The Rise and Role of the Executive Pastor Position, Part 1

The rising prominence of this position paralleling the rise of the large church.

For centuries the pastor was the leader of all aspects of the congregation; teaching, leading, visitation, missions, etc. Small church sizes made this possible but with the rise of the large and (eventually) mega-churches this model breaks down. In this article, we will look at the relatively recent role of the executive pastor.

Jerry Johnson claims the origin of the title "executive pastor" dates to the year 1977 and pastor Ray Ortlund of the Lake Avenue Congregational Church. Johnson had previously served in that type of role at Rolling Hills Covenant Church, though his official title was a student pastor. While at Lake Avenue, Ortlund changed Johnson's title to the executive pastor as he recognized that title fit what Johnson did.[1]

According to John Hawco, the first text to use the title executive pastor was a book on church staff/administration by Kenneth Kilinski and Jerry Wofford in 1973.[2] Hawco wrote, "Their work may have been one of the earliest to use the title 'executive pastor' in any church staff/administrative text. In charting staff acquisitions, they suggest adding a full-time associate (usually a pastoral generalist) in a congregation of approximately 900 parishioners."[3]

It's clear that between the 1970s and 2000 the position of executive pastor rose to prominence, paralleling the rise of the megachurch. The timing and rate of this diffusion of the executive pastor role was confirmed in our recent Wheaton College Billy Graham Center survey, revealing that nearly three-quarters (75%) of American Protestant churches of 750 members or more had an EP. Of these churches, 80% created the position in 1992 or later, with the largest (38%) coming from 1992 to 2006.

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