Ultimate Guide to Hiring an Executive Pastor

The executive pastor is the secret weapon of many churches. Their addition to a team does a lot to help the senior pastor focus on one job and shepherd the church well. In former generations, senior pastors had to wear so many different hats that their effectiveness was greatly diminished. By bringing in an executive pastor to handle more administrative or staff-oriented work, senior pastors concentrate on their strengths.

encourage engagement with your congregation

For such an integral role, ensuring you find the right person and keeping them is essential. In this guide, you’ll find relevant and applicable tips and information for churches looking to hire an executive pastor:

7 Kinds of Executive Pastors

It’s hard enough to get a concise answer on a senior pastor’s job description. But when you ask people what an executive pastor does, things get even more confusing.

How do you define such a vital role?

The business world deals with a similar problem. Ask the average person about the differences between the jobs of a CEO or a COO, and they’ll struggle to give an answer. People are easily confused by the various C-level positions in a corporation. In a May 2006 article, the Harvard Business Review looked at seven different roles that chief operating officers can play. These roles translate perfectly to the various kinds of jobs that executive pastors do.

Here are the seven kinds of executive pastors:


Your church’s leadership team should be setting long-range goals. Once those goals are set, it’s wise to have one person whose position sees to the creation of a roadmap to realize those goals. Once the course is set, the executor ensures that the incremental steps are accomplished and the objectives are met.


Sometimes churches find themselves in a dire position and they need to make some major changes to turn everything around. This is similar to the executor position except they’re focused on dramatic short-term change. This could include fundraising responsibilities, staffing changes, membership drives, or even leading decisions about new building locations.


Churches are occasionally planted by talented but inexperienced pastors. Sometimes even youth pastors find themselves thrust into the position of senior pastor. Veteran pastors with lots of experience can be brought in to help the lead pastor grow into their position. The executive pastor who is operating as a mentor may only be at the church for a short time, or they might transition into another position as the senior pastor gets his bearings.


It can be difficult when you’re a senior pastor with a very specific set of skills. Maybe you’re a scholar and teacher who struggles with the organizational elements of pastoring. It could be that you are really good with people but find it hard to be a visionary leader. Some churches opt for an executive pastor who is strong in the areas where the senior pastor is weak and together they operate as one amazing pastor.


Where the executive pastor as “other half” is brought in to mitigate a senior pastor’s weaknesses, the executive pastor as “partner” comes in as a true force multiplier. It’s not that the senior pastor has glaring deficiencies, it’s that they work so much better with an ally. In this scenario, the executive pastor comes into work closely alongside the pastor. Together, they’re a dynamic duo.


There are many occasions that might call for an executive pastor to be brought in to fill many of these other roles while building relationships with the congregation in order to eventually replace the senior pastor. If the senior pastor was planning to move or retirement, it’s a wise move to train the one who will succeed him.


Imagine that there’s a shakeup in a popular church in town, and a valuable member of its leadership team is leaving. Some churches will immediately scoop that individual up because they believe in their skills (and because they’d hate to see those skills put to use in a different local church). Bringing a well-known person on staff can not only help you avail yourself of their skills, but you also get the emotional boost from the congregation.

The executive pastor’s role is critical to the growth of your church and proper support of your senior pastor. However, for many churches, the executive pastor is not well compensated for all of the great ministry work they do every day. See how other forward-thinking churches are determining fair salaries based on factors like location and church size. Download the 2019 Church Staff Salary Guide today.

10 Red Flags in Potential Executive Pastors

The church is full of people who could be gifted leaders, but some have ideas or attitudes that make them dangerous in a leadership role, especially an executive pastor role. Although such issues would need to be addressed before candidates are ready to mentor others, they don’t necessarily disqualify them. Still, there are signs that separate good church leaders from poor ones.

Sometimes, the leadership ability is obvious and other flaws don’t surface until the individual is already in a position of influence. That’s why it is important to recognize some potential issues before they become problems.

Here is a list of 10 red flags you should watch for in potential executive pastors:


When you start working with someone, you can discern pretty quickly if they’re willing to discuss things openly or if they’re evasive. Do they deflect questions about their background or theology? Do they tend to spend a long time weighing their responses? Is their life open to others, or do they seem to be incredibly private?

This lack of clarity isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can point to trust issues or bad experiences in their past. If you sense that this person is developing a tendency toward vagueness, feel free to pry a bit.

Note: Pay attention to the opposite end of this spectrum as well. A morbid sense of openness that tends toward over-sharing and self-indulgent discussion can also be a sign of trouble.


Leaders are good at recognizing potential problems and seeing beyond facades. This is a gift when they’re able to create strategies to improve these issues. It’s a problem when it feeds a general negativity about people and the world.

When you talk about their work experiences, are they generally positive? When the names of church members come up in conversation, is their reaction affirming? Are positive or optimistic statements immediately followed with a “but”?


A lot of time and energy goes into potential leaders. It’s helpful to know upfront if this person is going to stick it out and make that investment pay off. That’s why you want to look at how work and church opportunities have played out in the past.

Is there anything in their work history or church life that suggests this individual has a hard time sticking it out and being loyal? Is there a pattern of turnover in relationships? Have they gone through a lot of different positions in your church but never seem to find the right fit?


When it comes to mentoring others, a good leader listens more than he speaks. You don’t want someone caring for others who can’t really pay attention to their needs and questions. A good mentor always has his radar on to hear what’s really being said—and paying attention to the Spirit.

It’s time to address the problem if you notice that this person interrupts you often or has a tendency for long monologues. When you finish speaking, pay attention to whether what you’ve said is being taken into account or if it seems like they’ve been waiting for an opportunity to jump in with their point.


You’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person over coffee or shared meals. How they treat baristas, waiters, and checkers is important to watch. The way they treat others that they can’t really benefit from or may never see again speaks volumes about their character. It also gives you some clue as to how they will deal with people they perceive to have lower social status than they do.

Do they avoid eye contact with them? Are they dismissive? Do they tip poorly or reluctantly? Do they demand or require special attention and care?


Leadership is about influence. If there are problems between this person and the congregation, their leadership is going to be hamstrung before it begins. No one gets along with everyone, but you do want to notice if there’s a pattern of negative feelings toward this individual.

People in church will often try to speak positively about others—even when they don’t feel that way. So you need to be alert for faint signs. When this person comes up, do church members hedge or change the subject? Are there subtle ways that they’re trying to tell you there’s a problem? Can you get a reading from the more frank members of the congregation?


We’re all incredibly busy, and we all run late occasionally. You still need to pay attention to a person who never seems to be on time. This can point to issues like lack of organization or insensitivity to others. It can also be a problem when they’re regularly making up reasons for being late.

You can (and should) identify the problem and come up with an action plan to be more punctual, but do some probing to see what is behind the chronic lateness.


Jesus personified a form of leadership that was about serving rather than being served. It’s easy for people in the church to see leadership titles as deserving of special honor. It’s fairly important to discern how potential leaders look at leadership. This can be hard because people generally know how to communicate the right “Christian” views on leadership.

So you’ll need to pay attention to these signs:

  • Do they seem to crave attention or admiration?
  • Do they tend to pull rank or assert their dominance?
  • Do they have a hard time compromising?
  • Do they have double-standards in the way they treat others and how others are allowed to treat them?
  • Do they feel sorry for themselves when things don’t go their way?
  • Do they see others as competitors or threats?


Let’s be honest—everyone struggles not to look at their phone in public. So it’s not necessarily a make-or-break issue, but here’s why you want to be aware of it. When you’re meeting with this individual, it’s to mentor them into a position of leadership. If they’re struggling to be present with an authority figure, it’s going to be a problem when they are the authority figure. It can also be a sign of self-impulse/control issues.

Do they pick up their phone to check every notification? Do they pick up their phone regularly when there are no notifications? Do they check their phone while you’re talking to them?

Be aware of the fact that many use their phone as a timepiece. By occasionally checking their phone, they might be ensuring that they’re on time for their next meeting.


This one can be a bit touchy. Obviously, people are different and see social media posting differently. You definitely don’t want to get into a situation where people feel they need to hide who they are from you. So you want to be very careful how you deal with this one, and you definitely don’t want to go looking for problems.

Do they tend to be argumentative online? Do they post inappropriate things like racially insensitive comments, sexual jokes, or stories about weekends of drunkenness? These are the kinds of things you want to address as quickly as possible.


Most of these issues can be dealt with without having to disqualify potential leaders. But it’s really important that you pay attention to these little details so that they can be addressed before you put them into positions of authority. You never want to end up in a position where you think, “I should have trusted my gut.”

Leadership is central to a thriving ministry, but careful hiring practices apply to other staff roles as well. You don’t want to hire the wrong people.

15 Attributes of an Exceptional Executive Pastor

While there are many different roles that an executive pastor can fill, primarily they are responsible for the overall health and maturity of the church. They’re like a spiritual mechanic making sure that the church is operating at peak efficiency.

Because an executive pastor’s roles are different than those of a senior pastor, the attributes you should expect in an executive pastor aren’t going to be the same. Sure, there will be some overlap, but they’ll also need to have some skills and qualities particular to their position.

Here are 15 essential attributes and qualities of an exceptional executive pastor:


The executive pastor’s number one job is to provide support for the senior pastor. This support manifests itself in a variety of ways:

  • Facilitation: The senior pastor needs a second-in-command who is able to promote and achieve the church’s (and the senior pastor’s) ultimate goals.
  • Edification: The executive pastor should be a trustworthy source of advice, instruction, and assistance for the senior pastor.
  • Encouragement: The senior pastor is beset on all sides by criticism and obstruction. The executive pastor should be someone who can be a buffer between the senior pastor and those negative elements.

This one aspect of the position can do so much to shore up a senior pastor in the area that he’s most vulnerable to burnout and despair. Instead of feeling like he’s swimming upstream all alone, he has a partner and co-laborer in an executive pastor, and that can make all the difference.


Amazing churches don’t simply exist—they have drive and purpose. A church needs to have both long-term and short-term objectives, and they need to know how to meet them. This means that someone needs to be empowered to take responsibility for those goals—and oftentimes that someone is not the senior pastor.

An executive pastor should be able to help set those goals (or set the goals themselves). And more importantly, they need to know how to track those goals and adjust the church’s sails accordingly. This means that the executive pastor needs to know which metrics are important to monitor and which ones aren’t.

If a church wants to focus on growth for a year, they need to focus in on the metrics they’ll use to measure that. An executive pastor needs to be able to take a broad desire like “church growth,” and narrow down what that actually means, and what the ideal metrics are to get the church there.

For example, if a church wanted to focus on “growth,” the XP should be able to translate that into some key metrics. Those metrics might be:

  • Increase in number of visitors
  • Percentage of visitors that become members
  • Monthly total of tithes and offerings.

And a smart executive pastor will develop the strategies that the whole church will follow to push those metrics up.


A church is only as productive as its staff and volunteers. An executive pastor should be able to motivate people to give the church their very best. This requires more than charisma and a super-friendly demeanor. It’s about inspiring people see the big picture and how their work affects the health of the entire organization.

Under a good executive pastor, everyone has a clear understanding of what is expected of him and how he is helping the church meet its ultimate goals.

The executive pastor is invested in the staff’s spiritual growth as well. They should have a discipleship plan for each member of the staff to help them grow in their maturity. Spiritual development is in the volunteer’s best interest, but it also is better for the church as a whole. By caring for the staff’s spiritual and professional needs, everyone wins!


In order to get the best out of the staff, an executive pastor needs to be empowered to build a crack team. This means that they need to have the skills to choose and hire ideal candidates, and the sensitivity and resolve to let go of staff members who aren’t working out.

Imagine the church as a machine. Every volunteer and staff member is a part that needs to perform its job so that the machine can fulfill its purpose. Part of the executive pastor’s job is to make sure that all of the parts are working correctly, and that it has enough oil so that friction isn’t building up.

Ultimately, the executive pastor needs to know how to remove parts that are no longer functioning (in a way that doesn’t damage the machine or the part). And he needs to be able to replace that part with one that fits the machine perfectly.

This means the executive pastor needs to be involved in the process of bringing people onto the staff as well as, if necessary, authorized to make the difficult decision to let them go.


The position of executive pastor doesn’t work too well for the absent-minded-professor type. They need to be able to prioritize the onslaught of pressing needs. In the end, this position is about managing all the organizational details. In order to do that, the executive pastor needs to

be on top of all the particulars.

If that doesn’t come naturally, he should have a trusted system as well as tools in place to stop details from falling through the cracks and to keep the staff communicating efficiently.


A church should know exactly what its key purpose and long-term goals are. Traditionally, these things are spelled out in an organization’s mission and vision statements. Creating these documents isn’t easy. It takes a lot of corporate soul searching and consensus building.

If a church has never created or implemented mission and vision statements, an executive pastor should know how to craft one. This means that he should be able to pull all the church’s key players together and facilitate the process of identifying the organization’s most important values and long-range objectives.

But simply having a mission and vision statement on file isn’t enough. An executive pastor needs to align the church’s daily activities in a way that those aspirational goals become reality.


We all have a mental image of a senior pastor ensconced in a leather armchair and surrounded by books. This is not how we want to think about executive pastors. An executive pastor shouldn’t be administering the church from behind a computer monitor. He should be working tirelessly alongside his team.

When push comes to shove, the position of executive pastor isn’t an authority-based position. He doesn’t inspire his team by issuing top-down commands, but by serving from the middle.

An executive pastor needs to have his hands in the daily operations and lives of the staff. This kind of hands-on involvement spurs communal innovation and creative thinking while reinforcing the church’s values to every member of the organization. He is in the thick of the day-to-day: Listening, facilitating, teaching, and boosting morale. Plus, the more an executive pastor serves, the more they nurture participation among congregants. Service nurtures more service.


In a very real way, this position is about the stewardship of resources. These resources include things like:

  • The facility
  • The staff
  • The volunteers

Some of the most important resources that need careful oversight are the church’s financial assets. An executive pastor needs to know how to create and manage a budget so that the church can estimate revenue, plan expenditures, and restrict spending—this ensures money is used to move the church closer to its goals.

Because a church’s income is so hard to accurately predict, the executive pastor needs to pay close attention to performance indicators. His attention is integral to ensuring that the church is on track to meet its realistic financial goals. Regularly reviewing of the church’s financial income against its plans, and making the necessary adjustments, can help stop a financial shortfall from becoming an avalanche.


A time will inevitably come when a growing church needs to raise funds for a building project or some other mission. The executive pastor needs to understand the best ways to raise funds, or how to work with outside organizations to help the church raise needed capital.

While he doesn’t need to be involved in all the specific fundraising activities, the executive pastor should be intimately involved in the details and outcome of each step of the process. It’s also important that he keeps church enthusiasm and momentum high in what is an inevitably arduous process.


One of the secrets to growing a healthy church lies in the intentional, systematic creation of leaders who are able to clearly communicate and exemplify the church’s values. The more leaders a church has, the stronger it becomes.

The church should have a rubric spelling out the process of building up leaders through a system that includes mentoring, education, empowerment, and accountability. As the executive pastor creates more leaders, his workload actually diminishes and he is able to focus more and more on leadership development.

Eventually, the executive pastor will create a framework in which leaders naturally produce more leaders.


Most churches generate plenty of great ideas but struggle to implement them long enough to see them come to fruition. On the flip side, there’s also a struggle to find lasting solutions to systemic problems.

An executive pastor knows how to take an idea and create a framework that will help turn that idea into a long-term reality. They also know how to use this skill to create durable, long-lasting solutions to organizational challenges.

More importantly, they can create systems that the organization embraces. This includes:

  • Getting input on the new system from key players
  • Soliciting the help of the person who was in charge of the previous system
  • Considering how the new system will affect other processes
  • Tinkering with the new system until it can run on its own


There’s no way around it; conflict is going to rear its ugly head in your church. Where weaker leaders will try to avoid it as long as possible, an executive pastor will deal with it as quickly as possible.

He knows that conflict represents an opportunity to reinforce the church’s values in the midst of a quarrel, and to reestablish unity. In the worst case scenario, conflict can be the needed catalyst to deal with elements that are incompatible with the organization.

Because a lot of church conflicts are based on he said/she said disagreements and poorly communicated expectations, a wise executive pastor will model clear, explicit conversation. They will champion the value of written communication to guard against many of the problems associated with mediating ambiguous conflict.


When you invest in an executive pastor, you’re not just looking for someone that can simply facilitate your goals. You want someone who can creatively deal with the inevitable obstacles that crop up. They need to think on their feet and come up with outside-the-box solutions to real-life hassles.

Cognitive flexibility is key. They should excel at looking at problems from multiple angles and finding unique weaknesses and opportunities. This means that they can’t be rigid in the way that they think—their mind is lithe and versatile.

It’s easy for us to develop ruts in our problem-solving. We instantly associate this situation with similar problems we’ve experienced and apply solutions that have worked previously. A flexible-minded leader is going to be able to consider multiple scenarios and map out the best course of action, even when it might conflict with their general proclivities.


Executive pastors are results-focused. They’re not as caught up in personal wins as they are corporate ones. So when they run into some impediment, they’re not above negotiating their way to a positive outcome.

A good executive pastor is going to shoot for a win/win when an opportunity presents itself. A great executive pastor is going to understand how decision analysis and behavioral response come together to improve the negotiation process.

They know that the key to negotiating with anyone lies in…

  • Understanding what both parties want
  • Demonstrating patience
  • Knowing where to stop
  • Seeking workable compromise
  • Reinforcing the value of their objective


When it comes to a church’s staff and volunteers, an executive pastor is in the thick of it. They need to have their finger on the pulse of the unspoken feelings and prevailing attitudes in the organization. Emotional intelligence is the ability to intuit what people are feeling and thinking.

The executive pastor with high emotional intelligence doesn’t have huge mood swings or outbursts of temper. They’re able to build the trust of an organization by being easy to talk to and confide in—and they develop a reputation for making careful, informed decisions.

Under leaders with high emotional intelligence, staff and volunteers feel safe, heard, and trusted. They’re not worried about gossip or manipulation. They know that their work, and more importantly their feelings about their work, matter to the church. Organizations led by leaders high in emotional intelligence are going to be more enjoyable and productive places for everyone.

5 Essential Considerations for Determining Your Pastor’s Salary, From Vanderblomen

Interviewing and hiring is hard enough, but putting together an effective compensation package for your church’s pastor or a church staff member can be particularly difficult. The Vanderblomen team often gets the call after a search committee has journeyed through a six-month, year-long, or even longer search process, makes the job offer, and then the whole thing falls apart over a few details in the compensation and benefits package. The idea of starting over is painful for churches after already investing so much time, energy, and resources into the search process.

So how do you even go about putting together an effective compensation package for your pastor or church staff member? At Vanderbloemen, they offer a comprehensive Compensation and Benefits Analysis to help churches know what to pay their staff, so they’ve learned a lot about how churches can put together an effective compensation package.

If you’re struggling with knowing what to pay or how to structure your benefits, here’s a beginner’s guide to get you started.


If you’re interviewing a candidate, you need to be up to date on what you can and cannot ask throughout the hiring process. While churches might be exempt or have some leeway on some corporate hiring laws, you can never be too cautious when it comes to protecting your church from liability.

Many states are enacting new laws around what you can and cannot ask about a person’s salary history in an interview. Effective January 1, 2018, it will be illegal for California employers to inquire about an interviewee’s salary history. Oregon and New York recently passed similar laws, so you need to be up to date about employment laws in your state before you start interviewing. Your pastor’s salary could apply to these regulations.


One of the biggest mistakes we see churches make regarding a pastor’s salary is putting together compensation packages based on what the last person in that position was paid when they first started. Whether you’re in a big city or a small town, do your research on the costs of living before you make an offer.

This is especially important if your church is in an expensive area and you desire your church staff members to live near the church. Too often, we see churches in higher income communities present an offer to a candidate that is well below the cost of living in the area, so the pastor has no choice but to live far outside of town. If you want your church staff members to be engaged and invested in the church community, pay them enough to live within a reasonable distance of the church so they can plant roots in the community.

Specificity is vital when assessing the costs of living in your church community. Your state’s costs of living average might vary greatly from your town or city. As a part of our Compensation and Benefits Analysis, we dial into salary comparisons specifically within the church’s zip code to help the church get an accurate understanding of the true cost of living in their area.


In ministry, ordination influences the choices you can make when putting together a compensation package. In many ministry contexts, ordination is one element that can contribute to a church staff member’s eligibility for a housing allowance. A housing allowance can be a huge benefit to include in a compensation package, but there are many eligibility requirements. Before you begin interviewing candidates, know whether or not this role is ordained and how that affects the compensation package for the role.


Your benefits offering should be considered as a part of your total package when making an offer to a candidate. Basic benefits include health care, retirement offerings, and continuing education budgets. There are also some creative benefits churches can provide, including but not limited to: Gym/fitness stipends, sabbatical offerings, and flexible spending accounts. As a part of our custom benefits analysis for churches, we make recommendations for which benefits a church should consider offering. Benefits are both an art and a science, as every church’s needs are different.


One trend we see in churches around the country is incorporating a bonus structure into the compensation package. Bonuses in ministry can sound strange or scary, but it’s simply just accountability around goal setting. So if the pastor wants to see more church members involved in small groups or an increase in community outreach, goals should be set and finances should be tied to those outcomes in some way. This will look different in every church, but consider talking with your church board or leadership team about what this might look like for your staff members.


As you’re adding to your team or making changes to your church staff’s salary structure, consider these best practices to better care for your staff members, pay your pastors well, retain your team, and help your church reach its full potential in your community.

To discover real salary ranges for a lead pastor and other key positions at your church, click here to download the free 2019 Church Staff Salary Guide today!

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