Welcome back to the Monday Morning Podcast. Today we have a special guest. We have Eric Rojas who has joined us from Christ Community Church in St Charles, Illinois. Hi Eric, how are you today?
Good Neil. How are you doing my friend?
Doing excellence, excited to talk to a fellow Cubs fan, especially in this glorious year that we can celebrate because we haven’t lost the World Series yet.
No, and I’ll say it – everything just doesn’t matter anymore about baseball; they won the World Series. So I still watch the games, but it’s just not even the same. It’s like, who cares? They won the World Series.
Yeah. I remember hearing something from a Red Sox fan and they said that after they won, it was like, that was the end of baseball for them. It just kind of stopped. Well, cool. Eric we are happy to have you on the show. You are a prolific writer. You have a lot of resources that are out there on the web, but why don’t you share a little bit about who you are, how you became an executive pastor in this journey that you’ve been on?
Yeah, so back when I was a baby – no, I won’t go back that far. But I studied in college. I went to a Judson University in Elgin, Illinois; once they are basically just to play baseball and the Lord grabbed a hold of my heart at that point. And there may be one or two people that remember Christian artist named Benny Hester and really, he did his concert there at my freshman year at Judson and he said, “Is Jesus your savior? Is He the Lord of your life?” And at that point I realized I knew Him as my savior, but He was not the Lord of my life. And I gave my life really truly over to Him and His Lordship at that point. And I began a journey over the next several years of being called seminary, being called the ministry. And then I jumped right in, jumped right in the very – about six months later, I am playing the piano for a revival of a church of 25 at Bethel Baptist Church in St. Charles. And one thing led to another and I became a worship pastor, became a college pastor. I was a janitor for a while. I did preaching; I did adult ministries and went to a couple of different churches. So I landed here 17 years ago having done just about everything at the church, at every size church and I got here at Christ Community about 17 years ago, about 180 people at that time and began as the men’s pastors, sports pastor that grew into an adult ministry, small groups role here at the church for a few years. And then 13 years ago, we actually had a moral failure. So our previous, you get a different title staff director, but he had a fall morally with another staff person. And I was in the middle of all of that, and our senior pastor said, “Eric, I want you to take that staff director role.” And I just had no desire whatsoever. I said, “You know what, Jim”, Jim Nicodem, our senior pastor, “I’d love to help in anyway.” I had that rules not for me. So for six months, I searched for our next staff director in the position would quickly change its title to executive pastor. And after six months, we just couldn’t find the right person. And Jim asked me again and I said, “Well, you know what, let’s talk.” So we spent a couple of weeks talking and praying and a long story even longer, but short in terms of the actual story. I end up taking the role on 13 years ago and it has been an absolutely perfect fit. I love the opportunity to coach people, to build up the team, to hire people, to manage processes and systems, and then all the things that I did from janitor to teaching pastor and everything in between prior to coming here, I use it every week. I use that experience every week along with my Master of Divinity that I received from a trinity, even general divinity school. So it’s been a 13-year run that’s been unbelievable in this role and I honestly say that 98 percent of the days I love coming to work and I love what I do, like I was born to be an executive pastor. So that’s my story, Neil.
Yeah so if you can go back to that time when you were resistant to taking on this role, what was your thinking and how long did it take you to realize that you really did fit into this and it really was a good fit for you?
Yeah yeah, a really good question. What I was resistant to was not really the role as I came to understand what my thought process was. It was kind of the person that was in the role prior to me and how he was wired. He wasn’t as much of a leader. He was extremely administrative, very personable, but he would really need to take his cues from the senior pastor. So he kind of get a lander list of things to do, and then he’d go and execute him, which wasn’t bad for that particular season. But I’ve got more of that leadership gift and so I needed to run things myself and I needed to be, not for ego sake or it’s just how I’m wired. I love to be able to one point on something, and I wanted to relieve our senior pastor of all these additional responsibilities because if the number two person isn’t truly making calls on things, if he doesn’t have the authority to run with different ministries and projects and initiatives, then it just ends up floating back up to the senior pastor. And it’s not much of a help in terms of his week and his focus and that type of thing. So I actually sat down with a list of 14 different things that I wanted to change about the position if I were to jump in. And actually we agreed on 13 of the 14 list; the 14th was I love men’s ministry, and I had been heavily involved in men’s ministry not only at the local level but nationally as well with some man in the mirror ministries. And I wanted to stay on as the men’s pastor as well and Jim rightfully just said, “You can’t do it. It’s just not possible.” And he was right, he was right. And so we agreed on 13 of the 14 and made some changes including the title of the position and such, and some of the focus and that one way I was like, okay, you know what Lord this really seems to be what you are leading us to. And that’s been a great journey because Jim would say that his plate was almost immediately lightened. And I think that allowed us then to go from about 1800. There were about 5000 out of 14 epistles because of letting go, letting go of ministry and freeing up our decision-making tree and the systems and processes. So yeah, that’s kind of the journey that I went through during that little season.
Yeah, so you say 13 years have gone on and you were actually in the middle of a transition right now. Can you tell us more about that?
Yeah, it’s been a cracking, you know in my world, we’ve got about a 120 staff, and so I am always – there is always people complimenting in and God’s doing something in their heart and life. And so I am helping them transition whether it’s to another seat on the bus here at Christ Community or whether it’s to another church. And I’ve got a huge mantra on our staff that if God’s doing something in your life don’t go and interview at another church under a cloak of darkness or – let’s talk about it because if you are doing something in your life, then you are doing something in the life of our church as well. So we don’t have very much turnover, but we are 120 staff. We are going to have fairly regular turnover just because of life and so I am having these conversations regularly, and now I find myself like hold the mirror. I am having conversations with myself. But about three years ago, God started to tweak my heart and just felt like maybe He was calling me to something different. And to be honest, I love it here, I love this area. I grew up up in this area. My kids have all been raised at this church, and so it’s kind of stiff firming God a little bit and God, I am not ready. I love it here. And yet I felt this, I felt this pull and I was actually at my daughter’s church, a church called South wood Church down in Kentucky, Louisville Kentucky around Thanksgiving time. And listening to the message, and after the message there was a song “break every chain break every chain”, and I realized that I had been kind of changing myself here just feel like this is where I should be and God was saying, “No, I am breaking the chains. I am calling you to something different.”
So I cried in that service. I went actually to a men’s stall and I cried for about 20 minutes after the service because I was like, wow God, you are doing something here. And about two weeks and then one of those things okay a day later, a week later, two weeks later. But I don’t know if that really happened. Did that really happen? And I found myself in the hospital, nothing major, but I end up having spent a night in the hospital for the first time in my life, and when my family left one night I just felt like God said, “No seriously, I am getting your attention for doing something different.” And right after that a couple of churches called me and I decided to answer the phone. Typically, I will just say thanks but no, thanks. I love what I am doing. And one of them was from a church that I had known quite a bit about was actually a two former staff members from Christ Community that are on staff at Rolling Hills Community Church in Franklin, Tennessee. And our senior pastor, Jeff Simmons – I had met him several times. I have been at several church services and we have just loved that area of the Franklin Nashville area, and two of my really great friends are on staff there. So we started a conversation. I told my senior pastor pretty quickly, and then about 1st of April or so we decided to accept the call to Rolling Hills Community Church as an executive pastor. So I’ve got just a couple more weeks left. I start there June 1st, and after all these years of helping other people transition, it’s really strange. I got to be honest; it’s really strange been on the other side.
Yeah well, why don’t you give some perspective to other XPs who are out there who maybe are in the middle of the transition or are thinking about one? Well, you are obviously someone to do this as well. So what are some things you are experiencing now or some things you are hoping to do to make sure that this transition is smooth?
Yeah, great question. I think it started for me with again what I expected – the vision I cast for my staff, I wanted to make sure that I was following my own lead. So telling my senior pastor you are very early in the process, this is what God is doing. I have no idea if it’s going to end up you being in a call or not, but I’ve got to explore it. That was a big deal because I was able to go down there for an interview and I had my senior pastor’s support. He was praying for me. We kept it to a real pipe circle initially, but I want to make sure that to honor him in this process and I think that really happened well. The other thing is I would have loved to transition, have transitioned more quickly. You are typically will do long hellos and short goodbyes, but in the XP roles especially you’ve been here for 17 years and in this role for 13 years, there is so much that I have to pass along and train and get down in written form and such. And so we took extra time, we actually took a couple of months of our transitional time, and it’s a little slow right now. I’ve got to be us last couple of weeks I’ve done most of the transition but at least once a day somebody stop in my office was something critical that I need to pass on to them. And so I think that was also honoring to our senior pastor who wanted me to stick around a little longer than normal to make the transition smooth. And we are actually right now in final stages of putting together not only the interim plan, but we’ve moved from interim to the long term plan right now for the executive pastor role. And it changed quite a bit from when I had it, which is great – new season but being I giving as much time that I get in terms of announcing it and allowing for the transition. I think it’s been very honoring. The third thing I’ll also say, then I’ll be asked to follow up – the third thing I’d say is I am really just, I’ve been praying and fasting on a regular basis for this transition. And it seems like every time that I am praying and I am fasting and I am down on my knees, praying for not only myself and my family but for Christ Community, for the person or persons that are going to be in my role. It seems like the Lord brings something to mind that wasn’t on one of my transitional list. You know like you make sure you pass along this or make sure that they are aware of this or what I was like feel like – you know those thoughts have come to my mind. It’s a direct result of some intense prayer and fasting for this transition. As I do a lot of volunteer development and one of the things that I always get frustrated with is when staff people have a whole, they got a Sunday school class they’ve got to fill, they’ve got a smoke and they just throw somebody in to the deep end and they maybe give them a little verbal training or give them a sheet of paper and it’s like sink or swim type of deal. Well, one of the things that’s been really important in this transition is these people that have been in the interim roles and now we are going to hire at least part of the next chapter plan that’s coming from within is me being able to observe them. So I’ve been very very strategic about – okay, I am going to leave this next meeting. You watch how I do that even more carefully. Then I am going to watch you a couple of times and then you are going to leave meeting and I am going to be right next door in case you need me. So making sure that I just didn’t throw people in deep end and get the time has allowed there to be a really good hand off and training process there as well.
Yeah yeah, you can’t. It’s hard to just give that full dump all at one time. Again take some time to think through everything and to maybe go through even a season within the church to remember what things need to be there. So it’s an important point. Looking back on this time, what do you hope is your legacy that you leave at Christ Community in terms of the XP role? Obviously you are going to have a personal legacy that you will have among your relationships there, but in terms of the work you are able to put in the processes, the systems you are able to create, what – maybe to summarize – what would you think it would be a good legacy you would like to leave there?
In fact, it was really cool – just had a staff good bye on Tuesday and the whole theme that as they, I didn’t want any celebration, but as they show their appreciation with legacy. And so it’s interesting to hear from what people on staff said and they probably have 100 plus cards that were written about legacy. And I would say this – in this role, it’s critically important that the right culture is set. And for me as I leave, I think that’s number one outside of being like Jesus, pointing people to Jesus, everything that on the spiritual realm, I think on the pragmatic realm, it’s creating the great culture. And for me, we’ve got a bunch of different values just to list a couple that have meant the most to me, we do want a culture of Christ likeness and so we are pushing ourselves spiritually. We are praying for another so we require accountability partners. We spend three different hours in prayer as a staff, we will just check in randomly with staff and how they are doing with their quiet times and that type of thing.
We have evangelism training that we do to have our staff continually be focused on reaching people for Christ. We bring in outside professors and we have internal people to do theological training. So we are really trying to build up a legacy here of our staff culture being one of Christ likeness. Another huge one for us is chemistry. And for us, chemistry just mean we need to have really good hiring practices so that we not only have somebody with a great resume, but they have got a great connection with the people they are going to work with. And so we’ve really raised that bar of is there a good chemistry in your team? We do a lot of, we give a lot of resources to each of our teams for team building, to create that good chemistry, and that just creates this spree to core of our staff that people would say here that they just love coming to work.
They have a lot of fun and it’s because there is a culture where people get along, we push Matthew 18 a ton, and not only the Matthew 18 directive, which is if someone sins against you, you got to go to them. But the Matthew 18, I use to call the Matthew 18 principle where it’s just great practice that whatever it is, if you get a beef with somebody, whether they sinned against you or not or you are just were frustrated by someone, go talk to them, don’t go to the supervisor, don’t go to HR. But that whole culture week we have tons of fun, we have whacky work days, we have worship times together as a staff, we’ve got employee of the month fun activities that we do, minute to win it contest that we do every other month that is to set just a lot of fun and development. We do lots of trainings for our staff as well. And I think that’s been a big deal for us.
So I think culture would be a big legacy for me. And then I will just park on the hiring and reviews portion of things because it’s amazing – as I talk to churches, they are just some really, just talk just this week had coffee with somebody that is an executive level at a church here in the Chicago area with several thousand people. And I was just shocked to find out that they really don’t have any sort of centralized hiring process. They’ve got a couple of minor things but it’s kind of everyone that did what was right in his own eyes. I did even know the executive pastor friend of mine about 8-9 nine years ago. I was talking to him another mega church in the country, and he is like having all these problems in our kid’s ministry, the staff – I am going to have to get rid of four staff at the same time and our kid’s team. I was like, “Wow, how did that pop up so quickly? What did your reviews and goals and such look like for them over the last couple of years?” He’s like, “Oh, wow we haven’t really done anything like that in three or four years.” I say, “Wow, that’s part of the problem.”
So for me, we are huge in setting goals, doing reviews, mid-year check-ins, formalize that process, and it’s just allowed really good conversations about expectations. And so putting those processes in place and before the reviews and the goals, the hiring in place, we’ve got a really – they are trying to sound braggadocios at all. I really love our hiring process that we’ve put together, and we’ve got eight different steps and we have to make sure that we are hitting each and every one. We just don’t allow anybody to skip a step because as soon as you skip a step, in our system we find that, oh man, we miss that about that person. And now they are on our team and whatever; so over the years we’ve honed in on this process. And so if you are hiring people well, if you are creating good goals and you are doing reviews and check in, if you’ve got a great culture that’s promoting Christ likeness – those are some incredible systems and procedures in the culture that I hope is a legacy here at Christ Community that will last much longer than my tenure here.
Fantastic. That’s really exciting to hear about. Eric, one thing we always talk about in the podcast is little bit about technology and when it comes to processes like you are talking about, do you guys use any kind of technology to help you run that or is there anything else you rely on and as you are making this transition, is there anything you plan to pull from Christ Community and apply to Rolling Hills?
Yeah yeah, I’ll mention a couple of things – for us, for a lot of our internal teams, just using Ever note and being able to have the links between team members, give some of our Ever notes and it’s been a huge thing. So we use that quite a bit. On the HR side we use a program called Purely HR that has systematized all of our calendaring and time off, and that’s been really fantastic for us. And so those are a couple of things that we do that I will take with me to Rolling Hills. There is other things that we are looking into but those are the two that jump out right now.
Nice, good. Eric, you are a big writer. I have seen a lot of your articles around different places around the internet, where would you recommend XPs go if they are really looking for a great resource to learn more about the position to get a continual learning type thing? What are some of the resources you go to?
Sure, sure. Well, I am just a continual learner, continual reader. That’s something that I’ve always been and will always be. And so I listen to a ton of podcasts that really helped me on. I am sure everybody out there does that as well. And so I am finding that as I am listening to somebody’s podcasts especially on leadership – that’s really my deal. I find that when I am listening to Carey Neuhoff podcast or Andy Stanley podcast and yet there is tons of takeaway for me as an executive pastor. Our ex pastor I got the word David Fletcher runs that ministry and I have not had the time in the last couple of years to do much writing for, but there are phenomenal articles that David has on his website and resources, and in February each year, he has a convention conference called ex pastor down in Dallas. They meet every year. So that’s a huge resource and not only good material is presented there on the website and at the conference, but just being able to network with a couple hundred other executive pastors. I’ve been able to be there the last couple years either, but that has been for a long time a go-to for me. And also we’ve used the Vanderbloemen in search firm a couple of different times, and William and St. Stevens who was – William Vanderbloemen and then some Stevens who was the former executive pastor of Granger Community Church and I was a lead lot of their executive searches there, and they put together an executive pastor network, and I think they are doing once or twice a year at this point but William and Tim lead this. It’s like over 18 months – I don’t remember the exact parameters but I think it’s like over 18 months and you take 12 to 15 people at any given time and so you are together for several weeks. Like one week at a time, I think two or three different times over the 18 months. And then there is a Google group that comes out of that, all the alumni that have been a part of that are part of a Google’s group and there are some really good people. I’ve had the privilege of coming in and leading one of their one-day sessions as a team together and many other executive pastors from around the nation have come in, Dean Ryland I know from down Atlanta has as well. So it’s not the cheapest thing in the world to go to that but I’ll tell you what, it’s incredibly valuable what you learned and the network you are able to do as a part of that. So those are few things that come to mind.
Yeah, those would be great resources to share. Eric, as we close out won’t you give everyone just one piece of advice – one closing thoughts for all the XPs who are seen in.
Yeah, I think the closing thought I would have is just be incredibly mindful in the role that you have, of the power of your words. As I am leaving there are times where I didn’t realize that happened, somebody on the shoulder asking to volunteer for this role or that role, letting somebody know that I am praying for them, giving a word of encouragement or a text of encouragement – just stuff that I do in my regular day. And I am getting as I am leaving here, people telling me the impact that those words had that I just, well I didn’t realize. To be honest, I didn’t realize. It actually makes me think how many times did I not take that opportunity when it was right there in front of me and I passed on the opportunity to pray for somebody or to encourage somebody and what type of impact, even greater impact I could have had if I had been more proactive and obedient in faithfulness. So it’s something I popped in my mind right now is just hearing from people – I’ve got, I actually have a folder that I just went through as I am going through my files as a part of this transition. It’s called my encouragements folder, and whenever I feel down and evil one, this is just giving you a crack upside the head. I pull this folder out. It’s just people that have written notes of encouragement through the years. And so I just went through that a couple days ago with my wife. It was kind of fun to do that. And again, words – the theme of words came out when you said this to me, you know when you – it is like, wow okay, I need to be extremely mindful of what I am saying and how I am saying to be attentive to the spirit for opportunities to encourage people that are in my network. So that’s what’s in top of my head here this morning.
Fantastic. That’s really great to hear. Thanks a lot, Eric for being on the show – all blessings to you as you make this transition in the new role and we hope to hear from you again soon.
Alright, it’s been an honor. Thank you.