speaking of some of those bigger initiatives, Paul, what are some examples, you mentioned one earlier, multi-site, but what are some of those big core initiatives that you’ve had to drive in order to free up, Chad, your senior pastor to soar in his role?

Paul (34:20):

Yeah, one in particular, we’ve done this just recently, you know, even with our, to Dan’s language, their executive team, our senior staff, you know, they report to me. It’s much more of a partnership. I mean, we don’t really have to pull the boss card. You know, we’ve got bigger problems, but we’re leading with one another ministry. And, you know, for quite some time Chad was in those meetings. And just recently this last year, we, he, because Chad is a pretty sober-minded fellow, made a decision that, you know, it’s not best for him to be in those meetings. There’s time, there’s times he needs to be in there, but, he needs to be spending his time and his energy thinking about the future and thinking about building culture, thinking about vision, where he’s leaving the church. It’s up to the rest of this team to think through the execution side of that. And, to be honest with you, execution conversations take energy away from Chad and anything that takes energy away from Chad in the seat that he sits and actually hurts the church. And so if it’s taking energy away from him, it’s actually taking energy away from the church. And so we want him in his very best. And so, one example, real tangibly, we made that shift. He comes into our executive team meetings about every third week. Sometimes he’ll jump in for a 15 minute conversation—one little thing he needs to have his voice in and we coordinate that. But that’s one thing that was just recently we’ve removed from his plate. But it’s not a taking away of something. It’s to Dan’s point, it’s knowing who you are, knowing who you’re not doing what’s best for the whole. And, you know, Dan talked about the similar, the mutual submission between him and Kevin and leaning into each other’s areas of brilliance. And so it has more to do with that and being who God’s wired you up to be and what’s best for the church as it is to letting go of something that belongs to you. And you know, Sun Valley isn’t belonged to either one of us. This is God’s church. Yeah. So, you know, board leadership is an example of that. Senior staff recruiting. There’s all kinds of initiatives depending on what’s needed in a moment that may fall on my shoulders. But I’m certainly soliciting his input and keeping him informed so he’s not leading in the dark.

Tony (36:38):

That’s good. That’s good. Alright, Jenni, I want to wrap up this part of the conversation with you. And by the way, I’m sure this has never happened to you, but you’ve probably heard of the situation where a senior pastor is overflowing with new visions, new strategies, and they’re just one conference or one book away from trying to implement something brand new in the organization. You’re familiar with other churches that have this challenge?

Jenni (37:08):

I’ve just heard of a few.

Tony (37:11):

Alright. So given that’s the challenge, and given that one of the roles that executive pastors can’t delegate is just driving these core initiatives as an executive pastor, how do you maintain that focus when many times you’re working for a visionary that’s dreaming bigger dreams all the time?

Jenni (37:30):

Yeah, it’s such a good question and I think every executive pastor probably deals with this to some degree. And part of it is that you’ve got to recognize that that actually is a good thing. You know, like one of the things we need our senior pastors to do is to have, you know, to be pursuing vision. Now, you know, a new idea a day or a week is a little much. So, I mean part of our responsibility as an executive pastor is to be that person who is, you know, helping us stay consistent to that strategy, to those core initiatives that we’ve defined and recognizing that’s a big part of the role that you play. I think I can remember kind of that ah-ha moment where, you know, I recognized I actually do need to bring a different voice and perspective than my senior leader, right? Like that’s actually the gift I bring to him and to the church is when I can be kind of that balancing, you know, piece of saying, okay, but hey remember, you know, here’s, here’s the strategy we mapped out, here’s where we are, here’s what we’re doing with our core initiatives. And so it’s recognizing that that’s the seat you sit in and, and being comfortable in owning that place and not getting exasperated when they come with a lot of ideas. But just helping kind of, you know, I think one of the things that I learned in that space was I needed to be able to come back to my senior pastor and help him see how we were actually taking great steps towards our strategy and the progress we were making on our initiatives so he could feel that momentum because I think a lot of times for visionary idea guys, they just, they love the energy of new and feeling the momentum of new. So sometimes we have to remember to translate what’s happening back to them so that they can, they feel that movement towards some of those bigger longterm initiatives. So I think you’ve got to own it and recognize live in that tension of that space. And then you’ve got to be able to balance it because they are going to have some ideas that they’re really passionate about and want to see implemented. And if you’re always the wet blanket on it, that’s going to end up becoming frustrating. So I always said I was kind of the bridge between reality and possibility, but my senior pastor was, you know, the possibilities guy and my team were the ones living in the reality of what’s it going to take. And I had to be the translator between those two places, which can be a little tiring. But again, you’ve got to own it and recognize this is, this is, this is the role I play.

Jenni (39:51):

So how can I help translate to my senior pastor? Hey, that idea is awesome. I love it. Here’s what that would take for the team. So let me tell you how or when I think we could do that. And I’ve found that when I would come back with not just a, no, that’s a bad idea or we can’t do it, but I would come back with, well, here’s how you know, here’s what it would take for the team to be able to implement that. But it would be at the exchange of this other thing that five weeks ago was a priority and you know, just kind of helping reset. And so they would kind of see the consequence of if we implement a brand new idea because that’s really exciting today. It’s at the expense of this core initiative that when we, you know, sat down and built our strategic plan, we said this was key to us this year. So anywhere where you can just try to bring perspective and um, and really help your, your senior pastor kind of understand if they have a new big idea that they’re thinking they want to implement. If I can help him see the whole, the whole picture of what that’s going to mean both for the team and for, you know, to, to the strategy we’ve already set. Typically that would help kind of right size it a little bit. But, yeah, just that, that recognition that that’s a big part of where you live and you’ve got to help kind of be that bridge between those two things.

Tony (41:10):

You might’ve just shared the most important thing that we could have covered on this webinar and that’s if you’re an executive pastor, don’t always be a wet blanket for your senior pastors dreams and ideas.

Sean (41:22):

Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. Don’t forget today to visit and download the free resource on planning your ministry calendar. At The Unstuck Group, our goal is to help pastors grow healthy churches by guiding them to align vision strategy, team, and action. With every tool and process, we develop our priorities to help churches help people meet and follow Jesus. We’re here to help you get your church unstuck, and you can learn more by visiting us at Next week, we’re back with another new episode. 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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