Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today we have a guest that many of you are probably familiar with; David Fletcher has joined us. He’s the founder of Xpastor.org. He’s also the executive pastor out in Fullerton, California. Good morning David, how are you?
Good morning. I’m fine Neil, good to talk with you today.
It’s fantastic to talk to you. As I mentioned, a lot of people are familiar with XPastor.org. It’s a great resource. I’m sure everyone has seen it. If you haven’t, please check it out. It’s got so many good resources and a lot of things that are there, and we’re lucky to be able to talk with you. If anyone out there doesn’t know who you are, why don’t you give a little bit of background about who you are and how you started your role as an executive pastor?
Sure. I’ve been in ministry 35 plus years and somewhere in that course, the church we were at in Dallas – we were at the same church for about 25 years, they needed someone for the role. I stepped into the role, and as I began to try and learn and grow, there were zero materials out there. So as a part of my Doctor in Ministry studies at Dallas Seminary, I started XPastor to just begin to pull together some resources, and pretty soon I saw – this was in the early days of the Internet – that people from all over the States and around the world were looking at it. We just kept building it and wanting it to become a global resource for churches of all sizes, free information, hundreds of articles. I think we have over 700 now and tens of thousands of pages of information, just to help the church grow in leading and managing in a complex world, a complex church, and things aren’t getting any simpler so we just keep giving it away. It’s a lot of fun to do.
Yeah, it’s a really great resource and like I said, I’m sure a lot of people should check it out. David, you have such expertise and experience in so many different areas of being an executive pastor and you’ve written obviously prolifically on so many topics, but today on this show, we want to talk about one specific one that many people go through as an XP, and that is when you’re transitioning between senior pastors. This is something you have just finished up at your church in Fullerton. Is that correct?
That’s right. In September of 2016, the senior pastor left and we entered into a period of about 20 months of an interim and getting ready and looking, etcetera, so I’d love to visit with you. I have 10 thoughts for people to consider in that interim-
Yeah, it sounds like you almost have a blog post ready to go up for the top 10 things.
If I could find the time to write it, it would be wonderful. The first thing I encourage people is it doesn’t have to be long, but you have to mourn the loss. For whatever reason the person has moved on, another opportunity … if it’s a really hard thing of some sort of moral issue or if just the person thinks it’s time to go start a new church, you have to for a couple of weeks just mourn the loss. In our church, we gave everybody a card with the 5 stages of grieving so that they could work through those and come to realize that the church is not ending, but it is a time deep transition, and that ministry will go on.
How long was that senior minister there before he left?
He was there 4 years.
When you say mourn the loss, are you saying don’t do anything else right then, just focus on some of those grieving processes, just take some time, or also do some things in the background too?
Well, I think you do want to let people know it is a loss and that it’s hard on everyone. You don’t want to announce any new plans for a couple of weeks, otherwise it looks premeditated – unless it’s a great transition where everyone’s been working for it. But if it comes out of the blue, everyone’s going to be surprised so they need a couple of weeks to just recalibrate. Then you can get on to point number 2, which would be just normalize great ministry and continue on. Steady the ship, celebrate the great things, get your next set of goals, get the team right-sized in terms of on track, make sure everyone’s functioning on all cylinders so that life and ministry … because people are still going to die and they need funerals. People are going to get engaged and need weddings, and youth ministry and evangelism and mission and worship and interim speakers all need to go on.
As an executive pastor in that role, obviously everyone’s gifting is different but would you recommend the executive pastor take on the role of an interim senior minister during that time, or does it depend on case to case? What do you recommend there?
If the person is gifted in communicating, yes, but if you start preaching every week then your time is going to be greatly limited, because putting together a great message is anywhere from 15 to 25 five hours a week. At a minimum, the executive pastor will be taking on a lot of responsibilities that the senior pastor was doing. Even if the church brings in an interim XP or interim preacher, you still have a lot to do and that takes a while to do. We didn’t at EvFree Fullerton bring in an interim. We brought in a number of guest teachers over those 20 months.
So number 1, mourn the loss. Number 2, normalize great ministry. What’s number 3?
You have to examine your Constitution. This is most likely not the time to change your constitutional process for finding your next senior pastor. 10 to 1, you’re going to have something in there that talks about either nominations or search or who’s going to vote, so you really want to follow the Constitution. You don’t want to step aside and say “Well, we’re not going to do it that way this time.” That can get you into some legal issues and moral issues and ethical issues, so just look at your Constitution and make sure that you’re the expert on it so that you can advise the board and various committees and whoever else is helping lead, on how the process has to go.
So make sure that that Constitution is there, that you’re following it and going along with it. Was there anything in your situation, was there anything you noticed when you went back to the Constitution that was surprising or that you wish you could have changed but just decided, hey let’s just stick with this?
No, we had modified our Constitution about 18 months [ago] so I was really conversant with it anyhow, but there’s always little nuances like how many people have to be on the search team. Was it 3, was it 5? You want to get that straight, not that you begin the search process right away. In our case, we took 9 months just to normalize the church and get everything straight and organized and make sure we were running fine. We took time as we get into point number 4, to discover what kind of person we’re going to look at. Point number 4 is, use Harvard’s question zero, and it’s really a simple question. It’s deadly simple in its structure, and the question is this: What exactly are we trying to accomplish here? At EvFree as a board of elders, we talked for about 6 months and we talked with the congregation. We had like 400 people come in for elder discussions, some special meetings. It was really a rich time and we got all their input. What are they looking for in a senior pastor? But then we as the board took all the information, and to get to simplicity – that is the core of what we were looking for, just takes a long time. If you’re a church that is Evangelistic in nature, you’re going to want to think that the person you want to bring in is going to have really strong gifts in sharing the Gospel. If you’re a teaching church, then you’re going to want to focus on that, so you really want to focus on what exactly are we looking for. Are we looking for a guy who exudes warmth and comfort? Are we looking for this pastoral presence on stage, the Evangelist, the shepherd, the prophet, the catalyst? There are a lot of different ways to go and if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you’re probably not going to find it. You’ll find someone but is it really a great fit for you culturally?
For us at EvFree, it took us a long time to get to this simple statement. We were looking for an excellent biblical expositor with the heart of a shepherd. Then, we wanted some sort of mix under that of being a leader, a visionary and something else that’s in our opportunity profile that’s still on our church website, if anybody wants to go there, EvfreeFullerton.com. So you just get at what is the bottom line of what we think we need, so that we have a target that we’re going to look for.
This question zero comes up because a lot of times, the first thing you do is “Let’s put a search [team 10:02] together, let’s get some resumes, let’s jump into it and then only when you’re later into it, maybe you start thinking “Man, we should have planned better for this.” That question zero is meant to come at the very beginning, right?
Very, even before the search team is constituted. The leaders, in our case it was the elders, should be focusing on how are we going to help this search team have a charter? What are they looking for? We just don’t want somebody to come here. We want somebody who’s going to carry on our DNA, grow the church in some new direction but also has a sense of consistency with our cultural dynamic.
Great, so that’s point 4. Take us to point 5. What’s next?
So 5 is get some professionals involved. I kind of leave it open like that. Some churches may not have a culture or may not be able to afford a search firm, and that’s fine. Some search firms will help do it on a consulting basis, not quite the level of actually participating in-depth with your search team but you might have people in the congregation who are experienced professionals in the search process, but you want people who know church searches. Most people who you invite on to a search team have … here’s a generality, but most have never hired many people in their lives. Very few have ever hired a pastor, and virtually none have ever hired a senior pastor. This is all terra incognita for them, this is new ground. There are some great books out there. You can look on Amazon for them for helping in the search process, but I strongly advocate get some professionals. It’s worth the money. Who has been down this road? Who’s really experienced in it? Who knows the ins and outs of churches and church searches that can guide you at whatever level you want, whether they take the whole thing or part of it, so that you’re not reinventing the wheel. This has been done a lot of United States, so get the help from people who have done it.
What’s one thing that you experienced in your search that you feel like you gained from having professional help that you may have missed out on if you were trying to do it on your own?
That leads right into point number 6, write a killer and detailed opportunity profile. We went with the firm Dingman and Company, and Bruce Dingman has been doing searches for a long time. Way back in the year 2000, I actually modeled my style of opportunity profile on Bruce’s opportunity profile; very high end. What it does is it lays out in 4 to 8 to even 10 pages with pictures, who the church is, the kind of ministry that it has, the demographics of the church and of the community, and then the job description, the role description of the senior pastor that you’re looking for. Most people just start with a job description, but you see that’s just what the church is looking for. It doesn’t get everybody first in on the church onboard about who we are, and a lot of people have never put together the details of “Oh yeah, we have a huge emphasis in mission and this counseling thing is really important for us, and we have special needs” or whatever the local uniqueness of your church is. You want to put that in print, first so the people of the church can realize and then the search team can realize it, and then the candidates can look and say “This is the church and am I a fit with this? Are my passions in line with what this church has been doing and with what they’re looking for?” What we got with Dingman was just an exceptional opportunity profile. We gave him a lot of information to go in it, and then Bruce and Rich Kid took that and tweaked it, and with the search team just developed a killer opportunity profile.
Wow, that sounds like a great thing to do. It’s something that you’d like a church to be able to do even if they weren’t looking for a senior minister, to be able to get that idea of who the church is, what is our DNA, those types of questions. It’s great.
Most of us just don’t have that at our fingertips. It takes a fair amount of research. You have to talk to a lot of staff, a lot of volunteers, a lot of elders, a lot of other leaders in the church. It takes time to put together but it’s a wonderful document when it’s created because it’s so rich and encouraging. It’s what God has been doing at your church.
Great, take us to the next point.
After 6 which is write a killer and detailed opportunity profile, then is establish the search team. There’s a lot of constitutional ways. It might be elders only. The elders might be appointing the XP. It might be people from the congregation. They might need to be voted into that position, but you go out and you do a search in your own congregation saying who are the people, whether it’s the elderly people in the church, who have the ability to look globally at the whole congregation, have a sense of where God is leading you for the future, so that they can come together and have these regular meetings and begin that search process for you.
Great, so you put together the search team based on your Constitution. It seems like if somebody is listening to this podcast that you probably should check your Constitution right now. Open it up and make sure that it fits those types of things.
You don’t want to get into the situation like you said, right in the middle of it where you wanted to change the Constitution or change the process.
Yeah, the time to change the Constitution is in calm waters before any search is announced or before someone’s thinking of leaving. Let’s say you have a process that you look at and say “Whoa, this was great in 1962 but our church is not a church of 200 anymore. It’s a church of 1500 and it just won’t work that way anymore.” Follow the change management process of establishing the need, show that you’ve changed, get the right team together, change the constitution, get all that information out to the congregation and that’s honestly a 6 month process from start to finish to do it well.
We’re on to point 8. You want to then in this time … it’s a hallmark that I just come back to all the time, you want to celebrate generosity and great ministry along the way. So you take those wonderful islands of help and success that God has blessed, and you keep talking about them every week. It’s a wonderful way to introduce the offering. “Hey, we’re taken an offering today in the church. There are boxes in the back of the church or mail it in or use the app or go online, because did you know that the giving that you’re doing is helping send 10 teenagers to Ukraine? Or we saw in the service last week with this speaker that we had a goodly number of people come to know Christ and begin following him, and we’re going to have baptism time in 8 weeks. If you haven’t done that, you want to join these folks.” You’re celebrating all those great things that God is doing and put it in print too, in your e-newsletters or in a bulletin box, so that the people of the church can see, we’re in a transition time but God just doesn’t take a vacation in transition time. He’s still active. The leaders are helping lead this church and God is blessing it even in the midst of transition.
I think the XP role there too to be on the forefront of celebrating those things, is an important thing for people to see that things are going on as normal. It hasn’t stopped. We’re still doing what we’re doing and it’s still a very important thing that the church is doing.
We established 4 main goals after the senior pastor left. One was to do launch an initiative to read through the New Testament at the community. We called that [Ears to Hear 18:20] and we sent out a daily e-mail over the course of the year. We had people from the church give a devotional response to each day’s passage, and we had 70 people help lead that initiative. Then we launched ‘Love Europe’ and we sent 200 hundred people on short term mission trips to Europe to work with some of our partners. We had ‘Easter with Louis Pulau’, and then we did this huge gift to our community called ‘Christmas Boulevard’. I’m not big on numbers but sometimes you need to talk nickels and noses. We expected about 8,000 people to come. We did this thing called the Walk through Bethlehem as a part of Christmas Boulevard, which was a live drama interaction of a very realistic night in Bethlehem when Jesus was born. No wise men because they didn’t come until the baby was in a house later, and it was a very innovative way of sharing the Gospel. We thought we’d have like 2,000 people come through that but we had 15,000 people come to Christmas Boulevard. We had 7,500 people do the Walk through Bethlehem. We had more people hearing the Gospel in a very creative way, than we had in the preceding entire year. It was really exciting and you just celebrate that stuff and you do great ministry. God just blesses it along the way.
It’s amazing. Take us to the next point, we’re up to number 9. What’s next?
Your search committee has done their work and if you work with a consultant, generally you can have someone as a candidate in anywhere from 4 to 8 months. It took us just about 8 months in our particular style. When they find a candidate, you need to do a superb job to communicate back to the congregation the process that you undertook, because people will forget. You remind them of the goal that you had, the kind of person you were looking for – in our case an exceptional biblical expositor with the heart of a shepherd. You remind them of the search team and how they may have voted for them or select themed or given names for that process, or whether it was the elders who did that … whoever, but you remind them of the process. Then you bring to them who this person is. In our case, and I think it’s still on our website, we developed a 4 page brochure 8 ½ by 11, and we mailed it out it to absolutely everyone on our e-mail list …. Excuse me, snail mail list, so that people have in their hand, in color or black & white, this document that walks them through the process. If someone is disheartened because the previous guy left, they say “Well, there’s intentionality, there’s direction, there’s a vision.” You introduce the candidate to them, his vision and his background and his family. You’re trying to give in one place this snapshot that people can have and think and pray through, with links that they can go hear messages from the guy, all linked back to your website so that people can get it on the web and put in your e-news, that they can just go to one place, click on 10 or 15 messages so that the candidate in process, when the person finally comes to give 2 or 3 or 4 messages in your congregation and a bunch of meetings because you’re going to want to line those up for personal interaction, but they’d have already heard as many messages that they could take in and say “This guy is the one who I could hear every week of the year for the coming few months.”
That’s obviously a huge step but the level of communication you’re talking about is something I think most churches would agree is important, but would struggle to get to. That’s a really great thing to do.
That leads right into the last one. Point 10 is have your candidate speak in whatever number of weeks is needed in your congregation. You can get by with less weeks if you encourage people to listen online. In our case, we had our candidate speak for 2 weeks and we voted on him the second week, because we expected our people to go and listen online, and not just think that he’s going to bring his 2 most fantastic messages. You can just hear him speak over a period of weeks in this current environment, and then you need to closely follow your constitutional approval process. In our case, a little thing that was hidden in there, in the Constitution, was you can only be a part of this affirmation process in the meeting itself; no absentee ballot, whereas for affirming elders and other issues, we do absentee ballots. We had to remind ourselves no absentee ballot, so whatever your constitutional process is, you want to follow it closely. You don’t want to get hung up by somebody in a month who gets mad, maybe so irate that they file a lawsuit that you haven’t followed your Constitution. You just follow it and then you see how God’s going to lead, and hopefully you have a new senior pastor.
Just like that; if only it was that easy all the time, right?
That’s right, exactly. But when you communicate well, people are tracking with it. You’re building trust. They know that you’re honoring them and your Constitution and your church, that everyone has decided that this is how we’re going to do ministry together, and then they can just focus on the individual if he is the right person for it.
Those are the 10 steps to go through. David, as you as you think back over the last almost …
Yeah. As you look back over that time, anything you wish would have happened differently or regrets or mistakes along the way you hope other people don’t make?
We worked really diligently with the elders and with our strategic team and with our staff and with leaders. We had some issues to work through with the congregation in terms of worship style. We did this listening tour that I referred back to. We had to begin a process. There were some waves out there and sometimes they got high and it was challenging, specifically on worship preferences and style. But by listening and talking and interacting, by the time we had a candidate, we were always sailing full steam ahead. When you have high waves, you don’t move quite as quickly as you’d like. But by the time Darren came. Darren Mcwaters is now the senior pastor but by the time he came, the waves had greatly abated and it’s really due to God’s grace. We’re listening, we’re talking, we’re interacting, we’re thinking, we’re praying, we’re trying to get everyone rowing in the same direction and involved in ministry, so those were some of our takeaways in the process. It’s just hard work. That’s actually why Paul says that we’re in a spiritual battle. We want to get everybody on our team, on our army, all addressing the right issues so that our enemy isn’t ourselves. We have a great enemy out there who just wants to ruin the church, and he’s that roaring lion. He does not want my church and your church and the listener’s churches to be successful. So our goal is to engage people in a spiritual attack to storm the gates of hell, and we don’t do that with conventional means. We do it with love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and self-control.
When you’re involved in this kind of thing of looking for a senior pastor, really then you’re [moving on 26:26] in a ministry. It all gets back to that spiritual battle that we’re involved in. The pages of The New Testament suddenly become so current. It’s like Paul and James and Peter and John, they’re writing just for us because the times haven’t changed much. The times are just the same and we still need God’s grace and love to carry us forward.
That’s fantastic thoughts, great advice. I’m glad we got to talk about this topic because I know it’s an important one, and one that I’m sure a lot of people are eager to hear about, especially from you David. Thanks for sharing.
Pleasure, I’m always happy to help.
All right, thanks for being on the show and we invite everyone to continue listening in. We’ll have a lot more guests coming up soon but check out XPastor.org if haven’t yet. Thanks a lot David. It’s been a pleasure.
My pleasure, thank you Neil.