(This article originally posted on xpastor.org on Feb. 18, 2013. It is reposted by with permission)


Who will be your next XP? What is the rise and function of the Executive Pastor? Whether you call the position Executive Pastor or Senior Associate Pastor or Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, there are many vital roles that need to be filled in the modern church. Leading and managing the church has become complex and multi-dimensional. In the old days, a mechanic could work on any car with a wrench and some muscle. Now, mechanics are specialized to work just on your Toyota Hybrid using highly complex machines, computers and battery analyzers. Whether you like it or not, the same is true in the church.

A Walk Through Time

The easiest way to see the rise in the Executive Pastor position is to walk through time. As you read the following scenarios, consider the pressures on the Senior Pastor, how the Senior Pastor was trained in seminary and how the church changed in various decades.


John became a pastor in the 1950’s. He went to a “large” church of 200 people back east. It was a cutting edge church with two pastors on staff. The Pastor preached and John, as an Associate Pastor, did everything else—that is, he oversaw children’s education, the youth program, and did some special Christian education classes for adults.


In the 1970’s, Henry graduated from seminary with a four-year degree. He went to a “large” church of 700 people in the Midwest. They had seven pastors on staff. The leader was now called a Senior Pastor and spent a lot of time getting ready for preaching, leading the staff meetings, and working with the governing board—and he mentored Henry. The Senior Pastor was super busy! Henry worked with Jr. and Sr. High school students and was called a “youth pastor.” The church had a guy who paid the bills, made some crazy policies, told Henry about the health and dental insurance plans, and other such “worldly stuff that had crept into the church.”


Suzanne joined the church staff in the 1990’s with a two-year degree. She moved to the Sunbelt and joined “one of those new mega-churches.” There were over 2,000 people in worship and the city had three or four such churches! Suzanne was one of twenty pastors and directors on staff. The Senior Pastor led many staff meetings, while the Executive Pastor led others. The Senior Pastor was insanely busy—preaching, studying, working with the governing board, and so many other things. The pressure just to “keep up” was intense. The Senior Pastor and Executive Pastor divided up duties according to their gifts and church polity. Suzanne helped start “small groups” at the church because people weren’t feeling connected to others.


Tommy and Charlene worked for a number of years with Proctor & Gamble, then both joined staff in 2010. He started in the HR department at the “main campus,” helping hire pastors and directors for all the video campuses. She worked in Communications—mostly on web design and graphics. With six campuses and fifteen services, the church had over 10,000 people in worship each week. After a few months, Tommy enrolled in seminary and thought about becoming a pastor. The Lead Pastor gave some brilliant spiritual insights in the staff meeting, where over one hundred staff met every month. Then, the XP would have others talk about implementing the vision and the plan. Tommy and Charlene loved the passion of the people and the life-on-life that they found in their small group.

In the twentieth century, leading and managing the church became increasingly complex. It became obvious that one person could not lead and manage the whole church any longer—unless he was Superman, single and worked one hundred hours a week.

Size of Churches

The examples of church size can be represented in the following table. For ease of description, we will assume that there is a staff person (pastor or director) for every 100 people in church:

Church Size Staff Size Senior Pastor Role
200 2 “Does everything”—Shepherding, preaching, organizing
700 7 “Sees limitations—the task is too big”—Preaching, organizing, plenty of shepherding
2,000 20 “Empowers others to lead”—Preaching, shaping vision, shepherding a select group
10,000 100 “Leading Teams of Leaders”—Preaching and key communicator, casting vision, shepherding a select group, often writing for publications

Where is your church on this spectrum? I’m not advocating that one style is better than another. I am just reporting the facts.

Functions of the XP

With the changes in the American church in the last fifty years, the role of the Senior Pastor was altered. In response to this, various roles for Executive Pastors have emerged. Consider the three main types of Executive Pastors:

Type 1—Overseer of Operations

This XP brings unity and coordination to the key departments of Communications, Facilities, Finance and Staffing. This can be a full-time function or augmented with another area to create a full-time position.

  • Communications includes the website—where most visitors learn about your church. It also includes Information Technology: computers, software, software as a service, web integration, wi-fi on campus, etc.
  • Facilities will oversee a facilities manager, establishing a ten-year plan for upkeep, renovations and new buildings. The look and feel of the facilities must get in alignment with the vision of the church.
  • Finance includes oversight of budgets, cash flow, income and expenses. All kinds of insurance are included: medical, dental, life, property & casualty, automotive, etc.
  • Staffing will have aspects of hiring, reviewing, mentoring and terminating staff. Setting a staffing pay grid is vital. Ensuring that staff and department meetings are vibrant and effective is a must.

This XP may easily come from the business world and thrives on structure and organization. Some church business administrators are also in this role.

Type 2—The Ministry Strategist

This XP takes the vision of the Senior Pastor and implements it with the ministry staff of pastors, directors and coordinators. Aspects include: ministry evaluation, goal setting, strategy, development and mentoring.

  • Ministry Evaluation is the process of quarterly, semi-annual and/or annual evaluations of ministry. Various metrics and dashboards can be used to determine effectiveness, such as baptisms, church attendance, small group attendance, local ministry service, global missions participation, etc. Written or oral evaluations can be used.
  • Goal setting and strategy is the formal process of alignment of departmental ministries with the stated church vision. The goals can be quantified numerically or expressed qualitatively (for example: To be a loving church). The strategy can be developed internally, or augmented by external experts in strategic coaching.
  • Development and mentoring is the “walk around” aspect of knowing every staff person. Job descriptions are honed to maximize the giftedness of each person and exclude limitations as much as possible. Personal coaching will mentor and improve staff to reach their potential.

This XP often comes from the seminary world or the business community. The seminary type needs to know how to plan, strategize and mobilize staff. The business type needs to know how to work with pastors—which is a unique group of people to work with.  They are like herding cats!

Type 3—The Second-in-Command

This person can lead both structurally and organizationally. With strong leadership gifts, this person must know how to lead in his or her own style, yet follow the Senior Pastor. That can be an intriguing dance!

  • The SP is the primary leader and the XP is next. Whether defined as hierarchal or a partnership with the SP, the XP is empowered to lead in all areas of the church.
  • Overseer of Operations—with a team of departmental leaders or leading one or several of the departments, the XP ensures that the operations of the church are running smoothly. Difficulties and emergencies are handled effectively and spiritually.
  • Overseeing of Ministry—with a team of departmental leaders, the XP ensures that the stated vision and direction of the church is implemented consistently and graciously in the entire church. By mentoring key departmental leaders, the XP grows staff to become gifted leaders in their areas.
  • This position is much like Peter Drucker’s definition of top management, “making few decisions, but those are key decisions.” The work is episodic and seasonal. No one can know when a staff person might leave and need to be replaced. No one can predict when an emergency might come. Yet, good planning and strategy, along with training and equipping of leaders, will help the church be ready for wonderful opportunities and huge hurdles.

This person can come from the seminary or the business community. Knowing how to work with pastors, congregation and business elements of the church is necessary.

Key Questions

There are many ways to divide up leadership and management of your church. The key is for you to determine the kind of structure that best fits where your church is and where you want to go. To help in this, consider some key questions.

Consider your current operations and thinking:

  • What size level is your church and what size level are you operating at? Some churches will grow but still operate at a small size level.
  • Are you a church of 700 but operating like a church of 200?
  • Are you a church of 2,000 but staffed like a church of 10,000?

To help with the following questions, here are some terms that are applied to Senior Pastors. Pick the top four terms that fit your pastor and pick four where your pastor should not serve:

Fiscal Reviewer

Setting Salaries

Determines Health Insurance Benefits



Dynamic Preacher



Staff Leader

Governing Board Member

Governing Board Leader

Key Decision-Maker





Connector to the Community






Acceptable Preacher



Creator of Projects





Architect of Systems

Designer of Buildings

Construction Management

Financial Analyst

Building Inspector

Graphic Artist

Sole Leader

Point Leader



Goal Strategist

Happily Married

Balanced In Life


Tech Guru

Money Manager

Staff Mentor

Staff Counselor

Congregational Counselor

Family Man



Consider the existing and envisioned role of the Senior Pastor:

  • Define the role of your Senior Pastor. What are the key things that your SP does?
  • What is he today and what would he like to be? What should he be doing? What is holding him back from the ideal job description? What should be eliminated from the SP’s job description?

Consider the existing and envisioned role of the Executive Pastor:

  • Of the three kinds of XPs (Overseer of Operations, Ministry Strategist or Second-in-Command), what kind of XP do you currently have? What kind of XP do you want to have?
  • Describe why you have selected one kind over another.

Consider your church structure and governance:

  • Write down your existing church organizational chart. Do you want to keep that organization or are you open to change it?
  • Where does your governing board fit in all this? The SP and XP must be vitally involved together with the governing board and various church committees. What is going to be the relationship with the governing board? Who will mentor and grow board members? How are they selected? What is the leadership pipeline at your church? Do you have a training program for new board members?

It will require some work to process these questions. Push through with each one, getting the full answers that pertain to your church.


The roles of the Senior Pastor and Executive Pastor have changed. Your church has its own style and preferences. It is vital to know what your church wants and what it needs. The “needs” may not match with the “wants.” Yet, it is imperative that you find an XP who will fit your church, both for its current needs and its future needs.