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.


Pamela said...

I guess I am just a little too old too and I am in the candidacy for the ministry. Thanks for the smile. What does "Reformed" mean? I was told by a friend I was not "reformed enough", was it because I was talking about "abundant grace"? Is this the topic for another blog?

Steve said...

You are a funny, funny, man.
God bless you Dennis!

Dennis E. McFadden said...

"Reformed" denotes that wing of the Protestant church hailing from the Reformation and generally falling within the tradition known as Calvinistic or Presbyterian. In popular parlance, those within conservative Reformed circles differentiate themselves from each other by noting those who are Truly Reformed (TR) and those who are Barely Reformed (BR).

To the outsider or casual observer, this may sound arcane and a little nit picky. However, if you can just consider the way canines fulfill the same goal by sniffing each others' hind quarters, you will gain a new appreciation for the rather refined process used in Reformed communions.

And, by means of this quaint use of verbiage to identify "insiders" and outsiders, it allows the Reformed to cede the ground of "brown nosing" to their poorer Baptist brethren. Baptists use it as part of the requisite hazing ritual for young pastors seeking to ingratiate themselves with denominational hierarchs as they progress perceptibly from their first miserable pastorate to their second less miserable pastorate.

Patty said...

Have missed your blog, although I know you're incredibly tied up with other, more pressing things.

Chadwick said...

Now, let me be sure that i understand the underlying assumption to your thesis: Churches that are committed to theological integrity, historical orthodoxy and Biblical literacy are less prone to have "Executive Pastors"? Really? Names such as Piper and MacArthur come to my mind as contradicting such a view. Might it just be that many churches in the "hyper Reformed" traditions are lacking in enthusiasm and joy to the point that such positions will never be needed?????? What say ye my friend?

Dennis E. McFadden said...

No. My point had more to do with the dynamics of size. Larger organizations tend to be more alike regardless of their "product." A big church and a big company will have striking similarities in structure.

Dennis E. McFadden said...

Actually, Chadwick, the post originally appeared in a more sectarian Reformed message board. Some of the brothers were asking about the position of Executive Pastor. I took the opportunity to place my tongue firmly in my cheek and opine on the subject.

In addition to my last point about size, there is also the dynamic of mimicry. Seeker sensitive churches TEND to ape the structural dynamics of business organizations more than traditional churches. And, ironically, people like MacArthur may have Executive Pastors (due to size) and yet decry the trend for evangelicals to employ business and management templates in doing church.

Glenn Layne said...

How churlish...