8 Characteristics of Healthy Lead and Executive Pastor Relationships

The REAL: Growth 2016 conference featured some of the most experienced executive church leaders. They discussed their successes, failures, and lessons in leading America’s fastest-growing churches. One discussion featured MOSAIC senior pastor Erwin Raphael McManus and executive pastor Lawrence Fudge. They shared wisdom about their working relationship in a session entitled Strengthening Your XP and Lead Pastor Relationship.

Here are eight nuggets from the discussion that provide insight into the MOSAIC pastoral team. You can put these ideas to work in your own church.

For the Senior Pastor…

1. Look for the people other people trust

When talking about leadership, Pastor McManus repeatedly stresses that he wasn’t hiring for positional leadership. Lawrence Fudge was promoted because McManus noticed the other members of the staff trusted him. Pastor McManus was simply acting on the credibility that Fudge had already earned among the congregation.

This is a healthy way to look at pastoral relationships. You’re not just hiring a person’s skills: You’re looking for the loyalty that people give them.

2. Test their mettle

MOSAIC has a precedent that everyone must serve as a volunteer before they become staff. Fudge volunteered for four years (the first group he led cleaned bathrooms) before stepping into a paid leadership position.

There are certain teachable elements of leadership, and there are intrinsic ones as well. The argument between nature or nurture is false where leadership is concerned—there are elements of both. Service-oriented volunteers who work their way into positions of leadership give churches the luxury of hiring people who demonstrate a willingness and drive to go above and beyond the call of duty.

3. Teach leaders how to think

In his early experience at MOSAIC, Fudge was invited into critical and strategic conversations that he felt were above his position. But McManus went out of his way to ask for Fudge’s ideas, solutions, and insights.

As Fudge points out, the pastor wasn’t asking because he didn’t know the answers to the questions. He wanted to train Fudge to think about things at a higher level. It was important for Fudge to learn to ask the right questions.

Leaders create new leaders by teaching them how to think, not just what to think. You lead by instilling your values and principles into your leaders through relationship and proximity.

4. Don’t get hung up on titles

More than once in the session McManus and Fudge both talk about how little MOSAIC invests in positional leadership. While they do have specific roles, they have a fairly flat organizational chart. In fact, McManus states he calls himself an executive pastor only because it’s easier for people on the outside the understand the role.

Pastors need to be careful with titles because reliance on them can breed some really ugly issues in church leadership. Once people are concerned about position, they start thinking about who is above or below them. It’s easy to dismiss important work that falls beyond one’s title.

5. Relish different perspectives

Both McManus and Fudge talk about their frequent differences of opinion. But while they might often disagree about strategy, they’re always on the same page regarding their mission. McManus acknowledges that if they were to agree about everything, Fudge wouldn’t be a necessary component of the team.

No real leader wants to be surrounded by people who agree with everything he thinks. Others who can stretch you and help you see beyond your perspective are valuable parts of a team dynamic.

For the Executive Pastor…

6. Defer to your senior pastor

The very first question asked in this session isn’t directed to any particular individual. Fudge immediately turns to McManus, who promptly encourages Fudge to speak first. The first thing Fudge says is, “When the senior pastor’s on the platform, you always defer first to see where it goes.” While a joke, you can tell that this is the kind of relationship these two have.

The position of executive pastor is a supportive one. Habitually aligning yourself with the senior pastor is one of the most important things an executive can do to ensure he is delivering in his role.

7. Discover what drives your senior pastor

When asked about how they handle disagreements, Fudge says, “I think that the unique dynamic in our relationship is that I’ve grown to understand the things that drive Erwin and his leadership forward…”

Fudge goes on to talk about specific things that motivate McManus’s leadership; however, I was so taken by Fudge’s awareness. Knowing what drives and motivates our senior pastors can help us negotiate the difficult areas when we disagree.

When we understand the desires that drive our pastor’s strategy, we can help facilitate it better. We can come up with thoughtful compromises when we don’t agree.

8. Recognize God’s appointed leadership

Fudge points out that even when they disagree, he is well aware that God has appointed McManus as the pastor of MOSAIC.

Church leadership isn’t the same as business leadership. Even when an executive pastor doesn’t agree with his senior pastor, he must recognize that his pastor is in an appointed position. It does no one any good to try and overstep your position or build consensus for your point of view.

Watch the Sessions

You can watch all the REAL: Growth 2016 conference sessions online. There are seven powerful sessions in total. Learn how to achieve excellence as an executive pastor, or how to exceed your ministry goals in a changing culture.

Leave us a message and tell us about your favorite sessions and segments!

Church giving is also an important conversation that senior and executive pastors need to have often. Download your own free copy of The Definitive Guide to Mobile Giving and discuss it with your church leaders!

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