Last week I attended the annual XP-Seminar in Dallas—it felt so good to be with “my people.” Finally, to be with people who spoke my language! It was exciting to share my frustrations and passions that I experience in the XP role and then to receive such an affirming response of, “I know exactly what you’re talking about.” It was like finding a long lost brother that you knew about but never had any previous contact with.
There were many things that we shared in common. Things like unique relationships with our SPs, the delicate art of managing and mentoring staff, strategic planning, coordinating all the ministries, participating in bylaw changes, policy changes, org chart changes … changes, changes, changes. Additionally, most of us are still trying to figure out exactly what we are doing and struggling to find clear language to be able to communicate what we do to our families, staff, and congregation. How many times have you heard “what exactly is an Executive Pastor?”
One of the things that I realized last week about XPs is that we truly are pioneers. In the big scheme of things, every XP is participating in a shift of church culture. We are on the front end of a leadership movement where the role is still being defined—and we are adjusting based on trial and error.
Pioneer: One who takes the lead or initiative in; who participates in the development of; who opens up and explores a new area.
I don’t know about you, but those definitions do a good job describing the nature of my job. Our jobs and responsibilities are somewhat fluid; change is part of the DNA of the job. Therefore, I want to share a few thoughts with you that may encourage you since your feet might feel like they are firmly planted in mid-air.
First, Pay Attention to Your Face
Are you someone who lives with constant stress and seems devoid of joy? Ask yourself, your spouse, your kids, and your co-workers. As we all know, change involves frustration. Trying to get people on board and moving the same direction is a challenging task. Guess what? As an XP, you will always be right in the middle of the storm. That is why you have a job. You would never hire a children’s pastor who met all the qualifications but stated in their interview that they didn’t enjoy being around kids. Kids are at the very core of what they do. Change is at the very core of what you do.
Take a moment and do a mental inventory of all the things in flux at your current ministry setting. Use this list as an offering to God, thanking Him for believing in you enough to give you a chance to serve His church as a change specialist. Learn to rejoice at the chaos. Return to the mirror and say “God, thank You for all this change stuff.” Try it. Did you smile?
Recognize Your Role
Second, recognize that if you were not there, your SP would have to be involved in doing and thinking about things that keep him from his primary role. The biblical model for Christ’s church is that He provided leadership for His people. Whether or not your church uses a solo leader or a team model of leadership, God’s people need to hear God’s message.
Our SPs need time each week for reflection, contemplation, prayer, and study. On any given Sunday, people gather from the community needing aid in their spiritual journey. They come needing to be led in a corporate worship experience and encouraged by the biblical truths that bring life. Most of us know when our SPs are lacking in passion or spiritual power. We may be playing a role in that deficiency. When we do our jobs well, we act as a shield for our SPs. We can shield them from all the blessed mess of ministry. As we sort through the “mess of the day” with great joy (see above), we should find great pride in knowing that our SP doesn’t have to get involved. Ultimately, this serves God’s church.
Move Beyond Performance
Finally, move beyond performance and into soul care of the staff and leaders that are following your leadership. Performance measurement, goal setting, and leadership development are good and necessary but can often distract us from a more important role. My hunch is that if we were to meet with Jesus for our annual XP performance review, He would pursue a line of questioning to evaluate whether or not we were “feeding His sheep.” Of course He would want strong leadership, but He would probably move further into what warms His heart—the care of His people. After we argued with Him about how busy we were, He would ask this question: “Do you love Me?”
As XPs, God has placed us into a direct relationship with leaders of the church. We must pay attention to what is going on in their souls. What an awesome privilege! We should be thrilled that we have been given the power to call people to our office (or go to theirs), close the door and say “tell me about your soul.” We can minister the truth of Christ to them and pray for them. What an opportunity!
XPs as Pioneers
XPs are pioneers and often get into all kinds of situations that do not come with a “how-to” manual. This can be very frustrating. If we are not careful, we will live in a constant state of stress. Perhaps the things mentioned above will encourage you that you are the perfect person for the job. You ought to consider it all joy when you face these trials that come with change.
There is a meaning in all the madness. Don’t forget it!