Marc Sundstrom, Executive Pastor of the Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, IN
Monday Morning Church
Welcome to Monday Morning Church. Today we have a very special guest, we have Brian Dennert from Faith Church who’s joined us today. Good morning, Brian, how are you?
I’m well, thanks.
Brian, we’re excited to have you on the show, to learn a little bit more about you. Why don’t you go ahead and get started with a little bit of your journey to becoming the executive pastor at Faith Church?
Yeah, so I’m relatively new into this executive pastor role, been officially full time and executive pastor for only a few months now, took on as an interim role about six to nine months ago, so I’ve been kind of growing into it. But my background is having been a pastor, so started out as a youth pastor in the western suburbs of Chicago. Served there for a couple of years, then it’s adult ministries, while I was doing some other academic work, ended up doing a PhD. And while I was doing my PhD, did a lot of children’s ministry, surprisingly enough. Children’s ministry, men’s ministry, kind of assistant pastor preaching when the pastor’s gone, leading bible studies from there, a church plant, kind of a second site church plant from that particular church. I have couple of years of experience there, and then joined Faith Church’s staff back in summer 2015, initially overseeing leadership training, serving as kind of a theological resource part of the preaching team. And then having been on staff for a little bit when our executive pastor left, started taking on more responsibilities and being able to use some the administrative gifts I have. So I kind of grew into the role there, so able to draw on all those different, like I said, all these other ministries. I understand ministry, also love administration organization, so work well with the senior pastor, and he said ‘Let’s make this a partnership.’ So I moved into the executive pastor role.
That’s great. So you’ve come more from the ministry. You’re still active in preaching at the church on that side rather than maybe from a business background, you’ve come from that ministry side of things. You said you’ve only been in it for a few several months now, but how has that transition been going from the ministry side to a little bit more of the administrative side?
Yeah, I’m still working through that a little bit because I still want to be involved as a pastor and part of the preaching, meeting with the pastors, even doing some congregational care and membership classes, and those things that really scratch that pastoral itch in calling. But, in part because our staff is so large, we have… so we have seven campuses domestically here, and we have 90+ employees, 40 to 50 of them full-time or pretty substantial roles. So in some ways, I view it as I’m a pastor to the staff, and so a lot of what I’m doing is serving and helping the staff and whether it’s coaching them and working with them. So that way it kind of balances, I still am doing pastoral ministry, but then as a person who loves order, organization, even in my pastoral roles, I’ve been that person. So as an associate pastor before, I was the guy that… end of the day, okay, what are we doing? How do we do this next? So it’s been kind of a natural flow. And while I don’t have the business background, one of the things I’m blessed with, my dad is a CPA, so he taught me a love of spreadsheets and numbers and details from a young age, so I can enter into that and don’t have the formal background. Even part of our story, the previous executive pastor has that business background, was a guy from the business world. So what’s happened, he left, he’s still part of the church, so it’s happened to some…what things should I learn, but we also have a good team on that administrative side that I put a lot of trust in them. And so I’m helping them, but they’re excellent at their jobs. So we don’t have to do all the details that there may be another execute pastor might have to do.
Maybe you can go into a little bit more about, you said Faith Church has a staff of about 90, 40 to 50 full-time people that are there. How is your system set up? What’s the scope of your role? What do you oversee? Can you give a little bit more background there?
Yeah, so the overall structure of Faith Church, we have a senior pastor who has been kind of the leader and the catalyst for a church that back in the early 90s was kind of moving towards decline and dying. And he came in and helped bring some renewal, and then that church has kept on growing and growing, actually moved to get more land, bigger building, kept on growing, and then realized this multisite strategy might be the best way because we couldn’t build buildings fast enough to house all the people. And so he has been the driving force, the senior leader. So he is the senior pastor over all this organization. But each campus has a campus pastor who is the primary preacher for that campus. We do servings and collaboration, but also the shepherd and the staff leader. So there’s a worship leader, a children’s director, any other staff. The campus pastor oversees that staff. We have some that oversees all the campus pastors. And so kind of where I function is between that and then the senior pastor. So I oversee kind of all the central operations we have. So finances, technology, all those things. Those people report to me, the person who oversees campuses, he reports to me and then in our Dyer campus, which is our largest campus where a senior pastor usually preaches, I oversee a lot of the staff there. So I kind of function as the chief of staff for our Dyer campus for our central organization. And then the next step between the campuses and a senior pastor. So our organizational charts, almost the senior pastor, under the executive pastor, and everything else flows from there down to campuses and their campus pastors.
Yeah, that sounds like a similar setup to the way we see a lot of the, some of the larger churches in the area that have been set up. What’s your favorite part about your job? You get to do a lot, to see a lot on both sides of things. What are some of the things you really love doing?
Yeah, I think, and maybe it is a little bit of the pastor’s heart is just being able to work with so many different people and to bring ideas and insights and be like, hey, here, what’s going on? They balance ideas off of me and I kind of can tweak them, fine tune them. Even last night, I had a meeting with the committee where we weren’t sure about some things, brought some ideas out and they really helped us flow forward. I’m the sort of person who likes to bring order from chaos, in a certain sense that is what our God does in creation. So I’m not comparing myself to God by any means (laughs). But I guess so, when we have structures or things that aren’t clear, to be the person say, here’s how we’re going to do that. And I view that as service, that structures are meant to serve. When there’s no structure, people are unclear, people aren’t motivated, they don’t know what they’re doing, but if I give them structure and ideas and clarity, I’m loving them and helping them. And so I want to be that helper for the staff for that servant.
I really like that quote you gave, structures are meant to serve. That’s a really good one. I think that kind of sums up what a lot of executive pastors strive to be, too, it’s really nice. You had mentioned that you oversee the technology aspect of what goes on in the church. What is the role of technology of a church your size that’s growing? What are the key things that you have in place from a technology standpoint?
Yeah, to be honest, I think we’re still trying to figure a lot of that out. And so while I oversee the technology, I’m not the one directly involved in a lot of things, but oversee the person who is overseeing the technology. One of the things we’ve been trying to move more towards is being more cloud-based and collaborative. So this past year, we actually switched email platforms from Microsoft Office, that sort of format, went with Google, in part because it also gave us the ability to do a lot with the cloud and the Drive and collaboration. So as an example, campus pastors now have a folder where they can throw all of their notes, their ideas for their sermons and collaborate with each other very easily, or if someone’s off site. So we have all these employees, not all of them have office, it’s our central office. So when they have access to what they need to have access to all the time and just knowing ministry is about getting out there, not just getting people in. And that’s been a smart move. And just some other things, trying to think through. We switched this past year to using Slack as a kind of inter-office communication, tried cut down on the amount of emails, which people appreciate, but also to bring camaraderie to people. There’s message board, people just have fun with it. So we’ve been doing some of that. We’re still trying to think through how do you leverage email, social media, those things, in this day and age, knowing that people don’t always read emails. So how do we communicate to people? What are the various means? We have databases and those things, but try also make sure all of the data is centralized so we don’t have five different databases going on and they did a few years back. That’s been helpful, but we’re still struggling because people will, congregationally, some people love technology, and some people don’t use technology, and that can be true staff-wise too, so how you design something that’s user friendly, that’s accessible. So we’re still working through that. I think the other big thing we’ve done this past two years that’s been helpful technologically is pushing a lot more online giving to have more clarity that people can give online. And that’s been been helpful for a lot of our congregation who no longer carries cash or a generation that doesn’t know how to write a check sometimes, but we still… I joke sometimes we’re a church that has online giving platforms, but we also send out the quarterly giving envelopes to members. Some people love those envelopes and that’s the idea. So we want to, they can opt out of those and someone say, hey, I don’t need those now, I’m doing it online. Hey, whatever works for you. But let’s not say no more envelopes, only online and vice versa.
Yeah, it’s a challenge to bring everyone altogether into a new era. And it sounds like you guys are doing your best to make sure that no one feels left out or no one feels like you got to get on this train or nothing else, that’s nice. You talked about different services like Google and Slack, which are great obviously for the off site and multisite type setup that you have. Can you talk a little bit more about the challenges of managing, administering a team that is in so many different locations when you need to communicate?
Yeah, that’s a good thing that I don’t know if we totally solved. It goes back to the simple, this past year, one of the things he says, we need better inter-office communication. So now I send a weekly staff updates to all of our staff as people, not everyone’s in the office, not everyone can make staff meetings because some people are… they were 10 hours in children’s ministry, but they also did another job. And while people, but then also, how do you actually get people to maybe look forward to those. So I try to insert jokes and try to highlight ministries. And so it’s not just, hey, what’s going on? These are important. Memo is, okay, this meeting this time, make sure you have your time cards in, that stuff, but to say, how can we have some fun and to say, hey, here’s a ministry. Did you know that this ministry has been doing cool stuff? So hopefully people look forward to that as something to celebrate. So trying to go with that and just knowing you have to trust the campus leaders that they’re communicating with their staff. And so just to emphasize that, to almost over emphasize that, and when you do communicate more globally, make sure it’s worth it. And they’re not just bombarding people with things. And so those have been some elements and trying us to get with the more cloud-based stuff, to make it easier for people to access things when they’re not in the office has been… people have really liked a little bit of that flexibility or that capability with…
Yeah, great. You mentioned that you’re fairly new to your position now. Who do you look for? You said that the executive pastor before is still part of the congregation, but outside of your initial circle, who do you look for for mentorship, for guidance in your new role?
Yeah, so I’ve had a couple of meetings with some other local executive pastors that have been helpful, just to kind of get some clarity from their experiences and what they’re like. And so a lot of those structures and things have been helpful. I think peer-to-peer learning is one of the best ways to go, because it’s such a unique role. And I’ve also had a chance to read a couple books, Mike, if I say his name correctly, Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson, Leading from the Second Chair. So I read that book right when I moved into the position to kind of understand the role and they have some really good insights. And then actually, Bonem just came out with a new book called Thriving in the Second Chair, about 10 practices that can help you really, not just simply survive, but thrive, and really tied uniquely to that position. So those have been kind of distant mentors where you’re reading and say, yes, it’s just like that, or reading, this person’s role is this and this. Mine might be a little different. So those have been some other elements. And I continue to try and network with some other executive pastors. One of the nice things being in the Chicagoland area, we have a lot of larger churches, a lot of churches that are multisite, so it’s not, I’m not a unique bird in that category.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. Especially those books you mentioned, I’m sure are very helpful as you look to that. So, we’re at the start of 2017 here, looking forward, what are your priorities for the coming year? You can just kind of close on this note about, what are you are you going to hope happens by the end of 2017 for Faith Church?
That season of time to think that through. And one of the things we did last year was, we did some rebranding, really thinking through mission and vision and values and unveiled that. So last year was, this is a good mission statement. We make that more concrete with a vision statement, and then what are the core values for our congregation. The goal of 2017 is to try to live into that more, so maybe trying to work on something of a staff covenant, or these are our values. What does that mean? What does that look like for us concretely as a staff? Because if we can embody these values, then hopefully our congregation can. So just some structures we have, we have a chapel with staff once a month where we’re going to go through and how their values are, how we find them in scripture and try to have other meetings of what might that look like. I mean, we’re going to try to refine some organizational stuff in terms of revising the org chart and making it more clear for people revising our handbook for the staff, just to make some policies clear for people. So just some practical means, but even those structures to serve, to bring clarity to people, to serve them and make sure their values and this moment really reflect who we’re at. So those are some goals. And then just globally, we want make sure that we’re solidifying each of our campuses when there is that meeting going on, there’s always, you want to make sure there’s good attention to each of them and helping each person, no one feeling isolated.
Right. Excellent. Sounds like you got enough to keep you busy for the year. That sounded like a good point.
Yeah, definitely enough to keep you busy.
Brian, thanks a lot for joining us on the call. Anything you want to end with, a note of encouragement for other executive pastors out there?
One of the things that I’ve been discovering in the role is to remember that every executive pastor position and executive pastor is different, in part because every church is different. Every senior pastor is different. And so I want to learn from others, but I also need to make sure I know what does this church and this pastor need in this moment, and how do I fit into that? And I believe I’m the person that is here for this moment to help serve the staff, the pastor, the church. And so, learn these resources, but also just make sure you’re thinking, who am I and what does this church need, these people need? I think it’s good, you can be free to be who you are in light of that moment.
Very good, good advice. Thanks a lot, Brian, hope you have a great day.
You too, Neil.