Christian Living

Spiritual Life

Who's Running the Church?

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Been to church lately? You’ve probably heard every sermon for the past month of Sundays. So when asked who’s running the church, the answer is obvious, right?

The pastor.

Yes, but is it the pastor in the pulpit? The minister delivering those enriching sermons might not be the one controlling daily church operations. But churches with executive pastors can point to the cleric in charge.

"When it comes to building the church, it is not about the part I play, but what I am a part of, that is important.”
The ranks of executive pastors seem to be growing. The National Council of Churches counted over 400,000 Protestant ministers in 1998, the latest figure available. No hard statistics cite a number of ministers managing church business as well as spirituality, but executive pastors around the country say their number is increasing.

“It’s definitely a growing trend,” said Mark Stephens, executive pastor at Seneca Creek Community Church, Germantown, Md. “You can see it just by talking to other churches.”

Stephens says he loves his work. Pastor of evangelism at another church before his call to Seneca Creek, Stephens was also a high school wrestling coach. That, he says, showed that he could develop a team. Seneca Creek has seven full-time staff members and five part-timers to serve the 11-year-old church and its 800-900 congregants each Sunday morning.

“A lot of what I do is meet with our staff, see how they’re doing, see if they can be more successful than they are,” Stephens said. Whether through reorganization, new ideas or prayer, Stephens’ job is to help them improve.

The role of executive pastor has grown the past 10 years, Stephens added. “A lot of senior pastors have skill sets to lead, preach and cast a vision,” he said. “They don’t have the skill set, or the desire, to manage.” As a church grows, staff members are added, but teamwork suffers and everyone winds up working as independent contractors.

But executive pastors and senior pastors, the traditional congregational leaders, must be able to trust each other.

“It would be so easy to allow an Absalom spirit to creep in,” said Rod Loy, executive pastor at First Assembly of God in N. Little Rock, Ark. “Our church has a pretty good handle on it because we’re open about my role.”

Loy is equal parts business manager and ministry leader for the church with Sunday attendance of nearly 1,600. He splits his job into five major roles: leading the pastoral team, planning and producing worship service, supervising major projects, organizing church business, and preaching and teaching.

Combined ministry and business duties are necessary because First Assembly Senior Pastor Alton Garrison often travels with John Maxwell’s Injoy Group. The emphasis on preaching might be unique among executive pastors.

Or, it might be more common. The nature of such a young position in church ministry is that it’s molded to fit individual situations. Steven Sorensen, executive pastor at Desert Springs Church in Bermuda Dunes, Calif., is watching his role in the 5-year-old church evolve.

“I didn’t even know what the definition was when I got the job,” Sorensen said. “Business manager is part of what I do. I’m kind of a mix right now, a mongrel, you could say. I’m part associate and executive pastors, and I’m doing business manager by necessity.”

Sorensen also helps orchestrate daily functions such as small groups, children’s and prayer ministries, “and any other stuff that falls through the cracks,” he said. His job isn’t the “classic” executive pastor position, which, in larger churches, might be supervising a business manager and associate pastors. What an executive pastor might do in any given church comes down to individual gifts.

Tony Fajkus, executive pastor at Covenant Life Fellowship Church in Kirksville, Mo., agrees, reminding all ministers of the importance of listening to the call. “I spend about 20 percent of my time preaching,” Fajkus said. “A lot of the time I spend with staff is preaching on a smaller scale. When it comes to building the church, it is not about the part I play, but what I am a part of, that is important.”

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