Wherever you go today, everyone is talking about vision. Vision is the current buzzword. It’s the discussion in boardrooms, in executive offices and in management-consulting firms. It’s the leading topic of discussion in synods, and in board of elder’s meetings. Any good list of books about successful companies, leadership practices, or management strategies focus on the essential need for vision and vision-casting.

And rightfully so! Vision has correctly been identified as the central guiding motivation for any organization. Likewise, a God-given vision to the church of Jesus Christ is essential lest we perish (Prov. 29:18), or as the NIV translates it, we cast off restraint and all go in our individual directions.

Why is vision so important? What is it that vision gives and does that nothing else can accomplish?

  • Vision motivates
  • Vision stretches
  • Vision gives unified direction
  • Vision initiates and validates change
  • Vision brings commitment

Vision is the heart and soul of bringing together ten, or a hundred, or a thousand, or ten thousand individual people, with individual lives, with different thoughts and uniting them under a God-given directive to accomplish God-given goals through a God-empowered process. George Barna’s popular definition says, “Vision is a clear mental image of a preferable future imparted by God to His chosen servant, based on an accurate understanding of God, self, and circumstances.” Vision describes a place we need to get to, a thing we still need to do, a significant advance that God still wants us to accomplish or become tomorrow.

But a vision without an implementation strategy is a vision that gets blurry and dim, and too distant to compel passionate commitment.

Ken Blanchard, co-author of The One Minute Manager, says “Vision alone can’t get it done. Too often we spend all our time on vision and none on implementation.” Unfortunately, in many churches the vision design, development, and deployment by necessity rests in one individual, the Senior Pastor. But in the emerging mega-churches of the last twenty years, a new role of partner with the PVC (primary vision caster) is the PVI (primary vision implementor) or Executive Pastor. Although relatively new to the church, this partnership between the “senior spiritual leader” and “primary implementor” can be seen at least as far back as 520 BC. In Haggai 1:1 and 1:14-15, God’s vision to rebuild the temple was given first to Joshua the High Priest, but also to Zerubbabel the governor/leader/implementor. In fact, it is Zerubbabel who wields the major influence in actually getting the rebuilding work restarted and completed.

This is a key point because, in the mega-church today; it is the Executive Pastor through his combined pastor/leadership role who puts feet to the vision to assure that its execution is consistent with the goals and objectives articulated by the PVC. However, it is first and foremost a leadership role, and not a management function. This is a distinction often misunderstood.

John P. Kotter, writing in the Harvard Business Review of several years ago, draws a salient distinction between management and leadership. He says that, “Management is about coping with complexity. Whereas leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change.” In fact, at the heart of leadership is the ability to bring about change. Any vision that truly comes from God is going to require significant change.

Organizations frequently manage complexity by planning, budgeting, organizing and staffing. But the Executive Pastor must lead by matching people with their gifts and passions. Managing ensures that plans are accomplished by controlling and problem solving, but the Executive Pastor leads through a process of coaching, motivating, inspiring, affirming and empowering.

Not a clone of the Senior Pastor but his counterpart, a profile of this relatively new breed of clergyman/leader, known as the Executive Pastor, requires an unusual and not frequently found marriage of talents, gifts, and abilities. This Executive Pastor needs to be enough of a big picture man to be able to see the whole, but enough of a detail man to understand the elements necessary to develop a successful and realistic plan. He must be a tender, loving, and compassionate pastor to remember that this is primarily a process of shepherding people and touching lives, but be must be enough of a manager to recognize the need for the proper amount of controls, budget and direction. He must possess enough faith to be able to rally troops in the face of giant size obstacles, but he must possess enough humility to know that without the empowering of God’s Spirit, none of these skills makes any difference. This last point is critical. Zerubbabel, during the rebuilding, was struggling against weariness, enemies, and discouragement. He needed the intervention of the Angel of the Lord to reassure him that it was, “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit” (Zec. 4:6).

To be successful, the Executive Pastor must have a happy marriage of diverse spiritual gifts. He has learned to combine the gifts of leadership and pastoring. Leadership alone can feel cold, and yet at the heart of pastoring needs to be the desire to lead the flock to the next and better pasture. He has also married the gifts of administration and faith. Administration by itself is easily overwhelmed by process and procedure, and faith needs to arrive to balance the machinery.

The Executive Pastor is probably the alter ego of the Senior Pastor. He is the Senior Pastor’s trusted partner, but he is also his protector. While they walk together through many minefields in the shepherd’s pasture, the Executive Pastor at the same time needs to be the shield against overwhelming details, and the general “noise” of an active, growing, mega-church. The Executive Pastor is the defender of the Senior Pastor and his banner carrier, but also his trusted confronter. The Executive Pastor is the Senior Pastor’s encourager, but in the next moment stands as the reality check. The Executive Pastor prepares the way ahead for the Senior Pastor, but also turns and follows behind, assuring that the details of implementation and execution can and will be carried out.

As God’s spirit moves across the face of this land, it would seem that congregations numbering in the multiple thousands are increasingly commonplace. Churches like this, that have a vision to see beyond the horizon of their present obstacles, know that revised leadership strategies are required to meet new challenges. The Senior/Executive Pastor model offers a proven opportunity to provide synergistic, gift-based, visionary leadership to accomplish Kingdom work with excellence and balance.


Originally published in NEXT —A publication of Leadership Network, April/May/June 1999 and in The Journal of the International Ministerial Fellowship, September 1996.