Executive pastor conference preaches head and heart in the midst of evil outside—and sometimes inside—the church.
As far as conference themes go, David Fletcher thought the one he selected for last year’s XP-Seminar—a gathering of about 200 executive pastors from across the country—was a real winner.
“Business brain plus pastoral heart equals executive pastor” (or, playfully speaking mathematically, BB + PH = XP).
Fletcher based the formula on his four decades of ministry experience, nearly half of which came through executive pastor roles at large churches in Ohio, Texas, and California. The increasing complexities confronting churches led Fletcher to conclude the theme was the right message at that moment. His conversations with other executive pastors, ongoing since the founding of his XPastor.org website in 2003, reinforced his planned direction.
Yet some feedback from those outside the church world—most notably marketing-related contacts he’s made over the years—was negative. Some told him the theme was dull and wouldn’t sell well. They were wrong.
“We sold out,” he said of last year’s conference in a recent phone interview. “It seemed to resonate.”
He expects the same again when XP-Seminar, now in its 15th year, takes place on February 20 and February 21 in Dallas, Texas.
This year’s theme is again driven by what Fletcher senses executive pastors need to hear at this moment in time: “In the darkness, a light shines for the godly.” It summarizes Psalm 112, where the writer describes a faithful believer as one who respects the Lord and keeps his commandments—one who acts with mercy, compassion, generosity, and honesty and does not fear bad news.
Fletcher suspects this theme also will resonate with executive pastors. Daily media headlines only reinforce the perception that darkness surrounds—and sometimes penetrates—churches, Fletcher said, whether it be an act of violence, a sexual abuse allegation, or an accusation of embezzlement. The tension between light and darkness has increasingly pushed into other aspects of church leadership, too, whether it’s interactions between staff members and volunteers, the setting of compensation packages, or the creation of annual budgets.
“That’s the role of the executive pastor—how to treat staff and congregants with mercy and compassion maybe when they’ve messed up,” he said. “How to be just with salaries and budgets. How to be generous, and how to be honest and tell people the truth, even when it doesn’t always feel good.”
Those are topics Fletcher has spent more time studying this past year as he shifted away from full-time church ministry and into full-time work with XPastor.org. He wrote a book on compensation-setting, using a hypothetical case study, and hosted a series of regional workshops on the subject. He’s now writing a new book, this time building a hypothetical case study involving a sexual predator discovered to be on a church staff. Researching the latter, “the information flowed all too readily,” Fletcher said. Whether a big city or rural area, a wealthy community or a poor one, “the stories are just in overflow. It tells me we need to be alert, and realize this could and will happen in our community, and we need to take proactive steps to mitigate it.”
Hence a 2019 lineup at XP-Seminar that includes workshops on church security and sexual harassment and misconduct prevention, as well as financial controls. Then there is the keynote message from Pastor Carey Nieuwhof on spiritual leadership.
The combination of topics sounds almost like a reprisal of the 2018 conference’s theme, blending business brain with pastoral heart—but perhaps going one step further. There’s an added sense of discerning what God is doing in the midst of difficulty. Fletcher picked up on that added dimension in his own personal reading this past year, which included Elie Wiesel’s Night and Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning—two very different perspectives from men who both survived concentration camps during World War II.
When confronted with evil, humanity must decide whether God is absent or is instead at work in the midst of it, Fletcher said. Wiesel chose the former. Frankl argued the latter. Church leaders must recognize they are wrestling with the same decision.
“It’s a rough world. It comes back to having a central faith about who Jesus is,” Fletcher said. As church leaders confronted with administrative and spiritual challenges, the goal is to “continue to believe and trust that Jesus is working all of this out, even though I don’t understand it all.”
And, along with that trust, there needs to be a balancing of head and heart. “We better have our business brain functioning really well, and we can never lose our pastoral heart,” Fletcher said. “It’s a dynamic mix of both of those things.”
Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax is again a media sponsor for the XP-Seminar. Only a limited number of spots remain available. Learn more and register here.
Matthew Branaugh is editor of Christianity Today’s Church Law & Tax.