Practical Stuff for Church Leaders

Hey, Executive Pastor: 5 Things Your Senior Pastor Needs from You

Last week, I wrote about the 5 things that every Executive Pastor needs from his or her Senior Pastor. As I mentioned, this is a very delicate relationship. If a local church is going to thrive, this is the most important relationship on the staff, and it must be strong and healthy.

I had the privilege to work for two decades for an amazing leader from whom I learned so much. He trusted me with high-level leadership way before I was ready and supported me nearly every step of the way. I had the opportunity to craft my role and grow into it as the church grew around us. In our 20 years together, we saw the church double, then double again, and then double two more times. We went from 6 staff members to 129 on our team. When we started working together, we owned no buildings or property, but that quickly grew to two sites, more than 60 acres, and 150,000 SF in buildings. It was all new for both of us. At every step of the way, neither of us had ever led at that level before. What a tremendous learning experience!

For the past 9 years, I’ve had the privilege to coach more than 150 leaders who sit in the #2 chair and fill the role of Executive Pastor. Every semester, I join with 16 leaders and get to learn from them as we study together what it means to be an Executive Pastor.

(Click here to read more about the Executive Pastor Coaching Network that I'll be leading this spring and the Lead Pastor Coaching Network led by my colleague, David Whiting.)

It is from my 20 years in the #2 chair, and my many years of coaching leaders, that I offer this list of 5 things every Senior Pastor needs from his or her Executive Pastor:

1.       Strategic Judgment. If you don’t have this, your Senior Pastor feels compelled to step back in and begin to run things again. That typically isn’t best for them or for the church. If you don’t naturally think strategically or organizationally, then get some training and some people around you who naturally think that way. Many Senior Pastors have dreams of where the church should go, but need a strategic mind to help figure out how to get there.

2.       Competence. Someone must have their finger on the pulse of how the church is doing with finances, facilities, legal issues, and HR issues—and that is often the Executive Pastor. You must know enough to be able to speak with great clarity and confidence about the health of the church and any threats that exist. Your Senior Pastor needs you to be up-to-speed on these issues.

3.       Someone to process. There are times when the Lead Pastor need to verbally process what is going on in their head. This is tricky, because you will be tempted to talk about how impossible it is because of money or staff limitations. But you should give them space to dream. Where else can they do this safely if not with you?

4.       Buffer. This is a delicate one, because your Senior Pastor may not know he or she needs it — but they need you to be a buffer. Their energy about the typo in the bulletin or fingerprints on the glass windows will not be helpful if shared in the moment. You need to be able to absorb this energy and then tackle the systems or offer appropriate correction to the people who can fix it long-term. Your Senior Pastor needs to focus on message preparation and overall vision, and not be burdened with the daily decisions of running the church. In the best situations, the Lead Pastor leads the church, and the Executive Pastor runs the church.

5.       Speak truth to power. Most Senior Pastors have very few people who tell them the truth. You may have heard it said, “The last time you heard the truth about what was happening in the organization was the first day you became CEO.” That is true for Lead Pastors as well. But they need someone next to them who will graciously and with wise timing say what is true. Do this sparingly — it is an amazing gift that very few others are in the position to offer.

I am sure this list is not exhaustive. I’d love to hear from your experience about what else every Senior Pastor needs from his or her executive leader.

Credit: Doug Slaybaugh was an Executive Pastor at Saddleback Church for many years. Now he spends his time with the Paterson Center helping leaders focus on what is important in their churches and in their personal lives. We recently spent some time together talking about the critical nature of the relationship between the senior pastor and executive pastor. It is from that conversation that I wrote this article.

Hey, Senior Pastor: 5 Things Your Executive Pastor Needs from You

I worked in the same church for 20 years, the bulk of that as the Executive Pastor. Those 20 years gave me a very diverse experience.

I served as an Executive Pastor in a small church – when we had less than 300 people. I also served as an Executive Pastor in a large church—when we were averaging more than 6,000 regular weekend attenders.

Through most my tenure, I served as an Executive Pastor in a growing church—when we averaged more than 23% growth per year for 15 years. But I also served as an Executive Pastor in a declining church—when we were losing more than 5% a year.

I served as an Executive Pastor when we were adding ministries and campuses and couldn’t keep up with hiring the right people. I also served at a time when we were laying off staff and cutting budgets.

For many years, my relationship with my Senior Pastor was incredibly healthy. We led together, vacationed together, and hung out together. I also served for a few years when my relationship with my Senior Pastor was really difficult. We weren’t seeing eye-to-eye, and no matter how hard we tried, we couldn’t fix it.

There may be no more important of a relationship in the local church than that between a senior pastor and an executive pastor. If this relationship is humming, the church can thrive. If it’s not—then every aspect of the ministry and staff will feel the disconnect. A close ministry friend once explained it to me this way: Just like kids will sense if something isn’t right between mom and dad, every person on the team knows when something isn’t right between you and our senior pastor.

(Click here to read more about the Executive Pastor Coaching Network that I'll be leading this spring and the Lead Pastor Coaching Network led by my colleague, David Whiting.)

He was right. Over my tenure, I learned some things about how best to serve my senior pastor—both from my successes and my failures. I have also learned a great deal over the past two years as I travel from church to church working with senior and executive pastor teams.

If you are a senior or lead pastor, I believe there are 5 things your executive pastor needs from you:

1.     Clarity. This is critical. If the executive pastor doesn’t know what you want, he can’t serve you very well. If you bring in ten ideas today, and a different ten ideas tomorrow, without any clarity on what is most important—you are going to frustrate your executive pastor.  It’s okay to function in blue-sky thinking space, but occasionally you must land the plane if you don’t want to cycle through executive pastor’s every couple of years.

2.     Authority. If you hired an executive pastor, but have difficulty letting them make decisions—perhaps you really should have hired an administrative assistant. An executive pastor who is wired like a high-functioning leader should be leading the team and making decisions. If they feel like they can’t make decisions without running it by you, they will get frustrated.

3.     Loyalty. Once your executive pastor has been in place for a while and is leading the team on your behalf, he or she needs your support. That means there will be times when you’ll need to be visibly loyal to a decision that they made that you wouldn’t have made. Tell your executive pastor behind closed doors. In public, they must have your support.

4.     Access. They need to have semi-regular time with you in order to hear your heart, know what’s going on in your head (it’s not as obvious as you think), and be able to lead on your behalf. Consider a weekly lunch meeting that is two-parts relational and one-part agenda-driven.

5.     Spiritual Discernment. Your executive pastor needs you to be tuned in to where God is leading the church and the staff. They need you to have a strong marriage and be leading your family well. Your walk with God provides a rudder for the church and the leadership team. Without it, insecurity is introduced into the system and it makes it very difficult to move forward. This is expected from all leaders, but is modeled at the highest levels.

Next week I’ll focus on the 5 Things Every Senior Pastor Needs from the Executive Pastor.

Credit: Doug Slaybaugh was an executive pastor at Saddleback Church for many years. Now he spends his time with the Paterson Center helping leaders focus on what is important in their churches and in their personal lives. We recently spent some time together talking about the critical nature of the relationship between the senior pastor and executive pastor. It is from that conversation that I wrote this article.

I Know Why Your Church Did (or Didn’t) Cancel Christmas

By David Whiting

David Whiting serves as one of the Executive Consultants on my team at Vanderbloemen Search Group. Before coming to Vanderbloemen, he served as Lead Pastor of Northridge Church in Rochester, NY, one of Outreach's 100 fastest-growing churches. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to our team from his time at Northridge, and he often provides the Vanderbloemen leadership blog with unique perspectives on church leadership. I'm honored to have him as a guest blogger on LeadingSmart!  -Tim

Every few years Christmas falls on a Sunday. And when it does, debate and strong words are commonly exchanged amongst church leaders about whether or not to hold Christmas services on Sunday. Usually those words are lobbed through social media and are filled with pride and indirect (or direct) condemnation toward the other side.

I think the reasons churches hold Christmas services on Sunday are good reasons. And I think those who don’t hold Christmas services on Sunday have good reasons as well. And I wish both sides would slow down to more clearly hear and understand each other.

The reason a church does and doesn’t hold Christmas services likely says a lot about that church. And understanding those differences may help both sides be more gracious with the other and more clearly define their own mission and purpose.

Those Who Held Sunday Services on Christmas:

·      Your church is likely made up of a majority of people who grew up in church. They grew up understanding that Christmas is ultimately about Jesus – so what better way could there be to celebrate Christ than to gather together on Christmas morning? In fact, to those who grew up in Christian homes centered on Christ, it often seems unimaginable not to go to church on Christmas Sunday.

·      Your church longs to help parents train their children to know that Christmas is truly and ultimately only about Christ and that He takes priority over everything – even our normal Christmas morning traditions.

·      Your church likely considers Sunday as The Lord’s Day and a day that is distinct and special from every other day. It is the day our Lord was raised from the dead, and gathering on Sunday follows a 2,000-year tradition of people devoted to Christ.

·      Your church is likely not a “seeker” church. You probably aren’t seeker-focused, but you may be somewhat seeker-sensitive. You want lost people to come to church, but they are not your focus or priority on Sunday morning. Instead, they are the target of the members of your church as they live through the week. Their primary goal is to come to church to be encouraged and challenged, and then to go out into the world and witness for Christ.

·      Your church is more focused on the church family than on excellence. Excellence is great, but it isn’t the end goal. And Christmas Sunday morning will be less attended and you will be missing some key volunteers who won’t be there, but you will be together as a church family and forgiving of some of the holes that are created through a lack of volunteers on that day. And it actually is healthy for your church to sense the smaller “family” feel on a special morning like Christmas Sunday.

Those are all good reasons to have church on Christmas when it falls on a Sunday.

Yet those who cancelled church on Christmas Sunday can often look with pride and condemnation at churches like this as being legalistic and out of touch.  I primarily think they are being consistent with their mission and purpose, and I think God is pleased with them.

Those Who Didn’t Hold Sunday Services on Christmas:

·      Your church is either filled with people who came to Christ as adults or your church is intentionally targeting those who don’t yet know Christ or are young in their faith.  And since your targets for Sundays are those who don’t yet know Christ or are new to walking with Christ, you deal with this reality: almost none of them will show up on a Sunday morning for church on Christmas Sunday. So these churches are willing to move their services to times that their target (unbelievers and new believers) will show up.

·      Your church loves Romans 14:5 which says, “5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.” Your church takes that verse seriously and you may feel condemned by those who don’t like your decision to move your services to Saturday and early in the week, and you may feel tempted to be prideful as if the other viewpoint is ignoring these verses.

·      Your church is likely a seeker church or a church that focuses on new Christians.  If you tried to hold services on Christmas Sunday, you would struggle to staff every volunteer role – from greeters to band and production members - and Christmas Sunday would end up being a less-than-ideal service to worship the Christ of Christmas. So, you’d rather have one of the two most special services on days when all volunteer hands can be on deck.

·      Your church wants your people to be intentionally pursuing family relationships to bring them to Christ. And if they have had decades of Christmas morning traditions, missing those traditions with non-Christian family to go to church might give feelings of frustration toward those Christians. So in light of Romans 14:5, why not change the service times so Christians can fully participate in family traditions and so non-Christians and new Christians will more likely participate?

Those are also good reasons to not have church on Christmas when it is a Sunday. Yet those who had church on Sunday can look at churches like this as not having their priorities right and too focused on lost people or excellence. I primarily think they are being consistent with their mission and purpose, and I think God is pleased.

To conclude, there are three things that I wish both types of churches would do:

1)   I think both sides should intentionally stand down on condemnation and dial back on strong rhetoric.

2)   I think both sides should be clear on their mission and purpose, and they should pursue that mission to God’s glory, the good of His Church, and the joy of all people everywhere.

3)   Finally, I think both sides should carefully read and apply Romans 14 when it comes to the decision of whether to have church on Christmas Sunday or not.

Romans 14:

 5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 

Whatever your viewpoint on this, have good Biblical reasons for what you do. Don’t simply do something out of guilt, tradition, pride, convenience, or the desire to be “cool.”

6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 

Recognize that those churches who made a different choice than you are doing it to and for the Lord. Be careful about judging their motives or the results.

7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 

Each of our churches belongs to God. Let’s be gracious with each other and focused on Him, not on what we think other churches should or shouldn’t be doing.

9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. 10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat… 12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Our role is not to judge those who make different choices on this matter, but rather to focus on having a clear conscience before God in what we choose for our church. When the day comes that we stand before God, we will give an account to Him for the choices we made. And He won’t be interested in hearing your condemnation of another group of church leaders who chose differently.

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another

May all of God’s churches take this command seriously and pray for each other more than we evaluate each other.

16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 

Church, pursue your mission and purpose and do it so well that others can’t speak poorly of what you are doing.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Eternity is too long and hell is too hot for us to fight about such things. There are differences of opinions, and that is fine. Can we assume the best about each other? And can we attempt to see why another church made the choice that it made? Let’s be at peace. Let’s pray for each other. And let’s root for other churches to WIN!  Again, may it all be for God’s glory, the good of His Church, and the joy of us who get to serve Him.

One Last Note:

From experience, I know this is a hard decision to make. I was the Lead Pastor at Northridge Church for over 15 years, and six years ago, Christmas was on a Sunday. We held three Christmas Eve services and one service on Christmas morning. They were identical services. We didn’t feel we could do an excellent Christmas Eve service and something entirely different on Christmas morning. And in our culture, we didn’t think people could come two days in a row at the Christmas season. We are a church filled with many newer believers. We thought giving people options that best fit their schedules (or even convictions) was best. So it was four identical services – three on Christmas Eve and one on Christmas morning.

We discovered that a vast majority of our Sunday AM attenders were staff, elders, and our key volunteers who always are willing to help get things accomplished. I am sure we had as many staff, elders, and volunteers serving as we had attenders that morning. We were a church filled with many new Christians, and since there was a Saturday night option (when even a non-Christian culture is used to attending a Christmas Eve afternoon or service), it became the primary option. And therefore, Sunday morning was the smallest attended of the weekend.

So when it came around this year, a lot of discussion went into it. What is best?

This year, Northridge Church didn’t have church on Christmas Sunday. What will we do next time? I guess we will all find out in December 2022.

Until then - let’s be gracious to those who choose to do it differently than we did. 

-- David Whiting

Friday Finds - 2017 Goals, Parental Leave, & Holiday Mistakes

'Tis the season to be busy, am I right? I've been on the road all week, and while it can be tiring to travel so much this time of year, it pumps me up to visit and get to know really awesome church leaders around the country. In the past couple of weeks, I've met with leaders in Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, Mississippi, Indiana and California. I'm really encouraged with what God is doing through the Church today, and have especially enjoyed seeing how churches are creatively reaching their communities during the Christmas season.

I'm hoping these articles can help and encourage you this next week:

The Two Most Powerful Words For Reaching Your Goals by Michael Hyatt via MichaelHyatt.com

Every year, I keep my eye out for resources about New Years resolutions or goal-setting that aren't trite or something we've all heard many times. This insight from Michael Hyatt is certainly one of those gems. The two words he gives for creating and reaching your 2017 goals aren't what you would expect, but they make a lot of sense.

Are You A Good Boss? [Flowchart] by Amanda Zantal-Wiener via Hubspot

Since I know everyone is busy with their Christmas service planning (not to mention Christmas shopping or party planning), I thought I'd include a fun, quick read. Amanda Zantal-Wiener's flowchart is clever, with a lot of insightful hints to help you be a more self-aware, honest, and listening leader. Go through this and send it to your leadership team.

Ikea Is Giving All U.S. Employees Paid Parental Leave No Matter How Many Hours They Work by Claire Zillman via Fortune

Did you hear about this bold move made by Ikea recently? Their US workers will receive up to 4 months of paid maternity leave regardless of their number of hours worked. While I'm not giving any opinion about what your maternity/paternity leave policies should look like, I do think it's a subject that all church leaders should give a lot of thought to and re-evaluate often. What do you think of Ikea's decision? Let me know in the comments below!

3 Mistakes Pastors Make During The Holidays by Rusty Gates via Vanderbloemen Search Group

I've read a lot of blog posts that give leaders ideas for their Christmas service planning. But there aren't many resources that point out what leaders may be neglecting during this time of year. This wise article from my colleague Rusty has some great points about the mistakes we can make when we get too wrapped up in the season and everything we have to do for it. Give it a read.

What are you reading this week? Let me know in the comments below.