Every year at the XP-Seminar, I ask, “How many of you came from the business world?” In 2005, about 25% of the XPs raised their hands; by 2008, over 50% said “yes.” Current estimates are that half of all new Executive Pastors come from secular jobs, not from prior experience in a church position.
- How is it working for new XPs to come from business?
- Are they helping or hindering the spiritual nature of the church?
- How hard is the transition to church life?
This article will look at three newly-minted Executive Pastors, to see what lessons we can learn about moving from the secular world to the sacred. Erich Roehl worked for IBM, James Logan for the Commissioner of Baseball and Rob Cizek for an Emmy-winning newsroom.
Erich is the Executive Pastor of The Neighborhood Church of Redding, a multi-venue church of 2,300 people. He was with IBM for 27 years, a Global Offering Executive, responsible for creating consulting services. He loved his tenure at IBM: “… the people I worked with, doing things that had never been done, team recognition and making a difference to the company.”
Erich left IBM and became a small groups pastor at his church. Soon the church needed an Executive Pastor “… and everybody in the boardroom looked at me!” He oversees twenty full-time staff, including ten pastors, and another twenty part-time staff.
“People told me that it’s a lot harder at church, and I said, ‘no way.’ But, it’s a whole different dimension—because of the people. There is a fine balance between getting things done and the people part—especially with volunteers.”
Erich’s main challenge when he entered the role was that the staff were “great electricians but I need a house full of plumbers.” The culture of the past was not equipping others for ministry—and he had to change that culture. In a four-year process, many staff couldn’t make the shift and found new ministries.
Erich introduced a focus on excellence, urgency and execution. If you didn’t respond to phone calls or emails in 24 hours, you got the “wrath” of Erich. He introduced a focus on the core mission, with empowerment of teams to achieve that mission. “Some pastors had small church thinking, where the pastors do everything—and we needed to change that.” Erich dislikes the clergy-laity chasm. He sees that the priesthood of the believer involves everyone in ministry.
One bit of advice that he would have profited from: “I wish somebody would have told me in the beginning to be sure that you publicly exercise spiritual leadership, so that you’re not perceived as only being business-minded.”
Erich finds it hard to disconnect from church work. “At IBM, when I closed the door, I was done and I was dad at home, a husband.” He finds it difficult to compartmentalize now, being careful to protect his private life. “Where does it stop? PCs and email, phone calls. Go to a store and you will run into six people who know you.” He “yells” at the staff if they don’t take vacation or if they check in during vacation. He wants all the pastors to regularly make time to take a full day off to connect with God—not at home or at the office but perhaps at the river or lake.
Rev. James B. Logan
James is the Executive Minister of Convent Avenue Baptist Church in Harlem, New York City. Prior to this role, he worked for the Commissioner of Baseball, managing a college scholarship plan and pension benefits. He also had worked as a career consultant and held human resources management positions in the healthcare, pharmaceutical and outplacement industries. In Major League Baseball, James learned about the impact of financial formulas on pension plan benefit payments, website development for minor league college scholarship recipients, the contractual issues of the players, and developing people. He helped minor league players utilize their college scholarship plan to attend college. James also adds, “The New York Mets is my favorite team!” In all, he worked in business for 25 years.
Convent Avenue is a predominately African-American, 66-year-old church with 3,000 members. When the Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Jesse T. Williams, Jr., had been at the church for about a year, he brought James onto the staff in a full-time capacity. Previously, James was part-time for 13 years. He worked 20 hours a week for the church and 40 in business. Along the way, James earned a Masters of Divinity degree.
Working fulltime in ministry is a “fulfillment of a dream” for James. He says, “I always had a desire to be in full-time ministry, but I found that my pulpit was in the marketplace for all those years. Each business position I held had opportunities created for me to be a vessel for God to touch someone’s life.”
While James serves as his Executive Pastor, Dr. Williams desires to equip James for a future Senior Pastor role. He is being mentored by Dr. Williams: “ … giving me assignments, bringing me in on all ministry decisions, his thoughts and plans, getting my input, how I view things, socially and politically, especially in the time of campaigning, dealing with the trustee board and deacons working together.”
James is working on putting policies in place to make ministry function more smoothly. Dr. Williams specifically asked James to create a lay leader policy manual. With an older congregation, they are experiencing turnover. Convent Avenue needs to develop the many new members to function and lead ministry.
The pull can be draining in this position. “I am learning to balance my time and need to mix ministering to people and my own daily devotion. I am improving in my ability to say no, or to defer it or delegate it to someone else.” He is learning how to manage and balance time, not allowing himself to be drained.
Rob is the Executive Pastor of the 2,000 member Northshore Christian Church of Everett, Washington. With 32 church employees, and another 104 at the church’s school, Rob oversees a huge staff.
For 20 years, Rob’s business life was in the television newsroom, even winning an Emmy for a major news company. He moved from newscast producer, to news director, to overseeing newscasts in five cities at the corporate level. In these roles, he developed multi-tasking skills and the ability to make quick decisions. “With several newscast deadlines each day, you have to make decisions both quickly and well. You have the authority to make unilateral decisions and have the accountability for them.”
After achieving most of his professional broadcasting goals, Rob asked God every day for two years about his next career step. “I had a sense of restlessness and really began asking the Lord as to what direction I should go.” Then his company downsized and Rob needed a new job. “I was attending a large church at the time and developed a relationship with the XP. I assumed the XP position was something that it wasn’t.” The Executive Pastor, who had come from the marketplace, showed Rob how he was using his corporate experiences to make a huge difference at the church.
Rob found that managing 65 newsroom people prepared him to manage a church staff. “It surprised me how similar the two jobs are. Both are people jobs and people are remarkable consistent. Newsrooms and churches are filled with intelligent, motivated and passionate people.” One XP job that he applied for had a job description that matched, word-for-word, the skill-set on his resume: Leadership, staff development, human resources, finance and public relations. “That was when I called my wife over and I showed her the job description. It was remarkable that what the church needed and my skills matched perfectly.”
Rob had to learn that the pace of decision-making at church is slower than the pace in business. “I could make a decision in the morning and it would be broadcast to 250,000 people that night. Being a second chair leader to the Senior Pastor and Elder Board was a significant change.” He found that although there was a different decision-making process, the church’s system had its advantages. Important decisions could be made over a longer time frame and not always on a tight deadline. More people and research could be brought into the process.
The previous Executive Pastor at Northshore was also a teaching pastor, “so the people were used to a shepherd and teacher.” Rob has strong administrative, finance and organizational gifts. The congregation and church leadership had to realize that each person had different gifts. “They couldn’t come to me for the same things as the other guy, but they could come to me for other things.” The board wanted to clearly define the roles—that the Senior Pastor was the shepherd and teacher, and the XP provided organizational and systems leadership.
There are important “take-aways” from the career path of these three Executive Pastors.
- Every career path is different but effective XPs see God’s hand in preparing them to lead the church. Past business skills and abilities are significantly used in church leadership.
- The job doesn’t stop at the office. In business, you may work long hours, but these often stop when you leave the office. Ministry follows you everywhere—from your office, to home, to the grocery store.
- Adjusting to the pace of decision-making can be challenging. Churches have broad constituencies and often many people need to weigh in on important decisions.
- Dealing with expectations is key. Whether the person is the first Executive Pastor or replacing one, the church will have a “box” they expect you to fit in. Good XP’s help people see differences in gifts and styles.
The transition from a business career to an Executive Pastor role has its challenges. Some will find that it is too hard to change hats. Many will find that they can use their gifts and abilities in significant investment in the local church. Changing hats is possible.
As published in Church Executive magazine, February 2009