The Second Chair

The joys and challenges of being executive pastor: an interview with Karen Miller

Because Gifted for Leadership serves women in all kinds of church leadership roles, we have a great opportunity to learn from each other. I thought it would be helpful to occasionally highlight a leadership role and learn more about what it involves—plus receive some leadership lessons from a gifted woman.

Enjoy this interview with Executive Pastor Karen Miller.

What does your role as executive pastor look like?

As executive pastor, my first role is to be second chair to the senior pastor, to be sure he is freed to focus on his greatest gifts—leadership, vision, prayer, and preaching. I make sure that he has the ability to focus. And at times I serve as a brainstorming partner for him. So we partner in ministry.

My other major role is to oversee and manage all the staff. I may not be the direct supervisor for everyone, but I hire and fire and do all the personnel tasks as well as give weekly supervision. I help with the growth of the staff and the growth of the church. My goal is really to make sure the staff is healthy.

The other role is to oversee, because those pastors and staff people oversee ministries, so I'm ultimately over the ministries if a problem arises. So I tell people I problem-solve all day with my staff and the problems get to my desk.

What are some of your most memorable experiences in this role?

I love to lead leaders, so a day when I come home really energized is when I've sat with my senior leaders. I just love pouring into their growth and stretching them. A couple of weeks ago, we had a pastoral staff retreat, and the first day I had all the people who have pastoral roles with us. I just loved getting them to connect, feeding into them, and having the senior pastor connect with them. The next day we had six senior pastoral staff, and in the morning we started to worship together and then the Holy Spirit just came—and I threw the agenda away. I love to work with the Holy Spirit. I have my agenda. I have my direction set, but I'm always prepared to put it aside.

I enjoy partnering with my senior pastor. He's a great leader. Our gifts complement one another, so I love doing that. I also love continuing to learn how to be a good second chair. Being a second chair leader is a unique role that a lot of people don't understand, so I've found a lot of help. Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson's book Leading from the Second Chair has been really helpful.

What are some of the main challenges you regularly face as executive pastor?

One is the amount of information I carry that can't be shared other places because it's highly confidential. I used to hate the saying that leadership can be lonely. I always wanted to prove it wrong, but my life is proving it right. I struggle with that because I am relational and I love friendships. But it's really difficult to be friends with people in the church. When you work, sometimes your frustration is with your boss, and that's what you talk about when you get together with girlfriends. So I've made a commitment to my senior pastor that there are only two people I talk about him with, if I'm frustrated: my husband and my spiritual director. Sometimes people are like, "Wow, you seem really upset." Well, I could be working through a major struggle with my pastor, I can't share that. So the loneliness is hard, figuring out how to navigate friendships.

November 05, 2012 at 4:31 PM

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