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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  • Senior positions require senior work!!! in days of the past a senior position in mid to larger companies had so much support staff you may have worked less in that senior position.

    Today those same senior positions require much more work, you can type your own letters, answer your own emails, your own phone and are available constantly.

    This has also spilled over to the ministry. If you want the senior position and title at your church you should expect to work more not less!! you have the privilege of living your life’s calling. If not become an associate, admin, youth or children’s pastor and if those positions are filled and require to much work try being a day laborer to fill your time. a few hours behind a shovel buys a lifetime of perspective!!

    One solution:
    Hire a church administrator, remove the accounting function from the ministers, fire the senior pastor, elevate the associates with preaching and teaching responsibilities and grow lay teachers to handle any excess teaching requirements.

    This always gets so over spiritualized, pretend its a sports team, fire, trade, put him on the bench that is 90% of any organizations function. Your main focus should be to build a sustainable management team, that understands the power of there mission and determine in real tangible measure how to disseminate that vision.

    What you don’t need is a senior manager delegating all his work, or spending his time coming up with lame ideas and keeping his volunteers busy running around on things that don’t accomplish the organizations mission

  • Divinity Libre says on

    after reading all these comments, my decision to DENOUNCE the institution of church couldn’t be more validated—an “executive” pastor—please! Flesh loves to make itself feel important….

  • Mr. Wiggins says on

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thank you very much for your post and the insight on the role and responsibilities of an executive pastor. I was just asked by my pastor if I would take on the role of the executive pastor of our church next year. I actually am very excited about this opportunity to help advance the Kingdom because my Pastor really needs the help. We have a congregation of about 500+ and it is very difficult for my pastor to oversee the staff, administration, budget, growth of each auxiliary and it’s effectiveness, while seeking God for a word for the people, counseling, preaching every Sunday, preaching multiple funerals a week, visiting the sick, etc. That’s a tad bit too much and my pastor is not a baby. Not only that, but my pastor is also a Bishop who oversees other churches while also having to take care of the affairs of our local ministry. That’s a lot right?? Now be it as it may, we do have other Elders and ministry positions active in our church but they are all reporting to the pastor, looking for guidance and an answer. So they are all running around doing what they want to do because there is no structure in the leadership of the staff. Again, my pastor is not a baby, meaning that they are up in age. After having all of this come up against you at one time, you can bet that something is going to go lacking. So I honestly believe that this is the best move that my pastor can make at this time, not because I was chosen, but because the extra help is needed badly! I can’t take to see the ministry go lacking. So with that being said, I believe that every Senior Pastor must earnestly seek God to know the necessity of an Exec Pastor. Is it necessary for my church or not? All things are lawful but not everything is expedient. I believe that if you have a large congregation of more than 200, it may be necessary to have an Exec Pastor. One who has been set to lead the staff of the church. Not one who decides to lead without authorization. It is that which causes the most confusion in many churches. One man or woman can’t run this great big ministry by themselves. I know too many pastors who have dropped dead due to the stresses of pastoring. Two just this year dropped dead in their pulpits while preaching in this area. It’s too much for one person. As my former Bishop used to say, Jesus already died for the church so there’s no need to kill yourself over it!

  • Executively executive says on

    From reading as many posts as I am able, I think what many people are missing is that Thom referred to the XP as analogous to a CFO of a corporation in some cases. When churches begin to grow and have several hundred thousands into the millions of dollars in annual givings, the responsibility of administrating that alone becomes onerous; supporting groups and missions, the human resources responsibilities of a larger staff, the analysis of income and expense, etc. I can appreciate the desire for a church to be small, nimble and effective on a personal level. That’s not my intention to argue. But with years of financial background, I can state for sure there are effective strategies to use funds with wisdom and purpose.

    An individual with a business, accounting or financial degree and with either an additional degree in divinity or simply a heart for ministry can be a great asset to a church with big responsibilities. A senior pastor will not always know which amortization schedule is best for their building mortgage or whether or not to ladder rolling CD maturities or that it may be smarter to hire two part time employees in place of one full time employee as a tax strategy, etc.

    I think as the church continues to grow in America and the operational horizon becomes more complex, in many cases I feel the role or position of an executive pastor is inevitable and necessary.

  • Jonathan Fretwell says on

    The Only Problem is when the Executive Pastor believes he has the Responsibility for the Spiritual Welfare of the Senior and They Respond as if the Senior Pastor is Senile or that The Senior Pastor Does not Exist, Thinking that He is the Actual Pastor or the Actual Head of the Ministry.