Doing More Ministry with Less—While Still Keeping Boundaries
Knowing limits is critical to leading well in post-recession ministry.

Editor's Note: David Fletcher is the founder of, a 10-year-old network providing articles, training, resources, and community to executive pastors nationwide. Christianity Today's Church Law & Tax Group is a co-sponsor of XPastor's XP-Seminar this February in Dallas. Matt Branaugh recently caught up with David to get his thoughts on current developments affecting executive pastors and the theme for the next XP-Seminar.

Q: We recently released the findings of our compensation and benefits survey with more than 3,000 churches nationwide. One of the highlights from the data was a 7.1-percent increase in pay and benefits for senior pastors. Are you hearing similar trends from your network of executive pastors?

A: I'm pleased, and I'm not surprised. The American church is a little skinnier right now, so we're compensating fewer people, but we're compensating them a little better because we don't have as large of staffs as we've previously had.

Q: What about other visible roles within the church–executive pastors, worship pastors, youth pastors, and so on?

A: My experience is that the rising tide raises all ships. The increases for others, while statistically they may be different–I don't know–the general practice is that the other positions will go up some corresponding level. The church and the economy are a little healthier right now. Health insurance costs weren't quite the same as two years ago, when we didn't know what would happen with the Affordable Care Act.

Q: We continue to hear from church leaders who remain uncertain about health insurance coverage–that is, the ones with large enough staffs to be potentially required to offer coverage or else face fines. But you're seeing some easing of those uncertainties?

A: At (First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California), the jitters are going down. When the Affordable Care Act first came about, there were a lot of questions. It was long, it was complicated, and we didn't know whether it would even get enacted. Then, as deadlines have passed, we've seen that, yes, it will be enacted.

To date, it hasn't been the end of the world. That's not to say it won't be down the road. But right now, it looks affordable, it looks doable, and people are beginning to enact it. With confidence that it now will happen, we can look at premiums with a saner perspective.

Q: Some expected giving to stagnate or decline for local churches in 2013. As we head toward the end of the year, what's your sense of what's happened among larger churches?

A: The conversations I've had with many executive pastors around the country rarely indicate financial insecurity or anything but stability and modest increase. They're very positive–they're not overflowing, it's not a skyrocket, it's not red-hot–but it's a generally positive atmosphere toward giving, the economy, and church health. There's a lot of reinventing going around, not because of declining offerings, but because many are driven toward a better use of resources, of how we do things.

Q: Is doing more ministry with less paid staff part of the new paradigm we saw develop out of the Great Recession, which you referenced a moment ago?

A: I think so. We saw many staffs across the board grow in size the past 10 to 15 years. We had the money, so we did it. It strangled the average member from doing more ministry because a staff member was there to do it. We're turning toward a wonderful biblical model found in Ephesians 4 and 1 Peter 4. People of the church are hearing the call to real ministry, not to just volunteer to advance the pastor's goals, but to lead real ministry. That's the best thing that's come from the recession.

Q: Recent XP-Seminar themes have addressed matters related to the economy and finances. For the next one in February, though, your theme is "Boundaries: Know Your Limits." Why?

A: Executive pastors and senior pastors both deal with this issue. Yes, there are boundaries set through job descriptions, but even that has changed. And if you don't set personal limits, the average executive pastor will work twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. With the economy, if you slimmed down and released more ministry back to the people of the church, there could be a propensity for the executive pastor to do more and more as they try to oversee all of it.

It's time to address this–knowing our limits of what we can do, of what we should do, and to put up the boundary markers we need to treat others well and ourselves well.

These are the new rules with the new paradigm. It's the basics. What can I do? What should I do? What do I have to say no to? In the old paradigm, the boundaries were in place more or less. In the new paradigm, though, what does it mean to empower a volunteer to completely lead a men's ministry? Some people in the church still want a men's pastor, while others are already ready to run it. So how do you let go of this ministry, delegate it, empower those lay leaders, and still have a connection point back to the church staff–and how do you do this well and not get sucked into every meeting for the men's ministry?

I recently delegated my church's Financial Peace University training to two really sharp guys in the church. One is a city manager, another is an executive vice president for an organization. One said he'd send out the invites. The other said he'd run the agenda, and then he asked me if I should see the agenda first. "No, I delegated it to you," I told him. "You're a competent leader. Run with it. If you fail, we'll celebrate a glorious failure."

Q: John Townsend, the XP-Seminar's featured guest, co-authored Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life, with Henry Cloud. What have you asked John to specifically address on this topic that may be unique to executive pastors?

A: John coaches many executive leaders, so he has good insights into the lives of executive leaders.

(Executive leadership) is a different type of leadership because you're making command decisions–and I say "command" in the military sense of the word. You may put people in harm's way as you delegate them work and release them to do it. "Matt, I need you to have a difficult conversation with this individual." By assigning this to you, I'm sending you to the front lines.

We're also training people to engage in spiritual battle, and if we don't give those people the right tools, they won't be well-equipped for the spiritual battles they're about to engage.

Bringing in someone who coaches executive leaders, leaders who have to make these command decisions, helps them recognize that, yes, they're making decisions that put people into harm's way. But they're also equipping them. It's a sweet-and-sour type of thing. I wanted to bring in someone who could speak to this dynamic, and John, with his experience with executive leaders, will do that well.

Q: Last question. What one church administrative matter is most top of mind right now among executive pastors?

A: Thinking of the e-mails I've received, the denominational network I'm a part of, and the XPastor network, some of the most common questions have to do with budget: ratios of staff to budget. Many are trying to get hold of what the right size of the organization looks like.

These are post-recession questions. I have the feeling–an intuitive hunch–that many are wondering whether they should be hiring more staff because there's always a pressure in a church to do that. Did they slim down too much? It's the degree of getting used to the new normal, the new paradigm. To do that, they're asking questions to find out what it looks like elsewhere.

It's a very competitive economy. I spoke with a guy today who is looking at an opening at a church. It's hard to get a position. It's a 100- or 200-to-1 ratio for an opening in terms of applicants for the opening. It's always been tough, but it's even sharper right now.

The XP-Seminar on February 19 and February 20 in Dallas also includes a workshop on copyright law co-presented by attorney David Middlebrook, an Editorial Advisor for Christianity Today's Church Law & Tax Group. Register for the XP-Seminar before February 10, when the rate increases.

This content is designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is published with the understanding that the publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. "From a Declaration of Principles jointly adopted by a Committee of the American Bar Association and a Committee of Publishers and Associations."

Due to the nature of the U.S. legal system, laws and regulations constantly change. The editors encourage readers to carefully search the site for all content related to the topic of interest and consult qualified local counsel to verify the status of specific statutes, laws, regulations, and precedential court holdings.

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