The very first part of taking on a new role as a church’s executive pastor is evaluating the existing organizational structure. Why? Responsibility and authority, that’s why. And, it begins with your authority as the executive pastor.
Having worked with a bunch of new executive pastors making the transition into the role, I always have one major recommendation. Make sure the lead pastor is putting you in the position.
What do I mean? In many cases the lead pastor is more than a little reluctant to put the new executive pastor fully in the role right from the start, preferring to have them “transition” into the role “over time.” I believe that it’s important to name the new executive pastor, announce it to the staff and congregation, and include all changes in reporting structure right from the start. Why? The success of the new executive pastor depends on it!
When I agreed to take on my current role way back in April of 2004, our senior pastor put me in the position formally. He worked with the staff ahead of my start date to gain their buy-in and made sure they knew they would no longer report directly to him as of my first day in the role. He also made an announcement to the congregation on Sunday morning, including formally introducing me as the new executive pastor to the congregation during each service. The introduction included a brief description of my duties.
Within a few weeks to a month, the senior pastor moved out of the office and began to work from his home office. He checked out of the daily supervision of the staff as well as the financial and operational details of running the church. Over the next six months, aside from working directly with me in my new role to implement a plan we had formulated together, he rarely came into the office. If he did, it was to oversee details related to Sunday morning services.
Sounds crazy, right? It worked well, though. The staff quickly went from going to him to coming to me with issues. I was able to quickly get into the details of running the church without a long drawn out transitional period.
There’s an important point here that I don’t want you to miss. When a lead pastor decides to add an executive pastor, they should have already decided that their role needs to change. To grow the church to the next level, they must fundamentally change their focus and how they are spending their time. This change, therefore, should happen as quickly as possible after the new executive pastor is on board.