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Top Posts of 2017 #10 “What makes a Great Executive Pastor Great?”

For the next couple of days I’m going to be counting down the top 10 posts from 2017 here on Helping Churches Make Vision Real. These are the posts that generated the most traffic, comments, and were the most shared on social media. The most popular topics this year had to do with developing young leaders, hiring, building great teams, church growth, and church decline. We start off with a post about Executive Pastors, a role that often means a lot of different things in a lot of different churches and a role that I’ve served in for the last 10+ years.

When I was starting out in full-time ministry more than twenty years ago if you had told me that I would one day serve as an Executive Pastor of a multi-mega church I would have asked you, “What’s that?”

More and more I’m running into young church leaders that aspire to be an Executive Pastor and I’m fielding more and more questions about what young leaders can do to prepare for the role. With that in mind, while this is not an exhaustive list, here are a couple of recommendations I’d make to any young church leader who thinks they may serve as an Executive Pastor (XP) one day.

1. Sober-mindedness

Understand who you are, come to terms with who you are, and then be who you are. It’s not uncommon for young church leaders to think big and want something bigger than they’re able to handle sooner than they’re ready for it. It takes a deep well of experience built over time to serve well in the XP role, not just talent.

2. Submission to Authority

In Matthew 8:5-13 the Roman Centurion demonstrates an incredible XP mindset (seriously click the link and read it). He understands what it’s like to be in authority so he has no problem submitting to authority. Great XP’s submit to the authority of the Lead Pastor. They challenge appropriately, they lead up and ultimately understand what it means to both be in authority and under authority at the same time.

3. Recruit, Place & Develop People

The church is ultimately about people development. The theological term is sanctification, the every day church term is discipleship. Whatever label you want to put on it great Executive Pastors are great at recruiting the right people, putting them in the right seat to succeed and developing them.

4. Organizational Alignment

The best XP’s I’ve ever been around have an uncanny sense of alignment. They’re playing chess not checkers. They’re constantly working and reworking the organizational alignment (staff, finances, facilities, communication, and ministries) of the church so it doesn’t become a lid to growth.

5. Fill the Gap between Vision and Reality

Great Executive Pastors fill the gap between vision and reality. In other words, they’re strategic in nature. They think “how” are we going to get “there”? But they’re not negative about that “how.” They’re solution oriented.

6. Get Theological and Business Training

It takes a heart for theology and a head for business to be a great XP. If you’ve got more of a business background then get some solid theological training. If you got a theological background then go get your MBA.

 7.The Church isn’t a Business

The Church isn’t a business. It has a clear mission from Jesus about why it exists, the best ones have clear vision regarding where they’re going, and they have strategies to align staff and other resources around. There are a lot of things that “smell” like a business in the church (after all the book of Proverbs in the Bible too), but it’s not a business. The church is the Body of Christ, it’s the family of God. The goal is not to make shareholders happy by having a strong bottom line, it’s life change.


Posted in Leadership, Staffing

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4 Questions to Shift your Thinking about Church Mergers

Through my experience working with churches I’ve discovered that the idea of “Church Mergers” is met with a variety of emotions, many which are negative. I’ve found that some view it as a cannibalistic way for growing churches to gobble up smaller struggling churches to enlarge their own footprint and grow their brand, not the Kingdom of God. I’ve even seen some churches that would rather die and close their doors than merge with or gift their property to another church.

With all of this negative emotion around the idea of church mergers I thought I’d throw out a couple of questions that may open a more helpful conversation about mergers and maybe even shift some thinking.

What are you going to do with those Kingdom Assets?

There are churches that have a great story of growing and reaching people in the past but have declined and are on “life-support” today. Many of these Kingdom assets are in places like L.A., New York, Chicago, Washington D.C. and other areas where the cost of real-estate is a barrier to starting new churches. Why not gift those assets to a thriving and growing church in your state that has a proven and successful multisite model and turn that location into a campus?

Would a Merger Yield Greater Kingdom Results?

If you merged with another church would you experience a greater Kingdom impact together than you would individually? If each church would take more Kingdom ground as an individual autonomous church then by all means they should stay that way. But, if greater ground would be taken together it’s worth a serious conversation.

Do you want this person to be your Sr. Pastor?

Language is important. In a church merger, you’re often leading through a highly emotionally charged situation. Poorly wording things can stop things before they really get going. I’ve found one helpful way to discuss it is to ask the church that is potentially joining your church if they would want your Pastor to be their Pastor? This reframes the conversation and makes it a lot less threatening.

Would you want to adopt the Vision and Practices of the church you’re merging with?

It’s difficult to generate much traction in a church merger conversation if you lead early on with all of the stuff that the joining church is going to have to change. For instance, adopting a new vision, approach to ministry and different practices. That can feel overwhelming and threatening to the joining church. A more palatable way to get into that conversation may be to start with the stories of life-change, momentum and all of the great stuff that God is doing in and through the ministry of your church. Would the potentially joining church like to have that kind of a story and those kinds of results?


Posted in Leadership, Staffing

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What do you do when you Don’t Agree with your Pastor?

If you work on staff at a church, chances are at some point you’re going to disagree with your pastor. That’s okay, you’re human, it would be naive to think you’re always going to agree with your pastor. But what you do with that disagreement is where things can get really messy. Messy for you, and messy for the church.

Choose to Love Them

You don’t have to agree with someone in order to love them. I choose to love people I don’t agree with all the time. If I didn’t I wouldn’t be married. This may seem like a simple step but it’s an important step, and it’s the first step. Even if you don’t agree with them, your pastor isn’t the enemy. The enemy (Satan) is the enemy, not your pastor.

Take Personal Ownership

The best place to start when you don’t agree with your pastor is not with the question, “What do they need to change?” but rather, “What do I need to change?” Do I need to change my belief, assumptions, attitude, approach, or actions? This is an important step, because while you can’t change another person, you can change you.

Submit to Them

God has given a unique seat to the leader you’re following, and it’s important to remember that He’s chosen to give that seat to them…not you. Make sure you measure your attitude and keep your heart in check. It’s important to tell yourself the truth. Speaking poorly of your leader or creating disunity not only hurts the church and the movement of the Gospel, but the Bible talks about those things as sin. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to remember and read up on the way David submitted to Saul. Oh yea…and remember, even if you don’t like it, for some reason God has allowed the leadership at your church to be in authority at this time. God could be using this time in your life to teach you lessons like: “learning how to be under authority before you’re in authority,” or “the art of timing.”

Leave Them

If you’ve lost respect for your pastor and you can no longer in good conscience follow them, it may be time to leave. If you can’t submit to the leadership of your pastor or by you staying it will create disunity it may be time to leave. Here’s a couple of articles that will help you begin to understand if it’s time for you to leave your church:


Posted in Leadership, Staffing

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Stop Hiring People you Like

A wrong hire can set a ministry back for years and unfortunately churches aren’t known for making great hires. Pastors have a tendency to hire people that they like, and value relational chemistry over production. I get it. Pastors are taught Greek, Theology and the Bible. Seminaries aren’t known for providing great courses on recruiting, hiring and team development.

So, most pastors are left to rely on their “gut” and hope for the best. They typically look for natural connections that they can build on to get “comfortable” with and “believe” in a potential hire.

Is the potential hire from the same denomination of churches? Did they go to the same seminary or school as the pastor? Do they know the same people and run in the same circles (tribe)? Did a friend recommend them? Have they read the same books or listen to the same podcasts? Do they go to the same conferences for inspiration and new ideas? Do they already know someone on staff? Do they share similar interests or grow up in the same area or region of the country?

All of these simple connections can lead pastors to emotionally and relationally zero in on a potential hire and pull the trigger to bring them on the team for all the wrong reasons.

Don’t be Afraid of Results

Culture and chemistry really matter, they should factor into your recruiting and hiring. Potential hires need to fit with your team and your church. But you’re not just hiring them for their fit, you’re hiring them to get something done. You’re hiring them to produce results. If they don’t have a proven track record of producing the kind of results you’re looking for, then pass on them, no matter how great a “fit” they may be.

Challenge the Team

A new hire is a great opportunity to infuse a whole new set of experiences, ideas, perspectives, training and competencies into the staff team at your church. When you invite a new person to your staff team they should lift the water level of the entire team up. Their approach, experience and expertise should challenge the team and motivate them to take some new ground. If there is too great a value on chemistry and relationally connecting with a potential hire then relationship will trump growth.

You’re not Hiring them to be your Friend

Listen, I completely understand wanting to “like” the people you work with and yes, I’ve read about how everybody needs a “best friend” at work. I’m fortunate enough to work at a church and on a team that I actually really, really like. But at the end of the day when you’re hiring someone you’re not hiring them to be your friend. You’re hiring them to join with you and play their part to make a big vision become real. I mean could you imagine saying to Jesus, “Hey I know we didn’t take your mission to reach everyone on the planet with the Gospel very seriously and we didn’t do a great job with that, but we really liked each other.”


Posted in Leadership, Staffing

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Why a Teaching Team is a Better Approach to Teaching at your Church

Although the idea of a teaching team is not a new idea, I’m surprised at the amount of churches across the country that have not embraced this approach to preaching in their weekend worship services.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying:

  • I’m not advocating that you use the “main stage” to develop communicators. Don’t experiment on your church. Instead develop communicators in other ministry venues than the weekend worship services. There can’t be a big “drop off” in gifting from the primary preacher to others on the teaching team. Otherwise internally people are going to be saying, “oh no, not this guy again.”
  • I’m not advocating that you water down or muddy your unique culture. It’s not helpful to have preachers on the teaching team that have completely different styles or theological perspectives. Preaching is the primary way culture is built in a church so keep the same approach and same “voice.”
  • I’m not advocating that your main preacher speaks less than 35 weekends a year (+/-).
  • I’m not advocating that you have too many voices on stage, more than 3 can get confusing.

In today’s world communicators aren’t just compared to other preachers they’re compared to other communicators including comedians, late night show hosts, TED talks, and every other great preacher in the world that anyone can listen to on the internet. Developing a teaching team is simply a better approach to teaching.

It keeps Communicators Fresh

Preaching week in and week out, 52 weeks a year is a grind. Very, very, very few preachers on the planet can be great 52 weeks a year, year after year. A teaching team helps great preachers preach great sermons. Not only do they get time to work on their sermons and prepare better content, but they can work together on the content and delivery preparation.

It keeps Engagement Up

No matter how good of a communicator your pastor is, they only have so many stories. More voices on the stage keeps engagement up because your church body hears things different ways from different people. Also, if you do this well, you can engage a younger audience by having communicators on the team who are younger than the primary preacher.

It Teaches the Church it’s not all about One Person

Building a great teaching team teaches the church body that ministry isn’t just about or built around one superstar with a great teaching gift. Rather, the body, when it works together as a body and you lean into everyone’s unique gifting actually takes more ground and functions better. Remember, the team always outperforms the individual, this is also true in teaching teams.

It sets you up for Succession

Every pastor is an interim pastor. One day they will no longer be the leader or the preacher. Someday, somebody else will step in and pick up where you left off. A teaching team helps make this transition easier for the church to embrace.


Posted in Leadership, Spiritual Formation, Staffing
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