Welcome to Monday Morning Church. Today we have a great guest with us here. We have Brian Dodridge who is coming to us from Brentwood Baptist Church. How are you today?
Good. Thanks, Neil.
Brian, I am so excited to have you on the show mostly because you have a lot of experience obviously in your field, but also you are very free to share a lot of things you’ve learned as you’ve picked up. We’ll talk about that more as we go, but maybe we can just start with you sharing about your path to becoming an executive pastor and particularly at Brentwood where you are now.
Yeah well, early on in my life when I was a teenager, I began to refuse to call the ministry, and I really didn’t want any part of it because I was convinced that I’d be unappreciated, underpaid, and that’s what my adolescent brain was wrestling with. But as a junior in high school, I made that commitment and I didn’t have a clue then exactly what it was, what it looked like.
And my dad was a lead pastor, and I knew that – that was about the one thing that I knew about it. I knew I probably didn’t want to preach every week. But through that time I think what God was doing in my heart is I watched my dad – just go through typical pastoral things of being the lead person, sometimes the only staff person at the church, and having to deal with so much stuff. He had limited time to even focus on one thing, and he was most called to preaching and pastoral care. I remember at some point, thinking how I got there, I remember thinking if there is a job like you do where I could help the pastor not have to deal with the junk so you can focus on what you can do best – that would be a good job. And maybe at that time executive pastors existed but I wasn’t aware of them and over time that’s become a reality. That’s a big part of what I do now.
So when you first got into this role, did it exist or did you create it for yourself in that situation?
Yeah, at the church in Dallas, I oversaw their discipleship ministry, along with adults, and we did not have an executive pastor but we were growing and we were getting to a point where the executive pastor would make sense. And so we kind of create the role that last church – by the end there were other executive pastors that I was familiar with, but we weren’t at the size of that point to go to that. So I ultimately overtook the executive pastor’s responsibilities, also keeping the adult discipleship portion in my job. And then ultimately, just primarily only do the executive pastor at that church before I came to Brentwood.
Okay, so let’s go to Brentwood now as the executive pastor – that term means something different in different churches – so why don’t you describe a little bit about what things fall under your responsibility? Do you preach at all – what are the types of things that are the focus of your week?
Yeah, primarily I have responsibility for all ministry staff and all staff at the church. I have pretty big responsibility too, for work with our governance which include the trustees, which in many ways function like elders. Then the budgeting and the finance part falls under me personally obviously. But primarily it’s my job to resource all the ministers and ministries to our church’s mission and vision. And so I am constantly have to lead that way and making sure that I am creating space and runways for them to do their job.
So it’s a quite administrative strategic work and vision work, less tactical work day to day. And I really have to work hard to keep at 30-40 thousand feet. So I work alongside of pastors and the senior pastors who has been here – 25 years. But we have a little bit of a unique model about 12 years ago. They shifted to allow Mike, a senior pastor to focus on things that he was best at which you are teaching and preaching, developing the leaders in the prayer life. And really they advocate the other leadership all to these executive pastor position. I’ve only been in this role few years here. So in this case, I don’t even report to Mike, a senior pastor. We both report to the trustees and we held the callable professionally personally. Now I started his pleasure and he is our spiritual leader, so in that way there is a reporting to know formal reporting that way. So he doesn’t notice seeing any staff including his assistant. Now he works with her day to day, but even I fulfill that role for him just so he could be in the sweet spot. So it’s a little bit different model, and I have another executive pastor who works with me and he primarily oversees our campuses or sit or support or shared services. So we have six campuses – so he oversees the five regional campuses, and then our shared services of business, communication, IT, food services, those kinds of things.
Yeah so everything kind of, you have that shared service kind in the central office and then these multi-site in different places. But you also have multi – different preachers in different places. You don’t do video casting, right?
Yeah, we are a little bit unique in that because of the church is doing it, but our multi-site model allows for campus to teaching pastors, not just campus pastors, but they also teach. So each of our campuses have a lot of their Holy thoughts and we’d say the church at, even though have any sought with the original campus that bring with Baptist. And so we share governance and budget and leadership, but ultimately they are not autonomous by any means, they are part of us very much. But we allow them to express things differently so that – because a lot of my role is ensuring that all the campuses, we are aligned in areas we pretty terming, we are going to be aligned in. Allow them to contextualize in some areas where we want them to contextualize. We are pretty convinced that each community looks different and we want to be able to address the needs in those communities. And for us, we just chose the day that they piped in, so I am guessing it’s not the best route for us. We really want to be able to pass the congregation, not just through a strain in teaching but also day to day. So we chose to go this model which sometimes is difficult, but we think it’s the best one at least in our scenario.
Yeah, I’m just trying to think here – how do you keep that 30,000 foot view and try to manage something that you’ve intentionally engineered to not be able to efficiently manage, so to speak, that that’s supposed to be living and breathing and organic and moving in a lots of ways? You’ve almost set yourself up with a job that in the traditional sense of governance and management oversees that. So what are the challenges you face there and how do you overcome them?
Yeah well, it is. We created a complex way of doing things. I say we created the way we’ve used it and I am not sure we created it by any means. But it is not the most efficient or an expensive way to do it. But we know it reflects what it got call us to. And so really what it means is there is nothing it gathers dust, we are constantly refining, retooling, someone blowing up our ways and pathways, which is pretty frustrating to someone like me the way I am wired. I’d be fine with this free constantly keeping it consistent, but we have challenges in a good sense and opportunities in a good sense and there is really no model that would sustain all those that all have to be tweaked as we go. It just requires a lot of brain power if not today than rather do more simple things. And so its lot of pressure on you thanks to you’re making good decisions for a lot of different expressions. But you have to accept that without actually doing it, I am glad to be able to do it.
Yeah, so how do you stay fresh? What are the ways that you – you are constantly in a place where you need to make those good strategic decisions that enable your leaders to do their things they need to do – what are the places you go to get refreshed, to get new insights to put yourself in that position?
Yeah well, there are some people peers of mine who I relate to and we connect to other metro group that meets once a year officially for several days but not best practices but to sever those guys. I talk to in between those meetings to get ideas, obviously to the main ones that won’t be put to use all this family makes me better by listening to them. I only think it’s something I could do better because of these spurs on in my head. I really take my day off. I try to leave it as my day off and make sure I get a Sabbath every weekend. So that’s a part of it. I dispose myself off really last two years that most mornings before I begin doing email, I spent my first two hours of my day at my desk without a computer. And I typically left a project from the day before I’ve looked it up my desk that I have everything I need to accomplish that project. So some days it’s 45 minutes a day, some days it’s two hours. But that’s when I do my better thinking and I try to not interrupt that with the tyranny of the urgent. Sometimes it gets blown up, but that’s part of getting refreshed as I did my best thinking in the morning. So I give them my support and task to get that 30-40,000 foot level to aid them.
Yeah I want to come back to what I said earlier in the sense of you – you have your own website, briandodridge.com where you post a lot of very insightful and interesting articles about being an executive pastor, about church staff, about leadership, all these things. I would imagine that that’s also a place where you go to sit and reflect and to think about everything that’s going on and come out with some sense of an organized thought out of some of the chaos that you are in the middle of. Talk more about that experience about the website, about what you hope to do with it, about what types of things are there too.
Yeah well, when I began it, we want to be a teaching church as much as possible, and that doesn’t mean we haven’t figured out what we want; just share our learning to engage people on the way. Not really want to just think about people who had not had a ton of years in ministry or maybe were new to the role. I want to gain, so I call practical takeaways for every day ministry. So nothing’s complicated and nothing’s complex and we are right. It’s pretty – I am not a great writer. So it’s just kind of like hey you can take this and potentially apply it that day or that week. I try to give some tangible stuff. So yeah, it did – what it does is it forces me to think about things. Do I really believe this? Or is this just what I am doing? And so in that part when I write it down I had to go and work through the process. I made this decision; this is really a good decision worth sharing with others. So what is this, it accounts being in some of my practices to make sure are these really the legitimate ones that are worth sharing with others. Two – sometimes it’s help me to build up a philosophy that maybe I hadn’t practice, I’ve never sit down and talked about clear what’s the philosophy method to this that makes sense. And before I am not as done as intuitively, but to pause and put it down and help me kind of refine it a little bit. So yeah it’s been helpful to me in that sense.
Yeah, it’s really a fantastic resource. I really would recommend everyone to go check it out because you got a lot of good stuff on there.
Let’s turn the conversation a little bit to technology. I know a lot of this – this podcast we talk to people, figure out what they are using, what types of things they rely on. When it comes to someone like you who is trying to manage systems, what are your go-through resources that you rely on?
Well, personally from my workflow I am just an athletic guy. I began using getting things done a while back, it’s something we taught our staff. I don’t use all of that, I use portions of it. It’s just my day to day. As a church obviously we have several systems, digital systems that we’ve used. We are still – last year we had all these different segments of this we tried to pull all together into an intranet site for our staff, so we can house them all in one place. Sometimes internet allows for them to run, just run, set it just go together but nothing else. It’s a holding place where any staff can go to one place online team, can have access to all of our different systems and processes at least electronically. So that’s the tool our church is moved to. I am not overly engaged and they have lots of people who are there that I work with and they report up to me, and we obviously have financial systems in the databases for membership and payroll. All those are done electronically. We’ve chosen different platforms to do those.
Yeah and what are the ways that you – when you talk on a multi-site, communication becomes so important to be able to interact with people. What are the ways that you make sure everyone stays on the same page, gets the same information? What’s the most effective way you found for that?
Well, it’s effective as it is right now, and that’s a continual challenge that I sort of processing with that. That’s why the internet’s a big deal. We put videos up there, we capture things, have staff meetings. If I have communications to whole staff, we don’t just use email, we also use that internet page. Email is still – we try to do that as often as possible because we do have campuses that are pretty miles away and so we got to think mindful of their time and the best use for their time and traveling to the central campus for meetings. So I work with the senior leadership team and then we meet, we agree on what information is to be cascaded down throughout their departments and campuses, and so that’s just good old-fashioned. We agree on, this needs to be passed down and passed down effectively. So we do lunch and learns each month, we gather staff, we do staffing based in every month as well as we gather together some type of communication methods but it does rely a lot of leaders doing good communication down line. We also have a communications work for what we call major messages – most of the messages we want to pass out at the congregation level, and so that’s one we rustle with all the time what do we want to say to everyone, what needs to be said just at this campus. So that’s an ongoing dynamic we are trying to improve as we go, but it’s functioning now.
That’s great. That has to be a big challenge, especially when you’re talking about not only a large church, but a large multi-site church – what needs to go out to everybody? What’s location specific? What’s role specific? It becomes a big challenge. If you could sum up, what’s one of the consistent challenges you faced that you feel like you are always coming up with solutions to right now. In the role of executive pastor, what do you feel like is one of the challenges that you are consistently fronted with?
Well, we discussed the communication. It’s communication each at level – who needs to give what information, I never want to conceal things, I want to be open-handed with information and happenings. But obviously the employees we have and congregation, not everyone can know everything, and it is so, we take a ton of time. So I am always like I am disappointing people by not giving them enough or they might give them too much. They feel overwhelmed. And so what is that a tension appear, write in a lot of information and when I am looking for consensus on the idea, when I am looking for inputs on an idea or when am I just informing – I am always try to be clear about what those three I am doing. Some people know on the fine end what their engagement is in communication and process. So every day it’s a communication issue like I could go back to college and get a degree. I have at least one degree – I’d get to do my job, I’d be a better writer and better communicator. This is so much my job. I wrote three long emails this morning which I don’t love doing for people but I had to communicate with the whole staff and so I wrote drafts and I try to think critically think about how it is going to be received at everybody, whatever level the organization. So I would definitely – communications on-going. We never aligned an issue at campuses and ministries. We are all in it together, but yet we express ourselves in lots of ways and obviously people are ambassadors for their campus or their ministry area. And so how do you perpetuate their ambassador, leadership and gifting, but also those the heavier part of a whole, that we all need the big share with folks in the same direction. I mean that’s every day issues, on personal issues. And every day we are doing some kind of personal issue whether good or bad, it’s just an issue that we dealt with. So that’s part of it.
Yeah definitely. Well Brian, can we close out to you with just you giving our listeners, other executive pastors – what kind of encouragement could you give them as they continue on in their roles?
I am always seeking clarity with people I work with, the people I report to – a pastor, really understanding expectations, what are the parameters I have here to make decisions. I think a lot of people in my position or the positions are here, they will stuck, they don’t know who they have to go to get things done. They never got clarity on what authority they have. I think sometimes that gets in the way because it makes them pause and they don’t want to overstep bounds. So seeking clarity, not mean asking good questions and said, hey you said this to me, but it can tell exactly how that plays out for me. How far can I go? We use a phrase called check due report where you check this before I do this or can I just do it, report back to you or is it all three. So I think clarity-seeking is a good one. Here’s the thing – when you are an executive pastor, more often and not, you move out of a day to day ministry. I am not bad typing people like use bad types. I am not preaching like I used to preach in other roles, and so that means that I am not doing pastoral counselling as much. That means I have to fulfil, fill it in other ways and also I have to hear stories from those who are doing that day to day work because although all my hard work and my email writing and my meetings will count if I feel like they are achieving kingdom initiatives. So I do work pretty hard to stay engaged in those one way the other so I feel to do what I am called to do.
Yeah, that’s fantastic. It’s really good to have that clarity like you talked about before, and then also just to be able to know where to go to get filled in these ways because like you said, your wins on a day to day basis may seem like a verdant, a personal clash or hiring the right person for something whereas the wins of the church impacting people, seeing lives change – those are bigger things that you have to be able to see your role in that. That’s fantastic advice. I love that.
You captured it well. Good.
Well, thanks Brian. This has been an excellent talk with you. I really appreciate your time and I wish you well as you continue on in your role.
Thanks for the opportunity and I am grateful to get to do I do. And I know everybody gets this opportunity is probably grateful too. Thanks.