Hey, Executive Pastor: 5 Things Your Senior Pastor Needs from You

Last week, I wrote about the 5 things that every Executive Pastor needs from his or her Senior Pastor. As I mentioned, this is a very delicate relationship. If a local church is going to thrive, this is the most important relationship on the staff, and it must be strong and healthy.

I had the privilege to work for two decades for an amazing leader from whom I learned so much. He trusted me with high-level leadership way before I was ready and supported me nearly every step of the way. I had the opportunity to craft my role and grow into it as the church grew around us. In our 20 years together, we saw the church double, then double again, and then double two more times. We went from 6 staff members to 129 on our team. When we started working together, we owned no buildings or property, but that quickly grew to two sites, more than 60 acres, and 150,000 SF in buildings. It was all new for both of us. At every step of the way, neither of us had ever led at that level before. What a tremendous learning experience!

For the past 9 years, I’ve had the privilege to coach more than 150 leaders who sit in the #2 chair and fill the role of Executive Pastor. Every semester, I join with 16 leaders and get to learn from them as we study together what it means to be an Executive Pastor.

(Click here to read more about the Executive Pastor Coaching Network that I'll be leading this spring and the Lead Pastor Coaching Network led by my colleague, David Whiting.)

It is from my 20 years in the #2 chair, and my many years of coaching leaders, that I offer this list of 5 things every Senior Pastor needs from his or her Executive Pastor:

1.       Strategic Judgment. If you don’t have this, your Senior Pastor feels compelled to step back in and begin to run things again. That typically isn’t best for them or for the church. If you don’t naturally think strategically or organizationally, then get some training and some people around you who naturally think that way. Many Senior Pastors have dreams of where the church should go, but need a strategic mind to help figure out how to get there.

2.       Competence. Someone must have their finger on the pulse of how the church is doing with finances, facilities, legal issues, and HR issues—and that is often the Executive Pastor. You must know enough to be able to speak with great clarity and confidence about the health of the church and any threats that exist. Your Senior Pastor needs you to be up-to-speed on these issues.

3.       Someone to process. There are times when the Lead Pastor need to verbally process what is going on in their head. This is tricky, because you will be tempted to talk about how impossible it is because of money or staff limitations. But you should give them space to dream. Where else can they do this safely if not with you?

4.       Buffer. This is a delicate one, because your Senior Pastor may not know he or she needs it — but they need you to be a buffer. Their energy about the typo in the bulletin or fingerprints on the glass windows will not be helpful if shared in the moment. You need to be able to absorb this energy and then tackle the systems or offer appropriate correction to the people who can fix it long-term. Your Senior Pastor needs to focus on message preparation and overall vision, and not be burdened with the daily decisions of running the church. In the best situations, the Lead Pastor leads the church, and the Executive Pastor runs the church.

5.       Speak truth to power. Most Senior Pastors have very few people who tell them the truth. You may have heard it said, “The last time you heard the truth about what was happening in the organization was the first day you became CEO.” That is true for Lead Pastors as well. But they need someone next to them who will graciously and with wise timing say what is true. Do this sparingly — it is an amazing gift that very few others are in the position to offer.

I am sure this list is not exhaustive. I’d love to hear from your experience about what else every Senior Pastor needs from his or her executive leader.

Credit: Doug Slaybaugh was an Executive Pastor at Saddleback Church for many years. Now he spends his time with the Paterson Center helping leaders focus on what is important in their churches and in their personal lives. We recently spent some time together talking about the critical nature of the relationship between the senior pastor and executive pastor. It is from that conversation that I wrote this article.

Tim StevensComment