Interview with Jim Stanley

By Brad Dupray

As executive minister with Traders Point Christian Church in Indianapolis, Jim Stanley is serving on a leadership team working on a $20 million relocation project. But that pales in comparison to the challenge he and wife Jennifer have in raising 7 year old triplets! Along with Jack, Erin, and Trey, the Stanleys also have a son, Clark, 12. Jim holds a degree in economics and political science from Ball State University and has completed course work toward a Masters of Ministry Degree in Theological Studies at Cincinnati Christian Uni versity.

How did Jim Stanley end up as an executive minister?

I became a Christian in my senior year of college and as I read the Gospels and saw the life of Christ I felt a call to ministry; it just wasn’t clear yet what form that ministry should take. After a few years I quit my job in the business world and went to Cincinnati Christian University. I went there as a student, and then my prior experience led to full time employment in the development department. In this role I was in hundreds of churches over six years, and that’s how I met Howard Brammer (senior minister at Traders Point). When Howard called me and invited me to be a part of the staff here it was a no brainer. Traders Point was such a healthy place. God opened the door to get me here.

What is an executive minister?

The title of the recent book Leading from the Second Chair (Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson, Jossey Bass) probably best captures in a single phrase what an executive minister does. Someone in this position provides value adding influence throughout an organization, but they do so from a subordinate role. The executive minister must live with several paradoxes being both a leader and a subordinate, being a person who needs to be able to dig deep into issues while at the same time being able to see the wide picture, striking a balance between dreaming and contentment with reality. Really, it’s learning to navigate paradoxes. Joseph is the best biblical model of today’s executive minister. While Joseph was a leader, he was also subservient to Potiphar.

How does an executive minister differ from a business administrator?

The executive minister has a broader scope of operation in a church staff. Typically a business administrator would handle financial, office, and perhaps benefits issues, while an executive minister would handle these types of issues (or would quite likely have someone who handles these issues who reports to him) as well as staff management issues.

What is your relationship to the senior minister?

In our structure I am the person who is responsible for assisting our senior minister in executing strategies in support of the church’s vision. The executive minister’s role is to do anything the senior minister can’t do, shouldn’t do, or doesn’t want to do (laughs).

When would a church need an executive minister?

I don’t know if there’s a magic number. I’m tempted to say it’s when a church gets to a 1,000 or so. Probably a better measure is when the senior minister is being so bogged down with handling the details of the church that he is becoming ineffective and/or hampered in vision casting, preaching, and prayer.   If so, it’s time for the church to seek someone to fill that role.

How would you describe the practical aspects of what you do?

In the corporate world the closest parallel would be the chief operating officer, where the senior minister is more the CEO. It’s not just financial operations. It’s facilities. It’s strategic planning. It’s personnel, including performance measurement and coaching. It’s all that stuff. Everybody understands the senior minister is the “boss.” But on the ground, day in day out, when the senior minister shouldn’t be bothered with the details, the executive minister is usually the guy who has to make all that stuff work.

Do you ever feel like you’re working as a U.N. negotiator?

Sometimes it’s doing the dirty work, going into the battle, sitting kneecap to kneecap with people to confront conflicts and challenges. I think one of the competencies many executive ministers have received from God is the ability or gift to work things out. The executive minister often takes situations and circumstances that seem to be in disarray or look difficult and, combining God’s help with simple persistence, makes them work. But, of course he’s not always successful.

So how does the spiritual component fit in?

A lot of my executive minister peers could work in corporate America and do the same kinds of stuff there all day long. But this role takes a person who has a clear sense of calling to the ministry of the church and brings with him sound business, ministry, and commonsense life principles, all of which are found in a biblical ethic anyway. I’m sure there are people who are more talented in the business world than many of us who serve in executive minister chairs, but they don’t have ministry hearts. You really have to have a calling and a heart for ministry.   When I came to this church staff I found I was challenged spiritually by the depth of so many people in our pews. I became convicted pretty quickly of the need to stay a step ahead or go a bit deeper. People have to understand that you have a spiritual leadership role in the life of the church, though imperfect and broken yourself.

What are some points of relief for the senior minister provided by the executive minister?

When someone had an issue or complaint about a staff person, rather than Howard having to go in and discover all the facts and fix it, I became that person. My job is diagnosing problems, diagnosing areas that need improvement, and then executing those improvements things that never would have gotten done or would have killed or robbed him of his effectiveness had he invested in them. When I came, one of the first things Howard told me was he needed me to be his eyes and ears. The senior minister needs someone he can trust, who will tell him the truth, who is infinitely loyal to him, and who doesn’t want his job. The temptation I think a lot of executive ministers face is to “flower” the facts, but they have to be able to give the reality, even if it’s ugly.

What defines the relationship of the executive minister to the senior minister?

Every such relationship is going to be shaped by a number of factors. One, for instance, is proximity in age between the two. Another big one is whether or not the executive minister aspires to be a senior minister someday. How long either of them has been at the church in question also comes into play. Unity around shared values is a critical factor. Loyalty is an equally critical one. All these factors and more define the relationship.

I assume that describes you with Howard?

As a result of our difference in age I consider him almost like a father of sorts or a trusted mentor. I don’t know that represents most executive minister relationships, but he’s a person I would go to for advice or counsel about just about anything. Other times he’ll seek my counsel or input. And I’m honored when he does that. We have a great deal of mutual affection and respect for one another. We have a standing meeting every Monday morning where we talk about A to Z.

What is the most satisfying part of your role?

Seeing people come together and work as a team and knowing you’ve had a part in bringing that about. Also, seeing the relief that comes to the senior minister because you’re there. I suppose one of the greatest compliments that can be paid to an executive minister is to hear someone say the senior is able to sleep at night because he’s there.

And the toughest part?

I don’t often think much about the toughest parts, because I love what I do so much, but the toughest parts are probably simply getting it all done and maintaining healthy life balance in the process. There always seems to be more to do, and you can’t take it all home with you.

Brad Dupray is director of public relations and advertising with Provision Ministry Group, Irvine, California.

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