Welcome back to Monday Morning Church. Today, Andy Wagner is joining us from Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg, Virginia. Andy, great to have you on today.
It’s great to be here Courtney.
Andy you are the Executive Pastor at Cornerstone Chapel, and you’ve been on staff since the late nineties, did you come on to staff as an XP or did that position evolve?
Definitely evolved. Our pastor asked me to come on almost twenty years ago to help counseling, our counseling ministry. That was my background. I went to school and worked with the youth department at Cornerstone Chapel in my college years and decided I would prefer to counsel. And so went back for a Master’s degree, and then once that was completed, our pastor asked me to come back and handle, probably he was estimating that he spent about twenty to thirty hours a week in counseling, and that wasn’t his gifting or his desire to do that. He wanted to lead the church and so he asked me to come on staff in that role and then over the next ten years when there was a gap in our men’s ministry or small groups ministry, even in our youth department, I was helping out in a variety of roles in addition to counseling. And that’s how the role in evolved, especially when our church went on to a construction project. And that’s really when the role of Executive Pastor began, the board had to make a decision, whether they wanted to bring someone from without or to bring someone from within to lead the building project, and so they decided that with my varied experience and my relationship with our pastor, that it would be best to ask me to do that. And that’s really when I began in the role of Executive Pastor.
So what was the date of that then that you began to officially be Executive Pastor?
Probably ten years ago.
Okay, now coming on to cover the counseling needs and then leading a building project, are two very different skill sets. So I’m curious what that was like for you transitioning into more of an administrative role?
Yeah. I think I do have some gifts in administration; counseling for me is more of just helping people and pointing people to God and listening and problem solving. For me, getting involved in counseling was never grown out of a huge heart of compassion to work with people long term, but more of just trying to use wisdom from God’s word in application and problem solving and more short term. And so short term problem solving, also knowing for a long time the pastor and having his heart, helping different ministries work together and bring unity and harmony between departments and ministries, and our leadership. So it was much more of a mediator role that I was playing and had played for a long time, encouraging everyone to work together, a little bit of coaching in there as well. And so it was kind of a unique role that I had, and so I think that’s how the church transition took place.
So what would you say today are your main areas of responsibility?
Probably just making sure everyone’s on the same team. At Cornerstone we share everything, we share our new building, we share a graphics team, communication team, facilities, events, IT, finance, AV, and so all of our ministries don’t have their own individual departments. We share these apartments, and so making sure that everyone’s on the same page, making sure everyone’s working together, that we all have the same goals that were unified in our mission and our vision. Think that’s the big picture, but that’s definitely what I do day to day. Just trying to help with unity and harmony within the staff, and then connecting the rest of the staff with the heart and the vision of our senior pastor.
Now you talk about being on the same team and you’ve got a large staff there at Cornerstone Chapel, so what are some practical ways that you administrate to address some challenges, some kind of communication challenges, and connection challenges?
Well, for example, today we have what’s called an opcom meeting, operations and communications, and so we get everyone around the room. It’s really important to get everyone around the table that is involved, and so we specifically asked about fifteen people to get around the table for us to review our services, evaluate our mid-week and weekend services, and make sure that everyone is on the same page regarding, here’s what announcements we’re going to have, here’s who’s going to share the announcements, if we’re having a guest speaker, or here’s where we are in the teaching, any promo videos we’ve got, what’s the lighting in the sanctuary going to look like. And so that’s one of the ways that we meet on a weekly basis to both evaluate and then look forward, so that we’re always trying to improve our large events. Then we also meet on weekly basis with each of our pastors oversee a certain ministry, and so they can kind of report back, we just got back from a men’s retreat, we had over two hundred men at a retreat, and then coming back today, we spent time evaluating that event looking to see how we can do it better for next year, what changes we need to make… it’s hard to avoid those meetings, but I think those meetings are helpful and definitely beneficial with the goal of evaluation with the goal of keeping them simple and think a lot of our meetings are spent deciding what we’re not going to do and what we’re going to say no to more than what we are going to do or say yes to. And then I think the last thing is just for me to be available, it’s very helpful for me to be out of my office almost more than it’s helpful for me to be in my office. I need to be circulating. I need to know the request that the pastors are making on our graphics team and communications team and events team. I didn’t know what those requests are and how if there’s a better, more efficient way to do that. And so I need to be available to problems, problem solve and troubleshoot, and maybe break the tie and mediate between all the different ministries and departments. And so availability is important as well.
How have you incorporated technology to answer some of the challenges? Some of the evaluations, knowing what kind of requests are coming in?
We use Fellowship One and that’s our database management that helps us keep track of the congregation and from that, we’ve started to use a program called Service You and then helps to schedule internal and congregational events and all the resources that we have. I think we use a program called bamboo for our HR department, and that helps keeping track of all of our staff, and their away time and their health benefits. And then Planning Center is the program that we use for all of our services that we schedule so that we have a time system and input for all the announcements and songs and where we are in scripture that week. And so that also schedules all the volunteers that we have for all of our services, including ushers and our safety team, and our parking ministry, and schedules all the pastors and where there stationed that weekend as well.
Now, there was a day, and it was probably around the time when you came on staff in the ’90’s, when churches did pretty much everything from within. And so you just listed off a pretty impressive list of resources that come from the outside. What was that transition like for your church to be receptive and apply some of these outside applications or programs?
I think going in, it’s just the understanding that there’s going to be an adjustment period. Maybe as a counselor, I understand that every adjustment, there’s a little bit of depression and anxiety that comes with it. And so there’s going to be a learning process. And so we take a lot of time to research the different technology that we’re going to use and take time to troubleshoot ahead of time. But if we feel like this is going to be best for both our congregation and our staff, then we move forward with it and we deal with some of the setbacks that we have or some of the adjustment issues, growing pains that we have, and we just trust the system. And I think that that’s been true with almost every piece of technology that we’ve used… it hasn’t been necessarily the technology that’s been the problem in that first six months’ adjustment period, it’s been user error or training, or just maybe a lack of trust, like I’d rather do it the old way. And so it’s just getting everybody on board. But I would say it takes at least six months, maybe even up to a year sometimes before everybody gets on board and everybody starts to use it the way that it was meant to be used, and then the gains can be seen. We can say, look back and say, “I can’t remember a day when we used to keep track of everybody’s time away on an excel spreadsheet and all the human error that was potentially available in that.” So, we see the value, but it just takes time.
I find your perspective coming from a counseling background to be really interesting applied to this Executive Pastor position. You talked about the adjustment period for any kind of introduction or change, and you became an Executive Pastor in a building program, which is not known to be an easy time for a church. I wonder from your perspective, what are some reflections on building projects and managing or encouraging people in that transition?
We like to do some research around here. And so the senior pastor and I did some trips and talked to some different people, that had been through the process and asked them what they had learned and any advice that they could give. And I asked the question to most people I interact with, what would you do differently if you had to do it all over again? And the research shows that the senior pastor burns out after a building project and only lasts another year to a year and a half tops. And so we decided to do it differently, and so our board hired me in a specific role as a representative for the building project. And so I would meet with our construction management team our engineers, our architects, the town of Leesburg that we dealt with the county that we dealt with, and then I would report back to both the senior pastor and the board, to try to shield him.
I mean our church mission, we told our congregation throughout this building project, we’re not going to change our focus, we’re not going to change our structure, we told the pastor is the same thing, we don’t want to limit ministry in any way because of the building project, and so rather than make decisions through a committee, I was given the authority and the ability to make those decisions with the input from the board and the senior pastor. And so I would be the one attending all the meetings, I’d be walking the property, walking the construction with all the different teams that were doing that, making quick decisions, because I think the biggest concern that the construction team had was, if we’re working with the committee, how long is it going to take for us to make a decision on what color carpet goes in, or how many seats we’re going to build, day to day decisions that need to be made for this project, and in hindsight we’re really thankful for the process, and we love our new facility and had very few regrets. But it was definitely unique and it was an experience for our congregation and for our team that I’m sure we’ll look back on for years. We love all the experience that we gained, but our senior pastor has not burned out as a part of the process, and that was important for us, and ministry never suffered.
I think it’s really interesting shielding the senior pastor and then most churches would tend to put together a committee to make all the decisions, which is good to have multiple heads involved, but can also take a lot of time. So really interesting you guys chose to have you as a point person to make those quick decisions.
I would go and find the experts in all the different apartments and really interview them. We had specialists in all these different areas that were helping us all along the way, it just wasn’t committee based. So a lot of helpful people that volunteered their time to help us make this happen….
You’ve mentioned research multiple times in the course of this interview. So you seem like you are a national researcher, where do you go to learn and be refreshed and continue to be challenged in your position as Executive Pastor?
I think it’s a personality thing and it’s a difference, it’s a way that myself and our senior pastor kind of balance each other out. Our senior pastor likes to make quicker decisions than I do. And so a lot of times if I can ask him to trust me enough to take some more time to make sure we’re making the right decision, it becomes a good balance. But usually, I think I’ve had on my computer on my favorites and my bookmarks a list of churches, probably thirty/forty/fifty churches long that I see that share similar values that are maybe a similar size, share similar structures, and so I will look on their websites, I’ll call different people, asking them if I see that people have done a certain event or gone with a certain program, a certain technology that they’ve used, we’ll call them and find out and say, how is working for you? I think every technology that we mentioned Service You, Fellowship One, Bamboo, Planning Center, we have been calling churches asking them, “hey have you found anything better?” And to networking were affiliated with Cavalry Chapel, and that’s one of the things, one of our resources, just been asking different churches, different Cavalry Chapels throughout the country. “What have you found? What’s been helpful? What hasn’t been helpful?” I don’t want us to reinvent the wheel, or to feel like this is the first time that any church has ever done something. We find a church that’s done it before and then try to learn from them so that we don’t make the same mistakes. And I think that’s been helpful for us.
Yeah, that’s great. Andy, to close, is there a word of encouragement that you’d like to pass on to other Executive Pastors?
Yeah, I guess I go back to something just as simple as the word “harmony,” harmony is used in the scriptures, and I think it just means different sounds that come together to create a new sound, and we really, really focus on that here at Cornerstone Chapel, we want our staff to be in harmony, and I think if the staff can be in harmony, I think the congregation senses it. I think they feel it. I think they look to that and that’s like an example for them. And so when they see our events or they see different services that we do when they see us getting along and they see us in harmony, in unity, I think it encourages the congregation, that it’s possible that we can be on the same team and so we pray about that, we have staff meetings once a month, we pray for harmony, we pray for unity and we really try to implement everything that we do to try to encourage it as well. And so just encourage Executive Pastors to really encourage their staff to be on the same team and then do what it takes to make that happen as well.
That’s great. Andy, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Sure. Yeah I’ve loved it, thank you Courtney.