Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Blake Whiteman is joining us today from Real Life Ministries with the main campus in Post Falls, Idaho. Great to have you, Blake.
Thanks! Glad to be here.
Tell us a little bit about your position there at Real Life Ministries and how you came into the position.
Sure. My position here at Real Life Ministries is I am on our executive team. So we have a team of executives here our Post Falls campus. I’m one of five that oversee the main functionality and oversight of the ministry here at Post Falls campus. And I’ve been in this role for about 2, 2 and a half years. My journey to get here, it’s my story. It’s different and they’re all a little crazy. But for me, I was not a believer growing up in the church. I didn’t decide to give my life to Jesus as Lord and Savior until I was about 19. And so I was in junior college at the time and gave my life to the Lord. I transferred to Biola University down in Los Angeles to go to a bible-based education. So I got my minor in bible there but I was actually focused on exercise science, Kinesiology, and a little bit of a pre-med route. I graduated from Biola and actually worked in a physical therapy practice for about 3 years. About a year of that time, I was actually as an exec. So running the business was kind of my role at that time. But I would definitely say that the Lord got a hold of me there and worked out a few kinks, I would say, in who I am as a person. I learned a lot about organization and about leadership for about three years there. And then I transferred into a staff role here at Real Life at our Post False campus. I actually started here as, what we call, the Communications Director so helped out with a little bit of social media, what our internal and external communications look like. I did that for about a year and then transitioned to what we refer to as a community pastor or a life group pastor, which is our adult small group ministry for about four years. And then for the last two and a half, I’ve been part of our executive team over what we would refer to as our adult discipleship ministry.
It seems like a common theme with a lot of executive pastors that there’s both the business experience and they’ve kind of hopped around in different ministries before landing as an executive pastor role. Seems appropriate, I guess. It’s a lot of different skills required.
Yep, I think that that’s true from my story as well.
So what, specifically, are your job responsibilities?
So my job responsibilities here as an executive pastor at Real Life are largely twofold. One, as a part of the executive team, and part of our executive team includes Jim Putman, our senior pastor. So on that team, one of the two responsibilities is just the overall health and vitality and functionality of our church in our local church plants. And so that’s just a team responsibility where we collaborate together, when we work with one another. So kind of a team effort in that. But the second respect, more specifically for me, my area of oversight ministry is our adult discipleship ministry. And so the main responsibility of that is to oversee the entirety of our small group systems from our adult perspective. So that includes men’s, women’s, seniors, singles and what we call our general pastoral care. My job really is to help see that those ministries function well, that they have everything that they need. I oversee a team of 22 people that run those ministries. So we have a handful of small group leaders and coaches and staff members. We have events and outreach and all those sorts of things. And so my area responsibility is really to help organize and administrate and really release those staff people to execute their ministry function well in those areas.
Now, was this role that you’re in now, was it there before you came in? Was it an existing role or was it created when you came into it?
It was an existing role, to be honest with you. We’re constantly changing the structure and organization that we see best fits for the ministry for the season that we’re in. But the executive team has always existed when I came in and more particular in this area. The previous executive role was just over the adult small group system. And so when I stepped into the role, we added our men’s and women’s and seniors and singles ministry to that.
I was just speaking with someone earlier this week about the challenge of outlining defined paths and adult discipleship. What has that looked like for your ministry there at Real Life? Do you guys have a single path that you take all adults on or does it kind of really just depend on the season?
Yeah. That’s a great question and I think the answer to that question is constantly evolving, for sure. For us, we would say in one of the foundations that we believe in Real Life is what we refer to as relational discipleship. So small groups are definitely a vehicle that, we would say, are important to connecting people to Jesus and to one another. So we don’t necessarily have a specific pathway but we encourage everyone to take a next step toward spiritual maturity, and we try to provide as many environments as possible in order for them to do that. And so we have a small group system. We encourage people to attend corporate worship together to be in relationship, which we would say is authentic, with other believers. We help encourage people to understanding their giftedness and how they can serve as a greater part of the body and then also to be focused kingdomly. So outreach — what does that look like to serve? So we do our very best as an organization to create opportunities and environments for Jesus to lead people to their next step. So we’re constantly inviting, we’re constantly offering opportunities. We’re doing that through relationship with one another, which seems to be, in our opinion, the most powerful invitation is person to person. We see that even Jesus did that when he invites his disciples to follow him. It’s a life on life relationship. And so that would be the general idea that we’re trying to do is create environments, invite people into life on life relationships and work towards growing in maturity. I’d say that’s our general pathway. But as you mentioned, the season, age, and stage of life, whether it’s a young family or somebody that’s been established in maturity for a while, how do we help one another grow in our walk with Jesus Christ? And that can be tough. There’s a lot of elements to that and what that looks like.
So break down a little more who Real Life Ministries is. You’ve got some different campuses. We’ve also got some church plants. What is your relationship with the different campuses or church plants?
It’s great. And so, yeah, Real Life Ministries, and I had mentioned it, is really Jim Putman and a gentleman named Aaron Couch founded Real Life Ministries just about almost 20 years ago. And so the foundation of the ministry that they had set for us really is what we would call specific to what Jim and what we describe as really is disciple making and discipleship. We started this main campus here in Post Falls about 20 years ago. And then off of that, we’ve planted multiple plants and campuses. And so in respect to the other plants right now, we have a church plant down on the Palouse and Moscow, Idaho, a little bit North in what we refer to as Silver Valley. We have some in Spokane Washington, a couple one in the valley who is led by Dan Shields now. All of our church plants, when we use that language, are independent church plants. They retain the name, a little bit of the same vision and philosophy, but they are their own separate entity. The other led churches, they function on their own, but we retain the same name. Just recently, within the past five years, we’ve planted two campuses, and those are closer in geographical area. We share staff and eldership oversight with those campuses. We have a campus in Coeur d’Alene and then one up in Spirit Lake. We share resources there. There are campus pastors at each of those locations and they preach and do the worship to have their own teams. But we do share resources and eldership oversight for those two locations.
Okay. So tell me what is a solution or best practice that you all have implemented there at Real Life ministries? It can be amongst all of your church plants and campuses, or maybe just one, but something you guys have done that you’ve been really happy with.
I would say for us, it would be along the lines and I’ve mentioned it once or twice, but I would say a best practice that I have seen God definitely honor in who we are and who we say that we are as a church for Him is we constantly value, in the highest regard, what we would call authentic relationship. And so as part of our everyday operations, as part of our strategic planning or organization, we value and implement relationship with God and with other people as a very, very, very high priority. And that even comes down to our scheduling, how much time we spent in meetings, before meetings, where we have meetings. We try to be as real and authentic with one another, regardless of the objective and the goal and institute relationship in everything we do. The reason why I say that is, usually, it just goes as an assumed practice. Yeah, we’re good, we’re Christians, we’re on the same team, love your brother and sister type stuff, but really spending time in ‘fighting for relationships’, as a term that we use a lot. And I would say that this comes from Jim and he speaks this well, it is: When things get tough, not if, but when things get tough, it’s real relationship with other people that God uses to get us through it. As the best practice for us, we implement that time and effort in almost everything that we do. We spend time on the front end, we’re in relational environments. So we might choose to have a meeting at a coffee shop rather than in the office. We might be fishing, we might be at somebody’s house, we might do something after a basketball game to really try to foster authenticity and really share who we are with one another so that we can fight the good fight together in an actual real way.
I’m glad you mentioned the meetings. It’s one thing I wanted to ask. This is a very practical top point for people listening is how do you actually structure meetings to encourage that kind of authentic relationship? Is it a matter of the timing of them or the location, as you mentioned? Are there certain strategies you guys implement to make sure those meetings are relational?
Yeah. Actually, I would say it’s a little bit of all of those pieces. At least for me, having a meeting at a certain time of the day actually does impact it. Some people are early morning people and later. So valuing the fact that people in ministry have families, and we have kids, and we have spouses, and we have friends, we really try to schedule what we do as church function around those pieces. We’re trying not to have meetings and do a lot of stuff that’s gonna be dinner time or when a lot of those things are going on. So we’re cognizant of the blocks of the day that we can use as a staff to really do more the executionable work. Inside those meetings themselves, we just understand as a team, whether that’s staff team or a volunteer team or volunteer leadership team, that part of that meeting is going to be focused on how we’re doing. And the only way for that to happen as a leader is that I have to do that first. That has to be a priority for me to come in and sit down and go, here’s how I’m actually doing, I’m struggling, or I feel like I’m being short with my kids, or here’s what’s going on in my world today, and here’s what’s happening. If I’m not willing to lead that out first, it’s not effective at all or really fair for me to expect that from other people. So we’ll spend 10, 15 minutes, 20 minutes on the front end, depending on the team or the meeting that you’re in, checking in. How are we really doing? How’s your family? What does it look like? And the challenge of that is that it takes time. And all of us that wanna get things done in the organization and moving forward and wanting to gain ground, that can be a challenge and a struggle to just get past that. But that’s one way that we choose to do that is we just work that into meetings. And we understand that, sometimes, the meeting is better off had if it’s simply spent discussing how we’re doing in our walk with Jesus, and in our family, and in our work rather than cross Ts and dot Is. And that’s just something that we have to be willing to sacrifice and believe that that relationship with our teams, with our staff is as important in the task that we have in front of us.
Yeah, that’s great. And as you said, it’s gotta be a part of your stated culture or else it’s really easy, in the moment, to trade that first 15 minutes to “get work done”.
That’s right year. You’re exactly right.
Alright, so the flip side of that, what is something going on right now at Real Life Ministries that you haven’t quite found a solution for?
That’s a good question. I would have to say that part of the administrative challenge that we’re facing now and that we’ve constantly faced has to deal with our desire to gain accurate and timely information from the people that are choosing to participate in one way or another at Real Life, whether it’s a weekend service, whether it’s an event that we do in the community, coming to a small group. Any of those types of activities are hard and we believe what God asks us to do, as leaders in the church, is to shepherd the flock that he’s entrusted us with. And so the challenge is, how do we get information from people to know who they are? When did they participate? Do they want some more information? Is there anything we can do to help them take their step to learning about Jesus or growing in their walk with Jesus? And so administratively, to try to gather correct data that’s timely, that’s accurate and use that so that we can do our due diligence to shepherd the flock, help people grow into maturity has been an ongoing challenge. We do have a database. We use website structure. We’ve done 2, 3 different types of those. But the challenge is to how do we get constantly gain accurate information that we can use to do our role as pastors and maintain that information to keep it accurate, to know when people have shown up, or when maybe they fallen off and gone astray. So I would say that’s one that we’re still facing and we’re trying to constantly overcome.
I had an interview, a couple of months ago, at a church that actually hired someone who she called herself the data storyteller, which I thought was interesting. Her job was basically to collect all the information and then to put it together in a story, basically, of who it is it’s coming through and the ways that ministries can properly respond which I thought was a really neat way to define it.
Yeah. That’s great.
So where do you go to learn more about being better at your role?
There’s so many different resources out there today. Monday Morning is definitely one of them. I try to ascribe as many as I can, whether that’s websites or podcasts. I would say, to be totally honest with you, one of the most helpful things for me that I’ve had to grow and learn more is actually the relationships that I’ve built with other Exec Pastors and lead pastors that we’ve been privileged to do ministry with. One of those networks that realizes a part of this is called The Relational Discipleship Network and we forge relationships through and within that network of churches that prioritize and really care about disciple making in relational discipleship. So I would say that the relationships that I’ve built with a multitude of church leaders within that network has been super helpful simply because I can make a phone call, fire over an email and go, hey, what are you dealing with? I’ve got this challenge. I’m trying to lead well with my team in this area or we’re trying to come up with a communication solution. What have you done? What have you tried? I don’t know what I’m doing. Just like a normal relationship that you would have with a friend, or another parent. I’m trying to deal with my son and I don’t know to do. What do you try it? What have you done? How have you tried this? And so I would say that one has been a huge help and benefit to me simply because it’s just other pastors, and other leaders, and other church organizers that can share their story and can really listen to mine and give me some insight into what that looks like. So I would say a combination of that and ascribing to, again, whether it’s through podcast or a blog or other helpful websites, just to listen to other people’s stories and ask questions on how they’ve overcome obstacles and provide solutions as part of the kingdom is we’re all fighting this good fight together.
Yeah. Definitely. So what encouragement would you pass on to others in church leadership?
I would say the encouragement that I would pass on for me, personally in my own life and ministry, comes from Luke 22. I know that there’s been a lot of books and people have spoken on this point, but Luke 22 is when there’s an interaction when Jesus is talking to some of this guys and they’re like: “Hey, this is tough”. And Jesus says: “Satan’s gonna come after you and it’s gonna get hard”. But yet He says: “I’m praying for you so that you don’t stumble and that when you return, encourage the brothers and encourage the other folks”. So an encouragement would be to stay strong and courageous and know that ministry is tough. And Jesus even tells us that it’s gonna be hard and to account the cost of following him. But it’s when things get tough, are you willing to be in relationship with others, stay strong, and be in a relationship with other people that can help you when you stumble? It’s not ‘if’. It’s ‘when’. The enemy is gonna attack, ministry gets tough. The enemy doesn’t like it when Jesus’ kingdom advances. And so I would say, fight for relationship, be strong and courageous, and be willing to journey with other people because it’s gonna get tough. You can share the highs and the lows together and there’s nothing better.
That’s great. Blake, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
You bet, Courtney. I really appreciate the opportunity. Thanks a bunch.