Tuesday, May 22, 2012

An Executive Pastor Position: The Kiss of Death

A graphical depiction of the job description for the Executive Pastor.

We were working on the “job description” for our Associate Pastor at church (ugh), and somebody dredged up the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod document titled “LCMS Job Descriptions: Clergy” on the LCMS website. Oddly, while there’s a job description for Pastor, Executive Pastor, Senior Pastor, Senior Pastor (2), Pastor of Visitation, Pastor of Education Ministries, Pastor—Adult Education and Mission, Pastor of Membership Development, Pastor of Evangelism, Pastor of Mission Outreach, Pastor of Adult Ministries (Discipleship), Pastor of Family Ministries, Pastor of College Ministries, Pastor of Single Adults, and Pastor of Senior Adults, there’s no Associate Pastor job description. There are a couple of other notable things about these job descriptions.

Every pastor’s position should first include the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments, which isn’t the way the job descriptions are set up. This should be at the forefront of every position, because this is what it is to be a pastor. Everything else in the Right Hand Kingdom flows from these twin descriptors. Just because you happen to be the Pastor of Membership Development doesn’t mean that you skip the sacramental basis of our theology. The closest most of these positions come is a boilerplate duty of “Assist in worship and preach at the request of the pastor” somewhere down the list.

The Senior Pastor job description, overall, is well written, at least as far as the primary duties and responsibilities are concerned. However, additionally, the Senior Pastor
  1. Provides vision for the congregation and all its entities as it seeks to provide dynamic ministry for the members of the congregation, the community and the world.
  2. Supervises all staff members, called and contracted, in their work and ministry so that there is unity and consensus centered on the vision for the congregation.
  3. Works with the congregation officers to build unity around a common vision for the congregation….
Apparently, we sometimes forget that the Holy Spirit comes through the Word and Sacraments, not through the Senior Pastor’s vision and dynamism. Vision isn’t a new means of grace. And I don’t know about you, but personally, I’d prefer that unity and consensus be built around doctrine, not the Senior Pastor’s vision. CAUTION: Three sarcastic sentences coming up. Since the Senior Pastor is the only pastor required to have vision, perhaps this is why they generally get paid more. It takes years of experience to develop vision, and certainly couldn’t be expected from some noob straight out of seminary – after all, this is a skill that comes with practice, not a spiritual gift. Too bad for you congregations out there who only have a younger sole pastor.

And now we come to the kiss of death, the position that no confessional pastor wants – the Executive Pastor position. This is the spot in the lineup that, if followed to the prescriptive letter, equates to the Chief Pilot position in an airline. Like the Chief Pilot, who sits behind a desk and pushes paper all day long rather than fly airplanes, the Executive Pastor is tasked with building “solid staff relations” and “taking primary responsibility for the preparation and policy management” rather than retaining and forgiving sins. Of the nineteen primary duties and responsibilities of the Executive Pastor, the only one that would absolutely require a pastor is number 15, where “preach at the request of the senior pastor” certainly sounds like it ought to demand a pastor, and even there, I’ve seen elders totally butcher an “emergency” sermon of their own making a time or two.

If your church is large enough to require an “Executive Pastor,” it’s also large enough to hire a business manager. Maybe putting a person whose real call is to be an undershepherd of Christ into a position that primarily utilizes the skills of someone whose station is in the Kingdom of the Left isn’t the best way to utilize a called and ordained servant of the Word in a congregation.

Considering the broad sweep of these job descriptions, it seems like we’ve lost our ability to speak and think in churchly terms and categories. In many ways, it sounds like these things came off the drawing board of Human Resources, not the papyrus of Holy Scripture. When, like the Specific Ministry Pastor program, we begin to chop pastors up into little program pieces, “you do this and he does that,” we lose sight of the bigger picture of Augsburg Confession Article V,
1 So that we may obtain this faith, the ministry of teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. 2 Through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Spirit is given [John 20:22]. He works faith, when and where it pleases God [John 3:8], in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake. 3 This happens not through our own merits, but for Christ’s sake.
4 Our churches condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that through their own preparations and works the Holy Spirit comes to them without the external Word.
It’s Time to crack open that Book of Concord.

HT: Wordle

graphic credit: UNLV Libraries Digital Collections