A Critical (Often Overlooked) Trait of an Excellent Executive Pastor

sam_rainer_bloggerIn many churches, the senior pastor leans on the executive pastor more than any other person.

The executive pastor position is often paradoxical. Executive pastors feel the tension of submitting as a subordinate to the senior pastors, while at the same time leading with a high level of influence. Their roles can change quickly, since they’re the ones often tasked with adding structure to their senior pastor’s vision.

Executive pastors become the operations of the big picture. In this way, executive pastors find themselves in the unenviable position of being the Jell-O others are trying to nail to the wall.

On a personal note, I’m thankful for my executive pastor. He’s tough and serious. He always has my back.

Much good material exists on the qualifications and strategies of an executive pastor. And there are different types of executive pastors, as well. Some focus more on finance. Others focus more administration. Some have a strong teaching role. But, I believe all executive pastors must possess a critical — and often overlooked — trait to accomplish their ministry: intuition.

The executive pastor must be able to get inside the senior pastor’s head.

You can be brilliant at finance, administration, management and teaching. But, without an intuitive discernment about the feelings and opinions of the senior pastor, an executive pastor will have difficulty executing anything. Executives execute. You can’t get things done without understanding the views of the senior pastor.

This close relationship requires access and openness. If you’re a senior pastor, and you’re not giving your executive pastor access to your schedule, vision and thoughts, then don’t expect anything to be executed properly.

Additionally, senior pastors must be open with their executive pastors. When the executive pastor finds out about something at the same time as everyone else in the church, the time to execute properly shrinks dramatically.

The intuition to finish the thought of a senior pastor is a critical trait of an executive pastor. As a senior pastor, I value this intuition more than any other trait in my executive pastor. Most capable people can learn finance, administration and management. But, intuition is a true gift.

If you’re currently looking for an executive pastor, of course you should match skill set with job description. More importantly, however, pull back from the résumé and job description. Ask yourself, “Can this person get inside my head? Am I willing to give this person access to almost every part of my life?” The best executive pastors are intuitive leaders who also happen to execute well.

Sam S. Rainer III serves as president of Rainer Research (rainerresearch.com), a firm dedicated to providing answers for better church health. He also is the senior pastor at Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. He writes, speaks, and consults on church health issues. You can connect with Sam at @samrainer or at his blog, samrainer.wordpress.com.

This blog originally appeared on SamRainer.com.

3 Responses to “A Critical (Often Overlooked) Trait of an Excellent Executive Pastor”

  1. Sean Hale


    This also holds true outside of churches too. Before coming to work for a church I worked for a traditional non-profit with a charismatic/founder type. Being able to read his mind, sort of like Radar from MASH, made a big difference in our success. It took a couple of years and a lot of conversations to really get it, but once we did I could keep the main office operating for a month or more at a time without him (our work happened overseas in rural areas with little to no phone or internet access). It also meant he did not have to deal much with the nitty-gritty administrative/operational/finance work, which he certainly had the capacity for but it just wasn’t the best use of his time and talent.

  2. As an Executive Pastor I resonate with the description and the challenge put our there by Sam S. Rainer III. One of the greatest challenges for the Executive Pastor is teaming up with a Senior Pastor who trusts you enough to let you not just inside his head but to truly know his heart. Some Senior Pastor can be threatened by someone who knows them well and is implementing the vision of the church through the ministry. Yet for an Executive Pastor to fully support the Senior Pastor and help him be all that God has called him to be trust and intuition are so very critical. It is way more than just having their back it is about allowing the Senior Pastor to cast vision and move the Kingdom of God forward. It is at times being one step ahead, paving the way for greater impact.

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