Let’s Discuss: A Job Description for a “Senior Pastor”

Note from CM: Thanks to RDavid, who commented yesterday and brought our attention to Scot McKnight’s post about the job description set forth at Willow Creek Community Church for their new Senior Pastor.

Here’s the link: Willow Creek, What’s a Pastor?

As most of you know, I consider Scot a mentor and friend, and I think he is spot on in his critique of Willow here. Read his piece, and note his specific concerns.

I have also written rather extensively on the subject here, and we will soon be taking another look at it by blogging through Scot’s book, Pastor Paul: Nurturing a Culture of Christoformity in the Church.

For today, I’d like you folks to read through this job description and discuss it together — good, bad, and otherwise.

Oh yeah, and if you want to apply, there’s a link at the bottom.

• • •


Denomination: Nondenominational

Weekly Attendance: 21,000 at eight locations

Neighborhood: South Barrington, Greater Chicagoland, Illinois

The role: Leading from the South Barrington campus, the Senior Pastor will wear the dual hats of pastor (able to discern God’s direction for the congregation) as well as CEO (with organizational leadership skills to lead a complex organization with more than 350 employees). This leader will bring the right balance of preserving what is, but also will fan the flames of Willow’s DNA of boldness, innovation, and creativity.

Meet Willow Creek Community Church: 

Willow Creek Community Church is a local church with a global impact. One church in eight locations; more than 21,000 people gather every weekend across the Chicago area. Each Willow Creek church offers the same high-caliber teaching, experienced live at South Barrington and via high-definition video stream at regional locations. In addition to live worship, each site offers a unique assortment of classes and workshops, robust programs for children and students, and plenty of volunteer opportunities where members and guests can meet people and make a difference in their own neighborhood.

Thousands of local churches across the globe can trace their beginnings to an inspiring vision they received while attending a leadership conference, event, or service at Willow Creek. Although the past year has seen some turmoil for the church, the leadership has not lost its heart for reaching those far from God through relevant, biblical teaching and weekend services, developing impactful teams, and leading compassion and justice initiatives that change the community both in Chicago and around the world.

Casa de Luz, Willow’s Spanish-language congregation, meets at the South Barrington campus and serves their Spanish-speaking community. Each regional church— irrespective of its location or language—is both an extension of Willow Creek and a fully functioning local church with its own staff and ministries to meet the needs of its local community. Although most weekends are live-streamed, each regional Lead Pastor has the opportunity to teach live eight to ten times per year.

The central campus of Willow Creek in South Barrington and its regional campuses, governed by a unified body of elders (installed in January 2019), are united by more than just the “Willow Creek” in their names. Each shares a single-minded focus: to reach people who are far from God and to help them become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

After our recent visit to Willow, we are convinced she has bright days ahead. This is a fantastic opportunity for a God-centered leader to join the team to continue the rebuilding which has already begun.

About the Senior Pastor: 

The Senior Pastor will lead and serve the Willow Creek Community Church at all its locations to become a thriving, healthy family of local churches. This man or woman will provide overall leadership and vision for the entire network of regional campuses. They will ensure Willow Creek’s vision and strategy is clear and understood across all locations, that the right leaders are leading and serving the campuses, and that Willow Creek is positioned for strength well into the future.

The Senior Pastor will have the ability to dream and cast vision for the next season of congregational life and community impact. The ideal candidate will demonstrate spiritual leadership, an authentic walk with Jesus, and a proven commitment to balancing the rhythms of work and life. He or she will be a proven “leader of leaders” who can motivate and inspire high-capacity men and women to use their gifts to further the vision.

The Senior Pastor will accomplish the following goals: 

In Spiritual Leadership:

  • Although not expected to deliver the message every weekend, when teaching, communicate biblical truth in an inspiring fashion that helps reach irreligious people and help people at all levels of their spiritual journey to become fully devoted followers of Jesus.
  • Exemplify a life of walking closely with Jesus, including strong spiritual leadership in the home.
  • Can balance leadership and vision along with accountability and submission while working with a board of lay elders. The Senior Pastor will meet with the elders regularly and will have full voice into all matters, but will not be a voting member of the elders.
  • Help bring healing to a staff and congregation that has experienced significant loss.

In Visionary/Organizational Leadership: 

  • Bring strength to Willow’s network of churches through a unified vision, while continuing to provide a great deal of autonomy that has allowed the regional sites to attract top talent and thrive as self-supported congregations.
  • Focus initially on strengthening Willow as a local church. Once strength is restored and Willow is healthy and thriving once again, continue Willow’s legacy of high-impact ministry outside the walls in the Chicago area and around the world.
  • Lead the executive team to bring unity and clarity to all programs and ministries, so that all of Willow is pulling for the same mission and vision.
  • Work with the elders to clarify the relationship with Global Leadership Network (formerly WCA). Note: GLN (WCA) is no longer under the authority of the elders but still occupying space in the building.
  • Focus on building an executive team. Initial hires are likely to be a Teaching Pastor, as well as a South Barrington Lead Pastor to focus on the broadcast campus and largest staff.
  • Put emphasis on leadership development, individually modeling this at the highest levels. Equally, place a focus on building processes and systems so that managers and team leaders across Willow are being developed.
  • Provide leadership to help Willow discover her target audience. In the past, it was “unchurched Harry and Mary.” This needs to be redefined for 2020 and beyond.

What you bring:


Willow Creek values candidates who are life-long learners. Proven leadership experience is important, and this individual should be theologically grounded, but a formal theological classroom education is not a requirement for selection.

Experience and Skills

  • Has a proven communication gift with the ability to effectively deliver talks with a large audience in a room that seats 7,500, while simultaneously engaging with people who are viewing from other locations via high-definition video.
  • Has the ability to deliver messages that reach the seeker, as well as provide depth to help believers grow in their faith.
  • We have a strong preference toward leaders with multi-site or complex organizational experience.
  • Has life experience in connecting with professionals, entrepreneurs, and people who have outwardly made it in life but are seeking significance.
  • Has a heart for those who are under-resourced and history of fighting poverty and injustice.
  • Has a track record of developing and equipping leaders.
  • When you look in the rearview mirror of this leaders life, you see growing organizations.

Personal Characteristics

  • Values and champions women in leadership roles at all levels of the organization, in both executive and ministry capacities.
  • Has likely worked in a nonhomogeneous environment and embraces a diverse culture.
  • Can balance being accessible, while also exhibiting healthy personal boundaries.
  • Is known to be a humble servant leader. This shows up in learning, asking questions, and relying on the strengths and gifts of others.
  • Displays a high level of emotional and relational intelligence.
  • While very grace-filled, holds to a traditional view on marriage (between one man and one woman).
  • Has likely weathered a season of great pain and loss which has helped humble, refine, and shape him or her into a better leader and pastor.

What it’s like to live in South Barrington, Greater Chicagoland, area:

Each Willow Creek campus is located in the greater Chicagoland area. Chicago is the third most populous city in the United States, after New York City and Los Angeles, with 2.7 million residents in the city, and 9.5 million in the metropolitan area. In addition to its renowned upscale establishments and restaurant districts, the city’s unique location on Lake Michigan, its rich architectural heritage, its lively theater, arts, and comedy community, and its vibrant nightlife attracts residents and tourists alike. Chicago was recently named the fourth-most “walkable” city of the 50 largest cities in the United States (2011, Walk Score).

Chicago has numerous nicknames, including Chi-town, Windy City, and Second City. The city is a center for business and finance and is considered one of the world’s top global financial centers. Located near a portage between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River watershed, Chicago has remained a major hub for industry, education, telecommunications, and infrastructure since its founding, with O’Hare International Airport being the second busiest airport in the world in terms of traffic movements.

Chicago offers a large array of cultural, historical, sporting, and entertainment focal points that bring thousands of tourists to the area yearly. Grant Park hosts the annual Taste of Chicago festival, while also featuring Millennium Park, home to the iconic Cloud Gate Structure, Buckingham Fountain, and the Art Institute of Chicago. The city is home to numerous major-league sports teams, world-class museums, and the Magnificent Mile shopping district, all along the beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline, creating an atmosphere not soon to be forgotten.

Willow’s broadcast campus is located in South Barrington, a suburb of Chicago just about an hour away,  is consistently ranked one of the best places to live in Illinois. Living in South Barrington offers residents a suburban feel and most residents own their homes. In South Barrington, there are a lot of parks and great green spaces to enjoy, as well as proximity to the greater city of Chicago while still feeling like a “small town,” with just over 4,000 residents. The public schools in South Barrington are highly rated.

Think you’re a great fit for this role? Become a candidate here. 

71 thoughts on “Let’s Discuss: A Job Description for a “Senior Pastor”

  1. But all modern American Evangelism comes from the early 20th century Fundamentalist movement.

    i.e. from the Lunatic Fringe of the “old” Evangelicals.


  2. A classic example of a church still running on a marketing/business model.
    And they will probably get what they are looking for, which means nothing much will change.


  3. what about a pastoral position in an assisted-living facility?

    the pastor in my parents’ Catholic facility was Methodist, go figure, and when my mother passed away, it was this pastor who really helped my Catholic father with grief counseling and prayer. . . .

    I think the possibilities for employment are ‘out there’ but maybe not all in the traditional places, so to speak . . . . goodness knows, the ‘need’ for pastors is far greater than anyone can fathom


  4. “The idea of driving to go watch a sermon on TV is very strange to me.”

    Yeah. What do they do if they lose their connection? Sit in awkward silence?


  5. As an outsider, and one that is mathematically inclined, the moment I read “superstar”, I thought of “Moneyball”. Superstars don’t work, even if you do manage to find one.


  6. Thanks guys.

    I’ve been exploring the bi-vocational, church planting route for awhile now (if it doesn’t exist, create it, right?). But the reality of student loans just about rules it out.

    The ironic thing is, I believe I can help a church to substantially grow and create community. I just happen to believe that I don’t have to go about it in a patronizing, consumeristic way.


  7. “Can someone point me to that job description?”

    In a megachurch? Probably not. Perhaps in a smaller Evangelical church. I couldn’t say. But in a mainline? You have just described what mainline pastors are routinely expected to do.


  8. The pin dropped when I read Frances Fitzgerald’s history of American Evangelicalism. A bunch of stuff that had mystified me suddenly made sense.

    Also very helpful was the realization that vast swaths of 19th century American Evangelicalism has been reclassified as “mainline.” The faction that in the early 20th century defined itself as “Fundamentalist” got to keep the name. “Fundamentalist” was then redefined as “Those crazy people over there.” But all modern American Evangelism comes from the early 20th century Fundamentalist movement.


  9. Yes it is. We all get comfortable and have our circle of friends and it’s hard to leave that and start something new, especially with kids.


  10. Sean, I feel your pain. Unfortunately most churches, even smaller ones, are looking for what Willow Creek is – a CEO. In seminary, we had a mentoring program that included weekly ‘cohort’ meetings, where we read a book about spiritual formation (a different one each semester). As an older ‘seasoned’ student (40 at the time) I brought my jaded experiences with me. I remember one particular class session that was very good (and the professor was excellent, and a truly humble and wise man) about the spiritual aspects of pastoral ministry and spiritual disciplines. After about a half an hour of good stuff, I finally said, ‘I know this is all important, and what being a pastor is really supposed to be about about, but you will never get a job if that is what you think being a pastor is today. Churches don’t want shepherds; they want a CEO who will grow their business and provide all the ‘ministries’ their families ‘need’. If you really want to be a shepherd you are probably going to be a bi-vocational pastor.’ I often wonder where God is in all this (or what he thinks of it). I doubt he was very involved in writing that job description. Personally, I would rather have a shepherd any day. Don’t give up! There are certainly churches out there who want a shepherd, but you probably won’t find them in affluent suburban neighborhoods.


  11. I notice the “Lead Pastor” at the other churches only gets to address their own congregation less than once a month, with most weekend services “live streaming” the main man.

    Big Brother’s face ten meters tall on all the Telescreens.
    Big Brother’s voice on all the loudspeakers.


  12. They need two people.
    They don’t want to pay two people.

    I thought that was what Pastor’s Wife(TM) was for —
    Two for the price of one!


  13. They undergo a process like cellular meiosis.

    “Meiosis” or Metastasis?

    they have often wrecked a lot of smaller local churches

    Just like “Welcome to Wal-Mart!” to smaller towns’ businesses…


  14. Well said and unfortunately accurate. American evangelicalism is more a child of the frontier revival movements than it is a grandchild of the Reformation. This has been well documented by Mark Noll and others.


  15. The Evangelicals did much better, but not equally so. Their relative success was a function of pastoral training: the less the better.

    “He has NO book larnin’ and HE IS LOUD!”— according to Michael Spencer, the highest complement you could give a preacher in his area.


  16. What kind of person will be attracted to apply?

    “I’M AN M.B.A. AND…”
    (Pay no attention to the string of bankrupt companies with big-bucks golden parachutes on the resume…)


  17. This whole deal is so… (I don’t want to say “triggering,” but that’s really what it is) frustrating for me.

    I’m in my mid-30’s. I’m an associate pastor, given permission by my senior pastor to start exploring senior pastor opportunities for myself, since that is my vocational goal/calling.

    So I’ve been exploring, and I cannot escape the buzzwords, and the cookie-cutter job descriptions, and the church-in-a-box environments.

    I’m a shepherd. I know what I offer. I know what I’m good at and what I’m called to. I believe I have leadership capacity, but it’s nothing “mega” or “executive” or “CEO”-ish. It’s preaching, teaching, marrying, burying, praying, empowering, discipling, listening, and attending to the sacred in the lives of people and in the community.

    Can someone point me to that job description? Because it doesn’t exist. I’m told it’s too 1950’s. And yet I have references who will talk about growth and breakthrough and life change, and yes, even the demonstrated ability to “attract younger families” (ugh). But because I don’t frame it in CEO-speak, I don’t get a foot in the door.

    I wish I could summon Eugene Peterson like the witch of endor and ask him how I pull this off vocationally in 2019.


  18. Ugh. Buzzwords “R” Us. They’re looking for both a pastor and a CEO, in the same person? But the qualifications are very nearly opposites. How are they going to manage that? Whatever happened to “No man can serve two masters: for either he. will hate the one, and love the other; or else. he will hold to the one, and despise the other, Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” I have a pretty good idea which qualification the church will see as most important, especially since they aren’t demanding that their new pastor have a “formal theological education.” This has “just another ‘religion-lite’ megachurch that concentrates on getting its seats filled” written all over it.


  19. If you look at the history of Evangelicalism in America, a turning point was the opening of the frontier after the Revolution. The comfortably entrenched eastern churches did a bad job of keeping up. The Evangelicals did much better, but not equally so. Their relative success was a function of pastoral training: the less the better. This is because pastoral training is expensive and time consuming and not for everybody. The Presbyterians, even the Evangelical wing, had pretty strict standards, but benefited from also being an ethnic church, of the ethnicity of many of the settlers. The Methodists had lower standards, but standards nonetheless. They tended to follow behind the front wave of population, settling in the towns and cities. The Baptists had essentially no standards at all. Their missionaries came cheap, so the Baptists could afford to send them out into the howling wilderness. Combine these and you have a pretty good picture of generic American Protestantism of the 19th and well into the 20th centuries.

    There was a vestigial respect for learning. Elmer Gantry goes to seminary because that will help get him a higher paying job in a better location. With the 20th century rise of Pentecostalism, even this largely disappears. What use is book learning when you are the vessel for the Holy Spirit?

    The problem is that this places a premium on telling people what they want to hear, without the tools to even realize that this is what you are doing. What they want to hear is very culturally specific. It may be fire and brimstone, though this quickly morphs into sermons about how Those People are damned, while we thank God that we are not like them. The split between northern and southern Baptists occurred because the southern audiences very much did not want to hear that slavery is bad. And of course the modern prosperity gospel is merely a highly refined version of telling people what they want to hear. Seminary training is hardly a panacea, but it at least can give pastors a baseline knowledge of what Christianity is and is not.


  20. As inferred from the ad, presumably sufficient to allow you to take full advantage of all those amazing restaurants, world-class museums and concert venues, and upscale shopping districts that nearby Chicago has to offer. Note to applicants: conveniently, none of these amenities are located on the south or west sides!


  21. > Unfortunately, they don’t last

    Hmmmm. They sort of do. They undergo a process like cellular meiosis. For example, in Grand Rapids, Mars Hill – of Rob Bell fame – is the daughter of Calvary Church (undenom) an old grey mare of mega-churches easily 30 years old. Many of them have endowments sufficient to run on for a long time. If you poke about a lineage of megas isn’t hard to construct.

    > they have often wrecked a lot of smaller local churches

    Unfortunately many smaller local churches were already weakened by demographic shifts,and there is plenty of incompetence in small churches [they can just call it “tradition”].


  22. Oh, and I would never even consider joining a church where the pastor(s) don’t know my name and my kids’ names, and where there are layers of bureaucracy to be breached to actually sit down with him.


  23. I read a book about fifteen years ago that predicted that the size of megachurches had peaked, because of the limits of population density and how far people will drive to church. It failed to predict the rise of sermons live streamed to multiple campuses. I don’t blame the author for this. The idea of driving to go watch a sermon on TV is very strange to me. I assume the accompanying live concert is the real draw. It is probably a pretty cheap way to see live music, if that sort of music is your thing. I prefer a place where I can also drink beer.


  24. The typical pattern in Lutheran churches is for there to be an elected council, who in turn elect officers including the treasurer. There typically is also a Stewardship Committee, which is out dialectal term for fund raising. There often is also a Finance Committee, with budget and audit functions. This is all distinct from the pastor(s). The pastor will typically show up for council meetings and some but not all committee meetings, but his presence is not necessary for them to function. The pastor does not select any of the individuals involved.

    The underlying principle is that the congregation is a corporation comprised of its lay members. The corporation is responsible for all the Asset Management stuff, and calls a pastor for the Pastoral stuff. So we effectively have the divisions you suggest, though we don’t use that language.


  25. This bears out what I have heard about megachurches – they are often parasitic and arise not through any particular merit but luck: if you have a new neighborhood opening up or being gentrified, wealthy incomers will be casting about for a church and one church which happens to suit the new people and with a charismatic leader able to spot the opportunity will suddenly take off. They then become richer, and so are able to be more exciting with better facilities and publicity than their neighbouring churches and will draw in more and more people as a result, the whole thing accelerating as they become an “event” church it’s exciting at fashionable to be at.
    Unfortunately, they don’t last (how many megachurches are the sane ones as 20-30 years ago?) and when they go down, they have often wrecked a lot of smaller local churches, and a lot of the people deserting the megachurch can abandon actively practicing the faith entirely.


  26. My pet peeve from the corporate paradigm, instead of hiring a team and implementing processes, they want a single super star that can do everything. My co-workers and I call them unicorns.

    I have never seen a successful hire of unicorn yet.


  27. I notice the “Lead Pastor” at the other churches only gets to address their own congregation less than once a month, with most weekend services “live streaming” the main man. This is control-freakery at its finest.
    One big problem with the set up to my mind is that it is designed to fuel the power and ego of the “lead pastor” (which of course was Willow Creek’s downfall in the first place) and absurdly centralised, presumably to “maintain the brand”. I’ve heard it said that once a congregation starts to get big (I understand around the 150-250 mark) it ceases to be a worshipping community and starts being more simply an audience. I understand that there a ways to ameliorate this problem that can be tried, but the Willow Creek setup seems to be designed more to make it worse. If you are live streaming your preacher the “church” may as well be a movie theatre and you could as well just have people watch it at home on TV.
    Some people have said that the job needs splitting between Pastor and CEO. I disagree: at this kind of level there’s absolutely no point in having a pastor at all – the regular teaching, preaching and pastoral care can and should be done by the person the local congregation see and interact with each week (and not just watch on a screen). The person at this level’s job is to supervise and support the local leaders, provide guidance, mentoring and training, direct policy, deal with problems and generally run the place. The only reason I can see for all this live streaming of sermons and addressing vast thousands of people you don’t know and who don’t know you is because you like the thrill of having stadium-sized crowds hanging on your words. The whole set up seems to be for the benefit of the “Lead Pastor”‘s ego rather than the congregation or the church.


  28. We agree! One of my favorite pastors said that he could only ‘shepherd’ about 300 people. Beyond that and he becomes something other than a pastor. He said that if the church grew beyond that they would spin off a church plant. I doubt he’ll be applying for this position.


  29. I noted the ‘formal theological classroom education is not a requirement’ statement. I was reminded of a talk at seminary by the pastor of a large, well-known church in Minneapolis (no, not THAT pastor) who was acting president at the time. He said that in their experience (hiring lots of staff – I think he said they have nearly 20 pastors on staff) they found that hiring a person with little experience but a solid theological education always worked out better than hiring someone with good experience but little theological education. He said that they can train a person to ‘do ministry’ in their context, but a pastor without a solid biblical and theological education will be faced with situations every day that they are not equipped to handle.


  30. After reading this job description I couldn’t help myself but look up South Barrington: median family income $174,318 – that is very high. Median age 42 – very young – 57% under the age of 44, a mere 7% of residents are 64 or older (retirement age). 70% white, 25% asian. 664.73 souls/sq-mi [HUGE lots!]. It may be the perfect example of “affluent enclave”.


  31. And don’t subdivide the “Pastor” role further into separate “teacher” and “pastoral care” positions (MY rant and hobby horse). If you’re not a good pastoral care person, you won’t be a good teacher no matter how much Bible you know. (And lest I be accused of being too strict, one reason I abandoned the path to teaching theology was when I came to this conviction and realized I would be no good at pastoral care myself).


  32. My take: a very challenging position to fill.

    I think Adam has it right however; one man cannot be Executive, Entrepreneur and Pastor. Executive and Entrepreneur are “big picture” type of people. “Pastor will be concerned about the ONE lost sheep.


  33. It is boiler plate in an executive level job search to have text to up-sell your location. The kind of people who are expected to apply can go ‘anywhere’; recruiters [one clearly had a hand in this] knows that candidates at this level often select a job more on the Where than anything else – as at that level you’ve passed the point of salary, benefits, etc… being a deciding factor. Anyone applying for this job is already a multi-millionaire.

    If a job description mentions an airport then you are looking for wealthy people, the only people who think about an airport as a life-style asset.


  34. On a different note, I find it odd that they felt it necessary to explain where Chicago is. Would they consider as qualified someone who didn’t already know this? I wonder if they weren’t following a template.


  35. This is another advantage of real denominations. We have a training and certification process, establishing a baseline for anyone qualified to answer a call. McKnight observes that the Willow Creek document has “…no Jesus, no Christ, no Bible, no gospel — that is, in the main words.” I haven’t much experience with our call process, but I doubt that does on at length about basic theology. That is implied by our being a Lutheran church.


  36. I’d point back to my rant yesterday regarding the need for churches to have an honestly declared unapologetic ‘Asset Management Division’ clearly distinct from the ‘Pastoral Division’; otherwise over and over and over again you get this icky puree of Executive, Entrepreneur, and Pastor. That’s three different people.


  37. “””Bring strength to Willow’s network of churches through a unified vision, while continuing to provide a great deal of autonomy that has allowed”””

    Oh the innocent youthful aspiration to create a dynamic autonomous command-and-control hierarchy. Oh.. wait, this a bunch of old dudes? Nah, that’s dumb.

    “””who can motivate and inspire high-capacity men and women to use their gifts to further the vision”””

    Where do us low-capacity people fit in?

    “””Living in South Barrington offers residents a suburban feel and most residents own their homes.”””

    “most residents own” <—code! Take that out, it's gross. Does a sprawling organization monster like Willow not yet employ an editor focusing on cultural competence?

    Goodness, there is so much in here. They are going to get dragged by the Internet, and they begged for it. 😦

    I can remember people organizing trips to Willow; I hope it was better then.


  38. Ugh. Some good – they’re obviously trying to course correct to some extent. But they’re still captive to the corporate paradigm. I could pick it apart piece by piece, but I have neither the time nor the inclination this morning, and I’m sure you all don’t have the patience. 😛


  39. “After our recent visit to Willow, we are convinced she has bright days ahead.”

    Who’s “we”? Was this not written by the congregation or the elders?


  40. –> “Values and champions women in leadership roles at all levels of the organization, in both executive and ministry capacities.”

    As much as I cringe at some of what’s written, that’s a refreshing statement!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: