Want to know how to be the best executive pastor there is? This article may not be for you. Want to avoid some of the stupid tax I've paid over the years that can impact your ministry, your team, and your family? Stick around.
This quickest way to deplete any joy, excitement, or spark for your role as an executive pastor (XP) is to try to do it all. I get it, your effort to take on tasks is well-intended to keep others focused and show that you're a leader willing to roll-up his/her sleeves to get stuff done. The problem is that many of us continue to take on tasks "for the team" and find that we spend entirely too much time out of our wheelhouse where we lack passion or proficiency. That's when we begin to poorly steward our abilities and the resources of the church. Want to know how I know? Just ask anyone who served on the team for my first six months as an XP. I checked the mail, checked on families for kid's ministry, blew off the parking lot, and moved lots and lots of furniture. Am I above that? Absolutely not. Were those five hours of my week the best use of my time and the investment the church made in me as the XP? Not even close.
Consider an inventory of the tasks you currently do using the Freedom Compass by Michael Hyatt. They do a great job of helping you differentiate between responsibilities you are passionate and proficient about versus anything else. I still refer back to it every few months.
We can't afford an assistant. People will think I don't do anything. Won't it look like I manage my time poorly?
Whatever you think is a good reason not to get an assistant, get it out of your head. In fact, a highly-skilled assistant to an executive pastor might create more efficiency than any other hire on the team. Think about it - you are likely a process-minded, results-driven machine (Sorry for the significant stereotype). What could leverage your ability to make your team more effective and efficient so they can focus more time on ministry than to let you do what you were hired to do? A good gatekeeper knows what you need before you know it, knows how many appointments you should have in a given day, takes on tasks that you don't need to manage, and keeps you headed in the right direction. I have often argued that an XP's assistant, by whatever name you may call him or her, is often underpaid, under acknowledged, and should often be seen as the linchpin to the execution of operations to the entire organization. How can I make such a bold statement? Tammy. Tammy was my right arm within six months of me beginning my role as an XP. And you know what? I hired her six months too late. I could brag on Tammy for years to come but just suffice it to say, if I ever did anything well, it's because she was a part of it.
Imagine being at dinner with your family or at your son's swim meet. You're soaking up these moments because you know they won't last. All of a sudden you hear your phone chime and you feel your watch buzz. Unless you have superhuman disciplinary skills (none of us do), you look down at your watch (or phone or whatever) to see someone needs something. Now, even if it's not your responsibility and someone has it covered, you can't get it out of your mind. You can't stop thinking about it until someone has replied, a meeting has been set, or someone has put a bucket under that leaking ceiling tile. Now you've been distracted from whatever you were doing with others for five minutes...or five hours. I know, you've been physically present, but we both know it's hard to stop your mind from going back to that issue. You can't stop because you care and because you care, you need to put safeguards around your personal life to minimize those distractions.
Still want to own a smart watch or smart phone and not struggle as an XP, a parent, spouse, or friend? Turn off notifications at a certain time of the day. Want to have email on your phone? Fine. Just set it to only upload during office hours. "But I need to check in at least once because of_____" .... that's perfectly ok. Just commit to your family that you'll check your messages at 8pm each evening or whatever time that works and let your team adopt that behavior too. Need your church to be able to reach someone? Great. Rotate an on-call schedule. No one can be available all the time or you'll never be truly available to anyone.
Sometimes, the XP gig is hard. You carry the weight of the world on your shoulders when you shouldn't. You have the hard conversations that impact others. You know your pastor is retiring six months before an announcement will be made, your church member is confronting a cheating spouse tonight, or you're going to have to restructure your staff and eliminate two positions. It's a lot to process. Take it from me - your spouse/roommate/friend needs to know where you are physically and emotionally, but you don't need to detail dump on them. They don't need to take on the role of a confidential mentor.
"But I don't have a safe place that isn't within my own congregation or town?"
"No one will understand what I'm going through."
Find a fellow XP outside of your area and develop a relationship. In fact, consider jumping into Leading Smart's Executive Pastor Coaching Network. It's a group of like-minded XP's wanting practical support and peer-to-peer connection. I'm a part of that community and it gives me access to 50+ XP's who are part of this tribe who get it!!!
Your spouse/roommate/friend is your partner. Don't pretend everything is ok when it isn't and don't forget to celebrate when things go well. Just don't let them be your primary sounding board. Let them be your spouse/roommate/friend. The church is their church too... not just a place of employment. I'm not suggesting to pretend the church doesn't have problems. I simply think they don't need to hear all the details.
It feels awesome to be needed. I eat it up like all-you-can-eat sushi from Nagoya. So when people had an idea at the church but they needed some data to give it context, I was their guy. When they needed to know when something is scheduled on the calendar, I was their guy. When someone didn't understand why we made this decision or that decision, I was their guy. And when they "needed" to complain about the volume of the music, the temperature of the room, or the stories we covered in our kid's ministry, yes...I was still their guy.
Look, I know that with great power comes great responsibility. If that's what we call what XP's have, then XP's have the ability to protect their highest and best use (see #1). Don't use your desire to be needed become the catalyst for the catch-all for your church, your small-group, or your staff.
The better at boundaries you can be, the healthier your relationships and ministry will be. And don't take boundaries as an excuse to checkout, be lazy, pass the buck, or put up walls. It's a learned skill that we all probably need more practice in exercising as well as modeling to the teams, family, and friends we love. So start making intentional steps to create a healthier environment. Those you love and those who love you will thank you.