Executive Pastor: What and Why?

Article by

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

God does not hurry. For more than five years we have been pondering the possible need of an Executive Pastor. When Dan Lehn was Business Administrator we invited the Executive Pastor from Church of the Open Door to let us pick his brain. For several months Tom Steller has been functioning as a kind of guinea pig part-time Executive Pastor to test run the concept at Bethlehem. The upshot was that the elders have approved a job description for an Executive Pastor and set in motion a search process. Two lay elders (Ross Anderson and Randy Westlund) and the pastoral staff are functioning as a search committee. The reason for this kind of committee is the unique function of the Executive Pastor in relation to the staff. The congregation approved last January a budget which included an Executive Pastor’s salary for part of 1997. If a candidate is found, the congregation will have opportunity to interact with him before a congregational vote is called.

There are two impulses behind this staffing decision. One has to do with the growth and complexity of Bethlehem’s ministry, and the other has to do with my calling, gifts and limitations as Senior Pastor (perhaps not the best title).

The Executive Pastor differs from the Senior Pastor in that he gives more immediate oversight to organization: planning, directing and evaluating the ministries of the church. He is the human nerve-center for the creation, development, staffing, coordinating, and direction of ministries in the church. He sees that these things get done, so that communication, harmony and faithfulness to the vision prevail. Most immediately he relates directly to the staff as the central sprocket that all their cogs fit into. He serves them by seeing that their efforts cohere with the mission of the church and the other areas of ministry, and that they have the share of resources they need.

Example: Someone gets the vision of implementing a “2000 by 2000” hotline for the next three years and writes up a proposal. This would have an immediate impact on office staff, phone usage, and the ministries of David Livingston (E1) and Tom Steller (E2). It would require not only initial conceptual planning, but weekly design and interaction from someone. This proposal would be funneled to the Executive Pastor. He would bounce it off relevant people, both staff and lay people, and possibly bring a refined proposal to the pastoral staff. The green light would release him to seek out a layperson to put in charge and to oversee the process of how the ministry would be carried forward. There are dozens of such ideas every year in a healthy and dynamic church. And that is just one kind of example.

The Senior Pastor (me) is freed by the Executive Pastor to focus more immediately on study, preaching, writing and trumpeting the vision—spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. The primary role of the Senior Pastor in relation to the church leadership is to give solid biblical orientation and joyful biblical inspiration. In my case, I believe I have a stewardship committed to me by God to preach and to write. I am less suited in my gifts and limitations for organizational management than for this. I love being faithful to this stewardship as part of Bethlehem rather than off on my own. I love building a people by the word of God, being a partner in global and local ministry, and being held accountable in my life and doctrine by a council of fellow elders. Thus the calling of an Executive Pastor seems to be an ideal way of unleashing the manifold ministries of the church and maximizing the unique contributions of each pastor.

Seeking your prayer support for our search for such a person,

Pastor John