Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church Podcast. Today’s guest is Brodie Taphorn from Upper Arlington Lutheran Church, which has campuses in the Columbus, Ohio area. Brodie, great to have you on today.
Great to be here.
Brodie, you are the pastor of ministry operations. How did you come into that position?
So, I’ve been at my church now for 12 years. I started out as the director of adult ministry at one of our key suburban campuses. About every six months or so they found something else for me to do. So, I was the charge of adult ministry, and then I was a regular preacher, then purpose leader for evangelism, pastoral associate. And then after I finished my seminary training, I became an associate pastor in one of our community leaders. I just kept getting more and more responsibilities and eventually became the right hand for our senior pastor. And then right now, we’re in a senior pastor transition, so my responsibilities now are I’m one of four people on a transition leadership team that is filling in in this interim period. Of the four, I have the only pastor and my primary responsibilities is just to make sure that we are executing against our mission and vision. So, that’s what I’m doing right now.
So, how long have you been in this transition phase?
I was serving in this executive pastor role for about a year and a half or two years. And then it was this time last year that our senior pastor left and I slipped into this role with the transition leadership team. So, that was around January. And then in the summer time of the four of us who are in the transition team, my gift mixed and their gifts mixed, I just kind of took on more of a leadership role. And then the council, our church council recognized me as the leader of the transition leadership team during the summer.
So, with all of that, you said you’d hopped around a lot of first every six months and got to see a lot of different parts of the church in different ministries. Do you find that’s helping you and informing you now in this last year of transition? Or, is this just a whole different beast?
Well, it’s a whole different thing. I have a great deal more respect for those who are in senior leadership positions, because I have speculated what this is like and now I’m getting to experience it first hand. However, because I’ve been in my church for some time and because I’ve been in discipleship and evangelism and adult education, and I’ve been a preacher and a pastor and done pastoral care, I really feel like I have a pretty broad look at what we’re trying to accomplish. So, when people are coming to me with problems or challenges, I have an idea of what it is that they need help with. Prior to working here at my church I was in college ministry for some time and before that, youth ministry. So, I kinda hit the whole spectrum in regards to a community church.
So, tell me a little more about Upper Arlington Lutheran Church and your different campuses. What kind of a personality you have as a church, what are some of the main ministries that you guys focus on?
So, we’re a complicated church. Our church has been around for about 60 years, Upper Arlington is a first ring suburb. And I would say during the 80’s and ’90s our church really grew in size, and it was perhaps because we were an evangelical conservative bible teaching church on the northwest side of town. Our church grew. We ultimately acquired some property and ended up building, and actually it’s a much bigger campus than our original campus, but it’s only three miles away from the original campus. And a lot of churches in that circumstance would have sold the old campus and moved everybody to the new campus. But that’s not what we did. We have two campuses now that are in close proximity to each other. And so, one of our big challenges is trying to identify are we one campus in two locations? Are we two independent campuses? Or, to make it even more complicated in each of our campuses we have multiple venues. So, on any sunday morning we need four live preachers between just our two suburban campuses.
Because we have services happening in the building at the same time in different places. And so, are we one church in two campuses? Are we two independent campuses or are we even more complicated? Are we like a community of communities? Because we have five distinct worshipping communities, different worship styles, different personalities, different regular attenders. And then in that whole mix, we’re a church that’s been around for 60 years. So, we’ve got people who kind of move from community to community ’cause they like a specific preacher, or they have friends in this particular community or, “The campus that was little closer to our house.” It makes it really challenging for us to really live into one identity. And the fact that we are in the midst of a transition, makes it all the more complicated. So, our church has some real homework ministries. We kinda grew because we had a really exceptional youth program, kids program. We have vacation bible school that I’ve never seen anything like it. We have over 1,000 kids, two different locations. We have up to two kindergarten at one location, and then we have kindergarten to 6th grade at another location. So, trying to keep the coordination of all of those ministries going without them feeling like they’re competing against each other for resources or the time and attention of our support staff, it’s quite complicated.
Yeah, quite a task.
I don’t know that I would recommend, having lived in this reality for 12 years, I’m sure that if we had it to do over again we would have made a lot of decisions differently. But yeah, we’re a Lutheran church, but because we were big and we were focused on teaching the bible, we attracted a lot of people from other denominations. And so, I sometimes joke were not the best Lutheran church because we have really welcomed people into our ministry, into our church. Sometimes they don’t always believe the things that are on our What We Believe documents, but we figure out a way to love one another, to grow in our faith, to be the church together. Lutheran churches haven’t always had the best reputation for doing that, but our church has done an exceptional job. We partnered with a lot of non-Lutheran ministries. In fact, when I came on staff at Upper Arlington, the only Lutheran credential that I had was that I was married to one. I’d never been in a Lutheran church before, but my wife is a daughter and granddaughter of Lutheran pastors and sister and niece. And so, they took a shot on me and I’m very, very thankful. I really love my church. And even with all of the complications and things that go along with being on staff at a church, my family has really been blessed by being a part of UALC.
So, tell me what is one solution or best practice that you guys have implemented there that has been a success for you? Something that you’re proud of that might be interesting to others.
I would say that most recently we’ve been talking a lot about discipleship, and a church of our size we really need to have a process. So, we now have a discipleship process, particularly for our youth, from birth to 18. It’s a pathway and we recognize it’s not the only pathway. It’s not the only way that people are gonna grow in their faith. But we wanted to have one clear, systematic way where if you came to our church and you said, “Hey, I really like your mission and vision.” What do we do? We actually have a real clear pathway that includes some age phase training that we think are appropriate for kids in whatever particular age and phase. Here are the hallmarks of what they’re thinking about, what they’re learning about, and here are some milestones that we want them to learn by this age or phase of life. We have a director of family, youth and children who just recently became one of our pastors. He has done an amazing job. He’s a very strategic thinker, and he has done an amazing job of really bringing clarity and all of the ministries that we have in regards to family, youth and children thinking about all of them strategically and pointing them all to a desired end. And so, that is our discipleship process. If you went to our church website, there’s all kinds of information on there. And what I’m most appreciative of is oftentimes, when colleagues are friends from other churches come to our church and they pick up one of these brochures that kind of lays out our discipleship process, their eyes get really big and they’re like, “Wow, this is exactly what we’ve been wanting to do.” And the fact that our FYC team has put this together and now they’re implementing it, we’re seeing the fruit of it, it’s really exciting.
Wow, that’s really great. Yeah, I’ve heard that quite commonly that discipleship is kind of a hard thing to nail down, and so at least have some kind of clear guidelines is really helpful.
We’re trying to now bring our adult ministry, having seen the effect that this process has had on our youth, we’re wanting to do the same thing for the grown ups. And it’s got its own particular challenges, but our FYC department is really doing a great job right now.
That’s really great to hear. Alright, flip side, and you have do tapped into some of this just talking about the complications of your setup right now, but what is one current administrative challenge that you have that you haven’t yet found a solution for?
Yeah, one of the things, I mean, I’ve been in our church for 12 years and steadily became more and more part of the senior staff and getting to see more and more behind the curtain in regards to how are we thinking strategically and purposefully in regards to accomplishing mission and vision? Our mission has been consistent for probably a couple decades now. Our mission statement is, “To be and to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Our vision has been something that has been evolving over the last couple years. The thing that has been a real challenge, and I just haven’t, I don’t know, I don’t feel like I’ve corrected not just yet, but to try to take our vision and move it to goals and strategic plans and to – our church has not been comfortable with setting hard and fast goals. And it is that tension that exists because a church is this weird thing. It’s like a family, but not a family. It’s like a business or an organization, but not a business or an organization. It’s this something, it’s this other thing. But in a lot of ways, it embodies the characteristics of both family and business.
And they do say, don’t mix family and business.
Yeah. So, how do we think strategically, and have goals without it being like, feeling disingenuous or quickly getting off the track of being a body that is gathered around word and sacrament to glorify God. It is just a real challenge for us to get to that place where we’re still family, but we’re not. But we’re also strategic, and we have some goals, and we have strategic plans to accomplish those goals. And getting everybody on that and then getting all of our vast ministries, and we probably have 100 ministries, having them all kind of focused on the same strategic end, it’s just something that we haven’t, we’ve been working on it. We’re probably further along than we’ve ever been, but not quite there yet.
I imagine being in a transition phase between senior pastors doesn’t help that.
Makes it more complicated.
Yeah, we’ve been talking about this a lot lately, that when you have a senior pastor, even though we have quite broad leadership based in a very strong church council, to have somebody that can kind resolve an argument, you have one person advocating for this and another person advocating that, to have somebody who’s going to say, “Okay, we’ve heard all the arguments, but we’re gonna go in this direction.” And how many things do we put into place before our new leader gets here and says, “Hey guys, thanks for all that hard work. I’ve got this other vision that we’re gonna go in this other direction.” It’s a real, I mean, people don’t stay in this place on purpose because it’s not any fun. So, hopefully it’ll get resolved sooner rather than later.
Yeah, I hope so for you guys, that’s a huge search for any church. So Brodie, where do you go to learn more about being better at your role? And I know your role is a little bit muddy right now, obviously, so you can answer it from the executive pastor position, or even just in the last year, where have you gone to receive encouragement and perspective?
Yeah. I’m a very relational person, so my go to is always relationships. And I’ve been in vocational ministry now since I’ve been out of college, so 20 years. And so, I have accumulated some really great friendships that have been very valuable to me over the years. I was a bible and theology major in undergrad, but I went into ministry after I graduated from college. And it wasn’t until I was here at ULAC that I really got into my seminary degree. And this seminary program that I was involved in was a program specifically designed for people in full-time ministry. So, it was a little bit longer, a five year program, instead of a three year master of divinity program. But what was incredibly valuable for me is I would learn and then I was immediately implementing it. And to make it even more valuable was it was cohort based. So, there was a group of, there was about 12 of us at first, and then it had some attrition. But there’s about eight guys that I kind of finished the program with, and we were all about the same age and they were a great resource to me and helped me. So, those relationships have been really, really helpful. And I’ve always looked at education as a means to an end, not the end. I’ve got friends, they could take classes for the rest of their lives and just be in heaven. I really didn’t enjoy school but was happy to attend these classes so long as it really helped me. My seminary program was really, really good and I really felt like I got a lot out of it, but my ministry context was a big church in a big town with a big budget and a big staff. And after I was out of seminary for about three years, I recognized I need to get some more education. So, one of the other places I went, I went and got a masters of business administration with an emphasis in leadership from a university in Columbus that had a campus on my side of town that was cohort based. And it ended up really augmenting my education and rounded out some areas that, you know, you just don’t learn about budgeting and conflict resolution and staffing and HR issues at seminary. There wasn’t any classes in seminary about how to read spreadsheets. And so, for me, I had to get some more education to kind of round out what ultimately became some of my primary responsibilities. I think it’s interesting. I went to seminary and I sat in classes with the same – one of us worked in a big church in a big town, the next guy worked in a church of 50 people in Cape Cod Massachusetts. The next guy was a parachurch worker in a suburban town on the other side of the country, and it’s like, we all got the same education but our responsibilities were completely different. And so, I had to figure out where could I go to augment information that I really needed, skills that I needed to develop, that I did not get in seminary. And so, that for me was helpful.
Yeah, what a gift to have that cohort. And then it’s interesting ’cause a lot of, especially executive pastors maybe have their first career in the business world, and then come into church. So, I think you might be the first person I’ve chatted with that was in church from the beginning, and then went back to get some more business education, something that’s really interesting.
That’s what I recognized. A lot of people who were in the role that I was in, you know, we have a church treasurer CFO, his is a non pastoral role, but we have a lot of responsibilities that are not all together different. He was like a vice president of a big bank. He had all kinds of experience and things that I’d always worked in vocational ministry settings and never had to learn these things. So, for me, some people get that from experience and other people get it from education. I had to go the education route, and that was good. One more thing that has been really, really helpful in my professional development. We use consultants and we’re using a consulting firm right now, and I’m working with one of their consultants, specifically, and he has been absolutely fantastic to work with. We have an hour long coaching call on a regular basis, and depending on how many things I’m dealing with, that could be weekly or it could be every three weeks. But to me, he’s like a therapist to me. He’s familiar with our ministry context. He knows the people that I work with. So, when I’m talking about, “Man, I’ve got this really tough situation with this colleague, and I’m not sure how to do it,” this is somebody that can speak into my life because he understands my context and he brings some really good perspective, ’cause he is one who has worked both in a ministry context, like a senior pastor, executive pastor, associate pastor, as well as he’s a consultant for a business and government worlds, as well.
So, how did you come across him?
Our church, I’m trying to think of how they found, I’m sure it was a referral from somebody. I was not involved in selecting them as a consulting group, but they have been really, really helpful for us because they came in before our senior pastor left, our senior pastor left abruptly and they have helped us through that transition. One of the things that our former senior pastor had done that was really helpful with he had really helped develop our church council to be more of a stronger church council, and they have helped us because our church council operates where we have four new council persons come on every year and they serve for a three year term. There’s lots of turnover. We have 12 council members, there’s lots of turnover and they oftentimes are not familiar with the inner workings of the church or the detail of our mission and vision. And so, they have done some work with us using resources like Core Clarity or Strengthsfinders. Resources to help people understand what are their strengths, how do they tend to operate. And the more we know about the people that we’re working with and how they operate, the more we can head off conflict and work most efficiently. Working with these consultants have been a huge benefit for us And for me personally, in my own personal development.
So, you tapped into this a little bit, but what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
I was thinking about that question and one of the things that I have recognized most recently, I’m one that kinda gets bored easily. I wouldn’t say that I have attention deficit disorder, but I’m probably on the spectrum there somewhere. And one of the ways that I keep my morale up and keep focused on what we’re doing is just to put something on my calendar as often as possible, whether it’s quarterly or monthly that I look forward to. I’ve got my long list of things that I got meetings that I have to do every week, decisions that I have to make. And if that’s all I had to look forward to, I think it wouldn’t be long before my morale was way down. So, I try to be very intentional about having something on my calendar that I can always point to and say, “You know what? These next two weeks are gonna be tough. I’ve got these tough decisions to make. I got these tough conversations to have. But in two weeks, I’m gonna go to this meeting and I’m gonna see a bunch of friends that I don’t often see.” And having that on my calendar to look forward to makes dealing with the daily grind stuff all the more palatable. So, I’m pretty diligent about making sure that I schedule my vacation time. My wife works at the church, so our church life is sometimes all consuming for our whole family. So, we try to be really diligent about, “Let’s plan some vacations where we’re getting away.” I ended up, a year ago, getting elected to be on the board of trustees for one of the two denominations that we’re associated with. And so, that means I have five meetings that I go to every year and those meetings to me are so refreshing ’cause I get to see friends that I don’t oftentimes, I get to see, you know, I’m gonna be going to San Antonio here a few weeks. And then in April, San Diego. When you live in Columbus, Ohio during the winter and spring, you never see the sun.
You need to get out.
So, you gotta figure out a way to get some sunshine before you go crazy. So, having something on my calendar, even if it’s a ministry thing, ministry thing, a vacation. Later this week, I’m gonna go up to my hometown to do an interview for a pastor that wants to be a part of our association. I’m gonna get to see a couple of pastors I don’t see very often, and having those things on my calendar to look forward to, personally, it helps me with that daily grind of being a pastor at a local church.
Definitely, I like how practical that encouragement is. Brodie, thanks so much for being on the podcast today to.