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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  • Lee Bailey says on

    I completely understand your point of view and might feel the same way had I not grown up as a PK. As a 16-year-old, my dad hurt his back climing a ladder to change the sign in the church parking lot. He pastored, and still does pastor, a small, rural church of about 200 members. In that moment, God began to deal with my heart about putting myself in a position to help do the things that anyone could do so that the pastor would only have to do those things that ONLY he could do. So, at least for me, this is all about God giving me an opportunity to serve in a position that I believe in my heart He called me to at 16. I have A LOT to learn about this position,(and thanks to Dr. Rainer for providing much needed discussion about it) but my heart is that I want my pastor (who takes 20-30 hours per week of study for each sermon) to give himself over to the Word and allow him to seek the Lord with large blocks of uninterupted time.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you Lee. I appreciate what you do for your church and your pastor. In many ways you model a great executive pastor.

  • William Barnett says on

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thank you for your post. It was very timely for me. I have served in the church in nuerous capacities for over 25 years – except the role of pastor. My direct calling is Ministry Coordination and Church Growth. I am seeking God’s will and confirmation as to where He would like me to go with my gifting. My heart and passion is to equip people to serve the Body of Christ,while helping them to realize their potential and unique giftedness, edifying the Church and glorifying God. Our church has an executive pastor, however, my role is sometimes diminished because of overlap of duties and an unclear understanding of the two roles. I am the Coordinator of Lay Ministries and have served in this capacity for more than 20 years. I am very excited to be attending the Lifeway Transformational Church Consulting conference in February. Thank you so much for your insights and your ministry to people like me and others. I purpose in my heart to be a support and encouragement to people seeking to serve. God bless you Dr. Rainer.

  • Thom,

    I really enjoy reading your insights on the trends that are affecting the interrelational staff dependencies in our American churches. Do you see this in other countries around the globe, or is this possibly distinctly related to and a postlude of the last decade’s “Leadership” movement in the U.S.?

    Joel Taylor

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Joel –

      The recent growth of EPs has been primarily in the U.S. from my observations. I do have, however, a large number of international readers. Perhaps some of them can offer input.

      • I’ll input re this post. I’m a full time pastor in the U.K. but studied and served in the USA for four years.
        Executive pastors are all to do with the size of the church, so the USA, having a good number of larger churches, has more than most. Church leadership can also be a little more corporate in USA churches also, something Eugene Petersen picks up on in some of his books, so it’s not surprising some churches are utilising business models or terminology here too.
        I think a relevant issue here is plural eldership, something A. Strauch of Colorado wrote well on. The full weight of the ‘ body ‘ of elders/pastors/bishops (paul uses all three terms in addressing the same group of leaders in Acts 20) must come into play – yet with scope for paid individuals thus free to devote more time to the task, whatever aspects of oversight need attention, eg. the ministry of the word, organisational issues arising, as they do with scale. I’m not thinking here of eg an elder board who hire and fire etc; that set up is hard to justify from all the NT scriptures on eldership. So XP’s or whatever it’s needed is fine, but let not the rest of the eldership team (body of elders in an established church, not a plant) be put into the shade at the same time. There will be first among equals (Luke 6v12), but a biblical leadership table is round, not rectangular (corporate).

  • Dr. Rainer,
    I appreciate your insight to this role in the church and your work in advancing the Kingdom. As a new XP, I have noticed that the role varies for each church. With this role being relatively new, it has been difficult to wrap my arms around a clear cut understanding of the typical expectations for the XP. A resource that has been extremely helpful to me in defining the role and helping equip me is the Xpastor network ( Also, I have come to see my role in the purest sense as helping our team and ultimately the Lead Pastor accomplish the mission and vision God has called us to. I am excited to see how the XP role will continue to develop and be used within churches to accomplish God’s mission!

  • Great post Dr. Rainer! I am not “up” on the reasons behind the increase in the need for, or the shift to, an XP, but I can share with you our experience at Southpointe. Our Lead Pastor is a high level leader. Great vision and passion to see the reduction of lostness in our circle of influence. (5 mile circle) He leads from a 30,000 foot perspective. He is constantly casting vision with staff and the congregation. He is also connecting with other local churches to see how we can partner to reach the unchurched. For him to be in meetings and taking care of the day-to-day operations of the church would drastically limit his time doing what God has called him to do. Our XP used to be the youth pastor here at Southpointe. He is a numbers freak show! 🙂 God has gifted him in this area. He stepped into the XP position when our current lead pastor joined the Southpointe team. Our XP has taken on the duties of giving leadership to the finances of the church, Kingdom Come, (Missions), our Groups Ministry and a few other things. Most of this was on our Lead Pastors plate which enabled him to lead from about the 5,000 foot level. Not too healthy. The shift for us been great. Both Pastors are now in their sweet spot and our pastoral staff team functions at a high level of interdependent leadership. Fun to be a part of.

    I am the Worship & Arts Pastor at Southpointe. We average 450 – 500 in worship.

    • I think you have just described my dream job!
      I am a “numbers freak show” former Youth Pastor, as well, now leading a new church plant. I think my ministry sweet spot is just the kind of XP role you have described. Is there any chance I could get a copy of your SP & XP job descriptions?

  • I feel the role of executive pastor is critical in churches today. Not only does this allow the Senior Pastor to focus on vision, preaching, teaching, and shepherding, it also allows a person who is gifted in administration to make sure that the church is staying compliant with regulations and laws that are always changing and are getting more complex (human resource laws, IRS regulations, contribution processing policies, etc).

  • I think we all need one even if you are great at administration you not able to give your time to doing all the church needs one person trying to lead a flock is not going to grow it will only grow to level of what that one person can and will and grow will stop there and we become content but real grow is to grow and adjust to the needs of and demands of the churches we are call to pastor I need one and we are looking for one and win that person is in place we will grow more

  • Well the way that I see it, it seems more like church is becoming a business. Where is God in this? Does God lead people anymore??? How can you use supernatural power when you have a “go to work” mentality? The church system is so much like the world until I don’t even feel the Spirit anymore. In times past, a man did tell me that his friend became a pastor because he stated that there is a “profit” in the pulpit!!!

    • I think he was talking about a “prophet”. Really big difference there! A prophet is someone gifted in bringing the Word of God to the people.

      • Thanks Don, but you don’t need to explain to me what a “prophet” is. I really meant “profit!”

  • So if the XP is doing all of this…what does the Senior pastor doing exactly?

    • Steve Smith says on

      I think if the Senior Pastor is spending the amount of time he should be spending in sermon preparation, prayer, personal evangelism, and mentoring and developing younger leaders, that’s more than a full-time job. Even in a smaller church, I don’t see how he could effectively do these things and still have to manage the business affairs, ministry programs, and committee meetings that are all part of any church life.