Each time I work with a church leadership team, I schedule time for coaching the Senior Pastor and Executive Pastor together. This dynamic working relationship experiences significant wear and tear and needs to be inspected by an outsider who knows what to look for. Without some maintenance, the SP/XP relationship can experience a build up of unmet expectations that can prevent the leaders from experiencing their God-given potential. Here I will share several tips that I give SP/XP teams when I coach them.

For the sake of simplicity, I will write from the perspective of working with an Executive Pastor. However, I use the same phrasing and tips when I talk with a Senior Pastor.

Tip #1—Know the difference between methods and motives

Your Senior Pastor oftentimes makes decisions and does certain things that makes no sense to you. Guess what? There are certain decisions and things that you do that makes no sense to him. How do I know? Because they oftentimes ask for my advice on how to best work with you. Here is a truth that will serve you well: Just because your SP does some things that you don’t understand does not mean that his motives are bad. It could be that his choices/actions (methods) are simply confusing to you.

More times than not, I discover a build up of misunderstandings between an SP and XP that stems from a difference in methods. When left unresolved, it is tempting for both parties to begin to judge one another’s motives. This begins a slow process of creating distance and a decrease in effectiveness in working as a team.

Tip #2—Lower your expectations on receiving a performance review that means something

There are exceptions but out of the 75 plus churches I have interacted with, I have found only three Senior Pastors that have done a great job in providing regular, honest and accurate performance reviews on their Executive Pastors. There are many reasons why they struggle with evaluating your performance but here are the real reasons. First, they don’t like conflict and don’t feel it is worth the price to give you their honest opinion about your performance. Instead, most SPs tend to use ineffective communication techniques to inform their XPs, such as dropping hints, overreacting, or just not saying anything at all.

A second reason is that they themselves have never experienced a job performance review that was a positive experience. Amazingly, most SPs have never had a performance review; those that have state that it was a worthless exercise. Therefore, their motivation to implement this into the leadership culture is lacking. Third, SPs are busy with other things that matter most to them. If you need an honest and helpful performance evaluation, I suggest that you work with a board member or key leader in your church who can help the SP with the process. However, don’t put too much time into trying to motivate your SP to do something that most will not do.

Tip #3—Let your Senior Pastor hear you pray for him

This by far is one of the most difficult assignments that I give XPs during our coaching sessions. Although I am a big fan of leadership books, articles, and conferences, there is no substitute for taking a few moments on a regular basis to pray for your Senior Pastor in his office. If you want to keep your heart in the right place (remember you work for an imperfect leader who can create havoc for you) then practice the spiritual discipline of praying for those in authority over you.

If you want to keep this from being awkward, then pray for him on a regular basis in your private prayer times. Although I understand, I am still surprised how much push-back I get when giving this assignment. We must remain mindful of the fact that we are involved in a spiritual enterprise that requires involvement from a supernatural God.

I applaud the XP’s that take to heart their assignment of serving both the SP and the pastoral staff at the same time. It is a difficult leadership position and not for the faint of heart. Most people in our churches will never understand all that we do as Executive Pastors. It is exhausting to even try to document all that we are responsible for. However, out of all our duties, our most critical assignment is to be consistently working towards the healthiest relationship possible with our Senior Pastor. Easy? Not really. Critical?  Absolutely!