“I felt my heart strangely warmed.” Those were the words Jonathan Wesley used to describe his conversion the night he attended a meeting on Aldersgate Street in London. The words also describe how I felt when our elder board gave the “okay” to begin the search for our first Executive Pastor.
Granted that may sound a little melodramatic, but believe me, I was ready for our first XP! Though I joked that maybe now my golf game would improve—or that I could finally rid my life of those nasty responsibilities that no pastor in their right mind enjoys doing—I knew that the real beneficiaries of having an XP would be our staff, elders, and entire church family.
Though our search process initially began by looking for an experienced XP, God clearly showed us that we were to look internally. Quickly He led us to consider a man from our congregation who had many years of experience in the business world—as well as many years of experience as a follower of Jesus Christ. The invitation was given to Andrew; Andrew accepted the invitation. Now the hard part began.
I say “hard part” because, for both Andrew and me, time was needed to get acclimated to this new position. Neither of us had ever walked this road before. This was virgin territory and we expected plenty of obstacles as we started the journey. I had spent many hours talking with other Senior Pastors, as well as Executive Pastors, concerning their roles and relationships. I had heard the war stories and I had heard the success stories. Each situation was different; I knew that for our experience to be positive and effective, time was crucial. Like a good wine, a good XP experience couldn’t be rushed. Time was necessary to make this work.
Using this acronym, let me suggest four things to consider in helping your XP be successful in his role:
T = Transition
I knew I needed to help Andrew transition from the business world to the church world. There is a different way of thinking, of relating, of pacing, of goal setting, etc. Our ministry world is different from the typical business world; time was needed to help him move from one world to the next.
I told Andrew that I expected nothing from him other than spending time reading books about church ministry, conversing with other XPs, and generally getting oriented to me, the staff, the elder board and how we operate as a leadership team. I specifically told Andrew that if it took one year or two, the time of transition was crucial. My desire was to take away any pressure that Andrew may be putting on himself and give him the permission to transition smoothly to his new role.
I = Interpersonal Relationships
Time was needed to build relationships with the support and pastoral staff. With eleven pastoral staff and twelve support staff, I knew that it would take a while for Andrew to get to know everyone and learn what makes them tick. Andrew understood that he needed to learn how people think—why they do what they do. Andrew was the new player on the team; more than just knowing the playbook, he needed to know the fellow players.
This was not an overnight task—even though Andrew had been a member of our church for seven years, he had not worked in the trenches with the rest of us. To be honest, some of our pastoral staff had looked questioningly at Andrew’s lack of ministry experience. Would he care more about the “bottom line” ministry objectives and budgets? Would he care about them and get to know and respect their expertise in ministry? Time to build those interpersonal relationships was crucial.
M = Ministry Perspective
As our adventure of having an XP began, I also knew that time was needed for Andrew to learn my heart for the ministry at Fellowship Bible Church. I had been pastoring here since 1990. Andrew needed time to get into my head and determine what, if anything, was found there. He also needed to understand the ministry perspective of our elder team and get comfortable working with them. We had an active and involved board of elders who took their role in governance and shepherding very seriously. For Andrew to be a successful XP, he had to understand how our elders functioned and gain a perspective of how our elders ministered.
Furthermore, each pastoral staff also had their own ministry perspective in their own area of responsibility. Most of our pastoral staff had been here for many years. Our first staff hire was back in 1991 and was still with us. Our second came in 1993 and was also still on the team, as was our next hire in 1997 and so on. It was crucial that Andrew gained an understanding of each of these faithful and skilled servant leaders and how they ministered and functioned in their roles.
E = Evaluate
Finally, time was also needed for Andrew to take the data he was collecting regarding individuals and ministry philosophy and begin his own process of evaluation. He needed to come to his own conclusions on what are Fellowship Bible Church’s strengths and weaknesses, staffing needs, my strengths and weaknesses, etc. Andrew needed time to take all the data he was acquiring and sift through it, applying his giftedness and insights to that data, starting to function in the role of Executive Pastor.
It has been two years since Andrew started his adventure as the XP of Fellowship Bible Church. He is respected by the elders, the pastoral staff and support staff. I respect him, enjoy him and appreciate his gifts and contributions to our church. He has a heart for God, a solid grasp on the basic DNA of our church, and an understanding of how his gifts and skills can be used to help our church become more efficient and effective in reaching our ministry goals. But it has taken time to allow Andrew to develop and become comfortable in his XP role.
My one encouragement to Senior Pastors is to allow the necessary time to take place to insure that your XP will have a successful experience. No matter how skilled, intelligent and ministry-savvy a person may be, time is still needed to allow God to mold a person into the unique XP that will best serve you, your church, and ultimately bring the greatest glory to His name. As you give your XP your support, encouragement and confidence, make sure you give him the needed time. If you do, I can guarantee you that your heart will continue to be strangely warmed!