Essence Precedes Existence
One of my favorite phrases is “essence precedes existence.” This quote establishes that what something “is” must be understood before we determine what something “does.” To reverse this ordering, creates issues. For example, some pro-abortion advocates view that babies are not human beings (is) who are protected in the womb because they lack sentience or self-awareness (does). Instead of saying that a baby is a human being who has the right to life and all the protection of other humans for merely being human, humanity becomes defined by capabilities or what humans are able to “do”–sense or reason. These false assumptions (i.e., sentience or self-awareness) of babies in the womb reverses the ordering and creates immoral conclusions–killing babies in utero becomes acceptable.
Without making this post a bioethics debate, the phrase remains valid for those who fill the executive pastor role. By the way, many churches are building their organizational structures utilizing the executive pastor position. Therefore, we should first define what an executive pastor “is” before we determine what one “does.”
The Various Responsibilities of the Role
From the outset, what an executive pastor does will vary based on theological traditions and ministry contexts. These roles consist of a variety of responsibilities and skills. However, the essence of this role as a “pastor” should not change due to the sufficiency and inerrancy of God’s Word. In other words, the qualifications found in Scripture ought to mandate who should fill this role.
Executive Pastors Must Be Qualified Pastors
An executive pastor is first and foremost a pastor. I have no problem with organizational charts or ministry hierarchies. In fact, these create healthy working relationships and provide appropriate channels for accountability and oversight. My concern is that the executive pastor role has been characterized by capabilities–i.e., operations, organization, systems, and structures–over the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. This is a disheartening reality since we place the word “pastor” after the word “executive.”
My observations reveal that some men who fill these roles do so because they have business acumen, are great with budgets and spreadsheets, and/or developers of systems. While these are key competencies for an executive pastor’s role, pastoral character and the ability to teach ought to be a prerequisite for this pastoral position. Therefore, the executive pastor role fits into the category of an overseer–I use this word synonymously with pastor and elder–and those who fill them should display the character traits of a pastor.
The Need for Clarity
Executive pastors must meet the qualifications established in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. This role needs to be defined and clarified to others as a pastoral role. Yes, this role is going to be different in function from other pastors on staff, but this role should be considered ontologically equivalent to the office of overseer. While an executive pastor pastors differently (and I have another post about what an executive pastor does coming soon), their capabilities and ministry oversights are performed under the character traits and doctrinal fidelity of an elder. Executive pastors must embrace their role as a pastor before they do executive level work instead of the reverse. Again, to reverse the order (like the abortion example), can cause numerous issues within the church.
Executive Pastor Reflection Questions:
If you are an executive pastor, are you aspiring to the office of overseer (1 Tim 3:1)? Is your life and ministry in keeping with the qualifications outlined in Scripture? You are a pastor first and foremost and we ought to keep this truth engrained in our minds as we do our jobs. My encouragement is for you to embrace the pastoral side of your responsibilities and allow those character traits to impact how you operate in your position.
Lead Pastor Reflection Questions:
Are you a lead pastor or elder who has oversight over personnel? Does that person who sits in the executive pastor chair exhibit or is growing in the qualifications outlined in Scripture? Have you embraced how the Bible defines what a pastor is before reviewing the proficiency of what your executive pastor does?
In summary, we should begin to see this role as a pastoral role with a different function for the longevity, vitality, and vibrancy of the church. I am encouraged that more senior leaders are beginning to view this role from the sufficiency of Scripture and its authority. In fact, I was having lunch with a prominent pastor a few years ago, and he encouraged me to consider taking on a role like this because, to use his own words, “We need more pastors who can do executive work not executives who are trying to do pastoral work.” May we begin to shift the paradigms of executive pastors towards pastoral qualifications (what a pastor “is”) rather than define or fill the role by capabilities (what an executive pastor “does”).
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