This is part three of a series of blogs about what I’m learning since becoming an Executive Pastor. This week, I’m arguing that Lead Pastors and Executive Pastors need to be friends.
For the last 20 years I have been a LP and have felt the burden that only a LP feels. The reality is that no one cares about the church more than you do. No one thinks about it more, no one is more invested, no one has more on the line.
This isn’t a judgment statement, it’s just the truth of leadership. Those who advocate for shared leadership are trying to remedy this situation but - in my opinion - they come up short. The buck has to stop with somebody, and no matter who that is, they will feel the burden of being the buck-stopper.
I know a lot of pastors will tell you that you can’t really be friends with your staff because they work for you and it blurs lines of authority, but I wholeheartedly disagree, especially in the case of your relationship with your XP. The XP is the closest thing to a second buck-stopper most churches will have. They bear nearly as much burden as the LP and care nearly as much about the church. They truly are a second in every way.
I have worked with a few XP’s in my career, and most of those guys remain my close friends to this day, and in every case where there has been a strong friendship, it has strengthened my experience as a pastor and leader.
So here are a few reflections on this unique relationship.
LP’s choose your XP wisely.
This is true when it comes to competence, character, and culture, but it is especially true for chemistry. I only work with people that I like working with. That may sound selfish but I just don’t see any other way to do it. Ministry is too hard and too personal to work with people that only function as colleagues and not also friends.
So when you choose an XP, vet them for their ability to lead, vet their commitment to Christ, vet their fit on the team, and then go on vacation with them. If you don’t like them after three days, don’t hire them. If don’t you come back with matching tattoos, a secret handshake, and at least 7 inside jokes, don’t hire them. This may sound like overkill (and it is to some degree), but the principle is right – calibrate it for your own situation.
If you are a candidate to be an XP, take the same approach.
If you don’t think the LP can lead the church effectively, don’t go work for him. If you don’t think he is godly, don’t work for him. If you don’t think you fit the culture, don’t work there. But also, if you don’t like the LP as a person, don’t go work for him. If you don’t look forward to meeting with him because they are fun or funny or engaging, don’t take the job. Be picky, because you will spend more time with this person than you will with your spouse.
Are there enormous risks with this approach? Yes, but they are worth it.
By all means, you can take a job that is just a job. Treat your co-workers as merely co-workers. Be a professional pastor. But recognize that if you do that, you will be experiencing a fraction of the joy and satisfaction that can come from working on a dynamic and relationally connected staff.
Will it be awkward for the family if you have to fire your XP or resign from your role? Yes. It will. But if the relationship is good, you will be able to manage it.
Invest in this relationship. When it’s awkward, push in, don’t pull away. When there is tension, be more relational, not more professional.
My current role is a tough one. We have a small church that is trying to restart in the midst of the most difficult time to do ministry I have ever known. But the saving grace is that I really like the guy I’m working with, so we are in it together. Every single one of my best friends in the world are guys that I did ministry with and I love that. It will always be how I do ministry, and I hope that you will work towards this as well.