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6 Guidelines for Executive Pastors

6 Guidelines for Executive Pastors
by Pastor Jamie Munson, Lead Pastor of Mars Hill Church ~ Seattle

For several years, I served as the Executive Pastor of Mars Hill Church. These days that role belongs to Tim Beltz. When Mark Driscoll shifted from Lead Pastor to Preaching Pastor a couple years ago, I stepped into the lead role.

This experience has given me an interesting perspective on the unique relationship between lead and executive pastors. At the upcoming Acts 29 Bootcamp in Raleigh, NC, I plan on speaking to a group of church planters about the role of executive pastor, and how he can work effectively with the lead pastor. In preparation for that discussion, I’ve come up with these six guidelines for executive pastors:
1.    Know your calling – First and foremost, you’re called to be a Christian who worships Jesus. Second, you’re called to lead your wife and kids. After that, comes your broader ministry. If for you that means “executive pastor,” then you need to ask yourself: Am I content with being a behind the scenes guy? This is critical, because if your motivation is to be the lead pastor yourself, then you’re in the wrong position. You’ll be perennially frustrated and working out of the wrong motives, and ultimately the lead pastor, the church, your family, and you will not be well served. Know your calling and be content with that calling. Being an executive pastor doesn’t mean you’ll never expand your influence for the gospel beyond Excel spreadsheets. And it doesn’t mean you’ll never be a lead pastor or church planter down the road someday. But as you serve in the executive pastor capacity, you must be faithful to the role God’s given you.

2.    Fear and respect – You must fear God and respect the Lead Pastor. Don’t mix that up, and if you do, repent. 1 Timothy 5 and 6 lay out a very concrete explanation of the distinction between who is to be feared and who is to be respected. We fear God out of holy reverence for his power, grace, mercy, justice, and compassion. We can do this in part by respecting those in authority over us. We mustn’t elevate the lead pastor to a place of idolatry and worship him above God, but we also mustn’t belittle and abuse the lead pastor in the name of “brotherhood.” 

3.    Mutual understanding – There is no cookiecutter job description for either role; it depends on the gifts and talents of each man. You have to know one another’s strengths and weaknesses—what you’re good at, and what he’s good at. This understanding requires a real friendship, mutual respect, trial and error, and good communication. Over time, you will understand and clarify your specific roles, how you work together, and where your giftings overlap or differ. As you learn these things, write them down, ask questions, discuss and pray often. If you don’t, the enemy will drive a wedge between you in an effort to create a lack of trust and unity. If you don’t pursue clarity, you’ll be continually frustrated in second-guessing your every move. 

4.    Key relationships – All too often, the lead pastor is the relational glue between lots of people. The elders, board, staff, deacons, community leaders, and key donors all depend on their relationship with the lead pastor to move things forward, design new ministry, solve problems, make decisions and stay committed 100% to the ministry of the church. That is a lot of pressure and responsibility, and the lead pastor needs help. Not just administrative help, but leadership help. The executive pastor must provide relational leadership so that the lead pastor is not the sole hub to which every spoke is connected. Otherwise, the lead pastor will die and so will the church, especially if the church is growing fast. The executive pastor must run point on certain relationships, and the lead pastor needs to affirm the executive pastor’s leadership when groves of people try to revert back to the old paradigm when the buddy relationship with the lead pastor was acceptable. This transition is probably one of the hardest growing pains in the life of a church, but it must be done for the good of everyone.

5.    Project management – This varies from man to man, but most lead pastors I know hate project management and administration. They like communication, they like knowledge of what’s going on, but the 'ins and outs' of every detail suck the life out of them. To make project management successful, you must take on and capture every detail you can, and build a team around you to help. Once you have a presentable summary, work out the right communication channel to engage the lead pastor for his necessary input, feedback, and vision. If you work out the right information, the right timing, and the right way to keep him informed, this builds trust and relationship in the process, allowing both men to do their jobs more effectively. 


6.    Different hats – The relationship between the lead pastor and executive pastor is complicated and muddy, but also life-giving, if properly understood. The relationship is mult-dimensional, and understanding what hat to wear and when is vital. And the hats are numerous: boss, subordinate, friend, peer, confidant, encourager, body guard, fullback, sounding board, realist, advocate, gatekeeper, bad cop, good cop ... to name a few. Only through a shared theology, mission, and genuine care for one another can these murky waters be navigated. If the the foundation of your relationship is firm, then you can cycle through the hats as needed.


You can connect with Pastor Jamie by twitter or facebook.


Seattle Boot Camp March 9-10:

Seattle - March 2009


Ps Tsholofelo

on Dec 19, 2012 :: 4:04 pm

Thank you so much. This will come very helpful for my husband who serves in this office, me alongside him.


on Jan 8, 2013 :: 3:45 pm

Thank you so much for your insight and information. I believe this is the area of ministry I'm being called toward, and your write up has helped clarify several questions I had.


on Feb 20, 2014 :: 10:02 pm

As an Executive Pastor for a year now, this is the first analysis I have read that cuts to the real points that matter for the role. I am blessed to be in a great relationship and dynamic with my Lead Pastor. I tell everyone who asks me about this role that that is what is most important for success of unity in our local part of the church kingdom. My relationship with Jesus and my Lead Pastor.