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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”.

Joke around, but don’t veil complaints in humour

One of our Staff Team Values is that we love joking around. We love laughing, jokes, sarcasm and generally hanging out together. That hasn’t happened by chance… it’s something we’ve worked hard to protect.

But there’s a type of joking we don’t tolerate. Its the type of joking where you use humour to veil a serious frustration or complaint about someone else. It’s the type of humour where the butt of the joke is left feeling unsure whether people think something terrible about them. Using humour to thinly veil your issues or frustrations towards someone is cowardice.

The flip side of this deeply entrenched value is that when someone does make a joke about you, you can be sure they are never trying to hurt you… they’re really trying to love you.

Be careful giving feedback to people who don’t report to you

At one level, I think we all need to get better at giving specific, regular, behaviour based, feedback. But, we need to be careful that on doing so, we don’t undermine our peers, by encouraging their people to do things that they’re not meant to do.
So, instead, it might look something like… “Hey, I really appreciated when you [describe the ACTION you observed]. Is that what Ben (your manager) wanted you to do?”
They might say, “Yeah!” So you can say, “Great,”
They might say, “Actually, no… I think he wanted something different.” So you can say, “Well, it would be worth going back to Ben and making sure you understand WHY he wanted something different.”
They might say, “Actually, I don’t know.” So you can say, “Well, there were certainly some positives there, but it would be worth getting some specific feedback from Ben, heh?”
So, there… Feedback and keeping your team members first.

How many staff should you have per person?

Israel had about 1 Levite per 11 other Israelites. But that’s not particularly helpful.
This is a difficult question to answer because really… Who knows!?! The best you can do is have what you think is an appropriate ratio. But that then raises the question… Not only do you need to define whether “staff” means pastoral or also includes admin staff, but even trickier… What defines a “person” that your doing the ratio to?
See, imagine a church that has 1 paid staff. They might have 50 adults on average each Sunday. That’s 1:50 ratio. But there’s also 20 kids… So that’s a ratio of 1:70. And then there’s 20 or so people who come along irregularly. So that’s 1:90.
Sounds like good value, right? Wrong. A church’s goal shouldn’t be to get good value out of their staff – as if they are a 1900s factory worker you need to squeeze the most productivity from. You don’t want lazy staff, but that attitude is part of the reason why pastors burn out. Their church expects them to take responsibility for 90 people, and then reach the 10,000 other people in their suburb! That’s a ratio of 1:10090.
Rather than, “How many people can we spread our staff across?”, the better question should be, “How many staff can we get for all the lost people in our city?!”

How we arrived at the Purposes Model

After recently attending the very encouraging Nexus Conference I thought it’d be helpful to outline how we arrived at the Purposes Model.

  1. Back in 2008, we had 3 congregations and 1 more about to kick off. We had a Senior Pastor (Greg Lee) and we had a Staff member for each of the 4 congregations – I was the UniChurch pastor. We also had a Women’s Pastor and a part time kids pastor.
  2. We started to notice two areas of difference  between our congregations. First, there wasn’t an equal dispersion of pastors to flock.
    Unichurch had one staff to 150 people, PM had 1 staff to 60 people, AM had 1 staff to 80 people, the new congregation was going to have 1 staff to 30 people. Greg and Kelly (our women’s pastor) already had to spread themselves across all these people anyway.
  3. Second, we realised each of our congregations were doing well in some areas and poorly in others.
    1. So Unichurch had a pretty good meeting, but it didn’t welcome very well, nor did it have enough groups and there was no leadership development, nor a real heart for evangelism.
    2. AM was welcoming, but the meeting was awkward and there was no evangelism and groups were haphazzard.
    3. PM was really getting into evangelism, but it’s meeting was awkward, groups were struggling and welcoming was hit and miss.
    4. The new congregation were all in groups that were working well, but the meeting/mission/etc. were going to struggle.
  4. That’s when we heard about the Purpose model (from Andrew Heard at EV Church). We realised that the aspects of church that were going well vs going poorly were simply because our staff had particular “bents” towards helping people grow in those purposes.
    1. Richard (new cong.)  had a natural bent towards helping people just get the bible, and lead a group and grow in knowledge and obedience.
    2. Sam (PM) had a natural bent towards helping Christians WANT to be evangelists.
    3. Dave (AM) had a natural bent towards getting beside people, helping them into church and investing in one another as members of a body.
    4. I had a natural bent towards challenging people about their deepest love and purpose in life.
  5. So, rather than having congregations that just reflect their Pastor’s strengths and weaknesses, we decided (after a long period of prayerful thinking and reflecting on God’s word) to free up our staff to do for everyone what they were only doing for one congregation. This also meant that we each stopped being responsible for aspects of our congregations that we weren’t particularly gifted in doing.
    1. Richard took on Maturity (encouraging people into small groups, raising up leaders and helping those groups build one another up in love from God’s word).
    2. Sam took on Mission (encouraging people to see themselves as missionaries to Newcastle, facilitating events where people can be confident the gospel will be presented and where they gain confidence in their own evangelism)
    3. Dave took on Membership (helping people to join well and participate in church life of loving one another and church).
    4. I took on Magnification (helping people live their whole lives in awe of the gospel 24/7, especially through running Sunday meetings that tried to impact their whole week).
    5. (Kelly moved to under Richard in Maturity – just focusing on raising and equipping and helping Growth Groups).
    6. (Richard also wore the Ministry hat – helping people get equipped and find their way into serving with church).
  6. After 2 years, we found a guy at Church (Pete Witt) who was already helping me do Magnification 1 day a week. We put him on 4 days a week to replace me, and I started looking after Ministry (as Richard had too much to do in Maturity). We also re-titled my role to Executive Pastor, simply because I was finding myself taking on a whole heap of pastoral responsibilities that were the foundation of the Ms structure; facilities, database, planning, association, legal. (I’ll write a later post on why this is Executive Pastor stuff and not General Manager stuff).

We’ve made heaps of mistakes along the way, and spent 6 years refining what we’re doing… with loads of really healthy arguments along the way. If there’s one huge positive that came out of going to Team Pastoring around the Ms it is that our team is really tight and loves one another in the midst of the fight.

And God’s been amazingly gracious and allowed us to grow in size and grow people’s faith.

Before you go to a “Purpose model” of church (like the Ms)… resign!

If there’s one aspect of the Purpose model of church structure that you really need to get, it’s that you need to resign as a single Congregation Pastor before you do it.

I don’t mean resign in the sense that you hand in your notice. Rather I mean in your heart you have to stop thinking of yourselves as only responsible for “that” congregation at St Something Church. To move to something like the Ms model of a church staff team, you need to start seeing yourself as the pastor of the whole church. Everyone. No matter what congregation they go to. Even if you’ve been the 8am silver-haired pastor for 20 years… if you’re going to take on the Membership M, you have to choose which role is going to come first. Either you’re going to be the 8am pastor who happens to try and get people to welcome well so people join well, or, you’re going to pastor every single soul at all 4 congregations towards being welcoming and loving to their brothers and sisters in Christ and help them invite people to join whatever congregation well.

This shouldn’t put us off… it’s exactly what the senior pastor has to deal with as any church grows and as there are several congregations… He has to see himself as the pastor of all those people, not of those congregations.

To put it another way, the Ms structure of church stops staff teams from thinking so structurally about ministry.

The wonderful idea of using an “umbrella of mercy” when talking

I can’t remember where we got this idea but it’s brilliant… our staff team has this phrase “umbrella of mercy”. It’s what we say before we say something that could be taken the wrong way, or something that might be offensive or touchy for other people in the conversation.

When one of us says, “umbrella of mercy”, we’re asking the other people to prepare their hearts and minds to hear something graciously… mercifully… ready to assume the best… ready to ask clarifying questions rather than make accusations.

It’s a little bit like saying “with all due respect”, instead it’s not a declaration like that. Rather it’s a request… “Please hear this as best as you can, because I’m not trying to hurt your feelings or attack your baby.”

I seem to use it a lot.