Welcome to Monday Morning Church. Today, our guest is Chuck Elliott, who’s coming to us from Bethel Church. Hi Chuck, how are you today?
Doing great. Thanks for having me.
Yeah, absolutely. I’m very excited about our conversation today. Chuck, why don’t you just kind of give a little bit of background about who you are and how you got to be in a role as an executive pastor?
Yeah, well, my wife and I started attending this church probably about seven years ago, and we were just attending at the time. I was a counselor working with families involved at the state and doing that type of work. And come to find out that they had a need for a high school pastor, and I wasn’t even really applying or looking for it or anything. And the senior pastor and one of the associates brought my wife and I in and closed the door behind us, and we didn’t know what was going on. And we looked at each other. I was like, what did you do? Nothing. What did you do? And then come to find out, they offered me the high school pastor job, so I accepted. So I was a high school pastor for a couple years, and then I transitioned from that to also doing connections, which oversaw our whole assimilation process. So everything from the time that somebody drives on the parking lot, all of our, we call them connectors, a lot of people call them greeters, throughout the building, running assimilation, the back systems, all of that. And community groups, systems, things like that and did that for a couple of years, and then it transitioned into more of an administrative role. So about a year and a half or so ago, I took on the responsibilities of an executive pastor.
Wow. Was that, did it feel like a big jump, or was it more of just a natural flow?
It was more of a natural flow. I’ve always had a passion for leadership and have just been a student of it. Not that I have ever done anything perfect by any means, but I’ve always been interested in it. The behavioral aspect of it with my education, a couple years ago, I started and did a Master’s in organizational leadership, really just enjoy the concepts and everything that goes around it. And I love systems and I love empowering people to reach a goal, to make a vision come to reality. I just use my passion for that, passion for connecting with people, and it ties into systems and everything else that it takes to run a church like this.
Yeah, sounds like you’re a good place then. Tell us a little bit more about Bethel church. What’s unique about it? How is it structured? What kinds of things fall in your responsibility?
Well, Bethel Church has a pretty long history in this area. We’re over 80 years old, and this church has started a lot of things in this area. A lot of different ministries have come out of this church, things like the Evansville Christian Life Center that serves thousands of people monthly in downtown city-based outreach that goes on. Other mission organizations have come out of Bethel. We currently have a Christian school that is based in our building, then we have 550 students in our building every day. That’s just K-5. That school is actually the process of building a high school across town. We have a pretty large campus. And, like I said, we have 550 students in the school five days a week, and then church is happening on the weekends and Wednesday nights, another nights of the week. So you see a lot of churches that only get used for a couple hours a week. Our gets used 365 days a year, just about…someone’s here all the time. We do Upward Sports, lots of different ministries and things like that are going on. So it’s a pretty busy place.
Great. And so, as the executive pastor, is your role more on the administrative side in terms of operations, or is it on helping all the ministry stuff? What do you do?
Well, we’ve had a little bit of a transition, because Dave Schwambach has become our lead pastor, just about a year, a year and a half ago, and some of the transitions and shifts have happened during that time. I’ve continued to do a lot of administrative things, but whenever you have a leadership change, things kind of have to get…you have to feel things out to see where everything’s going to land. So primarily reports of the other pastors and some of those key staff still go to the lead pastor. I oversee facilities and systems and a lot of other staff and things that go on. But as we’re working out where everything’s going to fall and setting vision and direction, a lot of them, we still have a lot of contact with the lead pastor.
Yeah, it’s interesting to hear how different churches structure these types of things, some of them have taken that senior minister role and let all the stuff still reports to that person, or maybe they report to an executive pastor too. So that’s interesting dynamic you guys have going. It’s cool.
And it’s gone back and forth a little bit. It’s really a fluid thing. We’re having more conversations about it today. As we said, direction, vision, staff changes. I’m involved in a lot of different areas. Everything from marketing, this morning, I was working on designs for some remodels. We’ve done a lot of remodels on this campus over the past couple of years, and I take a lead role in a lot of those things as well. So now redesigning website, our communications teams, how do we look over our print pieces, communication for the whole church? What’s our priorities? What are we putting out there? Things like that.
Yeah. So how do you stay organized in terms of just administratively, what are some of the tools you use, both manual, but also digitally? What types of technology do you use to stay organized?
Yeah, from the basic sense, I work off my Google Calendar every single day. That really helps me to keep things organized. I don’t just put things in there as if they’re just an appointment, but I have to do, there’s things I need to prep. I have a great assistant who also helps me here. She helps me to think in six weeks increments. So once a week, she will send to me an email of the highlights I have in my calendar for the next six weeks, and if there’s any other big projects coming on after that, and I think in those chunks. So if I need to prep for a meeting that’s coming up in about a month or so, we have a meeting coming up with all of our leaders of leaders, we call it, at the end of this month and I’m working to prep for those things. So just keeping things like that in front of me is very helpful. So, doing that and on a bigger scheme of things, we use lots of different tools. Everything from Planning Center, Fellowship One is our main database system to keep things organized internally and for our congregation.
And how do you manage, because I know executive pastors have a lot of meetings, of course, you’re constantly talking with people and that. How would you…what are some tips you can give to other people or some struggles that you face when it comes to the meetings?
Well, I block out certain times for certain things. I know that Monday is going to be planning time. I also speak on Sunday mornings about once a month, so that really puts a shift in my schedule for those weeks because I have plenty of things to keep me busy outside of that. And then the week that I’m speaking, it takes lots of hours to prepare if you want to do a decent job speaking. So that kind of puts a shift in my schedule. So I kind of have to block things out. To give an example, I only take counseling appointments on Thursdays. So someone calls in and they want to meet for counseling. My wife and I do some marriage counseling, we have a background in that. So I’ll really just block those times on Thursday and I don’t do a lot of after hours times. I have two young boys and my wife and my family is really important to me. So I really try not to walk on that time. So, when people need a counseling appointment or need something during those times, I’m pretty firm that we book during business hours when I’m here. I try to do that, strategy days are more like Tuesday and Wednesday, at least a half day on Wednesday. So Tuesdays are when we meet with our pastoral team and talk about what’s coming up, what’s going on, and then some of the logistics of it will happen on Wednesday. And then the second half of Wednesday is usually any last minute things getting ready for Wednesday night programming. So I really think, my brain goes to different types of topics on different days. So Monday is generally debrief talking a little bit about what happened last week, what’s going on for the next service, the next couple of weeks, getting things ironed out for what’s happening on Sunday, final things for… if there’s any changes for bulletin, what’s going on in lobby, what’s promotional pieces. And Tuesday, Wednesday is planning, our half day on Wednesday, and then Thursday I have for additional prep, and if I have counseling appointments. So that’s kind of how I look my stuff.
Yeah, wow, it sounds like you’re kind of made for this role in terms of…you talked about how you like systems so much and you really lived that out to a full extent. That’s really cool. Where do you go to learn more? So you’ve been an executive pastor for a little while now, but what are some places that you go whenever you feel like you need to be fed by other people, to connect with other executive pastors? What are the tools you use for that?
Yeah, I listen to a lot of podcasts. I’m always reading at least one book. I love to read, and I feel like I’ve been in school a long time too, in grad school and some different things like that. Right now I’m reading The 5 Choices: The Path to Extraordinary Productivity, one of the Franklin Covey books. Going through and just organizing things and what’s important, what’s urgent, really categorizing, how do I spend my time in analyzing that. I love the Craig Groeschel Leadership Podcast, Andy Stanley, listened to Henry Cloud the other day, and then I also go a little bit broader. I subscribe to Harvard Business Review. I read a lot of business magazines, things like that. Big data research, what’s going on for marketing practice, best management practices, things like that, HR. I don’t read a lot of fiction. People don’t know why I’m not entertained by anything like that, but most of the reading and stuff that I do, even for fun, is non fiction and stuff that I think that I can learn from. So, anything I can get my hands on. I think for a team aspect, we go to Global Leadership Summit each year and we started off hosting that conference in this area, and if you’re not familiar with it, it’s out of Willow Creek Church, in association with Bill Hybels. And it’s a great two-day conference for leaders. And we just have really gleaned a lot of content, a lot of things to work on. And then a staff meeting, I’ll use some of that content to have an educational piece for our team building, something to work on, things to bring back up as notes as what we’re doing, how does it apply.
Nice, really good. When it comes to the struggles that you face as an executive pastor in your role, what are some of the things that come to your mind first?
Well, like I told you about the book that I’m reading, I think that we really get distracted with the things that aren’t as important as we think they are. What’s the return on what you’re doing with your time? So if you had to think about this moment right now, what’s the return on it? Am I making an investment that’s going to have a long term return, or am I just running around doing things because I feel busy and I feel as if I’m being productive. I like to try to think in systems, not in silver bullets, things that can just be a quick fix, but what’s going to be a longer term fix, a longer term solution for the problem that we’re dealing with. And it can be very easy to feel good about what we’re doing if we just do something real quick and try to make a change. So it looks like we’re doing something.
Maybe you can give an example of something maybe in the recent, the last few weeks that you felt like you needed to stop because it just wasn’t worthwhile.
I can tell you something that we’ve been dealing with on a bigger scale. We’ve been trying to get more people engaged in community groups. Community groups are what we call our small groups. So if you think enough people aren’t engaged in something or they’re not volunteering for something, you can get up on stage and you can just ask and ask and ask and say, you need a volunteer for this, you need to volunteer for this. But if you don’t look at the underlying systems and make sure that what you’re doing supports the behavior that you’re asking for, then you’re kind of destined to fail. So if you don’t make sure that when someone volunteers, it’s a good experience, when someone signs up to volunteer, someone calls and follows up with them. When they volunteer, you check and see if they want to do it again next year, the next time that big event or whatever happens for. For community groups are, is it a clear cut path for them to be engaged? What do they do if it doesn’t work out as a good group? Do we have multiple ways for them to sign up and those different things, are you thinking about the big picture of it? Because when you hear about a problem, you can think, well, I got to do something and I got to tell everybody they need to do what we want them to do. Well, let’s make sure that if they actually take that first step, we support good behavior and follow through.
Yeah, and that comes back to what you’re talking about, just in terms of systems, right? If the system’s not there, it doesn’t work right, then there’s no point in marketing it and driving people to it, right?
Absolutely. And you have that that tension between, well, I want an organization to get better, so I should send all of my people to conferences and I should tell them to read this book. Great. They can get hyped up, they can have some good ideas. But if they come back to your church, to your organization, to your team and your team and your systems don’t facilitate the behavior change that you want, the behavior change won’t happen.
And do you find that it’s fairly easy to do that inside a church? I know you don’t have a lot of experience outside of it, but versus maybe a secular place, are people more resistant to systems inside churches?
Well, the whole thing, you have the tension between, it’s not a business, but it’s a business and systems are very important. And people don’t want to feel as if they’re rigid and they’re being led by…God’s leading this in a natural organic way. But I believe that God’s a God of order and we have to have order around things in order for it to function well. I think there is a natural resistance, especially if something’s been working well. This church has a very long history, like I told you, it’s been here for 80 years, and there have been a lot of things and a lot of smart people that did some great stuff before I was here. And I have to recognize that. And just because I have an idea about changing the system doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily right or that it needs to happen right away. I think it’s a… yeah, it can be difficult. And my work in the secular world, like I said, I was a counselor working for an organization before I was here, working with the state, especially, it’s hard to change any type of system. So I think when it’s a very big ship, you have to make some gradual moves and explain yourself, you have to over communicate each one of those steps, and people have to understand how things are going to be better when you get to the end.
Yeah, very good. Well, Chuck, why don’t we close out here, with just…give some encouragement to other executive pastors who are out there the same. What would you tell them as a means of encouragement?
I’d say, keep on going and don’t feel like you have to fix everything and it’s on your shoulders. I know that I often feel as if I’m not doing a good enough job, and I think that there’s so many things that need to be worked on and things work out so much better when I just remind myself that it’s God’s church, it’s not mine. I can’t make people do anything and I just get to be a part of it. It’s not my skills or anything that I have that makes things better, but it’s really my obedience and my submission to God. And when we get frustrated, when I get frustrated, I often have to say, am I spending enough time on the work? Am I spending enough time praying? Am I doing something that’s not really supposed to be my job and taking care of God’s church?
Yeah, great. I think there’s a lot of takeaways from this conversation about just some of your organizational techniques in terms of using Google Calendar and being diligent with that, not focusing on things that aren’t worthwhile and really just like you said, just keep at it. Don’t give up, don’t get tired of doing the right thing. It’s really good advice. Thanks a lot Chuck.
Well, I appreciate your time. Thanks for joining us on the podcast and hope you have a great day.
Yeah, thanks for having me.