Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church Podcast. Amy Biegel is joining us today, from The River Church in Marion, Indiana. Great to have you on the show today, Amy.
Yeah, thanks for having me.
So Amy, tell us a little bit about how you came to The River Church.
Sure. My husband and I moved back into the Marion area after being gone for about six years. And we wanted a church that was friendly to people who are new in the faith or unchurched. And actually, we went to college and I was in High School Youth Group with our Lead Pastor Matthew Trexler. And so my husband suggested that we tried The River Church first. And so we came actually by choice, to choose to attend here, and bring our family here. My husband was working and still currently does work for our area Youth for Christ. And so, we knew we would be bringing students and inviting families who had no church background, and we wanted a church that would be very friendly to new believers. And so that’s why we really settled on The River Church. We love the heart. We love the mission. We love that they cared about the community. And so, I actually came, not in my ministry position. I came just as a regular community attender.
So how did it develop, then, that you ended up on staff?
Yeah. So when I came, I’ve been a licensed, and still am a licensed Clinical Social Worker. And so my path, really, was in the field of Psychology and Social Work. I spent about 12 years doing therapy and being a Clinical Director in a small organization that provided school-based therapy and family-based therapy. And so that was really my specialty. And I came here as a community member to the church and then became involved as a board member. And so as a board member, I just became so excited about our vision. Our board was currently going through a strategic analysis with an outside company. They were really looking at our church because they were identifying some help. Our church was growing while our community was shrinking and it just didn’t make sense. Community was really suffering economically. And so people were leaving the area but the church was really growing numerically and spiritually. And so the district suggested and helped to sponsor this strategic analysis, and I just loved the process.
I’m sorry, the community around you, the district, as in the governing body helps support that?
We are a Wesleyan church in the Wesleyan district. It was looking at this for several churches in our district and the opportunity to use this strategic analysis program through The Unstuck Group. Actually, I would highly recommend The Unstuck Group. And so they’re really trying to help churches who are stuck. But in our case, it was almost like, let’s look and see what’s working, so that you can maximize was working, and so that you can repair the things that aren’t working. And I just love the process. I started attending extra meetings here, as a board member. I had a full-time job outside of that.
That says something — extra meetings.
Yeah, exactly. I do those extra meetings and I loved them. And I just started getting more and more invested in the mission and the purpose of why we were doing the programs and events, and even sermon series, and just see the underlying mission underneath it. And so this process was like a lengthy process. And at the end of this, the The Unstuck Group suggested some staff changes. And they suggested an Executive Pastor role. And actually, they suggest to our Lead Pastor, why don’t you look at this Amy Biegel who has been on your board and is really, really diving in? Oftentimes, churches try to put an outsider and they may not in the culture or may not feel the same passion for the community, and so they maybe not invest at the same level. And I actually — so I got approached about this position that I knew was out there, because I’ve been a part of the strategic meetings. But I didn’t have any idea. It was not my radar, at all, for me personally. And so I actually said, no, I’ve already committed to another year at my current employer. I just signed the paper a couple months ago. I don’t think I could do that. And my friend and our Lead Pastor said, have you prayed about it? And I said, no, I haven’t. And then just three days’ time, at a little prayer chapel here on a college campus nearby God just did a major work in my life. I couldn’t even believe it. I called my husband on day two. I was leaving, and I was crying, and I said, oh my word, thinking about to leave my job and go into ministry. What is going on? And so, yeah, God confirmed it on the third day and I have been here this — I stepped to the job in May, three years ago, but didn’t start until that fall, like in August. Actually, the first week of August. So I’m coming up on my third year here pretty soon.
Now I want to dive a little more into the specifics of what you do there, but before that, I know that anyone listening is going to want to know what The Unstuck Group found that they find this pearl that you guys were doing or not doing, that was kind of leading to this growth in this dynamic culture there? What was it they found? What were you guys doing right?
I think we found some core values that were drawing people in, and one of them was authenticity. Just to being extremely authentic in our programs and in our sermons. And so, it’s really normal that you see people dressed extremely casually at our church, and you hear messages that are going to talk about day-to-day things that may be uncomfortable for some people. Things like pornography, or even some race tension that could exist in our community. We tend to just be extremely authentic, and not to concern about the dress or even the language. We also identified that our core value is that people really wanted to hear us stick to really biblical integrity, is what we called it, in preaching, not from as much stories, but preaching from the Bible and trying to really identify, recognizing that our community didn’t know their word as much as they — even our churched community, even our Christians didn’t know their word or how to use their word. And so being really true to making sure that the Bible is the emphasis, not some great character or story that could be taught.
And then, I think, we just are really drawn to our community. We know that our community is suffering. We found out through another outside agency that was doing some consulting work for us, that was looking at something completely different, but in the course of the research, we saw this line that has been a passion point now for us for the last 12 months. And it said that in a five-mile radius from where our church sits, we’re in an old elementary school building, and in the five mile radius around us, there are 12,000 people who claim to be completely unchurched, they’re the nones, no religion at all. 12,000 people within a five mile radius. And that has become almost our battle cry, to say, that if Jesus, as a good shepherd, would lead a good healthy flock of 99 to go after the one, we have to be concerned with the 12,000 that are right around us. And I think that that mission, even was true before we knew that statistic, that we are just really drawn to the broken, the unchurched, the de-churched, and young families in our community. That’s who we’re really seeking after. And I just think people, once people hear that and see that, they want to be a part of it too.
Yeah. Once they see that they are serious about it, then they want to be a part of it.
So I want to go back a little bit to when you first came on staff there. Obviously, the church had been experiencing growth even before you came on. And then this Unstuck Group came, they suggested they hire you as Executive Pastor. So when you come into a healthy church setting as an Executive Pastor, did you have a list things that you were kind of thinking about changing, about structure or about maybe the way that the staff participate with each other in programs, or were you just kind of along for the ride and those things have been a feeling themselves to you as you got along?
Well, I had a lot of great ideas, but I would say that for the most part, they’ve been handled as if I would come along. I’d like to get ahead of more things. I think that’s just my personality. I always see the next thing I want to chase, but I sometimes can’t chase it until the right time is there. I think that we recognize some things needed to change. In order to protect our Lead Pastor and help him to thrive in the skill set that he had the most strengthen, we needed to free him out of some things. And so, originally, my position was created really to take some of those things that were not in his skill set, and were draining him, and distracting him from where he could lay his passion and put the talents that God’s given him. We created this position for me to be able to fulfill some of those things. And so he is a great visionary person. He is extremely relatable and authentic when he preaches. And so we want him to be able to cast vision and we want him to be able to have time to preach and lead our advisory team. I lead the staff, and I usually describe it to say that I put the details to the ministries. So he may cast a vision for something and they pitch it out to the staff of the board and say, what if we did this? What is this change came or what if this event happened? And then once we get some agreement and some buy-in, then it’s really up to me to then make it happen and figure out what that really looks like and look at all the different layers and how it impacts people, what that requires of our staff and our volunteers. And so I kind of do the day-to-day and he does the big picture. And so a lot of the things get revealed to us as we’re still working out the growth that we’re experiencing and trying to go through all of this at once.
Now, obviously, the church is doing, by all accounts, really well right now in making an impact in the community. So, I’m curious, just within your role, within those things that fall under your tasks, what are some things that you’ve discovered are some best practices or maybe a solution you’ve come up with within that role of Executive Pastor?
Yeah, well, I’m going to have a vent here. But I guess that’s why each person gets their own voice on the show. I come from a social work background and so I have had a ton of community experience and training, and I had continuing education. Every year, I’m required to get 20 hours of continuing education in my career. And so I see the need to be able to meet the holistic view of a person or of a family or of a community. And I think a church is, oftentimes, want to do spiritual needs course. And the second thing they look at is physical needs, because they can recognize that someone may have physical needs. But oftentimes, I think, we overlook the mental health needs, and even just the family’s needs. And so, I have encouraged some of my other pastor friends now to look at having someone in the church, there’s got to be someone in almost every church that would be a licensed social worker or a licensed clinical social worker, and look at what it might be like for your church to have a social work intern. Because just like nurses or education majors, social work students, in their undergrad, have to spend 400 hours in a semester at one placement. That’s 32 hours a week for an entire college semester that you could have really free labor to work on all sorts of things. And in a Master’s level, somebody pursuing their MSW degree, they have to do — I don’t have at hand the number of hours, but they have to do two semesters of work.
And so I constantly have social work interns. And really, all you need is somebody who can supervise them for one hour a week. And the social work interns, to me, can look at some of those bigger pictures. What do you do when you have families in your church that have chronic poverty issues? What can you do to help them with those kinds of things? What can you do with those marriages that need more than just one or two pastoral counseling visits? But maybe, because they’re having marriage problems, they’re also having financial problems, and they can’t afford community-based counseling. What can you do for that? If you have an MSW student, they have to do so many hours of therapy for free. You can offer therapy to your people completely free, as long as you have somebody who can supervise them. And so that’s something. I think churches are afraid to start special needs ministries because they aren’t sure how to get them going. That’s the social work student who could do the research, could build the program, to format it all out, could train people, could watch it completely off the ground for churches. And then I even think of things like outreach event.
I think that sometimes you really need to know what your community needs. And churches can make assumptions that they know what their community members’ needs, but they’re making assumptions based on what they understand in the context of the four walls of their church or the few people that they know that don’t go to their church. But what is it that the community needs and can you have some students or some social work interns who can do some of that research and tell you what the community is actually in desperate need for. Because if they’re in desperate need for something, they’re more likely to come to your church if you’re providing that. And so I think that has been something that I’ve shared with other churches, and have helped them to build or improve some of their strategies to interact with the unchurched in their community or the hurting people within their congregation too.
Yeah, absolutely. This is kind of blowing my mind a little because of all the interviews I’ve done and I’ve taken time outside of interviews to think about the churches were on the community and I have never once thought about the social work side of it.
Yeah. I think social workers are often seen as liberals so most of churches are afraid of them.
That’s probably either liberals or kind of relegated to the foster care side, almost. I think that’s an immediate jump.
Yeah. They may not understand what all they can be involved in. But some of the things I did when I was on the board is help to provide a security and safety plan for our children’s ministries. And so, what did that look like so that you make sure you’re training people, and equipping people, and trying to protect your children best possible? And I did that because, unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of really bad things in some safe communities like schools and churches, because I had counseled children who had gone through terrific things in those safe places. And so I was able to kind of think through, what does it look like to have really the safest possible environment you can provide for a church? And so I think there’s tons of ways. And again, they have to be placed somewhere and there are so many students, especially at Christian Universities or even just a secular universities that are Christians, that are attending there, that they’re in social work because their parents gave them some heart for missions or their church put them on the task to look at the marginalized in society, and they pay attention to those who are left out. And so social work made the most sense for a college major, but really they have a ministry heart and they love to do ministry with that social work degree. And so, I think churches should look at employing social workers. But as starting point is there’s free labor out there. Just tap into it.
Yeah. I’m excited, just on my own, to kind of look into this more now because this is a whole world I’ve never thought about. Now you’ve obviously, you pull a lot from your social work background. And I say background, but it’s obviously a very current reality for you. It’s not just like it’s in the past for you just because you’re working in a church now. But what are some other places you pull from, just to make sure you’re staying sharp in your role as the Executive Pastor? Are there favorite conferences you go to, or books that you read, or other Executive Pastors you tap into? Where do you find that inspiration and challenge?
Sure. Well I just went, for the first time, to the Rethink Leadership Conference in Atlanta just in April, actually, and loved that. I don’t ever want to miss that again. That was incredible. And it was aimed at such a target audience that I got so much out of it. It aimed at Senior Pastors, Executive Pastors, and Senior Leaders. And you had to really go through some kind of approval process to make sure that is all that was in the realm. So everything just felt so applicable. I remember thinking — two full days, I remember thinking on the second day like I’m going to just take a mental break and check out, because I’m getting all that information coming at me like a fire hose, and I could never check out because everything was just so applicable and good. And so that was excellent. I also really love Podcasts. And so I love to listen to Carey Nieuwhof, and Craig Groeschel, and Dan Ryland. So those are just some of the ones that I listen to. I enjoy reading books, as well. Podcasts are probably more my favorite because I can do that while I am working out or typically walking the dog, or running, or something. But I do enjoy reading a lot of those same authors, and then just anything else that someone hands me that’s a leadership model or leadership discussion type book.
Yeah. But I think I pulled from — I think I do pull a lot from my history in my field before this, which is just unique because I felt silly, when I first got called into ministry, it took me an entire year — this is a little segue here, but I’m just going to give it to you here for a second but it took me a year to really debate with God. Was I called to the River Church or was I called to ministry? And nobody else, my husband, our Lead Pastor, my mentor, nobody else really thought that question was pertinent to them. They kind of kept asking why does that question keep coming back to you. But it really did. They kept on back to me. And I think that I felt silly. I felt silly that I had this train in another field and was here now in this role and really didn’t have the training that most people had. So I’m actually now a ministry student and taking some online courses to pursue licensure and pursue ordination eventually. And so it’s going to be a long process because I’m a mom, and I’m going to take my time as I work in parents and a wife, and all those things. But it’s something I am pursuing so that I can be fully equipped in the way God wants me to be. But yeah, I think now, I look at that and say, wow that’s really cool that God called me out of a different career because He doesn’t waste anything and He’s using so much of that.
Yeah, absolutely. Amy, what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
I think the encouragement is really along with what I’m just saying that, we have our responsibility to pursue training. We have our responsibility to pursue somebody mentoring us. But we also have a responsibility to just continue to trust that God really equipped for the work He calls us to. And sometimes that’s day-to-day equipping. Sometimes, I think, in the moment, He’s equipping me. Other times, I can look back and say, oh, now that makes sense. Now, I can see some purpose from something else I’ve experienced in life and see where He was using that and equipped me from it. But I think often times we get into leadership, and we just kind of start to pull up our own selves with just our self-reliance, this go getter attitude, and hard work ethic. So we’re just trying to do so much on our own that ministry is still ministry. And God desires for us not just to tell other people to step out in face and have to tell other people to trust in Him, but He desires for us to continue to live that out. And so to allow Him space to continually equip us and change our leadership, even, as the demands change, to even change those things that He has given us so that we can further be equipped for the next stage in our leadership.
That’s great. Amy, thanks so much for being on the Podcast today.
Yeah. Thanks for having me.