Welcome back to Monday Morning Church. Ben Stewart from Belmont Church in Nashville, Tennessee is joining us today. Great to have you, Ben.
It’s good to be here.
Ben you are the Executive Pastor at Belmont church and while you’re newer to the Executive Pastor position at Belmont, you’ve got over 20 years of experience at various churches and in various pastoral roles. Would you give a really quick overview of the different types of churches, attendance, how many campuses location and what your role was at those churches?
Absolutely, I started off a ministry fresh out of school. It’s not even ministry school, just enjoying psychology, electrical engineering, and jumped into a church that we’ve been a part of for a couple of years. And it was a non-denominational church in the South, down in Louisiana and probably had 1500 or so in attendance there. And I came on staff as the new students pastor and the worship pastor there, and really cut my teeth on ministry there, learned a lot about what it means to be in ministry and served there for this full time role for about eight years. And then we took a temporary role where we went to a church in Texas that we were able to connect with, to do some revamping of student ministries I have been a student pastor then for like 10 years or so, 8 years as a full time role. But I had a different take on how to do youth ministry and focus on leadership and things like that. So served at that church in Texas for just under two years, really just to refresh and rebuild their student ministries. But during that time, I really even more so fell in love with what it meant to lead people, and I had to bite my own words, I’m saying, I’d never be anything but a youth pastor and then ended up taking more of the Executive Pastor role. This is what end up happening, and that was through church in New Orleans, a church in Chicago and now here in good old Nashville Tennessee.
Those have been some pretty different types of churches. You come from Chicago, which was a larger congregation with multiple sites, and now you’re at Belmont which has one location in one service. Do you see much of a difference in that Executive Pastor role between churches that look pretty different from the outside or do you find Monday through Friday is really not that different?
Actually, I would say it’s completely different to… it takes the same skill set, but you have different targets. When I was in the church in Chicago, there was a lot more of adhering to systems that we put in place. And actually when we came on staff there, it wasn’t the size that it is now. We really had to create the system for that size and how to have great central communication and how to have multi-site. And there was a lot of exploring in that and a lot of creating in that, it was a lot of fun and absolutely still love the church, everything they’re doing. But it was a different way of leading an executive role, there was more of really checking in positions and doing evaluations and more on a management level. But when you transfer into a role where you’re an Executive Pastor, where you’re a little closer in proximity to the people, it takes the same skill sets. You just end up leading a little differently and being on staff here at Belmont for the last five months, it’s been refreshing to get back to recognizing that every decision isn’t two staff roles away as some of them, it’s a single staff role away from feeling some of those decisions. But on both rolls it’s really neat that God uses your skill sets, whatever those are, to really just thrive in the role that you’re in. So, I guess I would say it’s a lot different, but it still requires the same set of desire to develop people to be strong administratively and to be a creative thinker.
That’s really interesting. Now, Belmont, how many do you run on a Sunday morning? How many staff do you have?
So Belmont runs about, in this season, I’d say about 600, 650. It used to be a 3000 member church, multiple services, but went through some difficult time, like log churches do, but Belmont has a rich 100 year history, so they’re not going anywhere. They’ve been around for quite a while. And as far as staff was, we have 15 full time and part time employees on our team here.
Now, this difficult time for the church, are you coming into your role kind of in the middle of that healing, or was this a while back?
So, there were different stages of it. I would say we’re coming in on a time when the church has made some solid decisions to get out of some of the stuff that it’s been in for the last several years. So, it’s definitely on the rebuilding side of things. But, it’s really unique because one of the fun statements that onset around here is, if you’re going to leave Belmont, you probably already left and it’s true. This group of church members are so passionate about God and so passionate about the community that we’re in. We’re already starting to see in the last five months, 10 or 15 percent increase. It’s been really neat.
I would imagine from the Executive Pastor role, there’s gotta be some level of excitement for you to come into a place that’s just kind of ready to launch in a lot of ways.
It is. My love is to take things that aren’t functioning well and help them to function really well and sometimes that’s systems, but a lot of times that’s people. And it’s just been a lot of fun opening up the doors in people’s lives to actually do what they’re called to do and who they’re called to be.
So in this first year of being on at Belmont, what do you find that you are focusing on the most? Is it that leadership development, you said you had grown a passion for, or is it more cleaning up systems getting them ready for some growth?
It’s all the above. I’m a planner, so I’ve planned out, I’ve mapped out what I’m doing for the next 18 months or so with a team. And the first part was honestly healing. It was bringing back the staff that had been without a leader for almost two years, and now some of the hurt from previous things that happened at Belmont, they completely changed the roles. So this Executive Pastor role is unique in the sense that there isn’t a senior pastor. It’s an Executive Pastor role, and then there’s a teaching pastor role. I get to operate more on some of the visionary side of things that maybe in previous roles I wasn’t able to do at this level. So it’s been a lot of building team right now and just building that trust. There’s definitely some systems conversation, but honestly, the biggest focus has been really just empowering the staff to do what the staff are called to do, and really unlocking some of those apprehensive or fear based responses from the past and to really just unlocking how they can do it really well now.
Now, both you and the teaching pastor are newer on staff, and typically you would have two of the higher profile positions on the church. Have you found the two of you coming together? How have you blended your own styles or is that something you’re still kind of figuring out?
Oh lord, we’re still figuring that out. It’s part of the fun. They honestly couldn’t have picked a better guy to be in the role, Paul is amazing. We actually mesh really well together. For us it’s even a whole new governance structure that’s changed here on the team. And so, it’s kind of walking through that new governance because it’s new for all the staff as well. There are definitely those days that you go home and you go, man this is overwhelming. And then those days that you go home and you just know that God puzzle pieced you here. So it’s pretty, unique.
So, I want to go back, and this would not have been something you would’ve been a part of until they’re very end, but when it came for Belmont to search for these two really significant positions as teaching pastor position and Executive Pastor. How did they go about finding the two of you? It’s not like you were both at a church already working together and they ordered a team. How did they find you?
They sent a precedent, they wanted to hire the Executive Pastor first, since it was really going to be the chair position of the church, and they wanted to make sure that role was filled. And then that Executive Pastor be a part of the teaching pastor process. They ran both processes at the same time, and they used an outside source, which I know as Executive Pastor, we all wonder, is it better just to hire within our own ability or to hire through an outside source? And I think I’m really good at hiring people, and I still would say, hire through an outside source just because you end up learning a lot more about what you’re really wanting in that process then anything you do as yourself. So they hired a firm to do it. Firm did a great job. Both of us were completely coincidental that we even were in the conversation and somehow ended up… I got hired, and then I was able to be part of the interview process for Paul our teaching faster. That was really, really cool and critical as well, that relationship.
So on Monday through Friday with the staff, and in some ways, you’re still getting to know and there’s healing going on. What are some of the administrative challenges that you face?
For here specifically, it’s probably every church you go to, administratively it’s really making sure that the systems that are working at Belmont are working well. And the systems that are not, we’re looking at those and creating a new process for that. A lot of times for a 100 year church, there are some things that are in place that’s just been there because they’ve been there, and that’s one of the things you have to address as well, is whether or not it’s worth messing with, or if it’s one of those things that you just keep moving on with. But at ministry, that’s probably the biggest thing right now in any new pastor that comes in. It’s part of that process as well for them to decide, what do I mess with and what do I leave alone? Because some things take a little bit more relational equity, even though it’s administrative and some things are actually build relational equity when you make those changes.
I want to dig a little more into this systems baggage that you mentioned. Every church has it, and you’ve been in multiple churches. What would you say are the most universal systems baggage that churches carry regardless of size?
I’m going to be very vague and say it’s any system that we have that we don’t know why we have it. But people just still do it. I’ll give you one example here. Groups used to be a big part of Belmont and they kind of stopped, but there are groups that are still going on, that have been going for over 20 years and to create a new system of developing group leaders and group programming and really (?delene = depend) on our community life team to do that. Part of that baggage is too, and it’s good… Part of that baggage is how do we include those who’ve been faithful in this? How do we create the process that doesn’t just force everybody to change, but takes the good parts of what we’re doing and really emphasize those, but then also introduce in some ways the relevance that’s needed for us to be multi-generational and how we do groups. But there’s always a baggage in any process and that is the forgotten why’s of what we’re doing. And we just went over this at a staff meeting yesterday about one of our homeless ministry opportunities here downtown. We’ve had so many exceptions to how we do it, that the question came up yesterday, well why we do it the way we do it? And it’s one of these systems. It’s beautiful to see the staff process it, because it begins to ask the right questions, which is, why are we doing this? And then you apply that back to the system and you kind of figure out what parts answer that why and what parts didn’t. And there are a few cases where you don’t change anything. You just reminded everybody of the purpose of why you’re doing it. And that itself creates a momentum.
That’s great. With the hiring, Belmont was open to bringing in the outsource, the hiring process for you and the teaching pastor. What about addressing some of these administrative challenges that you do have? What kind of technology or maybe even outsourcing have you done to address some of these challenges at Belmont or one of your other churches?
Well, obviously collaboration is a big deal, and if you don’t have good relationships with other people that are in your role than you’re not going to have the best means of picking out what works. I found that I absolutely love a social internet within an office community. So basically, social internet is, we’ve found is just the best collaborative tool you can have. There’s a lot of great things like every church typically has some kind of church management software, whether it’s CCB or FellowshipOne, those things, but we just found that we had way too many other things, whether it was boot camp or slack or those kind of things to connect with it. We just compound the one for us, we found a great tool that really allows us to have very Facebook type conversations within the team. It’s a great HR component, and it really just allows us even to build things off a project or within different departments within our staff store everything. We have to go to some other server to grab stuff. And I personally think that technology is… it can be cumbersome if you are just trying to solve individual solutions, but if you are thinking through how to bring everything together, it can be one of the best tools, because too often, staff end up just doing things through email trails and we all know how impossible that is.
Yeah, definitely. Would you mind name dropping this Facebook-type conversation tool?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah. So the best one that we found is Bitrix24 and it has non-profit rates, and it literally has places for you to announce things to your staff. It’s a dashboard on the desktop. It’s cloud based. Unlimited storage is just a great, great, great tool for us to have conversations in our teams. And it’s good for collaboration, it is good for meeting notes. It’s good for calendaring. It’s just pretty…
That’s really great. It’s always really helpful for anyone listening to know the resources that have been actually helpful and worth the money.
Absolutely, absolutely. And obviously it doesn’t replace your typical… whether using ShelbyNext or CCB or FellowshipOne, but it’s a good combination to that.
That’s great. So Ben, where do you go to learn more about being a great Executive Pastor?
That question was sent, I only had three answers. One is, the online resources like Xpastor, or some good blogs to subscribe to. Everybody subscribes to Seth’s blog or Michael Hyatt and those kind of things, but I’m kind of a fan of some of the obscure ones and just stuff that you just get information from. I honestly, this is going to sound so daggone cliche, I know, but I have learned more about leadership just studying Christ and his conversation to disciples. I do my own personal, obviously, time with God, but aside from that I have just the time I set aside to really just study leadership in the words, and that’s just fun. The last thing is relationships. And I think the best way learn about executive leadership is not only to have good Executive Pastor networks, but to also have friends that are in sea level roles that aren’t in actual ministry, because we learn a lot about what’s happening. I think the church world is too often 20 years behind the rest of business world, and we can learn a lot from being connected outside of our normal network.
Absolutely. So I want to end on this. What encouragement would you give to other Executive Pastors?
Man, I didn’t see that on the questions. Just one, well, there’s two. One is, always remember that God has people not problems. And I remember I was about to have to get on to one of our worship leaders. We had five worship leaders at the time. At the church I was serving in, and one was being really rude to the other one and just silly stuff. And I was about to call him to the office to talk to him. And my wife always tell me to pray before every meeting. So I was doing that, and the lord spoke to me and said, Ben I have people not problems, and I of course retorted back with, but he’s a problem. And I just sat there and let God work on me a little bit. And when (?Jim) came up to my office, instead of just addressing the problem, I first addressed the person. I just asked him, hey man, how are you doing? That hour-long meeting, we spent 50 minutes of him crying and sharing some of the stuff going on his life. And at the end of it, he said, hey, can I tell you something? Yeah. What’s that? He goes, man I have been really rude to our other worship leaders and I need to go apologize to them. And that was 12 years ago when that happened. And it actually changed the way that I do ministry. Now, I don’t think that anything that we can build within a staff culture based off the systems is really going to change anything. Systems only support the ministry nature that we should have as Executive Pastors. And so, I feel like our number one resource is people and not for using, but as a target for us to actually unlock the gifts that are in them… I think that’s probably what’s helped me to sustain in ministry because there are very difficult times in ministry. There are times when every Executive Pastor feels like they’re not good enough at some point. They’re going to feel like they’re not having authority at some point. They’re going to feel like things are out of their control and it’s not working out well. But when you remember that you’re in that position because the people that God placed under you and around you and above you, then your role completely changes and you’re not looking at the stress of it. You are looking at the opportunity of it. I guess my encouragement would be is, remember why you’re an Executive Pastor. It’s not to make a church be great, it’s so that people fall in love with God, and that includes the team that you’re leading. That will always pan out to God’s blessing to change a community.
That’s fantastic Ben. Thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Oh, it’s my pleasure.