The following is a dissertation written in 2004 by David Fletcher about the Executive Pastor position. The footnotes have been removed to simplify reading on the web. Unfortunately, the images (and there are many) do not easily convert to the web format. Therefore, they, as well as the footnotes, Appendices and Bibliography, are available on the original PDF found below this article.
Reflection, study and prayer have always had to compete against the imperious claims of other activities. … Church officialdom is more likely to take note of a pastor mighty in raising money than of a pastor mighty in prayer. —Richard John Neuhaus
Richard John Neuhaus published these words in 1979 and reflected a growing tension in the American church. For many pastors, the art of preaching was being pushed aside and job descriptions became laden with other ministerial and management activities. The title Pastor often became Senior Pastor. The position of Senior Pastor generally included either the formal or informal job roles of Chief of Staff, Pastor to the Pastors, Chair of the Search Committee, church visionary, business executive, fundraiser and governing board member. In the American church, tension grew between the competing time and energy demands of church management and the spiritual disciplines required for able preaching. This is the compelling “first cause” for this research.
This dissertation presents an answer to the management crisis faced by the Senior Pastor. This study demonstrates the functional need of the Executive Pastor. The role of the Executive Pastor is to implement the vision of the Senior Pastor and the policies of the governing board. The time and energy of the Senior Pastor can then focus on the pastoral disciplines, preaching and casting vision.
This Introduction orients the reader to the project. The rationale for the project is given and there is discussion of how the project fits into the ministry of this researcher. A concise statement of the problem and the research question is presented. Suggestions are given for how this dissertation can help others improve ministry effectiveness. Finally, there is a brief preview of each chapter.
From the Project’s Rationale to Hypothesis
The rationale for the project stems from this researcher’s twenty-one year ministry at Northwest Bible Church of Dallas, Texas, specifically in serving as Executive Pastor since 1998. Yet, as this dissertation is not a case study of Northwest Bible Church, other churches will be examined.
This researcher desires to study the role of other Executive Pastors for professional growth in ministry skills. As this pastor desires to continue to serve his existing congregation for the foreseeable future, the project abets and enhances his long term effectiveness.
A concise statement of the problem is: The emerging role of the Executive Pastor, with respect to policy-and-vision implementation in an Elder-led church, needs study and definition. The role of Executive Pastor is relatively new. It came into mainstream existence in the mid 1980’s, rose to great popularity in the mid-to-late 1990’s, and continues to the present time in widespread usage. This study is needed as there are no books published about the Executive Pastor that could be located by this researcher. Since there is little literature on the position of Executive Pastor, this work will seek to define the role.
The statement of the problem leads to the research question, What are the policies and implementations of vision by the Executive Pastor in the case study churches?
The problem and the question led to the development of the hypothesis: The case studies of the role of Executive Pastor in Elder-led churches will demonstrate that there is a functional need for an Executive Pastor to facilitate policy-and-vision implementation in Elder-led churches and that the position of Executive Pastor administers a church government that represents Christ and His teaching.
Two churches were interviewed for the in-depth analysis of the case study method. Irving Bible Church of Irving, Texas, served as the development site for the case study questions. Stonebriar Community Church of Frisco, Texas, also consented to be a case study church.
The churches were chosen for their similarities and differences. In similarity, the case study churches use an Elder Board for their governing board. While not being held up as the only successful model for church ministry, each case study church has more than three thousand worshippers in weekly services. In dissimilarity, Irving in the last ten years has moved from a traditional model of ministry to what some call a postmodern one. As a relatively traditional, conservative, evangelical church, Stonebriar was founded in 1999 by Chuck Swindoll. It became an “instant megachurch.” Each church has unique strengths and struggles as it seeks to minister to congregants and community. As pertinent to the case studies, data from other churches will be incorporated, such as: Lake Avenue Congregational Church of Pasadena, California; Northwest Bible Church of Dallas, Texas; Richland Bible Church of Richland, Michigan; Santa Cruz Bible Church of Santa Cruz, California; and Watermark Community Church of Dallas, Texas.
Potential Benefits of this Study
The Doctor of Ministry program at Dallas Theological Seminary desires projects to benefit others in ministry. Through the academic disciplines and research in the case study approach, this student desires to contribute to the mission of his own church and the church universal.
The dissertation will enable other Christian leaders to have knowledge and understanding about the functional need of the Executive Pastor. It will also further develop this student’s ability by doing doctoral level research in a field setting. There are several specific groups who will benefit from this study:
- Senior Pastors will do well to contemplate the managing and leadership role of the Executive Pastor. They will also benefit from examining the potential perils of a poorly developed and implemented Executive Pastor job description. The Senior Pastor can discover, “Am I in a management crisis?” “How can an Executive Pastor implement my ministry vision?” and “Can I work with and delegate to an Executive Pastor?” The Executive Pastor Indicator (XP-I) will objectively measure perceived need and may show blind spots.
- Governing boards can learn how to relieve stress on the Senior Pastor and enhance the ministry function of the church. “Is our Senior Pastor in a management crisis?” “Does our Senior Pastor invest sufficient time with the pastoral staff, to tend to their needs and development?” “How can an Executive Pastor further this church by implementing our policies?” If an entire governing board utilizes the Executive Pastor Indicator, hidden and competing views about the Senior and Executive Pastors may be unearthed.
- Search Committees will benefit as they review expectations for a future Executive Pastor. Use of the Executive Pastor Indicator will show if the church needs an Executive Pastor, Business Administrator or Assistant Pastor. The objective data will enable fruitful discussion about elements to be included on an Executive Pastor’s job description.
- Executive Pastors will profit from the comparative analysis to others performing the same function, as well as the review of pertinent literature. The Executive Pastor Indicator will give insight on areas of strength and limitation. Should there be different expectations indicated by the Indicator, the Executive Pastor will have an objective tool to evaluate the job description.
- Members of a large pastoral staff will grow as they understand the Executive Pastor in the context of the American church. Differences in Executive Pastor Indicator results from the Executive Pastor may indicate flashpoints for future problems. Similarity in Indicator results with the Senior Pastor and governing board indicate shared expectations and functions of the Executive Pastor.
As well, there may be other individuals or groups which will benefit from this research, such as denominational leaders or church planting organizations.
In the Doctor of Ministry program at Dallas Theological Seminary, the second chapter of the dissertation is often devoted to an examination of previous research through a literature review. Though stated above, due to the structure of chapter two, it is important to repeat:
The emerging role of the Executive Pastor, with respect to policy-and-vision implementation in an Elder-led church, needs study and definition. The role of Executive Pastor is relatively new. It came into mainstream existence in the mid 1980’s, rose to great popularity in the mid-to-late 1990’s, and continues to the present time in widespread usage. This study is needed as there are no books published about the Executive Pastor. Since there is little literature on the position of Executive Pastor, this work will seek to define the role.
There is a paucity of material on the history, role, and functional need of the Executive Pastor. It is, therefore, imperative that the literature review show the causative factors in the creation of the position. In theological literature, there are causative factors relative to both the Senior Pastor and church growth in America. After examining the causative factors, there is a literature review pertaining to aspects of the role and function of the Executive Pastor.
As with literature reviews in other dissertations, the second chapter encompasses a thorough search of relevant books and periodicals. However, in light of the scant material pertaining to the Executive Pastor, this review has gone significantly deeper than might be expected. The literature review incorporates taped interviews, newspaper articles, and internet-based articles from established journals and freelance sources. Extensive research has discovered significant unpublished papers, essays and seminar outlines, such as those presented at convocations held for Senior Pastors and Executive Pastors. In an attempt to circulate the unpublished material, and with the original author’s written permission, this researcher is posting items on a website devoted to the functional need of the Executive Pastor, www.xpastor.org. While this may be uncommon in doctoral research, and as there are no internet sites devoted to the Executive Pastor, this inexpensive publishing format makes available these important papers to the church universal.
Chapter three presents the research procedure and method. Irving Bible Church served as the crucible to develop the Case Study Interview Questions, labeled the CS-IQ. These broad questions give the interviewer insight into the function and life of the church, from governmental structure to ministry vision. The Case Study Interview Questions led to the development of the Executive Pastor Indicator, labeled the XP-I. Whereas the Interview Questions examine the entire church, the Executive Pastor Indicator hones in on issues specific to the Executive Pastor. The XP-I can be taken by an Executive Pastor, by an individual considering becoming an Executive Pastor, by a person commenting on an existing Executive Pastor, or by a person commenting on the possible creation of an Executive Pastor position.
The Executive Pastor Indicator queries the respondent about the Executive Pastor’s three multidimensional roles and the five focused functions. There are three multidimensional roles of the Executive Pastor:
- Assistant to the Senior Pastor.
- Executive in the church.
- Shepherd to the entire congregation.
There are five focused functions of the Executive Pastor:
- The Administrator who manages business in the church.
- The Catalyst who invigorates existing ministry or begins new ones.
- The Mentor who motivates church staff to be their best.
- The Minister who counsels, teaches and performs religious ceremonies.
- The Overseer who supervises ministry to ensure it is in line with vision and values.
Chapter three presents a detailed description of each of these areas and the research methodology of the Interview Questions and Indicator. By means of statistical analysis, the chapter shows the reliability of the Executive Pastor Indicator.
Chapter four presents the results of the Case Study Interview Questions and the Executive Pastor Indicator. Printed materials supplied a great deal of information about the case study churches. Verbal answers to the Interview Questions primarily came through extensive interviews with the Executive Pastor of each case study church. If only the Case Study Interview Questions had been asked, then the case studies could have been mono-dimensional. However, this chapter also presents results of the Executive Pastor Indicator as completed by a selection of individuals, such as the Senior Pastor, the Executive Pastor, members of the governing board, subordinate staff that reports to the Executive Pastor and members of the congregation. To enrich the analysis, data about the Three Multidimensional Roles from Stonebriar Community Church are compared to Richland Bible Church. In the same way, the relocation of Irving Bible Church without an Executive Pastor on staff is compared to the current situation of Watermark Community Church. Nonconforming results of the Executive Pastor Indicator are included. The results demonstrate the functional need of the Executive Pastor to implement the vision of the Senior Pastor and the policies of the governing board. Through the case studies, the validity of the Executive Pastor indicator is proven.
Chapter five presents the conclusion and implications for further study. There are important conclusions about the role of the Executive Pastor. While the position is a newer one in the church, it fills a vital function. As this essay is an inaugural work on the functional need and role of the Executive Pastor, there are significant items for future study, such as transitional period of churches adopting the position of Executive Pastor. Important issues remain to be studied, such as how to train future Executive Pastors. As the position continues in the church, entirely new issues will deserve attention.
The Appendices contain research data, followed by the bibliography. The research data allows the reader to observe many of the findings of the cited churches. There is also a segment that details the crisis history of Northwest Bible Church in the late 1990s. This documents the resumption of the position of the Executive Pastor and gives demographic data on the numerical growth at Northwest. As Northwest has close ties to Irving, Stonebriar and Watermark, this is important related information. The bibliography will assist future researchers in extant data.
Chapter 2—Literature on Causative Factors and Role Aspects
Sometimes I feel like I’m being drowned. There’s no modeling for leading a megachurch, and it can be pretty scary. It’s like riding a wild tiger. If you stay on, it’s a wild ride and you don’t know where you are going. But if you get off, you’ll get eaten. —Anonymous Pastor
This dissertation examines churches where an Executive Pastor implements the vision of the Senior Pastor and the policies of the governing board. Although the quote from the anonymous pastor is in reference to a megachurch, and many megachurches employ Executive Pastors, this essay is for any church where the Senior Pastor or governing board feels the acute stress of the operational and leadership requirements of implementing vision and policy.
This chapter centers on a review of the literature pertaining to the causative factors and the role aspects of the Executive Pastor. This dissertation is not primarily an historical investigation. Yet, examining the historic role of the Senior Pastor, and growth of the church in America, is essential in any effort to understand the functional need for the Executive Pastor.
The causative factors are those items in the church which helped bring into existence the position of Executive Pastor. The first series of causative factors are relevant to the position of the Senior Pastor, namely the centrality of preaching, pastoral pressures, and the minister’s spiritual gifts. The second series of causative factors are relevant to church growth. These factors include the rise of the term and position of Senior Pastor, Preaching Pastor and Senior Minister, leadership challenges with a large staff, attempted solutions with the Associate Pastor and Business Administrator, and the acceleration of change induced by the popularity of the megachurch. In light of the factors which caused the role of Executive Pastor to be created, this essay examines several aspects of the position. These aspects include models of church staff structure, biblical patterns, pastoral and executive function, implementation of policy and vision, and perils of the position.
As this chapter is a literature review, extant literature on the topic will be presented. There is a paucity of literature that is devoted to the subject. Of the few items exclusively on the Executive Pastor, these are journal articles, taped interviews, internet-based articles, formerly unpublished essays, and articles. New sources were unearthed, as discussed in the Introduction:
Extensive research has discovered significant unpublished papers, essays and seminar outlines, such as those presented at convocations held for Senior Pastors and Executive Pastors. In an attempt to circulate the unpublished material, and with the original author’s written permission, this researcher is posting items on a website devoted to the functional need of the Executive Pastor, www.xpastor.org. While this may be uncommon in doctoral research, and as there are no internet sites devoted to the Executive Pastor, this inexpensive publishing format makes available these important papers to the church universal.
The lack of published books, or book sections, devoted to the Executive Pastor is another indication of the newness of the topic.
Causative Factors Relevant to the Pastor
In theological libraries there is a great amount of literature devoted to the role of the pastor, specifically on the pastor as preacher. As society has changed in the last one hundred years, pressures have grown on the pulpiteer. There are non-preaching needs in the church that many Preaching Pastors find they are ill-equipped, or lack the gifts, to accomplish. The coupling and burden on the Preaching Pastor of the historic importance of preaching with other job pressures is a main factor in the functional need for Executive Pastors.
The Historic Centrality of Preaching
The subject of this dissertation is not the homiletical prowess or history of the American church. Yet, there is an issue so foundational, that it must be mentioned as requisite. The issue is as simple as it is profound, as stated by Professor Randall Balmer of Columbia University and Lauren Winner: “… sermons have been the stuff of Protestant spirituality (not to mention some of the great works of modern literature).” Said another way, preaching is of historic importance to the modern American church.
A few sources of national scope are sufficient to illustrate this foundational issue. Balmer and Winner cite the historical role of preaching: “Preaching has always stood at the center of the Protestant church experience in America. Puritans in colonial New England heard an average of fifteen thousand hours of sermons during a lifetime … sermons have been the stuff of Protestant spirituality (not to mention some of the great works of modern literature).” Marshall Shelley, Executive Editor of Leadership Journal, illustrates the origin of this concept for the American church:
The Reformation recovered the emphasis on the pastor as the ‘teacher of God’s Word.’ Preaching had long been neglected in the church; it had given way to thoughtless service at the altar. The Reformers placed preaching in the central place as the primary way to feed the flock of God. Breaking the Bread of Life means, in part, preaching the Word.
Preaching is the historic method in Protestant churches, American in specific, to spiritual life. The emphasis on preaching helps the American church understand its unique make-up. The historic importance of preaching gives an important grid in which to comprehend American spirituality.
The art of preaching has been defined by many, but renowned Lutheran-converted-to-Catholic, Richard John Neuhaus, has relevant thoughts to the concept of the centrality of preaching: “Preaching derives from praedicare: to proclaim publicly, to praise, to elevate. To elevate the lordship of Jesus Christ and with it the world that he claims as his own, surely this is our great contribution.” Attention needs to be directed to his words, “our great contribution,” as Neuhaus says that the pastor’s central role is that of pulpiteer. He goes on to say, “For the preacher, the most public manifestation of the public self is in the pulpit.” As his public persona, preaching is not only central to the pastor’s position in the congregation and community but to the self-revelation of the person of the preacher. Preaching is important to the congregation and the pastor.
Taking this concept one step further, Harold Bosley, from Christ Church United Methodist in New York City, asserts about the settlement of the American continent; “That preaching was one of the most powerful factors in this experience of emigration and settlement is an uncontested historical fact.” Although Bosely discusses the historical role of preaching, he also sees the centrality of preaching in the modern era: “Yet proclaiming the gospel in the contemporary church will lay as heavy a burden of preparation on the preacher as practicing medicine does upon the doctor.”
The pressures on the preacher to produce an excellent sermon intensified in the twentieth, and now the twenty-first, centuries. In his book designed to allow pastors to speak anonymously about sensitive issues, Stefan Ulstein begins his chapter on Living in the Shadow of the Big Churches with the words of an anonymous pastor:
People read all these books by Swindoll and the others and get all excited. ‘Did you hear him on the radio?’ I feel like I have to keep up. I’ve only been in two churches in my twenty-eight years of ministry, and they’ve both been smaller churches. I wonder, ‘Why can’t we get more people?’ I wonder if some guys are just destined to be in churches where huge numbers come in week after week, and others are supposed to labor away with 150. I wrestle with that a lot.
This illustrates a dichotomy between the large and small church. Through mass media, congregants in small churches can hear dozens of excellent homiliticians from the largest churches in America. Out of this can come a depersonalization of the pulpiteer as he preaches to thousands of people in the local church and hundreds of thousands or millions via the media. It can also result in the depersonalization of the electronic congregant. Ulstein continues his interview with an anonymous pastor in the chapter, Living in the Shadow of the Big Churches:
I went to a seminar by a guy who has seven or eight thousand in his church. One of the pastors stood up and asked him, ‘How do you call on people?’
‘I don’t call.’
‘How many funerals do you do?’
‘How many marriages, baptisms—?’
He said, almost impatiently, ‘I study and preach. That’s what I do. I study eight hours a day and preach the Word.’
I couldn’t understand how this worked. It just sounded too cut and dried, so I asked him, ‘How do you get things going?’
He said, ‘I don’t. I pray and ask God to motivate other people to get things going. I don’t start anything. I just preach.’
I don’t know how he can do it. I wanted to ask him, but I didn’t get the time.
People visit big churches and they can get lost if they want to. If they visit my little congregation two or three times, we smell fresh blood.
This comment also has bearing on the next section on “Pressures on the Pastor.”
The small church pastor can feel in a different league than the megachurch preacher. At a minimum, it can be said that the entire American continent is broadcast every hour with the sermons of famous homileticians. Radio and television has intensified pressure and competition on all Preaching Pastors.
This section has briefly examined the concept that “sermons have been the stuff of Protestant spirituality,” or said in another way by this researcher “preaching is of historic importance to the modern American church.” This concept is a major factor in small and large American churches. It will be accepted as an operating principle for this dissertation.
Pressures on the Pastor
With the acceptance of the operating principle of the historic importance of preaching, it will do well to briefly address other pressures on the preacher. In a chapter entitled, A Pastor’s Job Description, counselors Frank Minirth and others succinctly summarize the modern pastor:
To fill the job description of today’s pastor sounds like a job for Superman. A pastor is expected to make house calls as willingly as yesterday’s country doctor, to shake hands and smile like a politician on the campaign trail, to entertain like a stand-up comedian, to teach the Scriptures like a theology professor, and to counsel like a psychologist with the wisdom of Solomon. He should run the church like a top-level business executive, handle finances like a career accountant, and deal with the public like an expert diplomat at the United Nations. No wonder so many pastors are confused about just what is expected of them and how they will ever manage to live up to all those expectations.
There are many potential aspects to the job description of the modern pastor, and this essay will not attempt to canvass them. Rather, it will establish the fact-in-principle of the bloated job description. Of interest, pressures on the minister are abundant in Protestantism and Judaism. Margaret Harris of the Centre for Voluntary Organisation, London School of Economics, describes the shared pressures in her work about church and synagogue:
The impact of unclear and multiple goals is felt especially by ministers of religion as they try to prioritise their work and implement their roles. At least eight possible functions for ministers of religion can be derived from the accumulated literature on their roles: religious celebration, preaching or ‘prophecy,’ education, pastoral care, community leadership, public representation, administration and managerial leadership. Not surprisingly, rabbis and clergy face numerous different expectations about how they will select priorities and implement their role—from their peers, from their denominational structure, from lay leaders of their church or synagogue, from active volunteer helpers, from potential members, and from the local community. The minister has not only to cope with the volume and breadth of the expectations, but also with conflicts between them and the consequences of inevitable failure to meet every demand.
There are many goals for the modern day pastor and the pastor is struggling to meet the expectations. Speaking to the modern day church leader, Marshall Shelley writes of another set of pressures:
With individualism and isolation increasing, the need for community is stronger than ever. Pastors assumed a greater role in maintaining corporate life, or put more crassly, ‘running a church’—recruiting, motivating, administering.
Put positively, this merely extends the role of ‘organizer of nurturing relationships’ who tends to the health of the community.
The downside is that a pastor may feel more like a manager of church business than a shepherd of souls.
And surrounded by a decreasingly Christian society, the need to evangelize the world at the church’s doorstep is unavoidable. ‘Missionary to our own neighborhood’ has been added to the pastor’s role.
In light of the many functions and needs given by Harris and then by Shelley, if one person tries to fill all these needs, Minirth’s invocation of the Superman title is accurate.
Of importance for this essay is the relationship of pressure on the pastor to the historic importance and centrality of preaching. The ever present surveyor of the American church landscape, George Barna, asserts: “Leadership, for most pastors, is just one of those unfortunate duties they must endure as part of the deal that allows them to do that which really turns them on—preaching and teaching.” On a mundane but practical level, Ken Gangel begins his chapter entitled, Designing the Playbook: Creative Administration, with thoughts on the pressures:
A nationwide survey conducted by Your Church magazine discovered that 61 percent of pastors would spend less time in meetings if they could, 37 percent would spend less time mediating conflict, and 34 percent would spend less time counseling. If they could gain that time, they would spend it in evangelism (58 percent), personal devotions (66 percent), sermon preparation (73 percent), and prayer (75 percent).
The data can be visually represented in a chart:
(To view image, please see original PDF below article)
This confirms what Neuhaus pointed toward, that pastors need more time for the pastoral disciplines.
Another pressure on the preacher is being a pastor of a small church near a megachurch. Although the megachurch will be further discussed later in this chapter, it should be noted that it can bring tremendous pressure on small church pastors. A story from the Los Angeles Times illustrates one example:
Like many leaders of small congregations in Southern California, Pastor Doug Webster walks through the valley of the shadow of the megachurch.
Saddleback Church, one of the country’s largest congregations, looms just two miles down the road from Webster’s Mountain View Church offices in Mission Viejo. The 20-acre Saddleback complex welcomes 15,000 worshipers each weekend, has more than 55,000 names on the church roster, and is run by celebrity pastors whose books are bestsellers.
Despite that considerable shadow, Webster has steadily grown his small church over the past four years from a 20-person group that met in his living room to a healthy, medium-sized congregation of 450.
And now he’s helping other pastors of small congregations do the same, through monthly meetings, pooled resources, a fledgling internet site and occasional visits to neighboring churches.
Webster and his loose-knit, growing group of ten South Orange County pastors share similar problems with colleagues across Southern California, the land of the megachurch where bigger often seems better.
Pastor Webster has a significant ministry with four hundred fifty congregants. Yet, he considers this small and wrestles with significance as a pastor. Bill Hybels, in an audiotape interview about the Executive Pastor, tells of a relatively small church in Arizona that has a volunteer Executive Pastor. The man works as an attorney two days a week and donates three days a week to the church to be the Executive Pastor. Though Webster and others feel pressure from the megachurches, they have a need for an Executive Pastor. Later in the article Pastor Webster concludes that:
The first thing anyone asks you is, ‘How big is your church,’ he said. ‘And that hits the ego.’
For example, when Mountain View drew 50 teenagers to a youth event, Webster was thrilled. But at Saddleback, in neighboring Lake Forest, major teenage dances attracted more than 5,000.
Many pastors would be thrilled with an event hosting fifty teenagers, but next to the five thousand teenagers at Saddleback, Pastor Webster felt the pressure of insignificance. For pastors of smaller churches, there are pressures to be the master pulpiteer, to handle the pressure of comparison, to cope with a small church ministry in a megachurch’s shadow, to somehow do it all. The conclusion is that pastors in churches of all sizes feel the pressure to be bigger and better. To answer the management crisis, at least one smaller church found a creative means of having a volunteer Executive Pastor oversee the church.
The words of Neuhaus in his 1979 work, Freedom for Ministry, are as easily a dialogue displaced by time with the 1998 survey that Ken Gangel cited from Your Church magazine and the Los Angeles Times interview in 2001 with Pastor Webster. Neuhaus says “many pastors report that they do not have time for serious study at all.” As cited in part to introduce the first chapter of this essay, Neuhaus addresses the pressures as well:
Reflection, study and prayer have always had to compete against the imperious claims of other activities. The imperiousness of the claims is reinforced by the fact that such activities are usually more visible, often more immediately satisfying, and almost certainly more likely to be applauded by others. Church officialdom is more likely to take note of a pastor mighty in raising money than of a pastor mighty in prayer.
With prescience, Neuhaus sensed the demands and pressures of the modern church as contrasting the historic importance of preaching and the spiritual life.
A logical question arises. If preaching is central, and if our pastors do not have sufficient pastoral time and energy to prepare the sermon, then who will do the other things required in a local church? Perhaps part of the answer to this question lies in the biblical words used for elder, pastor, and overseer. David Mappes lays out his premise as he introduces the Greek words relevant to this subject: “Perhaps the most debated aspect of church polity is the relationship between these three terms. This article seeks to demonstrate that πρεσβύτερoς, ἐπίσκoπoς and πoίμην refer to the same office and individuals who hold those offices. He also says:
The duties of the elder-overseer-pastor can be summarized in two areas: giving oversight (ruling, guiding, caring for) and teaching or preaching. Because of the emphasis on these two areas of ministry, some say there are two separate offices: some elders rule whereas others teach or preach. Calvin was one of the first to articulate the distinction between teaching and ruling elders.
Mappes drives toward a conclusion that “this distinction between ruling and teaching is one of function rather than class or office.” While that issue is not necessarily pertinent to this dissertation, and is even perhaps counter to the thesis of this essay, Mappes brings one to the conclusion that in certain churches preaching and oversight may be too time consuming for one individual. This is important as, in citing Calvin, it again points to the historic centrality of preaching in the church, leaving the work of overseeing to another elder, or in the modern day, perhaps an Executive Pastor.
Of particular interest to the role of the Executive Pastor is Alan Nelson’s dividing up of pastoring into three areas: spiritual provision, management and leadership. Just as Neuhaus craved to see more attention given to study and reflection by pastors, so perhaps others need to assume various responsibilities in the church. An application of Nelson’s idea may be for the preacher to focus on spiritual provision, the governing board on leadership, and other staff on church management. This points directly to the functional need of the Executive Pastor to implement the vision of the Senior Pastor and the policies of the governing board.
What emerges from this section is the prevailing thought that pastors want to fulfill the historic and important role of preaching in American churches. Yet, due to pressures, it is increasingly difficult to do so. The possibility of another to manage the church, such as an Executive Pastor, brings glimmers of possible answers to the crisis.
Spiritual Gifts of Pastors
Although preachers may want to spend more time preaching and teaching, it would do well to evaluate whether they are gifted to do so. George Barna has surveyed American pastors to find their spiritual gifts. He presents the data in a chart:
(To view image, please see original PDF below article)
This data demonstrates that gifted people are focusing on the historic role of preaching. Barna brings out, though, another phenomena: “Highly effective churches, on the other hand, have placed a true leader in the position of leadership … such leaders articulate vision, mobilize the people, motivate focused activity, consistently provide strategic direction and resources to get the job done efficiently and effectively …” He also notes that, “In recent years I have observed that most churches confuse superb preaching with effective leadership. The ability to differentiate between these two elements is perhaps the simplest way of distinguishing effective churches from educational churches.”
Thus, American churches have people with preaching gifts in their pulpits, but those preachers may not always be leaders. Far from helping the problem, this material puts further pressures on the Preaching Pastor, causing questions to be raised: “Am I a good preacher? Am I a good manager? Am I a good leader? Can I effectively work with the governing board? How can I handle my diverse job description?”
This section on the pastoral causative factors accepted the premise of Balmer and Winner that sermons have been the stuff of Protestant spirituality. This is a foundational issue for the causative factors relevant to the pastor for the creation of the Executive Pastor position. The historic importance of preaching clashed with other items in the modern day pastor’s job description. Although the pastor is gifted to preach, there is tension with the tremendous demands for other ministry, leadership and management. The preacher is left with the question, “If I am supposed to use my gifts, and I want to, who will manage the church?”
Causative Factors Relevant to Church Growth
The previous section viewed causative factors only from the perspective of the Preaching Pastor. However, other factors have emerged with the modern trend for churches to have larger congregations. The trend for the average congregation to have more congregants has been on an upward swing for decades. The renowned expert on the American church, Lyle Schaller, published data on church growth in 1980, relatively early in his writing career:
|700 or more||100%||Minidenomination|
Schaller’s data can be transferred to a chart for visual interpretation:
(To view image, please see original PDF below article)
One significant point from this data is that in 1980 there was not a generally accepted word-in-print for the very large church. In the church data chart, Schaller calls the seven hundred plus member congregation a minidenomination. Later Schaller comments on the lack of terminology: “Only one Protestant congregation in a hundred averages more than 700 at worship … some observers refer to them as ‘superchurches.’”
Twenty years later, Schaller again wrote about church growth in America: “For various Presbyterian denominations, the mean average size rose from 95 members in 1890 to 118 in 1906 to 295 for the 15,000 Presbyterian congregations of 1996—triple the 1990 average.” A chart presents Schaller’s data in a visual format with only the beginning and ending dates:
(To view image, please see original PDF below article)
Schaller helps one see three significant facts. First, the trend toward larger churches can be documented since 1890. Second, there was not a generally accepted word-in-print in 1980 for the new entity, the minidenomination or superchurch. Third, the average Presbyterian church tripled in average size from 1890 to 1996.
This trend toward larger churches amplifies the pressures on the Preaching Pastor. As the church grew, who was going to manage this ever-larger organization?
The Position of Senior Pastor
As churches grew, the pastor began to have a new adjective placed in the position title, differentiating leader from subordinates.
While it may have been more accurate to use the title Preaching Pastor, the noun senior was used adjectively to denote hierarchal leadership in the title Senior Pastor and Senior Minister. This trend in titles was the outward manifestation of the changes in the pastor’s written or virtual job description. This is as Lyle Schaller notes: “The larger the congregation, the greater the expectations that institution places on the senior minister to be the initiating leader.”
While Neuhaus craved for more study and reflection for the Preaching Pastor, the culture and institutional church asked for a multidimensional leader. One who was writing ten years before Neuhaus’ Freedom for Ministry, was Marvin T. Judy, Professor of Sociology of Religion and Director of the Center for Research and Planning at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University in Dallas. His work, Multiple Staff Ministry, is the result of twenty-five hundred interviews. In Judy’s significant work in 1969, he sets the stage for confrontation with Neuhaus in that era:
The problem may be complicated by the fact that congregations select the senior minister on grounds, as a general rule, other than executive ability. He is selected first of all because of preaching ability, or pastoral ability, or counseling ability, or his reputation of success (whatever this may mean) in other pastorates. In other words, the senior minister is selected or appointed on his professional ministerial abilities rather than upon his ability as an executive.
In 1996, Nelson made a similar comment that the Senior Minister should serve as an executive, a visionary leader, not merely a Preaching Pastor:
The days when the pastor serves solely as resident theologian, teacher, counselor, and church manager are quickly passing … Now, with the changing times, we are expecting more from our ‘leaders’ than sermons, budget setting, and policy maintenance. We are looking for those who will also set vision and significantly move the church forward.
To focus on Judy, he wrote in 1969 and he prophetically spoke about an Executive Minister, although in his work he mixes that role with the Preaching Pastor:
Without question the most strategic position on the church staff is that of senior minister. I am using the term senior minister, though I prefer some other title. My preference would be a title that would imply a co-worker with other members of the staff, but one who has the executive responsibility of giving direction to the staff. The term ‘pastoral director’ coined by Richard Niebuhr has not received a good hearing. The term ‘executive minister’ is more descriptive of what the office is. A new term is difficult to define. Therefore the term ‘senior minister’ is used with reservations. The title implies seniority in executive authority, not seniority in professional abilities in the staff.
The Senior Minister became an implied executive minister and was required to be an excellent preacher. The Senior Minister was required to have executive skills, and was confronted with a growing staff and the ongoing demands of moving the church forward with vision-casting.
As to the burgeoning demands placed on the Senior Pastor, Gangel’s thoughts are pertinent: “Effectiveness in any ministry requires us to ask, “Why has God called me here and what does He want me to do?” Gangel’s question can be applied to the emerging role of the Senior Pastor, as to the focus and priorities of the minister. Gangel addresses the subject as he concludes the chapter, Give it Your Best: Quality Control:
Quality control in ministry calls for us to think critically about our ministries and ways of doing things. Christian organizations must cultivate the ability to identify and challenge assumptions, to imagine and explore alternatives, while evaluating tentative conclusions against the standards of God’s Word.
It was time for the Senior Pastor to consider quality, to think analytically about what the Preaching Pastor should do. The church had to struggle with what it was calling the Senior Pastor to be; preacher, visionioneer or executive.
With the new demands, the Senior Pastor struggled to maintain quality in preaching. The problem of how to maintain quality in preaching, while also managing a church, has been noted by Carl George, formerly Director of the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth, and Robert Logan, pastor of a twelve hundred member church in Alta Loma, California:
The average pastor has an uncommon task—one in which he wears three hats. The first hat is that of a preacher. Much effort and energy go into his training for this area of responsibility. …
His second hat, that of shepherd, has received much attention over the past twenty years. …
For the third hat, the leader-manager role, the least training has been available. Pastors confess this area takes most of their time, yet they feel least well-equipped for it.
Judy concurs on this concept and goes further: “In our frame of reference—the church staff—authority is assigned by the congregation to the senior minister as the leader. His authority rests in the belief that he has been professionally trained to be the pastor of the congregation and also the director of the church staff.” The bottom line is that pastors often felt ill-equipped, but simultaneously empowered, to the task of managing the church.
Judy later says, “It is vitally important that the senior minister understand his position as one who does hear ideas and makes possible the release of the creative ability of every individual on the church staff.” Thus, the Senior Pastor has not only the pressures of preaching in Protestant churches, but is also church executive and Chief of Staff. It is no wonder that H.B. London, a pastor of a megachurch for thirty-two years, writes, “Often the greatest conflicts in an organization result from the inability of senior leadership to coexist effectively and cordially with their colleagues.” The Senior Pastor may be too busy to be polite or build in-depth relationships.
The pressures on the Senior Pastor increased as the number of congregants and staff grew. Instead of fewer items on the job description, roles were added and requisite talents increased. Leith Anderson comments on this increase:
Most churches with two hundred or fewer people in average worship attendance have a ‘hub and spoke’ model of pastoral ministry. The pastor is the hub with up to two hundred people directly relating to him. He knows each one by name, and he and they perceive he is engaged in a one-to-one ministry.…
If a church grows beyond two hundred individuals, the pastor keeps adding spokes. But if he does not change his leadership style, such a pastor may well experience burnout or even resign. However, if the same pastor switches to a delegation model, those negative consequences can be avoided. In a delegation model the pastor equips others, shares ministry, and empowers people.
Schaller quantified the number of professional staff positions related to the size of the church:
Average Attendance at Worship Full-time Program Staff Positions