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The purpose of an Executive Pastor

This is probably the clearest I’ve got it so far, and I’ve been thinking about this for a while. The purpose of an Executive Pastor is to:

  1. Help the Team Leader ‘lead’.
  2. Support the Team as it ‘teams’.
  3. Keep gospel work absolutely central.

If an Executive Pastor plays a special role for the church, it is primarily helping the Senior Pastor as they “lead”. And right there you have to stop, because every SP is different with different skills, strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. As such, a good EP will “shadow” their SP and try to take on whatever takes up most of their SP’s energy. Thus no two EPs will be the same. (That said, some common EP responsibilities are; facilities oversight and management, strategic planning, resource management, financial management, policies, insurance, legal, IT, communications, calendar oversight, vendor relations, fundraising, etc.)

But the SP is not the only thing they help manage. The EP plays an important role in keeping the SP’s team to keep on being a team, to keep being on track. Again, since each SP and each Team is different, this will look like various things. One common aspect is to see what’s sapping the team’s energy most and trying to put things in place to offset that. (E.g. If all your team is exhausting themselves with IT issues, don’t wait for them all to fix it themselves, get someone to come in and help everyone. If they’re all struggling to keep organised, develop a system that will help them not hinder them.)

However, the last aspect of an EP’s role is the most important. It’s keeping the gospel work as the priority while they do the things around it. I’ve heard stories of Church Managers who have crippled their church staff with red-tape, policies and procedures to such an extent that the staff do less people work… they all become servants of the EP. But that’s the wrong way around. The EP is always a servant of the gospel and a slave of the team.

A great picture of this is Stephen in Acts 6. The Apostles can’t keep up with the logistic activity of food distribution, so to keep focused on gospel work and prayer they appoint people like Stephen… who then goes and preaches, gets arrested and martyred. Now that’s a good EP!

Aside: When is it an Executive Pastor, General Manager, Administrative Leader, etc?
We’ve made the decision that a large part of my responsibilities is to prayerfully pastor people and speak into pastoral situations in an executive (high-level) manner. I’d suggest that if an Exec Pastor is not preaching or playing a key role in high-level pastoral decisions, they might be better titled “General Manager” or “Executive Director”.

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The best feedback you can get… “it seemed a bit weird”

Like the tip of an ice-berg, the feedback that you (or something you did) seemed a “bit weird” is some of the best feedback you can get. Why? Because it reveals that you and your listener were on a very different worldview. Here is a person who sees the world in a very different way to you… so different that the thing you did din’t make sense to them. Gold!!

So what’s under that tip of the ice-berg?

Is it their peculiarity? Or is it yours?
Is it their attention span? Or is it your idea of what’s engaging?
Is it the structure they couldn’t follow? Or the content within the structure?
Is it the tone they felt your used? Or was it the tone you tried to use?
Was there something going on you didn’t know about? Or were you assuming they knew the context better than they did?
Did they hear what you actually said? Or did you say something you didn’t mean?

The feedback that it was a “bit weird” is — if you can upturn that ice-berg — a gold mine of self-understanding!

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When they laugh at your faith

Christians believe something very deeply… we’ve entrusted our lives, careers, money, opportunities, everything over to Jesus. We’re depending on Jesus’ grace to get us through death. These are all serious things!

So it makes it really hard when our non-Christian friends or family poke fun at our faith. When they joke about going to church, or even mention “hell” like its a place they’ll get to party. So, apart from letting it pass most of the time, in the odd times you can address it, what might we say?

  • “Just a second… I’d really like you to think about what you said just then.”
  • “Hey, I’m not sure you realise how important this is to me personally. Can I explain?”
  • “I know you think it’s kinda funny, but I really care what you think about this stuff.”

It may not get somewhere, but it might help them realise that you really do take it seriously… and maybe they should too.

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The love that sparks the task should fuel the task

When you start a project or task its easy to get motivated. New things are exciting and carry a sense of momentum. But we don’t just go and do new things… we do things that we believe in… we just find it easier to do the new ones!

So how do you keep plugging away at the project or task when it’s no longer new?

Part of the answer is to re-consider the motivation that made that task exciting in the first place. Ask yourself (or your team), “What were you excited about this project before you got started? What were you hoping it would do?”

The goal or purpose of the project shouldn’t have changed since then. And that means the motivation to reach that goal shouldn’t have changed either.

So dig into the love that sparked the task, and keep working to use that motivation to fuel the task.

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How many complaints are you prepared to hear?

No one likes hearing complaints, even when we know they come from a good place and the person complaining is trying to do it for the church’s good… but how many are you prepared for. 

I’d like to assume that most godly positive Christians might have cause to suggest or raise a significant issue once ever 12 months. That seems fair, right?

So if you had a church of 55 people… that would be more that one complaint a week. A church of 200 people would be 4 complaints per week. 

If these people truly have the church and the kingdom at heart, that’s a lot of listening and understanding and explaining to do. 

And that’s why churches need really clear reasons for doing the things they’re doing. It helps when dealing with the always new issues being raised. 

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Assume you don’t really understand until…

When you’re trying to convince someone of something the conversation will start in one of two places; either they know you don’t agree or they don’t know that yet. (Eg salesman know they don’t agree with your budget, but they want you to feel like they are on your side, so they don’t tell you they disagree).

But how do you go about convincing someone when there’s a known, articulated disagreement? 

You assume you don’t really understand what they’re saying. You ask them about their point of view, their idea, their world, and so on, until they stop you and start asking questions themselves. 

They might even start asking deeper questions about their own ideas.

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Who else have you spoken to?

Often when people ask you for advice or come to us with a problem, it can make you feel important and valuable. However, it’s worth asking “who else have you spoken to?” for several reasons…

  • Avoid becoming someone’s only confidant. Are they telling the people they should tell? Are you the only person they are relying on? Is it appropriate?
  • Have they already spoken to loads of people? Have they all given the same advice? Are any of those people on your team? Is there a danger of undermining someone else’s hard pastoral work?
  • Are they telling only part of the story to you and part of the story to other people? 
  • Are they just raising the issue because they enjoy the attention you’re giving them? Is crisis resolution the only time you give people attention?