The Executive Pastor: Five Trends

For the past four decades the number of executive pastors has grown across America. Before the second half of the twentieth century, the staff position was rare to non-existent. With that growth has come a commensurate growth in confusion about the position. Whereas traditional programmatic roles such as students, senior adults, music and worship, and children have had clearly defined expectations, the role of executive pastor has been nebulous and changing.

Two Historical Broad Paths

In our informal survey over the past ten years, we have noted two major roles assumed by executive pastors. Some held responsibilities related to staff oversight. In some churches, all staff except the senior pastor were under the organizational responsibility of the executive pastor. In other churches, the primary role was staff oversight, but not inclusive of all staff.

The second major role has been business/administrative. Though I am reticent to compare churches to corporations, this role does have many similarities to a chief financial officer in the corporate world.

On some occasions, the executive pastor holds both staff oversight as well as operational leadership. In those churches, there are typically other staff under the executive pastor who help him carry on the heavy responsibilities.

Five Trends

In recent years we have noticed five clear trends related to the role of the executive pastor. Not all executive pastors, of course, would be included in all of these trends, but many would relate.

  1. More executive pastors in smaller churches. Ten to fifteen years ago it was rare to find an executive pastor in a church with an average worship attendance less than 3,000. That has certainly changed each subsequent year. Now it is common to see executive pastors in churches with an attendance around 2,000 or even lower. I know of several churches in the 800 to 1,200 attendance range that now have executive pastors, or they are seeking one.
  2. More executive pastors have staff responsibilities. Senior pastors of larger churches are eagerly seeking leaders who can provide staff oversight. That has now become one of the principal reasons an executive pastor is called to a church.
  3. A growing number of executive pastors are also teaching pastors. Those who hold this dual role are still in the minority, but the numbers are growing. I hear more senior pastors say that their ideal executive pastor would have good leadership skills to oversee a staff, good business and administrative skills to lead the operations of the church, and good preaching and teaching skills sufficient to be in the pulpit at least once a month. The “Superman executive pastor “ is evolving, at least expectations of one.
  4. More executive pastors have oversight of multiple venues. I have noted in earlier blogposts the growth of churches with multiple venues. It would make sense then that more executive pastors would be expected to lead the staff and operations of each of these venues or campuses.
  5. More executive pastors have a combination of business training and theological training. It is becoming more common to see executive pastors who have, for example, one business degree and one or two theological degrees, or vice versa. It makes sense. More executive pastors are expected to be both theologians and well-equipped business leaders.

What is the Future for the Role of the Executive Pastor?

In simplest terms, more will be expected, both in responsibilities and training. The better equipped of these executive pastors will be in high demand and relatively low supply. It is fast becoming a “hot” church staff position.

When I note trends, I am often perceived to be an advocate of those trends. Many times, as in the case of the trends of executive pastor, I am still processing the information. I am a long way away from becoming either an advocate or a detractor. But I would love to hear from you. My readers typically have opinions, and most of them are good.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
 
— Glenna Hendricks
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
 
— winston
 
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
 
— Russ Wright
 

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