The Executive Pastor: Five Trends


For the past four decades the number of executive pastors has grown across America. Before the second half of the twentieth century, the staff position was rare to non-existent. With that growth has come a commensurate growth in confusion about the position. Whereas traditional programmatic roles such as students, senior adults, music and worship, and children have had clearly defined expectations, the role of executive pastor has been nebulous and changing.

Two Historical Broad Paths

In our informal survey over the past ten years, we have noted two major roles assumed by executive pastors. Some held responsibilities related to staff oversight. In some churches, all staff except the senior pastor were under the organizational responsibility of the executive pastor. In other churches, the primary role was staff oversight, but not inclusive of all staff.

The second major role has been business/administrative. Though I am reticent to compare churches to corporations, this role does have many similarities to a chief financial officer in the corporate world.

On some occasions, the executive pastor holds both staff oversight as well as operational leadership. In those churches, there are typically other staff under the executive pastor who help him carry on the heavy responsibilities.

Five Trends

In recent years we have noticed five clear trends related to the role of the executive pastor. Not all executive pastors, of course, would be included in all of these trends, but many would relate.

  1. More executive pastors in smaller churches. Ten to fifteen years ago it was rare to find an executive pastor in a church with an average worship attendance less than 3,000. That has certainly changed each subsequent year. Now it is common to see executive pastors in churches with an attendance around 2,000 or even lower. I know of several churches in the 800 to 1,200 attendance range that now have executive pastors, or they are seeking one.
  2. More executive pastors have staff responsibilities. Senior pastors of larger churches are eagerly seeking leaders who can provide staff oversight. That has now become one of the principal reasons an executive pastor is called to a church.
  3. A growing number of executive pastors are also teaching pastors. Those who hold this dual role are still in the minority, but the numbers are growing. I hear more senior pastors say that their ideal executive pastor would have good leadership skills to oversee a staff, good business and administrative skills to lead the operations of the church, and good preaching and teaching skills sufficient to be in the pulpit at least once a month. The “Superman executive pastor “ is evolving, at least expectations of one.
  4. More executive pastors have oversight of multiple venues. I have noted in earlier blogposts the growth of churches with multiple venues. It would make sense then that more executive pastors would be expected to lead the staff and operations of each of these venues or campuses.
  5. More executive pastors have a combination of business training and theological training. It is becoming more common to see executive pastors who have, for example, one business degree and one or two theological degrees, or vice versa. It makes sense. More executive pastors are expected to be both theologians and well-equipped business leaders.

What is the Future for the Role of the Executive Pastor?

In simplest terms, more will be expected, both in responsibilities and training. The better equipped of these executive pastors will be in high demand and relatively low supply. It is fast becoming a “hot” church staff position.

When I note trends, I am often perceived to be an advocate of those trends. Many times, as in the case of the trends of executive pastor, I am still processing the information. I am a long way away from becoming either an advocate or a detractor. But I would love to hear from you. My readers typically have opinions, and most of them are good.

Posted on January 9, 2013

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Ben Overby says on

    Thanks for posting this. I am in a very rare position based on the numbers you gave, as I am the XP at a 3 year old church plant with about 200 people. Our senior pastor is what I would call a starter, in that he gets people excited, has lots of new ideas, and casts the vision for where our church is going. My role is to come behind him as a builder, and develop all the systems and processes to make the vision happen. I can do the behind the scenes work of getting everything organized and providing the rails that keeps everyone running in the same direction, so it frees him up to spend time with people and preparing to preach. My job is to make everyone else better at what they do, and insure we don’t get off track of what we believe God has called our church to do. This role may not be quite as important to more established churches, but I think most church plants need someone to help them with this side of things.

    • Ted Wlazlowski says on

      Hi Ben,

      I think you have very eloquently encapsulated the XP role. I agree with everything except the importance to a larger church. There are always process improvements, refinements, maintaining alignment between vision and execution. In a larger church the role transitions to more of a leader of leaders…and I believe you are well on your way to significant impact for the kingdom with your calling and dedication to “getting the right things done.”

  • Dr Rainer, Our church of 200 has had a volunteer admin pastor for a couple years now. He oversees budgeting, facility improvements, legalities, and anything that deals with the “business” side of the church. He is a CPA and does an excellent job. We would be lost without him!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Josh –

      You are blessed to have him.

    • David Davis says on

      I am a member of a church that is in the transition from a church plant to an organized and established church. A few months ago the assistant pastor was made the executive pastor (a church with a 100 – 150 members mind you) and since then everything the senior pastor has been talking about doing such as choosing deacons are now no longer being mentioned. The response is, ” well the executive pastor does not feel we need that or he is still praying about it.” Essentially, it feels that the Senior Pastor heard a cool title and decided that he needed one because he is now out of his league on how to organize a church. Further, many times people are left wondering if the Senior Pastor is the Senior Pastor. Frankly, i think if the position is needed great, but pastors are jumping on a trend just because its cool to have an executive pastor.

  • Hello Bro. Rainer,

    It seems like so much of this has to do with branding. When I first think of an “Executive Pastor” I think of a man who is doing the work that probably the Senior Pastor ought to be doing. But after giving this some consideration I realized that the role you described is often given to what churches of my stripe call an “Associate Pastor.” To be honest, I like the “Associate Pastor” title better because it sounds like someone who is an extension of the Senior Pastor, as opposed as someone doing the tough administrative work while the Senior Pastor sits in his office surrounded by his books. (Not saying that that is what a EP is, but I can see how someone could come to that conclusion, albeit incorrectly.)

    I tend to think that this role, whatever name it may be given, will continue to be an important role in any church that is able to grow to a few hundred or more because there are only so many hours in the day, and only so much the Senior Pastor can do, making “EP’s” or “AP’s” increasingly vital to the daily management of a church.

    As always, thanks for the insights.

    • Steve Smith says on

      Tom, the only issue I see with you description of the Executive Pastor (or Associate Pastor) as an extension of the Senior Pastor is that it implies that the two men have the same gifts and abilities. An Associate Pastor is just that……one who shares the workload, preaching, visiting hospitals, etc. The XP, by contrast, compliments (rather than supplements) the Senior Pastor’s role by doing the things the SP is not gifted to do, typically the business and organizational administration of the church. Not always, but most often, those with the gifts of Teaching, Prophecy, Exhortation (common to SPs) don’t have the gifts of Administration, Service, etc. (more common to XPs).

  • Very timely topic. Our church has recently passed the 1000 mark, and as growth has occured, I as the senior leader have found more and more of my time devoted to administrative details. As I type this I have been at work for 7 hours and have not spent one minute in study, sermon writing, or pastoral duties. Outside of a short amount of prayer time, it’s all been administrative duties, which I happen to enjoy. I took a ten minute break to read some blogs, and here I am! However, for me to focus on my sweet spot (which would be more with preaching, vision, and evangelism) we simply must have the Executive position on board. If we didn’t have a large mortgage payment this position would already be here, but we needed the building! Ha ha – none of it seems easy, but I wouldn’t trade the thrill of ministry for anything. Loving every minute, but constantly looking to see how we can be more effective in expandind the kingdom. From my perspective, the Executive position is the way to go and evenually we will figure out how to get there. Thanks for the post Dr. Rainer!

  • As a former Minister of Education now in associational work, David Bond’s questions are of great interest. As I view the various job requests from churches, rarely do I see a church seeking a ME. Has this position been sacrificed for Exec. Pastors and pastoral specialists? As for deacons serving as administrative leaders, I cannot remember a church in which deacons who saw themselves as administrators did any ministry. Thanks, Dr. Rainer, for a great post.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thanks Tom.

    • Tom,

      I have seen some trends in churches who staff based on a prophet (senior pastor, teaching pastor), preist (discipleship, education, counseling [possibly categories of the ME model]), and king (executive pastor). I think these categories are more helpful in utilizing gifts and talents appropriately.


  • Bruce Winter says on

    I’m not sure I agree with Jeff’s comment about a Deacon role. I see this as a shepherding role and not just administrative. If it isn’t an equipping, shepherding role, it’s not really a pastoral role. I’ve seen it applied in several different contexts. In larger churches this role shepherds the other pastoral shepherds and provides equipping direction to paid and unpaid workers. In smaller churches, it’s more like a “glue” pastor role, making others more effective in their ministries by connecting and supporting their work. In each case, this executive pastor role is designed to be a servant and support to the rest of the church. Generally this role is more in the background than the senior or preaching pastor.

  • David Bond says on

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thanks for a very interesting post. I have also observed that the Executive Pastor title seems to be showing up more frequently and in often surprising places. It does seem to be a “superman” type of role.

    A couple of thoughts provoked by this post:

    1. Does the emergence of the Executive Pastor position correspond with a decline in a Minister of Education (or similar title) position? In other words, are churches choosing to fill a staff position with an Executive Pastor (who also speaks to large groups and administrates paid staff) rather than an Education/Discipleship staff position (who develops lay leaders, works to lead small groups)? Or are churches who add Executive Pastors doing so with an ME position already on staff?

    2. If the above is true – choosing an Exec Pastor in place of a Min Ed type – does this reflect a trend among churches to value the large group/preaching ministry (more CEO mentality) approach over a very intentional/strategic small groups strategy that may move slower at first but has the potential for greater long term, healthy growth?

    My observation is that most Exec Pastors become so consumed with administration, staff, etc. that even if they do have the background and interest in small group discipleship/Bible study/Sunday School, there is simply no way for them to invest the necessary time in it.

    Thanks for your blog and insights.

    • William Christopher says on

      I would advise anyone who reads any of these books to do as I did after reading how to dissect a dying church THROW IT IN THE TRASH!

      • Thanks for the encouragement, William.

      • Actually take the book out the trash and re-read it and then read it again. As a pastor I have read that book and found it very beneficial even if it was just to open my eyes and keep me aware of what is in the church today. Anyone who thinks you have all the answers can go lead your own group and good luck. Ill lead by the power of God. I find this interesting as i just put in place a executive pastor, his primary roll is to help me and so see the Kingdom work continue. As many talk about deacons, that is good to but we need commitment today and that the leading problem. No commitment from the men today eventually causes doors to be closed and if you have a dedicated man come along side to get into the battle and help then praise God. Problem is Pastors today are scared, jealous and or dictators and their throne is more important. Those are the doors that are closing. I am not willing to allow Satan to win, and certainly not willing to let critics throw good material in the trash for those to read to give help.

  • Heartspeak says on

    The emergence of the Executive Pastor role is a tacit admission that the ‘one guy does it all’ approach and expectation for THE pastor is unrealisitic. I long for the day when leaders in the Church are funtioning primarily in their gifting AND for when they come from the congregation, and even, without pay…. anathema, I know!

    • I was going to mention multiple pastor/elders leading and serving as shepherds, not an overseeing board, Heartspeak, but I didn’t wanna take the time to challenge our widely held “THE Pastor” concept. Thanks for pointing out my laziness!
      Our church plant, like many in the past few years, is organized biblically with pastors/elders and deacons.
      Ultimately this IS the answer; for with multiple pastors (elders is plural in Scripture from Acts 14:23 on), different gifts, talents, and skills serve the church much better than any one man can. I would still say, though, that the office of executive pastor – as defined in the USA lately, pointed out in this survey – is best described as a full-time deacon.

      • As an XP who is also an elder, I disagree strongly with your assessment of the XP role being best described as a “full-time deacon.” We have a shared leadership polity with two elders on staff at our church. It gives us a very well rounded approach to leadership while emphasizing accountability and humility.

        As an unrelated issue, I think that the senior leader model is wrought with many, many flaws. As someone stated earlier, the issue at hand is regarding gifts. We preach it for the body but ignore it for our leadership? Many churches are not as effective as they could be because of their senior leader polity.

  • As a lay leader, professional staff member and faith-based nonprofit leader, I’ve observed that many pastors are so overloaded with the expectations of church members that they be all things to all people all of the time. One of the great gifts of the Executive Pastor role is to unburden the pastor from administrative and logistics in the church. This allows the pastor to focus on those things for which he was specifically called – spending time with the Lord, studying, preaching, teaching, vision-casting, etc. without getting bogged down in the minutiae of day-to-day operations.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Karen –

      Well stated. In many churches the executive pastor complements the lead or senior pastor in the handling of diverse responsibilities.

    • Steve Quinn says on

      I wholeheartedly agree, Karen. As an XP, my goal is to free up the senior pastor to do what he is most gifted, called, and charged to do — preach the gospel. My pastor is incredibly gifted to preach and share the gospel while giving broad oversight to the vision. God has gifted me to execute on his plans and to mobilize our staff and lay leadership to do the same.

      • Saidah Binns says on

        Yes Steve I totally agree with you. That is my role as well…the execution, equipping and overseeing.

    • Karen, that is my role as Executive Pastor. I have served in my present church 25+ years beginning as youth pastor, adult/outreach pastor, and now Executive pastor with responsibilities with senior adults, Office management and Financial supervision. I see my role to take the admin. burden from Senior Pastor and other staff and keep the focus on reaching, teaching and equipping the Body. I am still learning but I treasure the opportunity God’s gives me to serve in so much diverse ways.

  • Brian Preston says on

    I think we would benefit tremendously from welcoming this role. My father served as a lead elder for several years before being called on staff to a similar/executive pastor roles. The comparison in the role is clear. The benefit arises from having a pastor full time dedicated to the well being spiritual nature of the staff and giving a teaching(lead) pastor an opportunity to focus of preaching, teaching, counseling the partitioners. Needed and wanted is a great way to put it.

  • Tommy Rucker says on

    I, too, will never be in a church with an executive pastor. I guess I’m simple minded, but what is left for the senior pastor to do if the executive pastor oversees the staff, the programs, and does the preaching?

    • Steve Smith says on

      Our church believes very much in gifts-based ministry. Many senior pastors who are gifted at teaching and preaching are simply terrible administrators. Churches that expect a senior pastor to be preaching, casting vision, praying and caring for the congregation AND having to attend to the business affairs and ministry programming of the church are likely expecting way too much from him., not only from the standpoint of time and attention but also from the standpoint of gifts.

    • Pastor Mike Raphael says on

      Preach the Word, counsel, pray, admonish, reprove, rebuke, exhort, challenge, warn, protect the flock, cast vision, preach the Word, cast vision, preach the Word, cast vision…

  • The executive pastor position appears to be more functional than many others when you consider it from the perspective or Acts 6. I will probably never be in a church which needs an executive pastor, but I would rather call the position what it is more biblically… deacon. It is like having the chairman of deacons on staff.

    • William Christopher says on

      We have got to a place that’s almost minus all biblical practices what ever happened to believing in the power of the Holy Ghost to add to the church today we have no power but plenty of education policital correctness & dying to please Preacher Preach! Forget all these gimmicks & books that everyone is chasing one thing that was in the New Testment church was originality ! Today to much copy of what someone else is doing !

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