Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Bill Bertsche is joining us today from the Moody Church in Chicago, Illinois. Great to have you on today, Bill.
Thank you, Courtney. It’s great to be here
So, Bill, tell us a little bit about your position there at the Moody Church and how you came into it.
I’m the Executive Pastor. I’ve been on staff for a little over 23 years now. I started off as the singles pastor and also had overseen our college. I did that for about 10, 11 years or so. Then I became the missions pastor. There was some overlap between the two. And that was for about 13 years. And then just over 5 years ago, I became Executive Pastor. I loved what I did as the missions pastor, but I sensed probably after doing it for about 10 years or so, that’s probably not what the Lord had for me for the next 20 years. So in a meeting, when our previous Executive Pastor announced that the Lord was leading him elsewhere, I got really excited about the possibility of this role and spoke to our senior pastor and one of the elders about it the next day. And interestingly, it’s the first role that I’ve changed into here at Moody Church that I strongly sensed the Lord driving me towards. I just finished my Doctor of Ministry degree about 6 months or so earlier. Most of my classes were in church leadership, even though I wasn’t actually in a position to implement much of what I was learning, but I was very interested in all that. And so when the position opened up, it was almost like one of those “a ha” moments where you sense that the Lord was leading you to it.
So once you got into it, it kind of felt like you would found your sweet spot.
Yeah, yeah. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being in this role and working with the staff in a new way. It’s been clearly of the Lord and it’s been a great lesson to serve in this role.
Just for people who might be listening, who are considering a shift like that, I guess, what is it about the way you’re wired or maybe the way your church is structured or the position itself, that you kind of knew that this was the right place for you?
Yeah. One of the elders asked me a question when I was interviewing for this position and he said, what are the other pastors going to think when you go from being a colleague to being their boss? And I talked to each one of them, individually, before I met with the elders, just to see what they thought given my interest in the position and so on. And most of them said, essentially, I would not want that job. It’s too administrative. It would kill me. I have no interest in it. And it really is the administrative aspect of it that appealed to me and didn’t appeal to really anybody else on staff. And so being the missions pastor, a lot of what I did was very administratively oriented. And I think the Lord gave me a really clear vision of how administration enhances ministry, and whether it’s putting together a missions conference or the meeting of a global outreach team. All of that has a direct impact on the ministries of our missionary serving overseas. So that was one of the things that really excited me about it.
So then getting more into that, what exactly falls under your responsibility today?
I basically oversee the ministries and the ministers of the church. So we’ve got about 14 pastor and ministry directors. We are an elder led church run by the ministry staff. Somewhat unique about my roles is we have a Managing Director of operations, and so currently we just work side by side and they serve all the operation stuff. So I just basically focus on the ministers and the ministries. Although we’re currently in the midst of a structural change, our senior pastor, a previous senior pastor of 36 years, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, he became our pastor emeritus about two years ago. And we began the search for his replacement shortly after he announced he would be stepping down, which was now a little over three years ago. But last fall, the congregation approved the proposal by the elders that we would divide up the responsibilities of the senior pastor into a lead pastor and lead teaching pastor responsibilities. So now the focus of our searches, I’m finding a lead teaching pastor, and when that happens, my role will change to lead pastor. And the main changes for me are going to be, I’ll be responsible for carrying forward the vision of the church, and I’ll also be preaching more than I do now, maybe 9 to 12 times a year.
Interesting. So then what would the responsibilities be for the teaching pastors at mostly like Sunday schools, extra education sermons? What would fall under that role?
Primary thing will be the majority of the preaching in the Sunday morning service. And so that’s going to be maybe 40 or so times a year, be a part of the teaching rotation in our Sunday evening service. And then also very likely, we’ll have staff, ministry staff, reporting to him over time. So those are the kind of basic outline of it now.
So are you looking forward to this kind of shift in administration or are you hesitant about some parts of it? How does the transition feel for you so far?
Since the congregational vote back in October, the elders and staff, we’ve almost been more or less operating as if it’s already happening because there’s not a senior pastor in place. And so those responsibilities have been given to me. So on the one hand, I’m very excited about it. I really enjoy what I do. I think there’s also a sense that, yes, yourself, am I really adequate for this? This wasn’t something that I had pursued when the elders began talking through this as a possibility. Initially, I’m one of the elders, but a non-voting elder, as a staff member. So I was part of some of the discussions, but not all of them. As it became clear that we were going to move in this direction and then define what my role would be, there was a process of me just hearing it, and praying about it, and talk to my wife about it, and getting excited about it. There is a small possibility. We’ve left open the door for the Lord to bring in someone who would be a great senior pastor, that’s still a possibility. It’s not a big possibility. Our focus really is on a lead teaching pastor. But even with that, my role won’t change a significant amount since our senior pastor left, but it’ll change to some degree. And so I love what I’m doing right now. And if this is the direction the lord confirms, I think that would be great. But I really love just the Executive Pastor role. And if it becomes supporting a new senior pastor, I’m sure there’ll be challenges with that that I don’t anticipate, but at least the idea of it is something that still excites me because I want to see the church move forward. I want to see us reach the city more effectively. So if a structure the Lord brings in is different than we’re all anticipating now, I sense that most of us are willing to go with that.
How would you describe the general personality and DNA of the Moody Church?
Pastor Lutzer, having been here for 36 years and our head elder, Berv Peterson, who chaired the elder board for not quite that long but as long as I’ve been here, are two men who have really marked by their Godly character and their humility, and that has permeated the entire church. There’s just a strong sense of dependence upon the Lord. On the one hand, I think a big part of our culture is we need to exalt Jesus and all that we do, not just on Sunday mornings, but how we treat each other as a staff, how we welcome people into our church. And it really should be characterized by the humility of Christ because that’s been modeled for us at the top positions of leadership for so long. And so I think that, even for me, as the Executive Pastor, I feel like I inherited a culture that modeled those things and it was my job just to not screw it up. I didn’t have to create that. I just had to just make sure that I keep moving in that direction. If the Lord was going to use me to improve it in some way, that would be great. And so in that regard, a lot of pastors had been on staff for a long time. I’m now here the longest at 23 years, but there’s 3 or 4 of the guys who’ve been here for 15 years or so, or even a little bit more. So we just tend to keep staff for a long time because it just seems to be a great environment to serve the Lord in.
So moving more into that, what is some best practice you have going on there that you all have really found success with.
A couple of things come to mind. One of the things were recently doing is Kevin Harney’s Organic Outreach. That’s just a great book. It’s one that we’re going through with our deaconess and our deacons, and pastors and elders, and even our staff, before taking it to the whole church. And one of the principles in that book is called the One Degree Rule where you’re trying to raise your outreach temperature just one degree. And what we’re seeing now is people are just getting really excited about sharing their faith, especially among the leaders. And so the book is very practical and very doable steps people can take right away to be more effective at sharing their faith. Most people know that, I should be doing this and I want to do this more, but you need a little bit of structure. You need the accountability, and you need to realize that you don’t have to have the gift of evangelism. You don’t have to have gone to seminary to be able to effectively and clearly share Christ with somebody at a variety of different levels. So that’s one thing.
On a completely different note, but something that I’m just really happy they would let us do is we are blessed with a great deal of diversity. We’re almost downtown Chicago, near north side. We have people who are extremely wealthy and then homeless people coming in. We’re also blessed to have a church family with people from over 70 different nations. And so that diversity, we see that as a gift from the Lord and something that we’re supposed to steward. And so one of the changes we made in the worship service a while ago was we have people who read structure and the service used to be the pastoral staff or the ministry staff. That’s a way of people getting to know who, in a bigger church, who the staff are. They were the ones that read the scripture. They were the ones that did the welcome. A while ago, we changed that to now everyone who is reading scripture is primarily from the congregation. We rarely have staff members read scripture in the service. We have a rotating team of people that are on the welcome team. This is the way, in part, it helps who’s on the platform to reflect the church better. But we also found that people who are reading scripture, we meet with them for prayer before the service, and I’ll thank them for being willing to do it, and usually what they say to me is, I’m just so honored to be able to do this. Thank you so much for asking me. And so I think, probably, other churches are doing that. It took us a little bit longer to figure it out, but it’s been a great, great thing. We’ve been very encouraged by it.
Yeah, it’s something that you said, which is having those who are on stage reflect the same look that you would see of those who are actually sitting in the congregation. That’s a powerful thing.
Yeah. Wish we could do more of it. In my role right now, if I could be less visible on a Sunday morning, I would actually be happy with that. I’d love to stay with my wife and my kids more. I love being upfront. Right now, I do generally invocation and pastoral prayer, and then often I’ll do the Benediction at the end of the service. Right now, I’m not preaching once a month. It’s less than that. I enjoy what I do. I love being up there. I love just welcoming people and praying and all those kinds of things. But we have other gifted people on staff, so I think maybe over time when our structure has changed, it would be great for me to be able to kind of take a back seat role in some of those areas too.
It seems like a very basic thing, having people from the congregation coming up on stage more and leading those things. But when you really get down to it, it requires a letting go of some measure of control by those in staff, which my guess is, that’s what usually prevents people from welcoming non-staff members into those more upfront visible roles.
Yeah, probably. I think we didn’t have much pushback when it came up. The value that we were operating under was people just need to know who the staff was. And what we found out is as soon as we put different people up and we asked the staff for recommendations — and there are people in our congregation who are just amazing, they’re amazing upfront. That’s what they do in their jobs during the week, or they’re just uniquely gifted at it. I think some of us kind of sat there and went, you know, it’s actually really good that we’re having folks up here. And then also, just to have, again, people that are part of the congregation — so we recently had a gentlemen from China, so his English was good but not great, and you had to pay a little bit closer attention for some people who aren’t as familiar with his accent. And yet for the church, it was such a great blessing to be able to hear him read and to know that Jesus is Lord over all nations, and that we are wonderfully blessed to have so many in our church family.
That’s a really beautiful thing. On the flip side of this, then, what is current challenge that you haven’t quite found a solution for?
I think there are probably a lot, but one that comes to mind is that, currently, all of the ministry staff report directly to me — not all of them, but there’s only a couple of exceptions. And so one thing we have to change when the new lead teacher pastor comes on, we have to restructure things. I don’t know exactly how to do that yet. You have to navigate those things in a way that doesn’t ruin the good parts of your culture, because for some people, if they’re reporting to the Executive Pastor and then they’re not, and they’re reporting to somebody else that they might feel slighted by that, they just might not like the change some people course in a church that’s growing. You may be at the table this week, and the next week you’re not. So just trying to navigate through that. It’s not something we’ve had to do. Even though the staff has grown, we’ve kind of kept it this way for a while. And then I just realized now, I don’t think I’m serving my staff very well and so we can do a better job. We’ve talked a little bit about it but we’re kind of in a position where you have to wait for the new position to be filled, and then I think just really pause, think, and pray through this so that we can do it well.
So, Bill, what are some of your favorite places to go and resources that you utilize to stay on your game?
For 19 years, we lived about five minutes from the church and it was wonderful. I would walk two and from, it couldn’t be more convenient. And then about four and a half years ago, we made the decision we needed to move out for our daughter to go to high school. It is really was an unfortunate decision, but I really felt led of the Lord. And so now that I have an hour commute each way, it actually takes me longer to get to my car now than it did to get home before. And so during that commute, I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts. Obvious one is Andy Stanley’s, and Thom Rainer’s, and some others. And those have been great because you’re hearing about people in ministry answering some of the same questions that I’m asking. And so I get a lot of leadership emails as well. I think over the last few years, I’ve signed up for a lot of them and several of those, I’ll read and then I’ll print out, and I’ll highlight them, and I’ll keep them in my desk, and review them periodically. The ones that I’m getting, I find that are extremely relevant.
And then a couple of other things is that, of course, there are certain books that people are recommending. Currently, I just bought the Unstuck Church. I want to take a look at that. And I also found that there are people in our church, as well as on our staff, that I can just talk to, whether it’s things about how to run a meeting. One of our leadership council of meeting has about 70 people in it, and there are executives in there who run meetings all the time. I haven’t done enough to this, to be honest with you, but just sitting down with some of them and saying, hey, you see what I do in different areas, how can I do it better? Or, these things that I do that you don’t know, what advice do you have? So there’s a lot of really sharp people in our church, in addition to those on staff that I think are a great resource to me.
That’s a fantastic idea. So, Bill, what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
We had a conference here on Saturday, and the speaker reminded us that — it was really for all leadership, lay leadership and staff leadership. Maybe the first hour, he spent reminding us that we’re really not adequate to do what God’s called us to do. And that’s been something that the Lord has graciously reminded me of over the years, that I don’t have what it takes to do what He’s called me to do, apart from Him. I truly need Him every day. I know I can run a meeting. I know how certain things are done. But what we’re trying to do in the church is eternally significant, spiritual transformation that really, it takes the ministry of the Holy Spirit, takes the work of the Lord. And so to me, there’s a great deal of freedom in knowing that I can’t rely on my education or my skills or gifts. I really, really, truly need the Lord. So I think, as cliché as it may sound to a lot of us in the church, it really is the most important, giving attention to your relationship with the Lord. I just think that the pressures of leading a church, if you aren’t focused on the Lord, are pretty overwhelming. And the thing that I have been encouraged by the sharpest people that I know — I meet monthly with the Executive Pastors Group and some of the guys in the group, they’re a lot sharper than I am. The way they think, the ideas they have, and so forth. Listening to them say the same thing, like, I need the Lord, I don’t want to mess this up, I’d appreciate your prayers, and so forth. This is a great encouragement. And so that to me, if you’re taking advantage of the people that are around you, the resources that God has entrusted to you, but you’re seeking Him first so that you know how to handle the discouragement, and the pressure, and the criticism, and so it’s all given to the Lord and processed with him, to me, I think, that’s what makes it just, not only a great privilege to serve the ministry, but it makes it a great joy.
Wow, that’s fantastic. Bill, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
You’re welcome. Thank you very much.