Tag Archives: executive pastor

A Leader & A Woman

Being a woman ain’t easy.  Being a woman in church leadership, well that is a whole other thing.  However, this is no pity-post.  Because while there are significant challenges to talk about, there are also significant opportunities to be seized, as well.

Here are some thoughts on both the problems & possibilities I encounter most regularly being a woman in ministry, and specifically in leading leaders:

Leading Other Women

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” -Madeleine Albright

Challenge:  This one is probably really shocking to everyone.  At first pass, we’d all think that women would be the biggest supporters and fans of other women in leadership.  Sisterhood and all that.  But we can get awfully territorial and jealous and insecure and threatened by each other at times, unfortunately.  And even in the best of cases where there is no suspicion or mistrust, there are relational sensitivities that plague us, especially in the face of conflict.

Opportunity:  Women can get a lot of stuff done once we are on the same page and committed to the cause/person.  It can just take some work to overcome initial roadblocks (see Challenge A above).  Women can be very protective of each other and care for each other really well.  Because many of us do invest emotionally and relationally in everything that we do, there is an all-in mentality that makes working with women really fulfilling and highly productive.

Facing condescension  and hypocrisy with grace

Challenge:  I work in one of the most egalitarian and supportive church environments a woman could hope for.  Still, not everyone in ministry and if I’m honest with myself, probably not everyone within my own church, has acclimated to women in church leadership.

My favorite is when my Pastor introduces me to other ministry leaders outside of our community.  They are all very kind and warm when he starts with “This is Tracey Rouse, my Executive” and then he finishes his sentence, “Pastor” which they immediately translate into “Assistant” until they realize those 2 words don’t sound anything alike and that they heard him incorrectly.  They quickly try to either mask their shock that a woman would have the second highest seat of authority in our church and play it cool OR they play up their shock in an attempt to provide some levity in the awkwardness.  Sometimes there is a bit of “girl power” rhetoric like women’s suffrage happened 5 minutes ago and we are so radical.

Pastor Jonathan: “This is Tracey Rouse, my executive pastor.”

Traveling evangelist:  “Executive PASTOR?! WHAT?! You go, girl!”

Me to myself:  “If he tries to fist bump me I might punch him.”

___

Me:  “Hi, I’m Tracey Rouse.  I’m the Executive Pastor here at Renovatus.”

Visitor: “So, you and your husband do that?”

Me:  “Nope, just me.  He stays home with our 2 daughters and also runs a theater & film company.”

Visitor:  Blank stare.  Long pause.   Does not compute.  “Oh… that’s great!”

___

Opportunity:  What an enormous exercise of grace & faith!  Grace for the ignorant- some people have honestly never conceived of women in pastoral roles, let alone met & worked or cared for one!  Grace for the close-minded- I wasn’t the one to close it and am not responsible for opening it either.  Grace to believe the best in others.  Sure, sometimes the condescension is overt.  But most of the time it is unintentional.  People don’t usually recognize their own preconceived notions of gender roles and while women in leadership isn’t novel or new for the corporate world, it is for the Church, which is typically a few decades behind the broader culture anyway.  There will always be generational hurdles to jump, theological minefields to cross, and social expectations to handle.  In those times, I want my response, both in my heart and in my speech, to be full of grace.

I walk by faith in my calling because I know and trust the One who called me.  I am convinced that the Lord alone is my Justifier.  Each time I face condescension I have a choice to make.  I can either attempt to defend and explain myself OR I can trust that the Lord alone qualifies me and let that be more than sufficient.  I will believe that I am included in the “we” referenced in 2 Peter 1.3 and that I have been granted all things that pertain to life and godliness by my gracious Father.  What else do I need?

On a bad day, all of these things, all of these scenarios can make me see red.  They can make me question my gifts and vocation.  Luckily, those days usually happen in the company of the most amazing staff who encourage me and follow me faithfully.  On good days those stories become good laughs.  I wrote a post a few months ago called Reluctant Pioneer.  It’s my actual life title.  Some people get to end their signatures with things like MD or PhD or Esq or DMin.  I’m going to try out Tracey M. Rouse, RP.  I’m not the first woman to be in church leadership and there are godly women in ministry facing far more daunting circumstances than anything that I will ever come across.  But nevertheless, it still feels like pioneering out here and the wild west doesn’t know quite what to do with us “little ladies” who are leading with strength and conviction.

A leader and a woman.  It’s intimidating, I know.  But you’ll see soon enough that the proof is in our work and our worth is not found in the hands of man, but in the face of Christ.

Amen?

 


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Executing

The other day I determined that the biggest challenge for me about being an Executive Pastor (or any leader really, I suppose) is in the executing.  It’s much easier to talk about executing; to sketch out gameplans and org charts about what the execution would look like; to troubleshoot said hypothetical execution; to mull it over, consider all options & angles.

But alas, at some point a trigger has to be pulled.  At some point the calculated risk becomes actual risk.

The hard part is in the execution, is in making the call, in owning the call you’ve made–come what may.  And you’ll make some bad ones.  And you’ll have to take responsibility for those.  The good ones won’t move you nearly as far up the field as you hoped and it won’t be nearly long enough before something or someone else needs you to make another important decision you feel underqualified or unprepared to make.  Such is the nature of leadership.

Analysis is incredibly important.  Thoughtful decision making is an art.  I can roll it around in my brain for weeks and come to a conclusion too late.  A good decision that is no longer needed or valuable or relevant is pointless.

I don’t like being wrong.  I strongly dislike learning lessons the hard way.  I LOATHE preventable mistakes.  You can see how difficult this is when your job is making decisions- big and small- every day.

“What if that flops?”

“What if there’s a better way I’m not thinking of?”

“What if people don’t respond the way I think they will?”

Some days the “what ifs” get the best of me and paralysis and worry sets in.  Other days I muster up the courage I need to lead with some semblance of strength & confidence.

Those days I can usually find some courage in a few faithful places:

My pastor (and boss)

…who believes in me enough to entrust this really big, important job to really little, often indecisive me.  I trust that he isn’t maliciously setting me up for failure, throwing me in the deep end to watch me flail about. (Though some days I’m still not so sure!)  I trust that he won’t let me make too big of a mess and that he will support my calls publicly and correct me privately.  I trust that he is for me.

My smallness in a big, big world.  

That same pastor once shared with our team this quote from Tolkien’s The Hobbit

“Surely you don’t disbelieve the prophecies, because you had a hand in bringing them about yourself? You don’t really suppose, do you, that all your adventures and escapes were managed by mere luck, just for your sole benefit? You are a very fine person, Mr. Baggins, and I am very fond of you; but you are only quite a little fellow in a wide world after all!”

At Renovatus we talk a lot about the gift of smallness, the gift of obscurity.  In our culture, obscurity is often seen as punishment and a thing to be escaped.  But a lot of good and important stuff happens in obscurity.  Character is developed, skills are sharpened, faith is built, a solid foundation is poured.  Here in obscurity I can learn a lot even while leading.

It’s a gift to recognize I am just one person amidst billions of others.  I am one pastor among millions around the world.  I run an organization that is one of millions.  I am not nearly as unique, my circumstances & challenges not nearly as unique, as I’d like to think.  Recognizing my smallness ironically gives me confidence to embrace the new adventures that the Lord brings.

My God Who is able.

I take an awful lot of comfort in knowing that the Lord is infinitely more concerned about His church than I ever can be.  He will honor my humility and sincerity.  His plans and purposes cannot be thwarted…even when I make a bad call.  The Lord managed long before I came along and He will do just fine long after I’m gone.  I choose to believe that the Lord is sovereign and good.

______________________________

Leaders, by all means, let’s do our homework.  Let’s think critically and prayerfully and be prepared.

Let’s just not get stuck there.  Let’s execute.

2011: The Year of the Executive Pastor

It’s been a big year for Renovatus.  Little did I know as 2011 came rolling in what a big year it’d be for me.

I won’t forget Pastor Jonathan calling me in to his office at the beginning of the year and telling me of his need for an Executive Pastor, of which we were all very aware.  The church had grown in complexity and he was being inundated with matters that hindered him from focusing on the things God had called him to do.  (And a good leader knows that delegating the things that others can do enables the leader to do the things that only he or she can do.  But more on that another day!) What I didn’t anticipate was his suggestion (and by suggestion I mean edict) that I become his Executive Pastor.  I anticipated I might be asked to assist the new Executive Pastor or help somehow in this new staff transition.  I wasn’t expecting to BE the transition.

Don’t get me wrong- I know an awful lot about Renovatus and how she runs!  I’ve worked at the church nearly since it’s inception over 5 years ago. It’s the longest I’ve ever worked anywhere, actually.  The first fours years I assisted Pastor Jonathan and managed the office, which is to say I did a little bit of everything except the preaching!  I have a solid grasp on Pastor’s vision and am completely committed to the mission we are on to join God in renovating lives.  In those ways I was more than qualified to be his XO (I’m an army brat…that’s military speak for Executive Officer- the guy that the guy counts on).  However, prior to that moment if you had asked me to describe an Executive Pastor, my honest descriptors would have been along these lines:

A middle-aged man with 10+ years experience in a corporate work environment, perhaps as a CFO or Vice President of Human Resources. Or maybe Director of Development at a national non-profit or something else with an equally as impressive title.  Oh, and holds two post-graduate degrees (MBA & MDiv preferably).

On paper, if I were the one recruiting for the position, that’s who I would’ve been looking for.  Fortunately for me, that wasn’t who Pastor was looking for and I wasn’t asked to find the next Executive Pastor, just to become her!  Needless to say, it has been quite an adventurous year.

And a good part of the adventure is in the sharing of it with others.  So, here are 4 of the many things I’ve picked up on along the way this year:

1.  The Lead Pastor determines the role & scope of the Executive Pastor.  What I mean to say is that the job is largely subjective.  It is contingent upon the strengths, needs, personality and preferences of the Lead Pastor.  It is a dynamic relationship with a number of variables and as such, the position will not look, but in fact be, very different from church to church.  Because of that, I want to work really hard to understand on every level what my Lead Pastor expects of me and how he defines what success looks like in my position at Renovatus.

2.  Executive Pastors Execute.  This is not one that I’ve had to learn, honestly.  I place a high premium on followership naturally, but I think is a very important point and can’t be overstated.  It is not uncommon to hear of power struggles between the Lead Pastor and his or her second in command.  This is almost always because of competing visions.   Scripture is very clear about respecting and submitting to those in authority.  The Lead Pastor is accountable before the Lord for the church, and as such, it is only appropriate that the vision he has be the one that is carried out.  If you cannot support that vision you will end up creating your own, even if only internally, and it will cause divisiveness in your life, and ultimately, in your church.  Trust God’s lordship over your pastor.  Loyally follow him as he follows Christ.

3.  Be Fiercely Protective.  In this position you are privy to a great deal of “scoop.”  For some reason, church people love to have the scoop, which means you are a walking target.  Discretion, tactfulness, propriety, and self-control are crucial.  Always speak honorably of others, specifically of your pastor and the staff.  The churches who battle the least with gossip and slander are the ones whose leadership has made it a non-negotiable to protect unity within the body.

4.  Be Intentional.  My first few weeks and months in the job were spent largely responding- to emails, to event details, to conflicts, to situations.  There will always be some measure of responding in any position.  However, I quickly learned that I would have to actively choose intentionality and then fight to keep it amidst the day to day chaos!  The position was new to the church and we were figuring out what it needed to look like and what areas needed my attention the most.  I couldn’t wait until things settled a bit, until the church calendar was a little lighter.  That day wouldn’t come. It would always be the default option to let the circumstances & crises of the day dictate my priorities.  That’s no way to lead.  Plan the work, work the plan and guard it like crazy unless the Lord or the Lead Pastor tells you to do otherwise!

There you have it.  4 of 5769+ things I’ve learned in 2011, my freshman year in executive leadership at Renovatus.  Here’s to 2012 being our best year yet.