Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today, we’ve got Darryl Taliaferro on the show, coming to us from Mount Zion Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Great to have you on the show, Darryl.
Thanks so much. I appreciate it.
Now, Darryl, you are the General Overseer there at Mount Zion Baptist. Tell me a little bit about how you came into your position there.
Well, Courtney, I came to Nashville 18 years ago, and I came here to study at American Baptist College. When I came to Nashville, I immediately united with the Mount Zion Baptist Church and the first position that I held here was the Overseer of the Mount Zion College Ministry. During that time, I reached out to ten colleges in the area and, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we were able to reach out to over 3,000 college students. After I served as the Overseer of the College Ministry, then I was elevated to the role of Executive Pastor for the church. And I served that role for a period of six years. And then we went through an organizational change, all for the good. Basically, we developed a new model of collaborative approach. So most of our top tier leaders are now referred to as General Overseers. And my primary responsibility is to oversee or to be the General Overseer of external affairs and pastoral care.
Okay. So tell us a little bit more, what that involves, especially the external affairs part.
So, basically, the external affairs part deals with our community partners, really making sure that Mount Zion is an oasis of hope within the national community, as our mission statement says, and making sure that we’re always engaged in various things that’s going on in the community, both locally and abroad. And then the pastoral care piece is basically hospital visits, funerals, weddings, counseling sessions, baptisms, and things of that nature.
So it kind of sounds like you may not be in your office too much.
Not a lot. I’m always on the go.
Yeah. That’s a good thing, though. You also got a radio show that I saw. Would you tell us a little bit about that?
I do. I have a radio show that airs on 12 radio stations around the world, one here in Nashville. We play Gospel music, and then we deal with hot topics. Now, these hot topics are basically things that the church really don’t want to address or that they’re afraid to address. So we really try to dig deep into those and have provocative conversations, but with biblical solutions.
Now, do you find — because a lot of pastors, it can be really difficult to get outside of the church world because they’re in it every day, all day long. But since the nature of your role gets you out, do you find that a lot of that exposure to the community, day in and day out, in people in their time of grief or with weddings has really informed a lot of the content on your radio show?
It really has. A lot of times, we are in this proverbial bubble as leaders within the church, and we’re not necessarily in tuned as we should be within the community that we serve or with matters that really affect our congregation. So being in the field really helps me to a stay abreast as to really what they’re experiencing. People, I believe, have two faces. They have a face that they show on Sunday morning or on Wednesday, during Bible study, but then there’s another face that they have to show to their colleagues at work or to their classmates in the academy. And that’s really what I want to go after is, what is that second face? Because ultimately, we can provide hope in revelation of the word of God for you on Sunday, but I want to see how it’s lived out Monday to Saturday.
So tell us a little more about Mount Zion there. What size is your campus there? Are you pretty involved in your community, which it sounds like you are.
We are. Mount Zion is one church in three locations. And we have also an online virtual church. We have several thousand members, 25,000 plus numbers that regularly attend our church. Our pastor, Bishop Walker, is the International Presiding Bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church fellowship. So he’s pretty busy, which is why part and parcel, we went to this model of a more collaborative approach to ministry. But we have several ministries that our members can be a part of, whether it’s our care ministry, several youth ministries, or college ministry, or different things of that nature to really help them. It kind of goes back to what I spoke about how you have one face on Sunday, and then you have one face that you show during the week. Well, our goal is to make sure that those faces merge, so that it is a level of consistency that you have throughout the week, as well as on Sunday, so that you’re not one way in the world and one way at Church. In terms of our community involvement, we do a lot of collaborative work with other churches in the community. One big initiative that we do is a collaborative visit with church here, where we provide backpacks, we give school supplies, provide health services. When it’s time to go back to school, a lot of students, when it’s time for physical exams, they don’t necessarily have the money to do that. A lot of families are strapped with cash to do with that nature. So it’s up to the church to be the church. And that is not just providing the word of God in theory, but providing the word of God in practice. One of the things that Jesus always did, as we search the scriptures, Jesus not only taught the word, but he exemplified the word. Well, obviously, quite obviously, He was the word. So He had to do that so that people would realize He’s not just a verbal encourager, He’s a tangible encourager.
Now, the church the size that you guys have, and obviously, there’s no lack of need in any community, tell me a little bit about the team that must be serving under you to address some of these needs.
Well, actually all of our staff, for the most part, we collaboratively discuss various communal issues. Maybe, in one staff meeting, we may take hour or so to discuss a community outreach activity that we want to do. And each staff person talks about how this community outreach event affects their particular area. For example, our youth department may say, well, this is a great idea, but this is how it will affect the youth of our community. Our men’s ministry leader, general overseer, may say, well, this is a great idea, but this is how it will affect me. And you’d be surprised when you get all of those individuals in the room, how we may come up with one idea, but once we understand the dynamic and how it affect the various demographics, have that morphed into just a robust community outreach initiative.
Which is a benefit of collaboration. It takes more time to do it, but you end up, usually, with the better result after the collaboration than you would have had before.
Very true. Very true.
So tell us a little more about one thing you got going on there at Mount Zion, that you’ve really found success with, outside of this, obviously, the collaborative nature of your staff.
One thing we have going on in Mountain Zion that I’ve found to be successful is our outreach to college students. Our college ministry is one of a kind. It’s one that — we’re very blessed here in Nashville because we have several colleges. It is almost the education mecca. And a lot of churches don’t want to reach out to college students because they feel like, well, they’re transient. They’re not going to really give back to the church. It’s more of an investment. A lot of churches feel like it’s more of a waste and an investment. But we feel that it’s more of an investment. One of the things, when I first came to Nashville, I didn’t anticipate being in Nashville as long as I’ve been in Nashville. I really felt like I was going to come to Nashville, do four years in college, go to another city for grad school, and I’d move on with my life. But because of the investment that the church made in me as a college student, and then subsequently serving as the overseer of the college ministry, it made me fall in love with the church. It made me see that, wow, these individuals really care about me and they don’t even know who I am. I come from a totally different city and I come here, but they take just as much care and concern for me as an outsider, as they do members who’ve been in the church for 10 to 20 years.
Now, why did the church start taking such an interest in college students? Because, as you said, there’s not a very obvious return, at least. And most churches wouldn’t invest in that. So was there some story or origin that there’s a reason why Mount Zion takes such an interest in college students?
Well, when my pastor first became the past of our church, he started pastoring here in 1992. And the church had about 175 members on roll, that he may have seen maybe 100 or 75 people every Sunday. Where our church is situated, there’s Fisk University, there’s Meharry Medical College, there’s Tennessee State, and in a few miles away there’s American Baptist College. So what he would do is, periodically throughout the week, he would go on the college campuses and evangelize. And he would talk about Jesus Christ and really get that demographic to come to church. Once he started that, he recognized this is an untapped population as relates to evangelism. And as he did that, it began to grow. And then when I came to Nashville and our pastor asked me about serving on the college ministry team, being the leader, I then expanded the vision that God has given to him and said, well, not only are there these four colleges in the area, but let’s reach out, go further. Then he said, okay, well, we’ll get the bus ministry going. So we chartered buses that go to the colleges. And the reason why there’s such an investment is because it’s an obvious non-investment from other churches. And that’s really why, because ultimately, these are God’s children too. Just because they’re college students don’t make them less needful of a relationship with God. And if anything, they need the relationship more.
Yeah. There may not be some kind of obvious return, but obviously something is working if the church goes from 175 members on roll to 25,000 plus. Whether it’s directly from college or just the Lord’s favor for you for you all honoring the segment of that population, something’s working with that.
Right, definitely. And that’s been a great part of our growth is college students and the investment that we’ve made with being intentional about developing true authentic college ministry, and not just bringing them to church, but having the desire to minister to their needs as a transient student.
Now, I’ve got to ask the obvious kind of crass question, which is college students don’t have a lot of money and they’re not used to tithing. So you’re investing money, doing these pastors and evangelism time, and people and staff to minister to them, how do you make that work? Is it just like a very conscious decision of the church that we will spend money here even if we don’t get that money back? How do you make that work?
Yes. It is definitely a conscious decision. This is somewhat a staple part of our budget. When I served as Executive Pastor, a part of my role was it was dual. It was Executive Pastor and Chief Operating Officer. So obviously, I saw the budget in great detail. And a good portion of our budget goes to the college ministry in terms of transportation, in terms of feeding, in terms of programmatic things that we do for our college ministry to ensure that they have an opportunity to come and receive the word of God. The other thing too is though it is perceived that college students don’t have a lot of money, they do have something. And a lot of times, the college students that I have found in my experience, they do give in their tithe and offering. And that’s part and partial, because our pastor teaches holistically, the biblical principle of tithing no matter what your financial status may be and how that honors God, and how even your time of inconvenience, if you trust God with what you have, he would open up the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing. And some of our college students have really tested God, as the word says, and really have seen a return on the investment that they’ve made to the kingdom and not necessarily the investment that they’ve made to the church.
That’s great. And it’s no secret that God can take any amount and multiply it.
So on the flip side of this, then, what is something there at Mount Zion that you haven’t quite found a solution for?
Well, that’s a great question. One of the things that I have not quite found a solution for is how to really get everyone actively involved in ministry. While we have a plethora of ministries, we have, I mean, so many ministries, you would wonder, why aren’t you involved in ministry? It’s really, how do we make it so appetizing? How do we make it so, I guess, desirable for individuals to want to get involved in ministry? Now, the reason I say that that will be an issue because, as you know, our society, you have social media, you have various things that’s happening throughout the week, even in personal families, you have kids, you have responsibilities, a lot of people feel that, well, I go to church on Sunday, I go to Bible study on Wednesday, that’s good enough. But God is calling us to be an active participant in the life of the church. So we have, at Mount Zion, created a program called I Serve. I Serve is a program designed to help connect our members to ministries. But it has not yet reached the level that we wanted to reach at. So that’s our area of struggle right now, but we have a lot of people actively involved in ministry. We want more to be active and involved in ministry. The Bible says that we have this ministry. As you know, Paul gives the imagery of the body of Christ being similar to the human body in terms of how can you say to the eye, I have no need of this. Where is the seeing? How can you say to the ear, where is the hearing? So our goal is to help individuals know, you may not sing, you may not preach, but you have a role and a responsibility to participate in the local church. And that’s where we’re really trying to increase our efforts and solve, if you will.
So, Darryl, what are some of your favorite resources or places to go to stay encouraged, and just to make sure you’re staying sharp?
Well, I read a lot. And one of the things, obviously, I read, obviously, the word of God. There are a lot of nuggets, leadership nuggets in the word of God that have helped me tremendously in terms of refining my leadership and encouraging me along the way, in terms of not getting weary and well doing, or planting seeds and allowing what I’ve done to plant the seed, whereas someone else would come to water it. And then ultimately, God will give the increase. Other things that I read, a phenomenal book by Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, called Leadership on the Line. It helps me to understand how my leadership has to be from a balcony view versus a dance floor view, to give that imagery in terms of how most leaders, the reason why leaders get stuck in various situations without really understanding the situation is because they’re right there on the dance floor, in the midst of the situation. They encourage you to take the balcony approach, wherein it’s an aerial view of the situation, so that you can step out of the picture because you’re stuck in the frame. If you step out of the picture and look at the picture, then you’ll understand, oh, this is really what’s going on. So another book is Leading Change by John Kotter. He gives us a change model, a plan change model. It’s an amazing book that really, in every area of ministry that I have the privilege of serving here, I’ve utilized all three of those books. Obviously, the Word of God, Leadership on the Line, and Leading Change. Because, ultimately, they help me grow and develop, but they also encourage me because, ultimately, I get to read stories of other leaders who have had challenges like I have had, who have had great successes like I’ve had, but who have also married the two together to provide the outcome that God would have provided for their life.
Darryl, what kind of encouragement would you give to other in church leadership?
Courtney, that’s an amazing question. And the reason why is because, I wish, 18 years ago, someone would have told me what I’m about to say, and that is remember your Why and don’t focus too much on your What. Remember your Why and don’t focus too much on your What. What I mean by that is, why they got to call you? Why did you start serving in ministry? Why are you here? Because ultimately, the What of ministry can convolute the Why of ministry. In other words, if you focus on the issues, the problems, the hardships, the difficult people to work with sometimes, it can cloud the Why. And you’ll be so focused on the What that God cannot get glory out of your Why, because you are still focused and stuck in the What.
That’s great. Remember your Why, and don’t focus too much on your What.
Darryl, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure.