What makes a Great Executive Pastor Great?


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 Staffing


10 Articles that will Help your Church Make Vision Real


Thank you for making September another great month here at Helping Churches Make Vision Real! It’s great staying connected with you through social media and hearing that these articles have been helpful. So, thank you for connecting with me through the content on this blog! You made these the top posts from this last month. If you missed out on any of them, here they are all in one place for your convenience!

What Separates Good Church Leaders from Great Church Leaders?

Over the past 20+ years of full-time ministry and 5+ years of consulting with churches and coaching church leaders around the country there are a few characteristics that I’ve observed that separate good church leaders from great church leaders.

8 Reasons Why People Don’t Volunteer at your Church

I’ve never worked with a church that has said they don’t need more volunteers. But I’ve worked with a bunch of churches that have trouble getting people to volunteer and stay engaged volunteering.

When to Invest in a Young Leader and when to Ignore them

Experienced leaders are always going to have more opportunities available to say yes to than capacity to meet them. This is true in leadership and this is true in developing young talent. You have to make a choice. So, choose wisely. How do you know who to invest in and who to ignore?

5 Reasons Why Churches Avoid Developing a Strategy

Churches avoid developing a strategy for all kinds of reasons. Many are tied to not wanting to use “business practices” in the church or not being “spirit led.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus has a strategy, and your church should too!

A Sneaky way to Change the Culture of your Church Staff Team

Here’s a low investment example of a sneaky way you can start changing the culture of your church staff team and ultimately your church.

Why Churches Decline and Die

Church decline can be avoided and even turned around. If your church is stuck or in decline I’d encourage you to start a conversation with the Unstuck Group. They have proven track record of helping churches get unstuck. Here are a couple big reasons, in no particular order, why churches decline and die.

You Get what you Tolerate

I talk to church leaders all the time who dream about how they wish their church were different. But I rarely talk to church leaders who are willing to take action and do something with all of that wishing. Just like in parenting, any relationship or social construct, in church leadership you get what you tolerate. If you tolerate bad behavior, you’re going to get bad behavior.

7 Questions to Help your Church determine the Location of your next Multisite Campus

If you church is thinking about launching a new multisite location in the next 18 months I’d encourage you to seriously think and talk through the following 7 questions with your Sr. Leadership Team to help you determine the next right location.

The Difference between Preparation and Planning

Do great organizations prepare for the future or do they plan for it? The answer is, “yes.” To be clear preparation and planning are not the same thing, and great organizations become great by doing both.

The Tension between Leadership and Power

A little bit of power can go to your head. Give some people a uniform, a title, or a little bit of authority and they can become a little overbearing and overzealous (the movie Mall Cop comes to mind). People often confuse power and leadership. I get it, leaders by perception have all the power and leaders often misuse power. But leadership and power are not the same thing.

Posted in Leadership


Stop Hiring People to Work at your Church


Churches love to hire people. I mean they really love to hire people. Often times when churches are just starting off, staff members will raise their own salary until the church has the capacity to pay them. Then as they grow I’ve seen churches long for the day where the budget grows just a little bit more so they can make that next hire. They put so much hope into staffing. Many think that if they could just add one more special staff position to the team, the church would grow.

Now before we get too far into this conversation, let me just say that I’m not against churches hiring staff members. I’m just against churches hiring as many staff members as they do.

You see the average church in America has somewhere around a 1:75 staffing ratio. That means for every 75 people they have attending the church there is 1 full-time equivalent staff member being paid to work at the church. A full-time equivalent may be made up of 2 – 20 hour a week employees, 4 – 10 hour a week employees, or any combination you can think of. At the Unstuck Group when we help churches build a Staffing and Structure plan for the future, we encourage churches to staff at 1:100. By the way, do you know where you church measures up on that ratio?

Why Staff Lean?

One of the many reasons why we encourage churches to staff with this approach is because the churches across America that are reaching the most amount of people with the Gospel and are seeing the most amount of life change are leaner with their approach to staffing. They’re putting resources into reaching people, ministry, and developing people instead of into salaries. They pay fewer people more so they can attract and keep great people.

The More Staff the Less Life-Change

When churches staff at a lower ratio they unintentionally keep people from following Jesus. When people are hired that means what was previously being done by volunteers is now being professionalized. This takes the ministry out of the hands of volunteers and actually often times discourages volunteerism. Volunteering is discipleship. You can’t follow Jesus and not serve others.

More Staff is an indicator of Over Programming

A low attender to staff ratio is also an indicator that a church is probably over-programmed. The staff are busy running a lot of programs to minister to people who are already a part of the church and already know Jesus. 

It’s Easier to Hire than Develop

It’s faster and requires less effort to hire people to do ministry than to recruit, train, and develop volunteers to do ministry.

It’s more Convenient to be Served than to Serve

It’s easier for church members to pay to hire people to serve them than to invest the time into stepping up and serving others.

I could go on and on, but I bet you get the point. Hiring isn’t always the wrong move to make at a church. But if you do hire, hire for two big results:

  1. Hire people who can build teams and develop people
  2. Hire specialists because of a needed skill

Posted in Staffing


5 Reasons Why Churches Avoid Developing a Strategy


There is a popular phrase often attributed to Peter Drucker that says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” After a time of careful research, I discovered that there is actually no evidence that he ever made this statement. In fact, there is no evidence that any leadership guru ever said it. It appears many different statements from several leaders were merged together over a period of years. Thus, “culture eats strategy for breakfast” burst onto the scene. And with its arrival came the notion that strategy is really not that important in leading an organization…

But nothing could be further from the truth. It has been my privilege to serve in the ministry for over 36 years. Decades of up close and personal observation have yielded some basic conclusions as to why so many churches and ministries in America are so opposed to developing strategy.

There are two misconceptions about strategy that often lead churches to discount it:

1) “Strategy quenches the Holy Spirit’s spontaneity.”

I grew up in a church that handed out a bulletin every Sunday with a service-order script for the Holy Spirit to follow. So I understand that you can actually become “over-structured” in planning. However, as I moved on to a more “Spirit-led” church, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction of just casually going with the Holy Spirit. The belief was that a truly Spirit-led service/ministry had no structure because God is a spontaneous God.

Think about that for a moment. The thought that God is spontaneous is implying that God suddenly thought of something that He had never thought of before… But everything about His nature is founded in a purpose and plan. Therefore, we need to consider this balance in our approach to ministry.

2) “Developing a strategy is using secular business practices.”

Somewhere along the line, our church leaders have adopted the mantra of separation of church and state as a scriptural mandate. Many spiritual leaders believe that it is somehow compromising to use solid business principles in the strategic development of the church.

The actual underlying concept of separation of church and state was developed to keep the government from interfering with the church. It does not mean we cannot use proven leadership principles to help our ministry grow. Solid strategic practices are not secular or spiritual.

Misconceptions aren’t the only reason churches avoid strategy. Here are three other reasons:

1) Strategic thinking requires honest evaluation of our current condition and effectiveness.

It is my opinion that we fall short at this point more often than not. It is much easier to blame outside forces for our lack of impact and growth than to take an honest inventory of our (in)effectiveness in reaching our lost neighbors.

For example, when our team helps churches assess their staffing and structure, we have church leaders complete the Leading From Your Strengths assessment to get a clearer picture of the strengths on the team. Most churches have gaps in key strengths that God has given leaders to better lead the church. By better understanding where those gaps exist, a church staff can make strategic decisions about future hires and how to structure the current team.

The truth sets us free according to Jesus. Yet, many of our ministries spend a considerable amount of energy avoiding the truth. Taking an honest look can often be the catalyst of developing new and effective ways of reaching our community.

2) A strategic plan to impact a community will often “rock the boat” of our current comfort.

A thorough study of Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament will reveal that He never offered His followers a life of comfort and ease for following Him. In fact, His command was take up your cross and follow Him daily. The daily cross-bearing isn’t comfortable. But it is fulfilling!

I actually had a church board member say to me, “I would rather this church shut down than change what we are doing!” Eventually, the church dissolved and gave its assets to another ministry. The leadership was so ingrained in the comfort of what God had done in the past that they could not entertain the thought of Him doing something new in the future.

3) A written strategic plan brings accountability.

Research has proven people are more able to remember things written down than remember what they heard. I can side-step being held accountable when I avoid putting a plan down in writing. This also means I will probably never accomplish what is possible!

Writing down the strategy does not necessarily mean I have figured out everything. But it does put a methodical process in place that moves me closer to actually accomplishing the goal. The Bible says in Habakkuk 2:2, “And then God answered: ‘Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run.’”(MSG)

Putting the plan on paper is a great way to bring clarity and unity to your team.

Maybe some observant leader actual developed the mantra “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” And it may be that your current ministry or organization is experiencing this today. If so, here is a radical idea: develop a strategy to change the culture! I promise it will not happen quickly or without some pain. However, I do promise it is a necessary step in fulfilling your God-given calling and purpose.

If you’d like support in developing your strategy and vision, our team would be happy to help. Take a look at our 4-phase process and start a conversation. We’d love to hear from you.

Dale is a consultant/facilitator with over 35 years experience. He has served in a variety of roles from founding/directing a Christian music group, special events coordinator at a Christian radio station and as lead pastor for 12 years. He’s currently executive pastor of The Mill Church in Pickens, SC. His passion is to help small/medium size churches become healthy. He and his wife Gina have been married for 35 years and have three daughters, two sons-in-law and a recent grandchild!

Posted in Leadership


The Tension between Power and Leadership


A little bit of power can go to your head. Give some people a uniform, a title, or a little bit of authority and they can become a little overbearing and overzealous (the movie Mall Cop comes to mind).

People often confuse power and leadership. I get it, leaders by perception have all the power and leaders often misuse power. But leadership and power are not the same thing.

Power doesn’t make you a Leader

Just because someone has a little bit of power doesn’t mean they’re a leader. They may have a title, the authority to tell others what to do, or even decision-making responsibility but it doesn’t mean they’re a leader. We’ve all met small minded people who get a little power and authority only to throw it around in a manner that repels everyone around them. No one wants to follow that person. That’s because they’re not a leader.

Power reveals Character

I’ve heard people say that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I don’t buy into that, rather I subscribe to the idea that power simply reveals the character of the person wielding it. What you do with the power (whether you have a lot or a little) you have is a reflection of the kind of person you truly are.

Power is a Tool

Power is simply a tool, nothing more, nothing less. Some use power well…others not so much. It can be used to build up or tear down. It can be used to serve others or serve yourself. With it you have the ability to empower others or be controlling.

Power is a Last Resort

Making a power play to get people to follow you should always be a last resort. While statements like, “I’m your boss,” “I’m your parent,” and “because I said so” may work from time to time they don’t endear followers to you.

Posted in Leadership
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