Having an excellent Executive Pastor can dramatically increase the health and growth of a church. Similar to the relationship between a COO and a CEO, an Executive Pastor oversees all administrative and operational aspects of a church, freeing the Senior Pastor to focus on vision, teaching, and shepherding. An Executive Pastor is responsible for many extremely important functions of the church, including staffing, finances, strategic planning, daily operations, and ensuring the church is carrying out its vision and mission.

So, if an Executive Pastor is so vital to the growth and health of a church, how do you spot an exceptional one?

In our work here at Vanderbloemen connecting our clients with high-potential candidates, we’ve had the opportunity to talk to thousands of Executive Pastors, as well as hundreds of churches seeking high-potential executive leaders—and we also have several former Executive Pastors on our team. With the expertise of our team, we’ve compiled a list of characteristics that separate the good Executive Pastors from the great ones.

Here are seven essential attributes of exceptional Executive Pastors:

1. They perfectly complement the Senior Pastor.

A great Executive Pastor has an excellent partnership with the Senior Pastor, and the Executive Pastor must complement the Senior Pastor well. In areas where the Senior Pastor is weak, the Executive Pastor needs to have strengths. The Executive Pastor must be able to put practical feet to the Senior Pastor’s creative vision.

An Executive Pastor must also be comfortable in the #2 position. An Executive Pastor who wants to be a Senior Pastor is a ticking time bomb on a church staff, and it can lead to a struggle for power.

2. They have the innate ability to listen well and diffuse energy.

At times, an Executive Pastor will be involved in conversations that are filled with tension, whether it’s making a decision when there are opposing opinions, listening to a disgruntled church staff member or talking to a congregant who is worked up about something. A great Executive Pastor is able to listen well while also communicating truth with love and compassion. People should leave a conversation with an Executive Pastor with reduced tension, knowing they’ve been heard and understood, even if they didn’t get their way.

Also, the church staff members should be able to go to their Executive Pastor with any challenges they’re facing in their role and know that they will find a safe, empathetic listener—as well as a supportive, empowering truth-speaker. Executive Pastors truly need to be as “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt. 10:16)—they need to be able to handle tension-filled decisions and situations with care, grace and razor-sharp insight.

3. They have a strong handle on timing.

An excellent Executive Pastor intuitively knows when it’s the right time to propose a new idea or push ahead on a needed change and when it’s time to wait. They have a strong sense of the vision of the Senior Pastor, the temperature of the congregation, and the pace at which changes need to take place. They don’t tarry on important decisions, but they don’t rush them either. They plan well for the future and are able to anticipate successes, problems, and delays.

4. They are solution-oriented.

Putting systems and processes in place—and constantly thinking of ways to improve them—comes naturally to a successful Executive Pastor. They can take criticism or challenges, find the kernel of truth, address it, and move on without derailing the team or the church. They’re able to evaluate all possibilities and know what to say “yes” to and what to say “no” to—in the most graceful way possible. They are innate problem-solvers and equip their team with the tools needed to implement solutions.

5. They are passionate about developing people.

They know that having systems and processes in place is necessary because systems and processes support the development of people. The moment they hinder the development of people, a great Executive Pastor will reevaluate them. Executive Pastors have a strong understanding of the team’s and the individual staff members’ strengths and weaknesses—and seek to empower and equip their staff accordingly.

6. They aren’t phased by much.

Exceptional Executive Pastors have a stabilizing and calming effect on people and situations around them. They have a non-anxious presence and are not easily stressed or moved. The amount of things that land on the Executive Pastor’s desk is enormous; the Executive Pastor’s ability to manage, prioritize, and delegate tasks quickly and intelligently is critical to the success of the team and the church.

7. They are both big and small thinkers.

Executive Pastors need to be able to understand the large vision and the bigger picture of where their church is going … and then turn around and lead the team through the minuscule details of how to make it happen. The ability to think in terms of details, while still seeing the big picture and anticipated outcome, is a rare, significant skill, and one that excellent Executive Pastors possess in abundance.


This article was originally published on the Vanderbloemen Search Group blog.