Rich Birch

Healthy Lead Pastor & Executive Pastor Relationships

About The Episode


“My advice to an executive pastor is: The output from your voice needs to be more questions than answers.” Meet Rich Birch, lead coach of the Church Growth Incubator, a community of churches actively working to grow through closely learning from the fastest-growing churches and applying those lessons to their churches. Today, we get to benefit from Rich’s stories, experience, and advice to Executive Pastors navigating the reality of their roles in relationship to Lead Pastors. These insights will broaden your perspective from a trusted leader who has walked in the shoes of executive leadership.

Welcome to Episode 078 of the Leaders in Living Rooms Podcast with Sean Morgan. 

Insights From Rich Birch

What is the Role of an Executive Pastor?

  • The lead pastor has historically been responsible for both the vision and the main content of the church. Those are two different skill sets. So an executive pastor’s role can be seen as leading at the intersection of vision and execution.
  • Executive pastors need to have a business mind and a pastoral heart. Beyond the weight of a business manager, the pastoral element cannot be divided from this role.
  • You could relate the day-to-day functions as running the “machine” side of the church.
  • An executive pastor is the chief reminder and chief decider, but does not hold the mantle of leadership of the church.

How do we make the relationship between lead pastor and executive pastor work?

  • At the pace of the lead pastor, it’s important to have regular conversations about how it’s going relationally. 
  • The lead pastor and executive pastor don’t have to be best friends. In fact, it actually has the potential to be dangerous if the goal is to be best friends rather than make sure the church is functioning well. 
  • What do you do when the lead pastor role comes from a promotion internally and the executive pastor doesn’t know how to transition from peer to subordinate?
    • Advice to executive pastors: Be intentional to get clarity on what your role is/isn’t. 
    • Advice to lead pastors: Candor is kindness; Be super clear on the front end. Create a 1-page job description of how you both see the relationship working together. Clarity from the start is key!

Co-leadership Models

  • The success of co-leadership is more of an exception than the norm.
  • Clarity at the top is super important, and co-leadership can muddy the waters.
  • Co-leadership models are often symptoms of the leadership crisis we have in the church (a shortage of Lead Pastors).
  • You can be a servant leader while maintaining a clear structure of leadership at the top. Sometimes we create the co-leadership model in an attempts to refrain from pride or overbearing leadership. Those character traits will be apparent whether or not you have a clear structure in the org chart.

Leadership Supply and Demand Problem

    • What are the cultural expectations of a pastor? Are we paying our pastors adequately? Does this effect the supply and demand?
    • Is burnout expected from lead pastors?
    • We may have historically placed expectations for an overly-frugal lifestyle that quickly leads to burnout in pastors. And this is not healthy.

Sound Advice for Executive Pastors

  • Lead with questions. Get really good at asking insightful questions. 
  • Ask more questions than you give answers. 
  • Be a good listener to your Lead Pastor for what their vision is. Find out what actually drives that person.

Episode Links

If you’re a leader approaching a succession or transition. Or maybe you’re a few years in and beginning to see how complex transitions leadership is… go to The Art of Pastoral Succession and checkout my brand new course in partnership with Carey Nieuwhof. 

Are you in Transition or have one on the horizon? Check out our 2023 cohorts and get connected with us at: 

Who Is Rich Birch?

Rich Birch is an early multi-site church pioneer in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000 people in 20+ locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Community Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. As well as the Operations Pastor at Liquid Church in the Manhattan-facing suburbs of New Jersey. Rich is on a mission to help 100 churches grow by 1,000 people by helping churches increase their invite cultures. He blogs & podcasts at His latest book, Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church, has helped thousands of church leaders reach more people in their community. It was also the forerunner to Church Growth Flywheel Masterclass, a proven step-by-step system for helping your church reach more people than ever before. He’s also the lead coach of the Church Growth Incubator, a community of churches actively working to grow through closely learning from the fastest-growing churches and applying those lessons to their churches. He’s married to his girlfriend, Christine, and they are raising their young adult children, Haley & Hunter. Collectively they are attempting to keep their dog, Rory, from sleeping on places she’s not supposed to!

Sponsors & Partners

Thanks to our sponsor: Food For The Hungry. Combine your church’s heart for the poor and Food for the Hungry’s global experience at

Quotes From Episode

“You can get a lot done and influence a lot of the people up the system from you when you lead with questions.”

“My advice to an executive pastor is: The output from your voice needs to be more questions than answers.”

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About the Host

Sean Morgan is a coach and speaker with a national reputation as a catalyst of fresh vision. His passion is to help ministries navigate obstacles and turn them into opportunities.

Throughout his career, Sean has pioneered initiatives impacting thousands of leaders across the country. He started out serving as Executive Pastor and CFO at New Life Church in northern California.

As host, Sean gives you access to amazing conversations, hard-won wisdom, and poignant insights from world-class leaders in intimate “living room” settings.

Your Host

Sean Morgan

Leaders in Living Rooms
Craft & Character

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