Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Bill Brown is joining us today from Parkview Christian Church, with three locations in South Suburban Chicago. Great to have you on the show today, Bill.
Hey, Courtney. Good to be on here. Thanks for inviting me.
So tell us a little bit about how you came into your position there at Parkview.
Okay, well, yeah, it’s a unique — I don’t know if it’s unique or not, but it seems that way to me. So I was actually working as an Occupational Therapist in Southern Illinois, where I grew up. My wife and I were down there and I got a call from the Senior Pastor here, Tim Harlow, asking if I’d be interested to come back up here and work as a Small Group’s Director at this rapidly growing church. This was back in 2003. They have just relocated to the Orland campus and they were going through a big growth spurt. So I actually came as the small groups’ person. My wife and our two boys moved back up to Chicago. We lived up here earlier in our marriage and moved up here as a small groups’ person. I was about a year and a half into the small group’s role when I got an email from the Senior Pastor, Tim, saying, would you consider being my Executive Pastor before I have to hurt somebody? I don’t really think he would have hurt anybody but translated. He’s been here about probably 12 years at that point, 13 years, and the church had gone through this rapid growth spurt, and he was just maxed out. He would tell you this, he was burned out, dealing with the detail, dealing with all the staff stuff and everything. So he had noticed that staff had been coming to me about stuff in that year and a half, and he said, hey, I could really use somebody as my wing man. Would you consider doing that? So that’s my out of the box transition over into the Executive Pastor role.
How long have you been in the position now?
I have been at the church 15 years this August, so 13 years, almost 13 years.
And how has the position felt the last 13 years? 13 years as an Executive Pastor, you would have seen a decent amount go on at the church. So what are some of your reflections over the last 13 years?
Wow, it’s so different. When I came into the role, actually when I came on staff, we had about 1500 people on the weekend, one location. And now we are at, this past weekend, we had a little over 9000 people in 3 locations. And when I came on, we had, gosh, maybe 10 staff total, including custodial staff. And now we have 102 staff. Not all of those are full time. So things have just changed so much. I’ve got to grow into the role because there was no — I didn’t go to Executive Pastor school or anything like that, or Executive Pastor, maybe, field training or anything like that. It was really kind of growing into this role as the church has developed. So we’ve grown together, which has been pretty cool. And the church has been gracious in letting me and Tim, and letting me grow into the role. Yeah, it feels like we’ve grown up together, so pretty cool stuff.
Going into that growing into the role, what are some of your favorite places to go to our resources to tap into that have helped you grow into this role?
Yeah. For me, I’m a big reader. So I do quite a bit of reading. I listen to podcasts, no different than anybody else. But the most helpful thing for me is I learn from people in conversations better than I do going to a conference and just sitting back and passively taking that in. I like to interact with folks that are a little bit ahead of me so I’m pretty proactive in reaching out to people that are further down the road that I can learn from. And the great thing is, most people are more than willing to help you. I think most of the time we don’t assume that, they’re going to be too busy or whatever, and sometimes they are. But almost everybody I have talked to and said, hey, can I get a little time? Or, I’ve got a challenge. Can you give me some time and help me think through this? The vast majority of those folks have said, yes, as long as you’re respectful of their time and you see that they can make a contribution. I’ve never — I think maybe once or twice have had somebody say, I really don’t have time. So I like building relationships with people that are further down the road that can help challenge me and pull me ahead and area that quite frankly, I’m not even going to have experience because we’re just at a different stage.
And you’ve been in your position for 13 years and especially with the church has got 3 locations and 9000 people, are you starting to get those emails and calls from folks who are maybe earlier on in their journey contacting you?
I am and it’s so weird because I really honestly feel like I don’t know anything. So it’s funny when people call and ask. There’s one gentleman that I’ve been meeting with pretty regularly on Zoom. We just do a video call. And he’s a friend of a friend. And I’m more than happy to make that time, but it’s still weird to be a person that’s getting that call because I feel like I’m just constantly learning and I don’t feel like I’m ought a be in a position where people are asking to direction from me, if that makes sense. So I just feel like I’m a fellow learner, most of time, and feeling my way around. And I’m sure, just because of the length of my time here, that I guess I’m contributing more than I’d probably give myself credit for. But most of the time I just feel like, yeah, we’re a fellow learners in this so I’m happy to do that. And I really enjoy it.
I think the best mentor is probably our fellow learners anyway, so you’ve got something going there.
Yeah, yeah. I always think of — when I think of mentors, that whole word is loaded, I’m thinking a Karate Kid, I don’t know everything. I guess that’s none of us do. It’s just kind of helping each other learn. And I’m honored to do that.
Yeah, absolutely. So what exactly falls under your responsibility today at the church? I’m sure it’s changed over the years, but where you at right now?
It has. My official title here at Parkview is the Executive Pastor. Until a few years to go, what that meant was everything rolled up to me. The way we’re structured, we’re still structured as Tim is our Lead Pastor or Senior Pastor, and then I am the only person that reports directly the Tim on the staff. Some churches do it differently. They have multiple Executive Pastors over different areas. But for our situation and the way we work together, I’m the only one that directly reports to Tim. Now that said, we have an executive team that we all sit together, including our Senior Pastor and really operate more like peers. But then on the org chart, those other members of the executive team minus Tim all report to me. We just made that change. We were, gosh, we were way too big for our structure. Our structure was still pretty mom-and-pop until just a few years ago, but we’ve added some people to our executive team and it’s made a huge difference. So now I have an Executive Director of Arts and guest services, which basically has everything to do with the weekend. His name is Dan Leverence, fantastic team member. And then Lori Camp is our Executive Director of Ministry Development, and pretty much takes care of everything from pastoral care kids and students. And then we have another person on our team, Wayne Krahn who’s been here almost as long as I have to take care of finance, facilities, and then myself. And those guys all report to me and they all have their own divisions that report to them.
When you were looking to beef up this executive team, you mentioned that Wayne Krahn had been there as long as you had, but the rest of the team, did you look within your current staff to find people or congregation or did you bring some people in from outside?
No. Well, it’s interesting. So Lori Camp who is our Executive Director of Ministry, she started with us as a Children’s Admin probably 100 years ago. And when we had a change out in leadership in children’s industry, she stepped up and led that department, did a fantastic job and is just a high capacity, high capacity leader that has migrated from the administrative assistant to the seat she’s in now. So that was an internal one and it just made sense. And she does a killer job. Dan came in as a Worship Director for us just overall worship ministry, and again, has done an excellent job and risen within the ranks. Even though he was an outside hire years back, he wasn’t hired into that executive team for that role. He came on in the worship leader role.
So tell us a little more about Parkview. What’s something you guys have going on there that you’ve really found success with?
Oh wow. It’s a great question. Overall, I would say the thing we do well that broadened our kingdom impact in the South Suburbs is we really do a good job of reaching guys, especially the churched Catholic guys. It’s a heavily Catholic area here and we have done a really good job. Our Father’s day is bigger than our Mother’s Day, when it comes to the weekend, and that’s not always the case. In fact, most of the time, it’s not the case. And we’ve just done, I think, a really good job and a lot of that is because it’s our Senior Pastor’s passion and has done a really good job of just reaching out to guys who weren’t interested in the church or the things of God, thought church was stuffy or whatever perception they had of it. And we’ve done a really good job here at the church. Thanks to our Senior Leader and our other team members of reaching out to the guys who might be a little scared of showing up to church or just don’t think it’s relevant. That’s been a big win for us.
Now, is that something that it’s mostly a matter of programming for you, kind of program around that demographic, or is this going on the community, going to get together that they’re going to? How have you reached these people?
Well, it’s a combination. When it comes to the weekend, and not only the weekend, but just how we program in general, we have our guy that we think of as South Suburban guy that’s lived around here for a while, that we have in our mind when we’re thinking about everything from the weekend programming, to a class we would run, or an event we have. We try to think, how is this going to come off? Is this going to be something that turns this person off? Because we’re really looking to help people, especially, we’re in the disciple making businesses. This is what Jesus has called us to do. But we’re really, really super interested and focused on helping people take their first step. Because if they don’t take a first step, they can’t take a second step. So we really want to be a church that thinks about how do we make this accessible to somebody who either is uninterested or resistant to the things of God and the church. And so everything that comes up, if we’re having an event, we think about, okay, well, how is that guy going to react to that? It doesn’t mean we exclusively program around them, but they’re always in our mind when we’re thinking about a song we select, or a sermon series we preach, or an event we have, or how their kids get checked in out, you name it, we try to think about that.
What is something there at Parkview, right now, that you’re still working through, that you haven’t quite found a solution for?
Well, we are multi-site and we have three campuses. And a multi-site is a challenge, and there’s a reason. I think, the stats from Leadership Network and Warren Bird and those guys who do great work at Leadership Network, I think, they say that only 85% of churches don’t grow beyond two campuses. They get a couple of campuses and then they’re like, okay, that’s as multi-site is we want to go. And the reason is things get complicated. So we’re in the middle of — we just launched our 3rd campus last year, which has gone great. It’s a little over a year old. They’ve got 2000 people every weekend, going fantastic, really making the impact in the community. But now we’re heading towards our 4th and the 3rd, in a week. When we had two — it’s like kids. You have a couple of kids — what are they complaining about? This is a piece of cake. And then you had a third and things start to get, oh, it’s a little more complicated than I realized.
Your end zone deepens now.
Yeah. That’s right. You’re moving to zone. That’s exactly right. And so you start discovering that with three. And like I said, the people I lean into, they are further ahead. Some peers and some guys that we connect with from Life Church and other churches say 4, you’re going to see another shift. So we’re trying to get prepared for that. So I would say we’re far from having it figured out. That’s probably the biggest thing that we’re struggling with as an executive team. And the question is, are these normal? Going back to the kid’s illustration, are the challenges you’re experiencing that we’re experiencing right now, are they normal developmental challenges? Every kid has certain developmental challenges as they grow up. Are these abnormal developmental challenges? And that’s what we find ourselves talking about a lot. It is like, okay, is this is a normal stage? Is it the terrible twos? Is this a normal piece or are we doing something that’s really making it harder and more complicated than it needs to be? And that’s where outside help can really be beneficial. Kind of like grandparents. Grandparents can walk in and say, you know what? You don’t really need to worry about that. You did the same thing and your brother did the same thing, so lighten up. But that over there, you really ought to pay attention to. So that’s where we really lean into people outside of us to give us some perspective.
So who are some of these outsiders that are able to speak in the Parkview?
Well, there’s a few. We have some relationship like, right now, we work with somebody from Life Church that’s really leaning in to our organization right now and has been a critical part of their multi-site model. And we just pay that person as an adjunct faculty person for us. They come in a few times a year and we have them come in for a couple of days to spend time with our exec team and also our staff. And it’s just such a refreshing — there’s parts where he will push us and say, yeah, you guys really got to solve this one or it’s going to slow you down. And there’s times where they come in and says, hey, relax. You’ve done a great job. We went through that when we were at three, or four, or five, or whatever campuses we’re at now, 27, 28 campuses. So he can give some perspectives that we just don’t have because we haven’t been there. So that’s a big one for us. Of course, Leadership Network, Warren Bird and Greg Ligon, and those guys, we lean into everything that they write and produce, and just a fantastic ministry to the churches there. And then we lean into other organizations like Central Christian Christ Church of the Valley. We try to connect with all those churches that are further ahead of us because that’s how we learn.
So how does the decision making structure at the church work? You’ve got this executive team and then you have some kind of board or elders also?
We do, yeah. We are very staff driven so the day in and day out operation of the church really hinges upon our executive staff. We’re the ones that are leaning. That said, it’s all done under the guidance of the board. So we would never — for example, we would never say, hey, we’re starting 4th or 5th campus in the next couple of weeks and then go let the board know that that’s what’s happening so you guys need to fall in line. You know what I saying? The big vision pictures of what we’re trying to do, the board is very heavily involved in. We would never change the mission of our church or the focus of how we’re going to accomplish ministry here without the board speaking into that. But that said, they’re not down in the details of everyday decisions and even staffing and things like that. That’s just not how they function. But they are answerable to what we do here because they are the keeper of the mission and vision of Parkview, and the big picture of what we’re trying to accomplish. So they definitely speak heavily into that. But from the day and day out, that’s being led by Tim and myself, and the staff.
What kind of encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
Wow. I would say, just speaking personally, keep things in perspective. I think, many times, I and others I know in ministry struggle with all the weight being on our shoulders. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to be up to me. And if it failed, it’s all on me. A buddy of mine reminded me of the Ephesians 3:20. It says in 3:20: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that has worked within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generation, forever and ever. Amen. And what speaks to me about that is, what if God really wants to do more than we can imagine and that it’s not in my power, but it’s in His power that this can happen? That keeps things in perspective because it doesn’t all rise and fall on me. I have a contribution to make. But at the end the day, God really wants to do probably more than I can ever dream of. And if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen through his power so I can join him and what he was doing and not have to feel the crushing weight of every decision, right or wrong. That can be discouraging if you feel like you’re on your own. And I think that’s probably the biggest encouragement, I would say, is keep things in perspective and probably paired with that would be — Dallas Willard, years ago, I remember him saying this: The main thing God gets out of your life is not the achievements you accomplish, it’s the person you become. That’s also the main thing you get out of your life as well. And so I would encourage people in ministry just look at who you’re becoming. That’s what it’s ultimately about. The main thing God gets out of this is you, and what’s happening inside of you. And if your soul is not in a good place and you’re struggling, don’t ignore that. Make sure that you’re staying connected to the one that gives us the power to do what we do.
That’s great. Bill, thank you so much for giving us the glimpse in the Parkview, and your role there, and just thanks for being on the podcast today.
Oh yeah. Happy to do it. Thanks, Courtney. I appreciate it.