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Opposites Impact: Lead & Executive Pastors
Lead pastors often have a tough time finding an executive pastor because they tend to look for a version of themselves, but the second-in-charge should never be a clone. Instead, the lead and executive pastors should work like two pedals on a bike.
When you hear the word executive, what comes to mind? Do you automatically think about high-level business or the corporate world? Do you envision a corner office with a view?
And then, God allowed me the opportunity to be part of church leadership in a way that I had never imagined. He called me to be an executive pastor.
When I talk about the executive pastor, I’m referring to the second-in-charge (a.k.a. “2IC”) function within the church, belonging to the leader or team of leaders working closest to the preaching pastor or lead pastor. Regardless of who holds senior authority in the church (in some churches, a board of directors or even the congregation can outvote the preacher), in the vast majority of cases the preaching pastor is the most prominent leader in the congregation, hence he is referred to as “lead pastor.” The executive pastor (a.k.a. “XP”) is the lead pastor’s right-hand man.
Some lead pastors may have one 2IC; other churches may have a small team of two or three. The general sense is that one leader charts the course and sets the vision, while another works behind the scenes to make it happen. In a ministry context, however, there is one important component that may not be present in these other relationships: love.
The executive pastor (a.k.a. “XP”) is the lead pastor’s right-hand man.
Love for the lead pastor isn’t about hero worship or hoisting someone up on a pedestal. It starts with a love for Jesus and his church, which results in an affection and respect for human leadership.
Co-leader, not clone
The executive pastor must focus on implementation and management, and defer to the vision, authority, and gifts of the lead pastor. This is very hard to do unless the lead pastor actually is your pastor: you trust him, care about him, and believe that God has called him to lead your church body.
Lead pastors often have a tough time finding an executive pastor because they tend to look for a version of themselves: a charismatic gatherer of people who can help carry the teaching load. There’s nothing wrong with having another preacher around as a backup or an apprentice, but the executive pastor role is different.
One leader charts the course and sets the vision, while another works behind the scenes to make it happen.
A lead pastor doesn’t need a clone or a competitor nipping at his heels. He needs a co-leader who can cover his weaknesses and watch his blind spots. The reason why there’s no standard executive pastor job description is because every executive pastor must be a complementary match for the lead pastor. Wherever the lead pastor struggles—be it with fundraising, management, leadership development, guest services, or marketing—that’s where the executive pastor must be strong.
If the lead pastor and executive pastor share the exact same gifts (if they both want the pulpit, for example), they’ll end up competing for preeminence, and the lead pastor may have a difficult time trusting and empowering a guy who could come after his job.
Lead pastors often have a tough time finding an executive pastor because they tend to look for a version of themselves.
Instead, the lead and executive pastors should work like two pedals on a bike. A true executive pastor would never be in the running to replace the lead pastor because of their opposite skill sets. Rule of thumb: if the thought of getting on stage to preach the Sunday sermon makes you want to upchuck, you might be cut out for the role of executive pastor.
Complete, don’t compete
That’s not to say that an executive pastor should never teach. In fact, as an overseer of the church, that’s part of the role (1 Tim. 3:2). But teaching a class on stewardship, leading staff Bible study, or presenting to the board of directors is a whole lot different than preaching every Sunday in front of the whole congregation. An executive pastor may teach, but generally he doesn’t like it. And even if he does, nobody’s going to prefer him to the usual guy.
A lead pastor doesn’t need a clone or a competitor nipping at his heels.
In my present role, never in my wildest dreams have I ever thought about taking over for Pastor Mark Driscoll. He was born to preach, while for me any sort of public speaking is an act of raw self-discipline. I love working with finances, real estate, management, and systems, while Pastor Mark has never opened Excel.
We need lots and lots of faithful preachers, and we need just about as many complementary overseers to come alongside these preachers so that the gospel of Jesus can go out more effectively and reach as many people as possible. As John Maxwell has rightly stated, leaders need to complete each other, not compete with each other.
In the weeks to come, I’m excited to share several different ways that I’ve learned to love my lead pastor and to complete him instead of compete with him. Stay tuned.