what makes a great executive pastor?

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You’re wired to help the church be effective and get things done, but there are other qualities I notice in the best Executive Pastors.

When I was starting out in full-time ministry more than 20 years ago, if you had told me that I would one day serve as an Executive Pastor of a multi-mega church I would have asked you, “What is an Executive Pastor?”

More and more often now, I’m running into young church leaders that aspire to be an Executive Pastor. I’m fielding more and more questions about what young leaders can do to prepare for the role.

With that in mind, here are a couple of recommendations I’d make to any young church leader who thinks they may serve as an Executive Pastor (XP) one day.

These are some qualities of a great executive pastor—

1. Sober-Mindedness

Understand who you are, come to terms with who you are, and then be who you are.

It’s not uncommon for young church leaders to think big and want something bigger than they’re able to handle sooner than they’re ready for it. It takes a deep well of experience built over time to serve well in the XP role—not just talent.

2. Submission to Authority

In Matthew 8:5-13 the Roman Centurion demonstrates an incredible XP mindset (seriously, click the link and read it). He understands what it’s like to be in authority, so he has no problem submitting to authority.

Great XP’s submit to the authority of the Lead Pastor. They challenge appropriately, lead up, and ultimately understand what it means to both be in authority and under authority at the same time.

Great XP’s submit to the authority of the Lead Pastor. They challenge appropriately, lead up, and ultimately understand what it means to both be in authority and under authority at the same time. Share on X

3. An Ability to Recruit, Place & Develop People

The church is ultimately about people development.

The theological term is sanctification, the every day church term is discipleship. Whatever label you want to put on it, great Executive Pastors are great at recruiting the right people, putting them in the right seat to succeed, and developing them.

4. An Excellent Sense of Organizational Alignment

The best XP’s I’ve ever been around have an uncanny sense of alignment. They’re playing chess, not checkers. They’re constantly working and reworking the organizational alignment (staff, finances, facilities, communication, and ministries) of the church so it doesn’t become a lid to growth.

5. An Ability to Fill the Gap Between Vision and Reality

Great Executive Pastors fill the gap between vision and reality.

In other words, they’re strategic in nature. They think “how” are we going to get “there?” But they’re not negative about that “how.” They’re solution-oriented.

6. The Drive to Grow 

It takes a heart for theology and a head for business to be a great XP. If you’ve got more of a business background, get some solid theological training. If you have a theological background, go get your MBA.

 7. An Understanding That the Church Isn’t a Business

The Church isn’t a business. It has a clear mission from Jesus about why it exists.

The best churches have a clear vision regarding where they’re going and strategies to align staff and other resources around.

There are a lot of things that “smell” like a business in the church (after all, the book of Proverbs in the Bible too), but it’s not a business. The Church is the Body of Christ, it’s the family of God. The goal is not to make shareholders happy by having a strong bottom line—it’s life change.

Here are a few more resources on the executive pastor role

Senior Pastor vs. Executive Pastor: What Makes This Relationship Work

The relationship between the senior pastor and the executive pastor can make or break a church staff team.

It has profound impact upon the overall ministry of the church. Get this right and you’ll end up getting a lot right. Get it wrong, and well, it’s going to be tough sledding.

Executive Pastor Jobs: There are 3 Roles You Can’t Delegate

As an Executive Pastor, you’re wired to help the church be effective and get things done, but you’re not immune to the ministry whirlwind.

Take a step out of the whirlwind to refocus. What are the things ONLY you can do?

Get a framework for evaluating the work that lands on your desk and deciding what gets delegated and what does not. You’ll walk away with:

  • Greater clarity on the wins for your role
  • A foundation for a more effective working relationship with your lead pastor
  • A practical way to decide what gets delegated and what does not

Paul Alexander

Paul is a Ministry Consultant with The Unstuck Group. Paul has more than 20 years experience serving in the local church, the last 15 of which have been on the Sr. Leadership Teams of some of the nation’s leading mega-churches. Currently, Paul is serving as the Executive Pastor at Sun Valley Community Church, a large multi-site church located in the Phoenix area.

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