Well, welcome to Monday Morning Church. Today, our guest is Brad Lagos, who’s come to us from Bethel Church. Hi Brad, how are you today?
Hey, I’m doing well. Thanks Neil for talking with me here.
Yeah, we’re very excited to have you on the show, to be able to share some of your experiences. Why don’t you walk us through a little bit of your career path and how you got to be an executive pastor?
Sure. Well, my first major professional foray in vocational ministry was the couple churches kind of I grew up in, in Wheaton, in College Church, in Wheaton there. And then I was on staff for a while at Harvest Bible Chapel, to the large multisite church, the western suburb of Chicago. But 11 years ago, I was called to, 11 and a half years ago to this church in Crown Point, Indiana, which is south side of Chicago, basically, a suburb of Chicago, and called Bethel Church, and I was hired here as the pastor of small groups. So I came in for number of years and helped develop just our adult ministries in general and women’s ministry, to small groups from predominantly. And of course, just as my tenure here grew, and as the church grew, my responsibilities expanded. We’re a church, currently our attendance, the month of January has been averaging about 3100 people on weekend, and we have four locations, four different campuses. And a lot of what I’ve done as far as growing through my time here at the church has helped move us from one campus to four. So, for a season there, after kind of doing the small group stuff, my title was pastor of ministry development, which just kind of meant special projects and particularly the establishment of new campuses and such. So really was kind of a instrumental and helped lead the effort to move our church from one to four locations. And then we had an executive pastor for much of that time, and he felt called away to go into academia and recommended me to step into his role and the others agreed. And so when he left us, when I officially slotted in to the executive pastor position here. So it’s just kind of been, just kind of a natural growth through expanding responsibilities here at Bethel Church. I’m 41, so I have been here for 11 of those years.
Nice. So as you kind of move into these different roles from small groups to these special projects, especially going to multisite, did you find that your gifts of administration kind of developed during that time, or were they already there, or did you have to go somewhere else to learn some of these additional skills? What was your experience?
Sure. I think it was clear. I was always from the get-go, when I first saw called the ministry, which would have been early in college that had an administrative leadership gifts. And those different times through my ministry career, I said, that’s a dominant gifting. One of the gift set paradigms I often use is the Prophet, King gift set paradigm, Prophet, Priest, and King. And the Prophet’s the guy who has that strong entrepreneurial visionary gift set, stands up in front of a congregation, says, we’re going to go here and people are all excited, moving in that direction. The priest is just that gentle guy who kind of comes alongside pastoral care, nurture, and gift, and the King is really more that organizational leader kind of person. And that is definitely my strongest gift set suit. Of course, all pastors kind of have to wear all three hats at different points, but that is always… I’ve always been that organizational, kind of put it together, I get the parts all in place, keep moving and keep everything oiled up and working well kind of person. I would say all kinds of gift assessments, one of the things we’ve used internally in our teams is the Strengthsfinder profile, and my number one give strength according to that is strategic. I’m very much kind of that thinker, implementor kind of gift set. And that’s kind of just always been, it’s just strengthened over the time as I served in different roles.
I know a lot of the executive pastors listening in are either in the process of, or thinking through or evaluating the kind of multisite model that’s there. Maybe you can give us more insights into what that process was like. What were the easy parts? What were the hard parts for you?
Well, that is a massive podcast in itself, talking through all of that. It came down to somewhat of a pragmatic decision of adopting this model. We were just kind of at capacity in our building. And so we were kind of like, what do we? We’re facing the crossroads. Do we build a whole new large worship space for over 10 million dollars? It’s going to get used for a couple hours a week, or do we church plant, or do we do multisite, that was kind of the crossroads we were at. We embarked on a pretty extensive robust conversation, investigation, which involves networking, visiting different churches examining models. I was always a champion of multisite models. I had come previously from a church that was well established in that, but also church planting as well, and for just some pragmatic reasons of the fiscal cost of it. And also the fact that we had become kind of a commuter church. We wanted to get the church more closely connected with people in their neighborhoods, the regions people were coming from. For those reasons, we really pursue the multisite model. We haven’t done church planting in a robust sort of way yet, though that is maybe kind of a future initiative for us. But for the season here, we’ve approached multisite. Part of it is just for the pragmatic easability of it, if I can use that term, it’s common out there. If you study the literature, church planting’s a very difficult thing. I’ve heard various stats, that some that stick out of my mind is something like 9/10 church plants really struggle to succeed, but 4/5 multisites are likely to be very successful. Something of that contrast. And so for just kind of that reason, too, we said, before we bite off church plants, let’s try to do something maybe that seems to be a little, in some way simpler to implement.
Yeah, it’s almost like the difference between being an entrepreneur, starting your own thing versus kind of franchising the model. If you pull it for the business world, franchises typically are much more successful.
Very true. So if we’re thinking kind of our five or ten year plan, we have our central locations in Crown Point, Indiana. We have three other locations which are roughly located in three different directions in a 10 mile radius out. There’s maybe two other locations in our immediate community, we’re on that 10 mile out radius, we’re maybe a multisite location work, beyond that, then we’d be thinking maybe about church planting, the next concentric circle out where we’ve talked about starting some ethnic, like a Chinese ministry specifically for Chinese population in the areas would be more of a church plant. So those are some of the things we’re thinking longer term.
Yeah. So, after you’ve moved into this role as executive pastor, what are the new things that you gain responsibility over now?
I think, to explain that, maybe explain the organizational structure of our church a little bit.
Yeah, go ahead.
We’re an elder-led church, so that means that the elders get broad oversight. They try to fly at very high altitude, giving broad leadership to church. We’re definitely staff-led, staff-implemented. We have a senior pastor who falls under the direct lead of our elder team, and then he has three primary reports, our senior pastor does, who then under this three form kind of an ad-hoc executive team, flow out all the other leadership positions within the church. So those three positions are pastor of worship ministries, and then our executive pastor of ministries and our executive director of operations. So our worship pastor guy, he has a direct line to our senior pastor, and he’s obviously responsible for the production of our weekend services and all the technology and elements that go into that, music, lighting, video, etc. Then we have an executive director of operations who basically gives broad oversights to all the logistical elements in our, just operating element. We have over 50 staff. And so with that, there comes, of course, large financial departments, we have 4 major facilities. So he’s over our facilities, he manages the HR department and our technology department, our IT guy, all that stuff. Communications department, all that falls under our executive director of operations, and then I as executive pastor of ministries, have leadership to most of our ministry staff. So all of our campus pastors and adult ministries, women’s ministry, kids ministry, student ministries, outreach ministry missions, all those positions, and departments and leadership kind of have a line to me, either primarily or secondarily through another supervisor. And so we just kind of divide our organizational structure that way, primarily into two categories, the operation side and ministry side. And my role’s really to give leadership to the more of the shepherding discipleship aspects of our church rather than the operational support elements. So your original question was, what did I take on. It was just when I slotted in this position, it was probably just more direct reports. So, previous executive pastor had campus pastors directly reporting to him and I was kind of on the side as more of a resourcing report for them. And now with this transition, now I’m more of a, have more of a reporting relationship and the responsibilities that come from that.
It’s okay. That makes sense. Yeah. With such a disparate staff, I’m assuming that people are located in different locations, what do you use to stay connected to ease communication? What are some of the tools you use for that?
Yeah, we do have four different offices and our four different locations in our buildings, and each of those have multiple staff at office out of that location, sometimes up to six or seven. And there’s couple of things we do. All of our calls come to our central office and then they’re dispatched out. So we have one receptionist for the entire church, and that reception is just kind of passes communication on that way. We have a centralized information technology server, all that kind of stuff. Centralized church calendar, centralized database, all that stuff tries to ease communication. In the multisite world, one of the biggest questions that you just constantly wrestle with is what do you centralize? Maybe a centralized office, and what do you localize at the individual campuses. And depending on how you work through that question and that tension. The communication systems, definitely, we’ve come to decide those really need to be centralized, so that everybody is kind of aware and know what’s happening and such. We do some other things, every month, we pull the entire staff together for some training for some departmental meetings. We have a chapel, we have a lunch together. It’s almost a whole day thing once a month that helps us just to stay on the same page. We just did that this past week, and I trained about some elements of culture that we want to have on our team, then we had worship time together. And we catered in Chick-Fil-A and had a nice Chick-Fil-A lunch for our staff. And so, a lot of it too is not just your administrative systems that you’re meeting plan and making sure that you have an adequate collaboration of getting people together to talk and to share ideas and to make sure that they’re well aware of what’s happening in the other locations as appropriate and needed.
And then, what are some things you found that are better to localize?
Gosh. Some of he best localized things are, of course, anything that’s really people oriented or community-oriented. A lot of our pastoral care to degree how our small group ministries are led and implemented are very much localized. There’s some vision and direction and training that comes out of our central office to the other campuses as far as, here’s some recommended curricula on etc. But a lot of the implementation of who’s going to be a leader and what kind of group they’re going to do, etc. is made at the localized level. All of our local outreach for the most part happens at that level, too. We don’t have a central office leading, okay, how we’re going to, what networks and what partnerships are we going to build region-wide. Our campus pastors are building relationships in their local community with local other partnerships and churches, and agencies, or organizations that they want to support and mobilize their people to serve at and contribute at. So that’s very much at the localized level, to degree even the management or shepherding and care of the staff is at the localized level, so that we have campus pastors at each location, and almost all the staff at that location have a direct reporting relationship to that campus pastor because they’re in the office every day with each other and such like that. That’s the person, the campus pastor who’s best suited to care for and build into his local team. But there is collaboration with the central office so that we do have a director of kids’ ministry who gives resourcing leadership and direction to the respective counterparts of that person, the kids’ ministry director at each campus about, here’s our curriculum, here’s our plan, here’s our calendar. But those kids’ ministry leadership, they fall under more directly to care and supervision of the localized campus staff, campus leadership, campus pastor, particularly.
So it sounds like there’s kind of a constant give and take, lot of flexibility in the model that you have to build, right?
Yeah, we talk about, or another way to say, solid lines and dotted lines in our organizational structure. So the solid line is the person that you’re responsible to in a reporting sort of way. They sign off on your days off, are responsible for managing your expense report, basically responsible to shepherd, make sure that you’re healthy and strong and fruitful. But then we have dotted lines who are more department heads, who give directional guidance and leadership and resources, most prominently to our localized campus staff. And that’s just kind of resourcing and reporting relationships that you have to have in this multisite kind of, sort of model. There’s a lot of things that flow of the central office and locations as far as where we’re going, but the implementation and shepherding and development at those locations is very much led at the localized level under the campus pastor.
Nice. Brad, as you look over your whole role, let’s just talk about some of the things that are big challenges and things that you really enjoy. So you can take your pick which one you want to start with. But let’s talk about those.
You know, the challenges, that’s first one answer because it just folds out of what I just saying. In a multisite model, some of the biggest challenges are that localized, centralized thing. And to create systems and communication pathways and such so that we’re efficient and quick. They were not bogged down in a necessary bureaucracy or this thing’s got to go through four different people before it can be approved. We try to maintain efficiency, at the same time avoiding unnecessary duplication and creating synergy on our team and how people work together. That’s a challenge when you’re in four different locations. It’s also a challenge, I’ll say specifically, in one of our locations, three of our locations are basically in what would be traditional American suburbia. But our fourth location is in the heart of downtown Gary, which is more inner city and very, very urban, and also racially different than our other three campuses, socioeconomically different than our other three campuses. And so our Gary location has a very different contextualization of ministry, everything from preaching style to worship style, to even the leadership structure. And we don’t have small groups at the Gary location because it just doesn’t work in that context in that community. We have other mechanisms for adult discipleship. One of the other challenges is, okay, how do we, in the diverse expression of our different locations, how do we adapt and contextualize ministry, where do we kind of expect or say, this is areas we need to be unified on our approach to x, y or z, or do we say, let’s do this differently in this location, because that’s what the community requires to be most effective at reaching it. So that’s just a constant, I would call it a tension, to figure out how we build those unity aspects and where we allow for not a lot of unity, but basically diversity and expression and application of our ministry and lots of other challenges around that, just again, regarding communication and efficiencies, etc. And we’re still in that process of building those things. We don’t have it all figured out. We are just… we moved from one to two campuses, we added our first multisite four years ago, four and a half years ago, and then almost simultaneously because there’s some crazy acts of providence there that none of us expected. We added two campuses at the same time within a month of each other two years ago. So we’re only two years in operating at four locations, and we’re still trying to figure that out. For me personally, then the other side of your question, as far as joys and such like that, I just really, really am grateful for our staff team. I just have a lot of joy and gratification that comes from working with them and just really, really happy with the culture, with the ethos, the unity that is on our staff right now, and it’s just a joy to work with every one of them. Everyone of our staff are truly experts and in their respective areas of ministry, and are just incredibly gifted at what they do. And so I feel like we’ve got the right people on the team, and they’re sitting in the right spots, and everyone by and large is doing just a fantastic job. This is really gratifying to see all that working together and working well with. And from that then you see fruit that comes from it and the change of lives, the growth of the church, the stories that we hear in evaluating our ministries, we’re tracking, yes, statistics, attendance, numbers, things like that. But we’re also tracking stories, statistics and stories. And when you look at both of those things, that’s what really produces the sense of, wow, gratification and joy, like, okay, we’re doing something internally significant and it’s a joy to see that.
Nice. It’s very good. Brad, where you go to to continue to learn as an executive pastor, where do you go for resources, conferences, books, networks, where do you plug in?
Sure. You just named the categories right there, books, conferences, networks, etc. I would say the first thing that’s helpful is just friendship circles. People I know who are doing this work or similar work, those would be probably the most helpful, individual that I know, built relationships with over time, and that’s always a challenge in ministry, maintaining those relationships and those networks because sometimes you get just kind of sucked into the tyranny of the urgent, managing, building what you have right before you. But that’s always got to be just a priority. I struggle to maintain, just keeping those relationships active. As far as books, I would say some of the most helpful ones that have been meaningful to me or the past year, 18 months or so. I’ve actually read quite a few from Maxwell. John Maxwell, he’s got several books on leadership that are just, I think, very good, very insightful. It’s kind of like you read one or two, John Maxwell books, you’ve kind read all of them, they allow the same thing in different ways. So those are good. I found actually Sticky Teams from Larry Osborne has been a really good resource for our team, along with also a book called Teams That Thrive, authors of that are Hartwig, Ryan Hartwig, Teams that Thrive. So, there’s a number of other resources, books and such on leadership and team structuring and building a staff culture that is effective and positive and unified. That I found helpful, I just named a few. As far as resources, and outside of that, we are a part of The Gospel Coalition. So The Gospel Coalition Conference is always just an annual encouragement to a lot of our staff, myself included and a great networking resource as well, to gather for the gospels, another one of those, of course there’s online resources as well. There’s a lot of things that come out of the Vanderbloemen, kind of blog, church resource group that are really, I think, insightful, just little quick articles about reading church staff and building ministry, etc. A lot of things have come out of Gospel Coalition as well. So those would be our biggest resource pools that we dip into.
Yeah, it’s fantastic. Brad, why don’t you just close us out with a word of encouragement for other executive pastors who are listening out there. What would you like to tell them?
The first thing that pops to mind is the work is hard, but it’s worth it. There’s a lot of weight that come with being an executive pastor, there’s a lot on your shoulders and you have to navigate all kinds of tough things. Sometimes you got to be, wear the black hat, you got to be the bad cop sometimes, and that’s never fun, but you got to wait through those hard things because the fruitfulness that comes from that is worth it. And even if the fruitfulness isn’t immediately seen, and you’re in a period of stagnation or decline, you got to believe all that rests under the sovereignty of God, and find joy in that, and know that there’s a day, maybe when that real explosion of fruit is going to come and just work for that and anticipate that. That’s kind of just overarching comment. Another more specific comment that I found that’s really important is, as an executive pastor, usually that role involves a lot of staff leadership and supervision in the multi staff environment. I just think it’s so important to intentionally build culture on the staff team and to be patient in that process, to have a healthy staff culture. It doesn’t happen accidentally. Typically, sometimes it’ll happen just by the work of God, just put the right people together, it’s fantastic. But generally, it takes work, and work that involves training, communication and setting expectations. One thing I’m in the middle of right now with our staff is just kind of progressively unveiling to them a series of what I’m calling staff norms, which are just basically some kind of operating guidelines or principles that I want to see evident in our culture, and training our people to live according to those. A couple we’ve rolled out right now, then one of them says we honor every staff number for the essential ministry contribution each person makes, talking about how we want to have a culture of appreciation and honoring. Another one is we prioritize timely communication with one another. Just building that culture of, at the beginning of the week, get all your communications to your fellow staff members out because that’s going to impact their work flow. Another one, like we take frustrations up the org chart rather than down it or across, go to your supervisor frustrations, not the same people who are on the same… you got to go to somebody who can do something and help you with that. Just talking about what kind of culture we want in our team and working hard to build that is very important. And you do that with the existing team you have. You also do it in being highly selective and how you hire as well, because I make one bad hire, that can bring an attitude in, or element of culture you don’t want. And so we learned you have to be very patient in your hiring processes, especially for certain roles, because a couple of key roles will really impact your culture and you got to get the right people on the team so that they help you develop the culture that you want to be most effective. Those would be just a couple of things, more practical that I find to be a guiding priority for me here.
Great. Well, I think that’s very insightful and it’s great to be able to share with everyone else too. Thanks a lot, Brad. It’s been nice to talk to you.
Absolutely. Been a privilege, and I wish everyone best who’s doing this work themselves and I’m confident that Lord will be bearing fruit, is bearing fruits through everyone in this important labor.
Amen, Sounds good. Have a great day.