The following is a dissertation written by an Executive Pastor. To aid in making the information more readable on the web, the footnotes have been removed. To view footnotes, charts, Appendices and the Reference List, please view the PDF found directly beneath the article.

Chapter 1—Research Concern

Leadership and management skills are critical for the pastor to manage even the smallest congregation. Traditionally, administrators, both laymen and professional, have assisted pastors in leading and managing the financial, facility, and related administrative functions in many churches. The growth of a church usually includes an increase in giving, congregants, professional staff members, and lay volunteer ministers. With this growth, the role of the pastor becomes more complex in order to meet not only the spiritual needs of the congregation, but also the strategic, operational, and personnel functions.

Pastors are called upon regularly to preach, visit, counsel, console, and provide spiritual leadership. Pastors are also expected to set the vision for the church, develop the strategy, communicate clearly the purpose and direction of the local congregation, manage and lead change, build and maintain the team of lay leaders, and shepherd people in the church including the ministry staff. He is called on to accomplish this while balancing his spiritual relationship with God and maintaining healthy relationships with his family. The expectation of success in each of these areas by the pastor, the congregation, or his family is unrealistic for most ministers. Some possible causes of these unrealistic expectations of pastors are explained by Nauss in his studies on ministerial effectiveness and ministers as managers.

Through the years, however, at least in America, the parish has changed gradually from the neighborhood church or ethnic conclave to a more actively involved and mission-oriented assembly with members from diverse backgrounds. In the past century the minister has become responsible for additional charges, such as evangelistic work, equipping the members, administering an office or directing a staff, and becoming active in community affairs, all of which can be shown to have some basis in Scripture.

Research Problem

In meeting the challenge of balancing both the managing and the shepherding of the church, a new position entitled executive pastor is evolving. Attempting to review sources on church staff positions, this author found very little research on the executive pastor. There were studies with stated purposes relating to ministers as managers, administration within the church, time-management, and ministerial effectiveness. Few researchers had specifically attempted a diagnosis of the executive pastor.

A library search revealed only one article containing the term executive pastor in the title or subject area. The other available material included a brief description from the Evangelical Dictionary of Christian Education. Leadership Network held a forum in 2001 providing summary information entitled The Executive Pastor Code. Rex Frieze, an organizational consultant and former executive pastor, developed a job description for the executive minister. Defining Moments, an audiotape series from the Willow Creek Association, provided a recorded interview with Bill Hybels, Senior Pastor, and Greg Hawkins, Executive Pastor, of Willow Creek Church in Barrington, Illinois.

This author located two unpublished works on the subject of the executive pastor. The first was “The Role, Relationships and Responsibilities of an Executive Pastor” by Dan Reiland, a church organizational consultant and executive pastor. The second was “Playing Second Fiddle” by Tommy Kiedis, a former executive pastor and at the time of this study, the Dean of the Chapel at Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida. Both of these articles provided insight into the function of the executive pastor.

While this study attempted to take a descriptive view of the current practices of the executive pastor, completing the process was not the focus. Neither a competency model nor a complete definition was intended. This research continued the process of understanding and defining the role of the executive pastor.

Pastor Training

A study by Larry Purcell observed that there were forty-one forced terminations reported by Southern Baptist Churches in Kentucky in 1999. This number may have been larger as these were only the reported cases. The top five reasons for these forced terminations as reported by the Kentucky Baptist Convention Leadership Development Department were:

  1. Pastor/Staff was too controlling.
  2. The church was resistant to change.
  3. The church was already in conflict when the pastor/staff person arrived.
  4. The pastor/staff person possessed poor people skills.
  5. The pastor/staff person’s leadership style was too strong.

Reviewing these reasons for forced termination pointed to two overarching factors for a disconnection between the pastor and congregation. Either the pastor had poor leadership or influencing skills (numbers 1, 4, and 5) or the pastor had poor change management skills (numbers 2 and 3). Experience and training could have been the two determining factors in assisting these pastors to hold their positions and grow healthy churches. An additional reason for termination may have been the lack of time to practice these critical areas of leadership and management of the church. Obviously, these men may not have been called to the ministry or had other issues, but the end result remained the same. These pastors lacked either leadership and management gifts or they failed to employ the skills they possessed due to an unknown limiting factor.

Academics over Practice

One solution may be to view critically the education pastors received prior to service in the local church. The M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust Review of Graduate Theological Education provided some critical insight into the importance of leadership and management training for church leaders. The first area of concern raised by this review as related to leadership and management training was that seminaries focused more on academics than on the practice of the ministry. While some denominations and seminaries may be practicing a more balanced approach, this study covered seminaries in general. As cited in the overview by Gary Grieg of the Review of Graduate Education in the Pacific Northwest, the Murdock Review Program Officer John Woodyard stated:

Seminaries … give their graduates skills to study the Bible and theology but not skills to lead the modern church. The seminaries … continue to emphasize academics. Pastors believe seminary professors do not understand their need for ministry skills or mentors. Professors often view pastors and the church as ‘anti-intellectual.’ Seminaries often turn a deaf ear to the needs of the local church and arrogantly defend scholarly education.

Seminaries should not lower their academic standards. They should continue to focus on both quality academic education and practical training. In the same article, Kenneth Meyers, President of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at the time of the study, stated:

The curriculum has called for professionals of the academy rather than professionals of the church. The truth is, students will model their professors. In our

[seminary] some 75% of faculty have never pastored a church longer than an intern[ship] during graduate studies. Is it no wonder that graduates come out “heady” and lacking ministry skills?

The challenge faced by seminaries is how to provide quality theological education and leadership training in the two or three years of full-time study required in their curriculum.

Skill Priority

Additional evidence supporting the argument for more leadership and management training came from a review of ministry priorities as stated by lay people, pastors, and seminary professors. The 1994 Murdock Trust study revealed eight areas of priority.

  1. Character
  2. Communication skills
  3. Counseling skills
  4. Leadership skills
  5. Management abilities
  6. Relational skills
  7. Spirituality
  8. Theological knowledge

Eight hundred lay people, pastors, and professors were surveyed revealing different priorities for each area. Lay people listed the priorities in this order: spirituality, relational skills, character, communication skills, and finally theological knowledge. The pastors’ priorities were relational skills, management abilities, communication skills, spirituality, and finally theological knowledge. The professors’ priorities listed theological knowledge first followed by character, leadership skills, communication skills, and then counseling skills. While many of the priorities were the same in the top five, the practitioners looked to leadership and management attributes over theological knowledge. Regardless, leadership skills, management abilities, relational skills, and communication skills were cited as critical across the board.

Some pastors have the spiritual gifts and skills necessary to lead and administer. The pastor who does not possess these gifts needs familiarity with leadership and management principles in order to gather around him others in the congregation who have these gifts. Malloy and Smith stated that one of the imperatives of an equipping church is to equip people to use their gifts in service. “The role of leaders in the church community is to equip others to use their gifts so that everyone can grow”

The Minister’s Dilemma

The debate over the seminary curriculum will continue. The question at hand may not be one of education and training alone. Using the same skills in one situation may be a cause of failure in another setting.

Early in their careers, pastors serve as the entire church staff: Pastor, secretary, education director, worship leader, youth leader and perhaps janitor. Later through promotions and moves, the minister will likely have a staff to manage the various functions of ministry. This is often a difficult transition. The pastor, who has previously been rewarded for effectively performing all the staff functions, must now delegate and manage these functions.

The core issue may be more related to the complexity of the organization and unrealistic expectations placed on pastors. Seminaries must continue to spend a large amount of time teaching their students church history, ancient languages, theology, and how to communicate truth. This is foundational understanding for a minister and should not be discounted.

George Barna observed, “I have witnessed pastor after pastor extensively trained to exegete the Scriptures, and gifted to communicate God’s truth, undeniably fail when it comes to guiding the body of believers.” The average size church in America is approximately one hundred people. Typically a pastor-shepherd can minister to these people without having to employ leadership or management principles beyond himself. The issues arise when churches stagnate or decline and the congregation begins to get uncomfortable with the church and the pastor. Pastors and staff members must have skills to lead their congregations through troubled times and times of change and growth.

The balance of the practices necessary for adequate pastoral leadership and church management is a topic of long-term research. As early as 1956, Samuel Blizzard provided research on the activities occupying pastors’ time. This research asked 690 pastors to evaluate six roles of the pastor on three aspects. The roles determined were pastor, preacher, priest, teacher, organizer, and administrator. The three aspects rated were effectiveness, enjoyment, and importance. Information on time spent in each role was also collected. From a practitioner’s perspective, one may deduce that a pastor in this study spent the most time on administrative activities that he least enjoyed, felt were least important, and in which he believed himself to be least effective.

Table 1. Relationship between minister’s time, effectiveness, enjoyment, and importance in pastoral roles N = 690





































*Rating scale: 1 = most, 6 = least.

The biblical mandate for the pastor is clear. He is to be above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6-7) and the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6). The book of Timothy instructs that a pastor must be temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money, able to manage his own household well, not a new convert, and enjoying a good reputation with those outside the church (1 Tim. 3:2-7). While the role in Scripture is clear, the expectations of both pastors and congregations are not aligned at times. The ways in which pastors practice their ministry are more subjective. Very few men are able to excel at every skill required for the important role of leading a local church.

The Need for Clarity

The executive pastor is a new phenomenon in many churches of varying sizes across the United States. This function is a pastoral role that is focused primarily on the development and maintenance of the staff and the church organization. While there were examples of the existence of the executive pastor, there appeared to be little consistency in understanding the role, the specifications, and the definition of the position. Some considered the executive pastor to be the church administrator, while others understood this position to be an extension of the role of the minister of education. One may conclude that this position is similar to the chief operating officer (COO) in for-profit or not-for-profit organizations. Still others stated that the COO model is not as accurate as referring to the executive pastor as the chief of staff.

Bringing clarity and understanding to the necessary leadership and management practices common to executive pastors lays the groundwork for developing the next generation of executive pastors and supporting those currently in place. Additionally, clarity of the position may assist churches in determining the appropriateness for their particular situation. The existing articles provided a basic understanding of the executive pastor. Additional research was needed to qualify the definitions provided thus far.

Research Purpose

Leadership and management competencies, abilities or practices have been identified by for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. There were also identified competencies in the fields of theology and Christian education that were cited as important to pastors. This qualitative, descriptive research study was intended to observe this new phenomenon by identifying the executive pastor’s self-perception of the leadership and management competencies important to this position. Demographic data, including professional experience, was studied to identify relationships between the executive pastor’s response and his background.

The fifty competencies identified in a 1988 study of pastoral managerial competencies by Stephen A. Boersma were foundational to this study. This research compared and contrasted the findings of this study with the Boersma findings. The result of this study provides insight into which practices the executive pastors in the population utilize on the job. This study may also provide a process to study required leadership and management practices in other ministry positions. This research may be valuable to institutions focused on training and developing church leaders.

Delimitations of the Study

The focus of this study sought to gain an understanding of the competencies of executive pastors, while moving toward a definition of the position. There were intentional limitations in the scope of the research design and the subsequent limitations as to how the findings could be generalized. Geographic, denominational, and organizational limitations had an effect upon the generalizations of the findings of this study.

  1. This study was limited to churches in the United States.
  2. This study was limited to churches that are part of the Southern Baptist Convention.
  3. This study was limited to churches with an individual functioning as executive pastor.
  4. This study was limited to individuals who are members of the Mega-Metro Executive Pastors’ Conference.

Research Questions

The following questions were used to guide this study:

  1. What are the similarities and differences of the demographic characteristics such as age, race, gender, professional training, years in ministry, professional background, or church size within the population of the executive pastors?
  2. What is the rank order and relative agreement of the perceived competency importance reported by the executive pastors?
  3. How do the mean rank order results of the Boersma study of pastoral management competencies compare and contrast to the mean rank order of the executive pastors?
  4. What are the identifiable characteristics, such as age, race, gender, professional training, years in ministry, professional background, or church size that are associated with the importance rating of the competencies?
  5. What is the relationship between the self-reported job satisfaction, performance, and preparation ratings of the executive pastors?


For the purpose of this study the following definitions were provided:

Administration. This function is set apart from leadership and management on some occasions. Administration can be defined as managing the details of executive affairs. This term can also be defined as, “The management of projects, supervision of others, and implementing of policies. Administration is different from leadership in that administration executes policy rather than creating it.”

Administrative staff. This staff group consists of the people, paid or unpaid, within a local church who are responsible for the day-to-day detailed operations. While administrative tasks can be delineated from leadership and ministry tasks, this position is critical and required for smooth ministry operation.

Business administrator. The person who holds this position concentrates his efforts on managing the finances, facilities, and support staff of the church. This position usually reports to the executive pastor. When referring to the difference between the executive pastor and the business administrator, Reiland posited, “The two are very different positions, correctly staffed by two very different persons.”

In a telephone interview with John Russell, the president of the Mega-Metro Executive Pastors’ Conference at the time of this study, related this perspective on the function of the business administrator: “I always view the business administrator’s role in terms of three Fs: finances, facilities, and food.” Webber referred to six areas that were supported by the National Association of Church Business Administrators (NACBA). “We can identify six basic areas of responsibility of a church business administrator: finance, data processing, personnel, physical plant, strategic planning, and church protocol.”

Competencies. Competencies by some were defined as abilities. One could say that competence equals ability. Hersey, Blanchard, and Johnson extended this definition of ability by showing the components of ability as knowledge, skill, and experience. “Knowledge is demonstrated understanding of a task, skill is demonstrated proficiency and experience is demonstrated ability gained from performing a task.”

A more technical definition showing a relationship to predetermined criteria was “An underlying characteristic of an individual that is causally related to criterion referenced effective [and or] superior performance in a job or situation.” Competency analysis is conducted against a criterion reference rather than a comparative analysis. The objective is to understand what competencies are necessary for a job or role. Regardless of the environment for which leadership and management competencies are defined, they may be important for use in the local church.

Factor. In the Boersma survey instrument, the fifty competencies were delineated into three competency or skill groupings. These sub-grouping were related to pathfinding skills, interpersonal skills, and implementation and decision making skills.

Item. In the Boersma survey instrument, this term represents the individual competencies that were rated by the executive pastors.

Leadership. This author defines leadership as the art of painting a vision, creating a path, gathering the resources, guiding people to new places, and creating growth in the individual and organization, while understanding and valuing the past, the culture, and the people. From a spiritual perspective, the definition should also include the concepts of calling, vision from God, and leading others in their Christian life. Means continued developing the idea of the definition of leadership by stating the following:

Spiritual leadership is the development of relationships with the people of a Christian institution or body in such a way that individuals and the group are enabled to formulate and achieve Biblically compatible goals that meet real needs. By their ethical influence, spiritual leaders serve to motivate and enable others to achieve what otherwise would never be achieved.

Gangel identified Christian leadership as “The exercise of one’s spiritual gifts under the call of God to serve a certain group of people in achieving the goals God has given them toward the end of glorifying Christ.” Robert Clinton defined leadership as “A dynamic process in which a man or woman with God-given capacities influences a specific group of God’s people toward His purposes for the group.”

John Maxwell provided the most basic definition of leadership: “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.” Daniel Katz and Robert Kahn provided a more industrial definition: “Leadership is the influential increment over and above mechanical compliance with the routine directives of the organization.”

These definitions of leadership give boundaries to leadership practices. Leadership is different from management or even administration. Leadership and management must coexist, as neither is truly possible without the other. Leadership focuses on doing the right things, while management focuses on doing things right. Administration can be defined as the processes and procedures that support the leadership and management function. The ultimate goal of those in authority is to do the right things right.

Management. This discipline is related to planning, organizing, staffing, directing, controlling, and measuring functions of the organization. Management is different from leadership or even administration. Leadership and management must coexist, as neither is truly possible without the other. Leadership focuses on doing the right things, while management focuses on doing things right. Administration can be defined as the processes and procedures that support the leadership and management function. The ultimate goal of those in authority is to do the right things right.

Mega-Metro Executive Pastors’ Conference. The Mega-Metro Executive Pastors’ Conference (MMEPC) limits participation in this organization to those individuals who are functioning as an executive pastor or acting in a “chief of ministry” role. Occasionally, the minister of education, senior associate pastor or director of ministries acts in a role similar to the executive pastor. The group focuses primarily on churches that are Southern Baptist. While membership criteria do not preclude someone in a church other than Southern Baptist to participate, the vast majority of participants are from SBC churches.

The specific criterion for membership is for individuals and churches to meet four out of six of the following criteria:

  1. The worship attendance must have an annual average of three thousand or more.
  2. The Sunday School attendance must have an annual average of two thousand or more.
  3. The annual budget must be at least $4 million.
  4. There must be at least ten full-time equivalent professional ministry staff positions.
  5. The executive pastor or similar function must report directly to the senior pastor.
  6. The executive pastor or similar function must supervise the pastoral staff.

Ministry staff. While pastors are responsible for leading the overall organization, the idea that others are not leaders is incorrect. Anyone holding a position of authority in the local church, even lay leaders, is responsible for leadership results.

Though God calls every Christian into some form of ministry, He has not called everyone to leadership. The New Testament clearly differentiates between saints (church members) in general, and leaders in particular (Acts 15:22; 1 Thes. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Heb. 13:7, 17; 1 Pet. 5:1-5).

Leadership is not limited to the pastor alone. Each person on the ministry staff has a responsibility of leadership to those who are following him. This includes ministry area department heads, volunteer positions, and those in other ministry roles responsible for