How to Find an Executive Pastor

executive pastor
Recently I’ve been asked by a number of pastors and church planters how to find an executive pastor. We recently hired one at Revolution, and it seems like every pastor is trying to find one right now.

I think there are some misconceptions about this role, but I also think some leaders try to hire one too quickly. I hear planters with 50 people in their church, and they talk about “their #2 guy” or “their XP.” At this point you don’t need an XP, but what happens when you do? I think there are some specific things you need to look for and be aware of, as well as some things you need to change in your thinking about this crucial but different role on your team.

1. Do you really need this person? Just because everyone else has an XP or a #2 doesn’t mean you need one. How are you wired? Too often I think pastors simply hire people or look for a leader because a podcast they listened to mentioned it. You may be wired to do a lot of things an XP does; you may need someone completely different. The other problem too many young pastors run into is they hire this person and it disconnects them from their church too quickly. This is the pastor with 50 people who has his admin. answer his email.

2. Don’t think of him as a pastor or theologian but as a leader. One reason churches don’t have an executive pastor isn’t for lack of desire or need, but because they think in terms of a pastor instead of a leader. Yes this person needs to be a pastor, caring for people, helping and shepherding; that will be a large part of his role. But if he is an effective executive pastor, he will often not be a strong preacher. While some have both gifts, most do not.

You are looking for a leader, not a theologian. Don’t confuse the two. Now this person needs to have strong theology, but you get the picture. At least in the camp I run in (Reformed), too many people are looking for that strong theologian with administrative gifts. They do exist, but you are not looking for a preaching pastor.

3. Don’t look for a full-time employee, look for an administrative leader in your church with time. I mentioned last week that business leaders are often the most overlooked people in a church. This role in your church is perfect for them. This is what they were designed to do, to help with budgets, staff oversight, compensation, hiring, systems, etc. However, many of them don’t want to leave their job and work at a church full-time, so don’t make them. Think through what they can do for you in the time they have. What are they gifted to do? I have leaders I turn to that help me with hiring, systems thinking and other administrative tasks, and those are different people.

4. Be specific about what they’ll do. If you want to find and keep someone in this role, you will have to be specific about what they do. They will make you do this if you struggle with it, and this is one reason you need them. Give them clear authority, and let them run with things.

The answer to this one is not to have them do all the things you hate doing. That’s what too many lead pastors think, and a strong executive pastor won’t stand for that.

Think through what success will look like for this person in six months. What will success in your church look like because of this person? How will this person not only add value to the church but also to the team that you have? Will they work well with you and the other leaders already there?

5. Be willing to give up things and defer to them. This right here is why more lead pastors don’t have an executive pastor. Lead pastors by nature like to be in the middle of things. They like to be needed. They started the church so they should know everything.

In bringing this person onto your team, whether full-time or a volunteer, you will have to give up things to this person. You will have to trust this person more than anyone else on your team. (More on that in a minute.)

This person will be a strong leader and will not need you to micromanage them or look over their shoulder. They will keep things from you that you don’t need to know about or be involved in. This is for the good of the church and you, but many pastors aren’t willing to take this step.

6. Know they speak for you. This is a difficult one for many leaders, allowing others to speak for them. People in your church already do this, but you will be empowering someone to communicate decisions, cast vision, keep things moving, and they will be doing it in your place. This means the amount of trust you give to this person is enormous. They will often control the message that gets put out there. This can be a double edged sword, so you must not walk into hiring this person or empowering this leader lightly. If they are doing their job, they will not just be overseeing the budget and writing checks; it will be more powerful than that.