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.

Chapter 1—Introduction

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.

Chapter Preview

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 ste