What is an executive pastor?

The position of “executive pastor” is not specifically mentioned in Scripture. The primary position of leadership in a local church is that of pastor/elder/overseer. The three titles seem to be used interchangeably, but each word may emphasize a certain aspect of the position. The word pastor is really the word for “shepherd” and may emphasize caring for and feeding the flock. The word elder may emphasize wisdom and respect. The word overseer (or bishop) emphasizes leadership and authority. The qualifications for this office are found in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9.

The biblical pattern is that there are several pastors/elders/overseers for each congregation, even though there may be one pastor who does most of the day-to-day work of teaching, preaching, counseling, etc. (senior pastor, lead pastor, teaching pastor). When this is the case, the other elders are there to hold him accountable and to provide wisdom and balance so that all leadership and authority is not centered on one man.

The role of executive pastor is not defined in Scripture but has developed over the past few decades in Western churches. The “job description” may vary from church to church. Some churches today are very large. Under the church umbrella there may be a Christian school, bookstore, media ministries, camp or conference grounds, and other ministries that are primarily conducted outside the “four walls” of the church. Many churches have extensive properties, dozens or even hundreds of employees, and large budgets. They have to deal with municipal codes, employment laws, federal guidelines, insurance, and payroll taxes. Unfortunately, in today’s environment churches can have significant legal exposure regarding employee sexual harassment and abuse of minors, and these risks require the development of safeguards and policies. Furthermore, the church may be involved in important promotional efforts through traditional and social media. These issues can have significant impact upon the ministry of a church. The executive pastor is the person who oversees all of the various business, financial, personnel, and legal aspects of the ministry like the ones mentioned above. In business, he might be called a Chief Operating Officer.

Because the executive pastor will have spiritual authority within the church and will be dealing with issues that require wisdom and spiritual discernment, it is important that he meet the biblical qualifications for pastor/elder/overseer. Although he may not be preaching on a regular basis, he should still be able to bring the Word of God to bear upon a variety of situations and explain it to those he supervises or interacts with. Many of the difficult issues that face churches today can only be handled with wisdom and prayer. The position should not be offered to someone based solely upon his business acumen or legal skill and experience.

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