Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church Podcast. Christopher Harris is joining us today from Crossover Church in Tampa, Florida. Great to have you on the show today, Christopher.
Hey! Great to be here. Thank you for the invitation. This is going to be really fun.
Yes, it is. Tell us a little bit about how you came into your position there at Crossover.
Yeah. So I have been here at Crossover now almost three years and I have been in an Executive Pastor or senior leadership church role since about 2008 to 2009. Pretty unique, I guess, journey to get here. I’m not sure if you want me to go down that road or down that path yet or not, but yeah, it’s been a fun journey and so excited to be able to serve the church in this way.
Yeah, go and take us down that journey. Tell us a little bit about it.
Sure thing. Yeah. So I know that, probably, there’s going to be a lot of people who say that their route has been unconventional. I think mine would probably fall underneath that category of being unconventional. I, actually, was very fortunate. I started preaching as a young teenager and so I was exposed to the ministry at a very young age. And interestingly enough, 25 years ago, I knew down in my good, if you would, and not to over-spiritualize it, but I knew that I wanted to work at a church, but not just as a pastor, in a way that really allowed me to kind of work on systems and strategies. And particularly, in an African-American context at that time, there was no such thing or no such terminology as an Executive Pastor. You had your church board, you had your deacon, you had your ministers. And even at that point, many of the ministers who were not necessarily involved in the governance of the church, and of course, not many churches that I was exposed to at that time had large staffs. You had the pastor, primarily, and, maybe his assistant, maybe some grounds or facilities people. But that was really about it. Maybe some stipends here and there, but for the most part, day-to-day, that was the extent of it. Although I had this on my gut, I didn’t have the terminology of the context to understand what I was sensing and feeling that I would be doing the long term and involved with, and actually what the terminology was for that.
So a long story short, I grew this framework that you could pastor a church, but you would also need to be basically bi-vocational or working full-time at church while you also have your hand in multiple other things as well. And so that was just my framework. That’s the idea, the mindset that I had approaching ministry. So I always thought, man, I’m going to be a full-time pastor of the church and leading at a church, but also involved in the community and also maybe two or three other streams of income or jobs, if you would, and obviously, this family and whatever else. And so that was just a mindset that I had. And so even when I went to college, I went to college first on a music scholarship. And then I quickly found out that I was out of my league. And then switched over to business. And even when I switched over to the business program, get a degree in business, I know that there was still something not quite what I wanted in terms of it’s just a general business degree, or accounting, or marketing, or finance. I felt like those are really traditional path and didn’t quite hit the bull’s eye for me.
So as a timing would have it, I went to the Florida State University, one of the greatest institutions on the planet, by the way. They were creating a hybrid program at the time between the business school and the Information Science school. And what it did was it allows us to learn the backend of computers and computer programming. So things like HTML language, C++, Visual Basic, etc. But you’re learning this from the understanding that, from a business standpoint, you want to be able to eventually, as a consultant, or a trainer, or business development, or what have you, you want to be able to simplify the technical stuff so that even common everyday people in the office could understand it without there being a disconnect between the engineers and the people actually doing the selling or what have you. And so I ended up getting my degree in that, which is interesting because I’m a firm believer that God redeems all experiences and He redeems all your gifts and talents and abilities in a very real way, to be used for the kingdom and to be used for the church. And so I do have the gift of teaching and have just the grace to be able to take biblical, theological, deep, heavy stuff, and just make it very practical and simplistic and really culturally relevant. And so that’s essentially what I got my degree at, from a business standpoint.
And, at the time, I was being mentored by our Vice President of Student Affairs, Dr. John Dalton, who happened to also be, at the same time, the President of an organization called NASPA, which is the largest governing body of student affairs professionals. So he and I, we’re at lunch one day and he just dropped the hammer on me. He’s like, man, you’re going to be a great student affairs professional one day. And I’m like, huh? What are you talking about? At this point, I’m getting ready to graduate, and I’m starting to think about I’m submitting my resume and credentials for jobs at like Arthur Anderson and Deloitte, and some of the big things there, the Fortune 500 companies and all of that. And he sort of just planted a seed that really just kind of struck with me. And so, again, back to that mindset of having multiple hands and multiple things and not just ministry, I have immediately started thinking big. I’m like, man, I could be a university president one day. At the time, I was very involved in student government. And anybody that has never attended a large public land, grand institution like a Florida State or other state-funded institutions, you know that being involved in student government is not child’s play. I have budget. When I was leading our student government, we had a six and half million dollar budget that we were leading. When you’re 19, 20, 21, 22 years old, leading a budget that large, that’s a big deal.
Yeah, that’s some heavy responsibility.
Yeah, absolutely. So anyways, I was representing the university with student government, traveling as an ambassador at the same time that this is happening. So I’m giving you the long version but all of this is all happening all at the same time. Our Director of Admissions at the time, John Barnhill, came to me and said, man, you’re doing a great job with what you’re doing. I would love to hire you. Even though I know you’re a student, I would love to hire you as an admissions officer. And I’m like, are you kidding me? And he was like, no. I’m very serious. So even before I graduated and a lot of them pondering this notion of Student Affairs and all of that, and think about becoming the University of President and University Administration, all of that, and still doing ministry, and all of those things. I started traveling for the university. And in the state of Florida, there’s 57 counties, and I had 22 of them, recruiting National Merit and National Achievement Scholars, and all of those things. So long story short, I ended up getting my Master’s Degree in Education and Administration, and immediately started working in higher ed. And I became a Director of Student Affairs, and leadership, and diversity programming, and group life and all of that. And was just rolling in my lane while also being bi-vocational, or really full time in ministry. At the time I was at a church, I was kind of doing the simulation, a member of care on adult pastoring. That wasn’t terminology of course then. But that’s really what it is today. I was also doing a lot of member care stuff, for weddings, and funerals, and hospital and home visits, and things of that nature, preaching while my pastor was out and all of that. And then my family and I moved to another state, and while I was working full-time at this other college, this church, when we moved to the city was literally, it just started a fast, a corporate fast for a youth pastor. And literally the day that the fast started was the first day to my wife got visited the church.
Yeah, it was crazy. We were actually on our way to another church, and we had our service times wrong on when that church started. So when we got there, they were actually like getting ready to close the service out and we’re like, oh, that was a bummer. We got back in the car, I was like, well, whatever the first church we drive by that we feel like is not spooky, we’re going to stop there and just go worship there. And literally that’s what happened. That’s how we found our church. And so that was our home for 12 years. And so again, I’m at a university at the time. I transitioned into being the guidance counselor in the middle of that process. So I was at that church for 12 years. And about four years into that process, they came to me and basically said, we want you to come on full-time. You’re doing a great job. But we know that you’re managing all these other duties with your college stuff and all of that. And so for me, that sounds pretty easy for some people, but for me it was a scary endeavor because I’d never done one thing in terms of employment. And so the compromise was, let me sign up to be a substitute teacher at a local school system and be at adjunct faculty position in one of the local universities, and I’ll come on full time. And so they invest in my salary, and benefits, and all that, which was really fortunate. And I did that.
And during that tenure, I basically became the Executive Pastor. I was the youth pastor, but I basically was in an Executive Pastor role in terms of the responsibilities that I had. At the time, I was focused a lot on ministry and a lot of members, but not so much on the money. And unfortunately, that transition from that church did not end like we thought that it would. We tried to leave as healthy as we could. That’s whole another conversation. But I transitioned into a much a larger church with a much larger platform, that then brought the money and the maintenance stuff under my umbrella. That really was the first time I was able to cut my teeth and not just the ministry stuff, but also community stuff, community engagement, and also what it meant to be at a church that was highly visible and had a huge, huge platform beyond just the church. People didn’t just see the church as church. And really was also able to refine my leadership skills and abilities with people who are not much more different than I was, that I dealt with before. So, that was eight years ago. And now we’ve transitioned here back to Florida. My wife and I was fighting because we had the miles out just a few weeks ago for another thing that we were working on. And so since we’ve been married and all the ministry moves, we accumulated 2,700 miles of moving.
That’s quite a bag.
Yeah. It has been. So that’s the journey in a nutshell.
So then today, are you working full-time at Crossover or are you also kind of doing some of the education side?
Yes. I am full-time at the church. Fortunately, I’m able to kind of have my hands and a few other endeavors as well. I am the Director of Administration — well, let me back up and say that all of the things that I have my hands in now are not so much education-related. They’re really more, you know, definitely much more ministry focused now and I’m blessed to be able to kind of have the flexibility here, at our church here, with our leadership here, where they’ve been open to me doing this. I’m blessed to be a high capacity leader that can juggle multiple things. Sometimes it can be a little challenging just juggling multiple things but, I think, that’s how we’re wired. I think that’s how I’m wired, rather. And so I’m the Director of Administration, also, for a reformation of churches, several hundred churches throughout the United States. So I lead their headquarters and day to day operations. I also work with Mosaic Network. And if you’re familiar with multi-ethnic ministry, then at some point you’ve heard the name Mark DeMoss. And so Dr. Mark DeMoss and I are working together to create a platform and a framework for churches who are looking to have help with staff search. So those are the kinds of primary things that I’m working on. And then, of course, somewhat of an itinerant ministry schedule as well at points with some church consulting in there. So we keep them busy.
Yeah. You seem like the type of person who would get bored pretty fast if you didn’t have multiple things going on.
I don’t think that I would get bored. I think as I get older, I realize the blessing of rest, and, Sabbath, and balance. But absolutely, I believe very firmly in scripture. And scripture says that God will allow our gifts to make room for us. And so I’ve kind of just taken the mantra in my life that I want to die empty. So every single ability and talent that God has given me, I want to leave that voice in the world and leave a space for my children to take up that mantra in whatever they’re called to do and do what God has sought for our hands to do.
So okay, I want to hear a lot more about Crossover. Tell us a little bit about the personality of the church and something that you guys have going on there, some best practice that you really found success with.
Yeah. So Crossover Church is a very unique place and our pastor, Pastor Tommy Kyllonen, is a pioneer in the Christian Hip-hop Movement. And what that means for us, as a church, is he’s been here now, at the time of this recording, about 22 to 23 years. He actually started out as a youth pastor and the youth ministry grew so fast and so large that the lead pastor, at the time, handed the ministry off to him. And here we are now, 20-some years later, and he has done an incredible job at not just letting the church be a Church of Arts but also being a church where we incorporate the arts with a strong discipleship approach. Our church is very relational and very community-focused and driven. And the goal is to be able to offer an environment where it’s multi-ethnic, multi-class, multi-generational church that involves the arts and that it speaks to the relevance of our society. I think any church today, and whether it’s a mainline denominational church, an independent or non-denominational church, predominantly Caucasian, predominately African-American, predominantly Hispanic or multi-ethnic, mixed race church, I believe, that the church has to be able to speak into the issues of our day. And so we try to do that in a very healthy way, in a very biblically and theologically sound way, while providing really practical solutions for people to grab hold of the gospel and live that out every day.
And so we exist to be able to help people discover, develop, and display Jesus Christ in every area of our life. That’s kind of the tongue and cheek because that literally is our mission statement, but we focus on those every single day. And so, yeah, in terms of solutions or best practices, I would say that we have done a good job at creating an environment where diverse populations can actually worship together without losing their flavor and their culture. I think if you go to many multi-ethnic churches, they are diverse in number but not diverse in culture. The music is still very much a CCM sound or very much a Hillsong sound. When you’re called, some of the cultures that are there to acquiesce or lose a part of who they are. And we’ve been able to take the music and take a sound of who we are, take the presentation of who we are, and be able to blend that in a way that is comfortable. Comfortable, probably, is not the best word, but applicable to multiple cultures. So we’ll take on a CCM song and literally our worship team is called remix. So we’re going to remix that song to make it culturally relevant for a Hispanic crowd, or an African-American crowd. Or, you know, at times you’ll come to our church and we’ll have salsa, or we’ll have sometimes a Bluegrass, or we may have that gospel sound, or that choir sound, or what-have-you. We’re very intentional in our marketing to make sure that our marketing, for example, Jesus doesn’t look white when we’re using an image. And I think that’s very important.
Well, he wasn’t anyway.
Absolutely. But if you look historically what the Church of America has done, we’ve done that. I’m not saying all this to offend anyone. I’m simply speaking facts, without the contextual of it all. So I would say that that’s one of the best practices. I would say one of the other best practices is we have finally resolved, as a church, that small groups cannot be an only option for a multi-ethnic or a multi-class church. And so we try to incorporate a buck play approach in terms of our discipleship model. And so if you come to our church on a Wednesday night, depending on the time of the year, what topic you walk in on, you may walk in and it is a simultaneous class, concurrent, going on, where you can walk in. We’ll have worship together for a few minutes and then we’ll break out into concurrent session. It’s almost like a conference feel and you can pick two, three, or four classes that you want. You may come depending on the topic and time of the year. We’ve got a corporate setting going on where there’s a corporate teaching and everybody is sitting together. You may come. And we’ve got a corporate teaching for 20 or 30 minutes and then we break into small groups, together, corporately, in the same space for 30 to 35 minutes and it’s around a particular curriculum or what have you.
So we found that that approach is starting to really catch on for us and it works in a multi-ethnic, in a multi-class approach. To say that small groups is the only way may not always be the wisest way. From a cultural standpoint, people of color, not just African-American but even Hispanic or Asian-American, may not always be comfortable with people being in their home, strangers being in their home, or hosting people, or the dynamics of all of that. I mean, I can go much deeper than that but that’s been another best practice that I would say that we have been able to master. I think, finally, another best practice is that we’ve been able to now start to duplicate our brand and duplicate ourselves within our tribe. There are a lot of multi-ethnic churches like ours in the urban context who want to use the arts and want to use creative arts to really draw people. And so we’ve created a platform for them to be able to come to us and us duplicate that throughout.
Sounds like a pretty exciting place to be.
It is. Yeah. Absolutely, it is.
Now, Christopher, along with your role as Executive Pastor there at Crossover, it is already pretty evident from what you’ve said, you’ve got your hand in a couple different areas and two of them are you got your own Podcast and you’ve got a book. Would you share with us a little bit about those?
Yes. Absolutely. So my life mission is to inspire wisdom, simple two words, to inspire wisdom. So everything that I do flows out of that. So I have a Podcast that was just launched earlier part of this year. I’m so excited about it. It’s been going extremely well. It is really stretching me in great ways and new ways this year. And it’s a whole other arena that I just was not in that space. I listen to Podcast regularly. I put my phone up here now and my devices and I don’t know how many Podcast I’m subscribed to. Maybe 30 or so. So I’ve always just listen to Podcasts and been in that space as a listener, but when you move on the other side of the microphone, it’s just it’s a whole way of thinking that’s much different than what I’ve done before. And so it’s called The Wise Idea. Of course, it’s on iTunes, and Stitcher, and Tune In, and Google Play. We’re working now to get it on I Heart Radio and Spotify, and other platforms. So we’re really excited about that. We focus on life, on leadership, on marriage and family, and then of course on ministry. And we talk about current relevant events, cultural events. But we really want to help provide everyday people with the wise way to approach life and their faith, and how to incorporate their faith in their life. I believe that oftentimes, it’s not a matter of what’s right and wrong, isn’t as much as it is this the wisest way to approach them? So we’re trying to provide answers for that every single day. My book is sort of in the same theme. The title of the book is called Temporary Assignments. I wrote the book because I was looking for the book and couldn’t find it.
Yeah. You know, basically, as I navigate it — as I talked to you earlier about those 2500 miles that my wife and I moved, and being in various spaces both with her career and my career, navigating the nuance of changing as a family. We have four children. And having to reinvent ourselves as parents, to reinvent ourselves as husbands and wives. Not in a bad way, but when you jump the broom, it is not who you will be five years after you married, or 10 years after you married, 15 years after you married. You’ve got to constantly reinvent yourself. And so there was various seasons of my professional, personal life where I was really struggling and trying to find — not that I didn’t know I needed to change or reinvent myself, but I was looking for the answers to how. I was looking for a biblical framework to how. And so one day, I was studying scripture and just so happen to start to really delve into the life of Peter. And when you look at the life of Peter in the book of Acts, you see this courageous, strong, confident leader standing up and he preaches the first time. In the book of Acts, 3,000 people get saved in one day. You want to talk about church role, that’s huge. You look at his ministry as he’s preaching to all these various groups, and healings taking place, and miracles taking place, and doing an incredible job leading diverse people and all of that. And I started looking at it, man, how did he get here?
And then I see this guy who is failing time after time in the Gospels. I mean he’s sinking. He tells Jesus, let me walk on water. He starts falling, sinking in the water. Jesus calls him and asked him for question. He gets the answer right and then literally, a few minutes later, Jesus is calling him Satan. Get thee behind me Satan. Time after time, he’s putting his foot in his mouth and he’s making major leadership blunders. He cuts a man’s ear off as Jesus is in one of the most critical moments of his life. Jesus has to heal the man to put the ear back on, and then you can almost just do conjecture, imagine the text that Jesus is like walking away shaking his head like, Peter what else do I need to do to get you to get it? So I think God just gave me some revelation on this notion that Jesus was really in the place of trying to get Peter reinvent himself in all of these different seasons of his life to prepare him for Acts. And if he had not encountered those moments with Jesus and the Gospels, he probably would have been a big failure. So my book is about teaching people how to reinvent themselves the wisest way possible. And so every season of your life is a temporary assignment to get you to where you need to be. So that’s the book.
Oh, that’s great. We’ll put a link to both your Podcast and the book there on our page too so people can access it easier.
So, Christopher, I want to finish with this: What encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
Yeah. I think that’s amazing question. I would probably give maybe two or three answers here. Number one, I would ask the question, what are the needs of people that you’re called to reach? I think every organization, regardless of industry, has to be glued in on that. One of the questions that people are asked, and I think we have to be comfortable in not only getting those answers but be comfortable in answering those questions. One organization that I think serves as a model of great service is Chick-fil-A. Some people are not fans of chick-fil-A for various reasons, but I think there’s some principles that we can pull away from it. And the founder of Chick-fil-A was quoted one time as saying: “We are not in the chicken business. We are in the people business. We just happen to sell chicken.” And I think that’s a powerful quote because — which probably moves me into my second point, and that is that every industry, every single industry and I’m going to put religious industry right in there.
Sometimes people get scared when you start talking about the church from an industry standpoint because that’s a business term. But there’s some business principles to take away for this. Without exception, every industry is experiencing disruption. And what I believe is that we are having to marry our mission but date our method. And so we’ve got to figure out, be very clear who we’re called to reach, what is our mission, what is our unique competitive advantage, become uncompromising and comfortable in that because we’re — and I think this is a point for the church, your church is not called to reach everybody. And it’s okay for you not to reach everybody. You’re called to reach a particular audience based on your culture, and your personality of your leadership, and personality of a church, and be comfortable in knowing that mission but also being mature enough with your systems, your structures, and your strategies as an organization to adjust and be nimble to the methods to accomplish a mission. I think if you get stuck and you marry your methods, you’re going to become outdated and become lost. And anybody that’s listening to this that’s a part of a church, I think we get it confused sometimes because Jesus said, upon this rock will I build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church. And people say, well, the church is never going to die. And that’s true. The big seed church, God’s church is never going to die. But if your church doesn’t adjust its methods, it will die. Your local church will die. And I think it’s important for us to understand that cookie cutter does just does not cut it anymore. And so the final thing that I would say, then, is really asking this question: Is life transformation authentically taking place in your church beyond Sunday? And if it’s not, your church needs to change. I think the church, regardless of the, again, the culture of it, the race of it, the city, all of that, the church does a good job at doing church well. But my lens is telling me that people are looking for development, and teaching, and relationship, and unique experience, and life purpose development, and all of that. Things that we would call discipleship, but I think even much more discipleship. And I think if the church just continues to do church well and doesn’t expand its borders and its methods to include those other things, I think we’re going to find ourselves where there’s this collective restlessness that people have with the church today.
That’s great. Christopher, some great wisdom you shared with us today. Thanks so much for being on the Podcast.