Thursday, March 12, 2009

What is an "Executive Pastor" Anyway?

I have been absent from this forum for several months due to pressing work responsibilities and enjoying being part of a very active theological message board. One of my e-friends there hails from a Reformed church background. He asked a question about the title, “executive pastor.” Here is my reply . . .

BIG churches tend to have Executive Pastors acting as the COO of the organizational stuff. They handle managing the office staff, associate pastors, HR issues, deal with vendors and contractors, direct the custodial staff, take care of building management issues, sometimes act as staff liaison to the ruling board, and generally handle the operations function in the multi-million dollar corporation. This frees up the senior pastor to work on his sermons, write books, speak around the country, sit for radio interviews, and spend time in his vacation home far away from congregation members.

The phenomenon is almost universally prevalent in "seeker sensitive" congregations due to their deeply ingrained culture of being early adopters of the latest business and marketing models. It is relatively less common in Reformed circles due to the fact that requiring the memorization of Calvin's Institutes, thorough rote knowledge of the BCO and various Confessions and Catechisms, and requiring the identification and recitation of the dozens of acronyms for all of the micro-Presbyterian denominations . . . well, it tends to limit congregational size and the necessity for an Executive Pastor. That is why, among Reformed groups, they are most often found in PCA congregations, particularly those where the pastors have been Willowcreekified or Saddlebacked into a Purpose Driven posture.

Generally you can determine the statistical probability of a church having an Executive Pastor based on whether the senior pastor has more books by Francis Turretin or George Barna in his personal library. Turretin is a dead giveaway that this is NOT a place where you will find an Executive Pastor. The presence of copies of books by Kaspar Olevianus or Zacharius Ursinus (in the original) increases that probabilistic likelihood to a near certainty. Ten books published by Jossey-Bass would generally point to a strong correlation with having an Executive Pastor; more than that and this IS the office of the Executive Pastor.

One way to determine whether a church is likely to have an Executive Pastor is to engage the pastor in casual conversation. Ask him to explain the extra calvinisticum. If he responds by drawing intersecting circles representing the trinity and differentiating his view from Luther's communicatio idiomatum, you may safely conclude that he will not have an Executive Pastor. If, on the other hand, he draws three circles and begins to explain the crystalline concept that flows from deep understanding about the intersection of the following: 1. What you can be the best in the world at (and, equally important, what you cannot be the best in the world at), 2. What drives your economic engine, and 3. What you are deeply passionate about, happens to mention the name of Jim Collins, or the "hedgehog principle," then you may pretty certainly assume that he will have an Executive Pastor.

I'm just old enough to find the name change a little too au courant or fashionably chic. Here in CA, we have adopted the new nomenclature even for relatively small congregations which sounds (to my jaded old ears) about as silly as watching a 5 year old dressing up in daddy's suit and tie and carrying an atache case to look "big."


Executive Pastor used to be Associate Pastor used to be Assistant Pastor.

Associate Pastor for Family Life Ministries used to be Christian Education Pastor used to be Director of Christian Education.

Pastor of Worship Arts used to be Minister of Music used to be Music Director.

Associate Pastor for Student Ministries used to be Pastor to Youth used to be Youth Pastor used to be Youth Director.

Minister of Building Management used to be Senior Custodian used to be Janitor.