Welcome back to Monday Morning Church. Jerry Royal is joining us today from First Baptist Church that has three campuses in Wichita Falls, Texas. Jerry, great to have you today.
Thank you. Good to be with you, guys.
Jerry, you have been on staff at First Baptist for about 23 years, starting out as a student pastor and then transitioning into your current role as executive pastor. Would you tell us a little about that transition for you and for the church?
Certainly. The role of an executive pastor in our church is something I never even thought I would do one day, never prayed about it, never dreamed of it. I was a student pastor here for 17 years. I came here in 1993 to serve under my former pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress, when he transitioned to another pastorate back in 2008, I believe it was, our current pastor, Bob McCartney came, and he just did an evaluation on the staff. And one day he called me in his office and said, “I would like to move you from being the student pastor to the executive pastor in that role, I like you to oversee the staff and all the administration, and just to assist me in everything.” And he said, “would you pray about it?” And I said “I’ve never even thought about it.” I went home and I knew at that point in my life, I was in my mid 40’s, that I had loved student ministry, will always be a student pastor at heart, but it was time to move on. But I love this church as well. And so almost miraculously, the Lord had this opportunity and my wife and I took a weekend at most and prayed about it and said, “We won’t have to pray about it. This is what we’re supposed to do.” And so I went to my pastor that Monday and said, “we’re here.” And so it was nothing, I even didn’t prepare for. Looking back, it totally fits my calling, I love this is the pastor, I love the leader staff, I love to have my hand, if you will, in every part of the church, but not directly leading it. We have about 15 pastors on staff and a couple of directors. So I have a hand in every one of the ministries while I’m not being the one directly leading that, so I can influence everything without being over it and have a direct relationship with the pastor to really care of his vision. So it’s been a great position, it’s been fun. I still have the heart of a student pastor, but I’m way too old to do it, so it’s been a great role for me.
Now, it was a new role for the church when you came into it. But the pastor who came on, who had the idea to start that position in your church, was he coming from a previous church where he worked with an executive pastor?
No, he wouldn’t. In our church here, how it would have been in the past was we had an education pastor that juggled two roles. He was, if you want, the acting executive pastor that he had that second shared role with the pastor, but he had to oversee all the educational ministries of our church. And so what my current pastor said was, “I want to have two people do that job. I want to hire an education pastor, which we did, overseeing all the education ministries of the church, but I just need a straight executive pastor.” So it was the first for him as well. That’s been almost nine years ago now I’ve been in this role and it’s worked out very well.
The key has been now and it’s based on the structure of our church. We are very much of a senior pastor, and then pastoral staff led church. But the key has been me as the executive pastor has to have a real close relationship with my senior pastor, and then all the rest of the staff. And so it’s worked out very well. It’s been a great situation in my church. I know I can see where some churches that don’t want that, but in this church has worked out very well. But the key has been in our situation, that senior pastor and executive pastor, we have a very close relationship. So that’s been huge.
As a matter of fact, when I took the role nine years ago, I asked my pastor, I said, “I think the main thing I’ll need is, if you allow this, I’ll need daily communication with you.” And he agreed to it. We decided to do something that it’s been wonderful for us every day, Monday through Thursday, which is our office hours here at the church, office days. He and I have a set time, at 11:00 o’clock we meet every day for about 30 to 45 minutes, and I bring the agenda. Everything from big things to little things, we call our top 10 list. I literally bring every day. I did it today at 11 o’clock, a top 10 list of things that he and I talk through. So there’s an agenda, we spend probably on average 45 minutes together, and that allows me to leave that meeting and then lead the staff and lead the church because I know his heart vision. That’s been huge. And again, I’m sure a lot of the executive pastors don’t have an opportunity with a pastor who’s that accessible. But boy, if you can, it sure has been a key. It’s been huge. I don’t have to wonder, “Where is my pastor, Neil? What does he think? Or what does he want?” I know it. So when I go to the staff, I’m able to say, “Here’s what the pastor wants us to do here.” It’s been huge. If that answered the question a little bit, that’s just been practically speaking. That’s been the best thing he and I do together. We have a contract, like a marriage, you have to talk and we just talk, and that’s been huge.
I was actually going to ask, you know, he comes in and you don’t know him at all. And so to build that kind of a relationship would have to take a lot of intentionality. So that’s a great tip.
We do, and we’re friends and our family are friends outside the church, but we just make that 11 o’clock time. It’s just huge. And also the key has been I don’t put the burden on him to bring the agenda to that meeting. He’s got sermons to worry about and writing, he’s got other things. So the responsibility is on me when I come for that 11 o’clock meeting every day that I bring the agenda. We just find a way, issues about 10 things, we call it the top 10 list, and usually the top two or three things are pretty big and visionary stuff, but it’ll go on down to where a eight, nine, and ten are little minor stuff. I’ll ask him, “Pastor, are you okay with us painting the bathroom purple?” You know, I mean little stuff to big issues, big financial issues or vision issues, or if there’s a major staff issue. But in that regard we talk about everything the staff feels like as the layers aren’t between them and the pastor that they get there, or if you will, they get a word directly in him through me. Not that they can’t meet with him, because they can, but we have to be respectful of his time and his schedule. And then I become very accessible to the staff and they know it – 11 o’clock, chairing the pastor meeting to talk through things. So a lot of times they’ll email me a couple of things that they wish we would talk through. So it’s been real key in the context that my pastor and I developed a great frindship and a great relationship, but he’s the leader. I’m not there to tell him what to do. He’s there too…I have the freedom to speak into him what I feel like we should be doing, but in a day, it’s his call and we’re going to follow his vision. If that makes sense.
Yeah, absolutely. Outside of this 11 to 11:45 am Monday through Thursday, what are your day to day duties and how do your different campuses and these church plans fall under your authority at all?
Well, all the staff pastors and directors of ministry would answer to me, the executive pastor, and I give them vision, direction. Daily I really do three things. I think my job in so many ways is how we define it, in a simple to understand way is that I need to keep all the ships go in the same direction on the ocean. We’re all going this one direction, we’re all following one vision and I make sure that happens with the staff.
Again, a secondary or the next role is just really to have kind of relationship with our pastor that we’re just always, I understand his vision, his needs at once and because I’m really accessible to the staff, we are constantly having meetings, just planning meetings, organizational meetings, budget meetings. And then of course, there’s obviously the ministry that I do with the people at the church. I teach the things around the church, but our primary role in the executive pastor’s team is I assist the pastor in everything he needs, in terms of his vision and then I just lead every staff in my own way.
I had something happened to me. This is interesting. Years ago before I took this position, right after the pastor came to me and said, “I want you to try and just transition from the student pastor to executive pastor”, but a month later I went to a conference in the Delfore area on leadership. I didn’t know what the conference was about, but it’s a good church, I won’t tell you the conference, but I went, heard a speaker speak on the role of being in the second chair, and he used that great story out of, I think it’s Exodus 17, where Moses’ arms were weak, you know the story and Aaron and Hur were next to him to hold his arms up. And as long as Moses’ arms were up, I think he held…his hands symbolize the favor of God, and down below that the battle was won, his hands went down, the people were weaker, and they got to…I spoke that day. He talked about the opportunity you have as a leader in the church in my situation as executive pastor to hold those pastors’ arms up, to lead the people. And that was really for me, that was really visionary. I really got a world picture or just a picture of mine, but that’s what that looks like. God puts a calling on a pastor, the congregation lead a church where he can’t do alone, he needs some Aaron’s and Hur’s around him to hold his arms up. Practically, that’s the other half of my job, is supporting the pastor’s vision and being a friend of him, being a mentor to him in some ways, and counsel, be a help. We talk through everything and so enact the situations, so many things are decided between myself and the pastor, and then we take it to the staff, and then they implement a lot. That’s kind of my role, that’s how I see my job.
So you are over the staff. How many staff do you have?
We have 16 pastors and/or directors of ministries. You asked a while ago about our satellite campuses. We have campus pastors over those satellite campuses, and they answer directly to me, and then the pastor. So I really do the work of those campuses directly through them. We meet with them on weekly basis, we meet with those guys every single Monday, and how we do at satellite campuses is that they really are extensions of our main campus, but in different locations. One of the campuses is foreign of town, a re-growing area. Another of our campuses, which we are really excited about it’s right next to our air force military base here in town, Wichita Falls. One of the largest air force bases in the country is located in Wichita Falls, it’s called Sheppard Air Force Base, and we started a campus there next to the base about seven years ago and it’s flourished. We love ministry into that community, that population. Seventy percent of people in the US Air Force come through Sheppard Air Force at one time, they’ll stay three weeks to three years, and we just said, “What a mission field”. And so we put a lot into that campus and that campus pastors are very important really, how Sheppard to us as well as west. And so I spend quite a bit of time with both those guys. It’s really a mentoring leadership relationship. I want to make sure that they are honestly doing things to the campuses that happen that we call it the DNA of our main campus, but they also have a lot of freedom to be their own personality and they are there just for those communities, and it’s been a great ministry. We have talked to so many guys through the years that we’ve said, “if you have the opportunity to plan a satellite campus near a military base, it’s a phenomenal mission field.” And we’ve had hundreds of people come through our satellite campus at Sheppard, and they weren’t here for any time at all, you know, three weeks to three years, but well, you send them out like missionaries, they come here, they come to another world here, they grow spiritually, their lives get right, and then they go off out of the world and we get reports all the time of guys saying “Hey, I was there at Sheppard back in 2015. Now I’m in Korea. I’m so excited though. I’m trying to get involved in the church like I was about there at Sheppard. It’s been a great mission field for us.” We feel it’s one of the best things our church has done in years, it really is.
It’s pretty amazing that your mission field ended up being right down the road.
It’s been amazing. I mean we had missed that for years. When my current pastor came, he said, “We have a college here at university.” He said, “I really want to minister this university in a special way and I want to minister to all the folks that come to Sheppard Air Force Base, and they literally come from out of the world. There’ll be all different kind of countries with the NATO program, and many times they have not been exposed to church or the Lord at all. They come here, there’s a church right down the street in their community and that we call it church at Sheppard, and it’s really for the Sheppard community and it’s really intriguing and special ministry. Our church love that ministry. Our church has supported it every way possible, I mean our main campus, because the effectiveness of that has been pretty dramatic really.
That’s incredible. You have these three campuses and you’ve got two church plants. So there’s got to be some administrative challenges that you face. What are some of those?
Absolutely. I mean anyone would say the number one administrative challenge is to have all the pastoral staff and directors of ministry on the same page, going the same direction, same vision, and then we all have to know how to communicate together and relate together. And there’s always going to be challenges of that. We are big on communication around here. We a lot over-communicate. I know nobody likes a meeting, but we are always telling our pastoral guys, “you meet, you email, we talk, don’t leave anybody out of loop, if you’re remotely think, they need to know, get them in the loop.” And you don’t have to have a long meeting, but again it’s like a marriage, if you don’t communicate, it’s going to create a whole lot more problems than communicating. So we’re going to communicate.
My number one challenge is right there, to make sure all the staff are communicating with each other, everybody stays on the same page, nobody’s wandering off the ranch, so to speak, and then we assist everybody, but we make sure there’s communication. It doesn’t always work, but when it doesn’t work, we get together and talk about, we meet, we communicate. A lot of our office hours end up being inter-office communication. That’s my biggest challenge.
I think the biggest administrative challenge that I have is to make sure that when we do, when Sunday comes up this Sunday, that everybody’s on the same page, that we’re going what we’re doing. And we’re a little bit of a complicated church in that we have a big big week program, we call it Family Nights. It almost involves as many people as we have on Sunday morning. So we have two big weekly things – regular Sunday morning, all the programs, the worship services. And then we come back on Wednesday night and we have everything from children on to senior adults, and it involves the cause of our system of Wednesday, Sunday, Wednesday, Sunday. We’ve got to communicate well with the staff. And really our church, I would say this, the congregation doesn’t demand it, but they expect that we as a staff are all on the same page, going the same direction, that things are well-organized and well-planned, and typically they are. And some of the strengths of the church here is when the staff are all together. I think so much of my time is just making sure that happens. Again, I used to phrase “all our ships are going in the same direction and they’re flowing in the same direction.”
How do you manage to do that? Is that mostly face-to-face meetings, email, have you incorporated some technology for that kind of communication?
Well, number one, probably like most churches we have a once a week pastoral and director ministry staff meeting that I lead, but the pastors are there, our senior pastors are there to speak into it. And we bring an agenda, we work through all the items that need to be discussed for this coming week and the future. It’s not a long meeting, it’s about an hour, but it’s Monday at 1:30, and we meet there for an hour and we get everything planned out, and that’s the room to make sure that we’re all on the same page, so to speak. That’s huge. That happens 50 Mondays a year. And then that meeting is followed up with all the things that were discussed, and simply email the staff. But also we’re really good about emailing, we always tell the staff…Again, you send emails on the most small matters, issues, because it may not be small to somebody and include everybody you think remotely and they need to know this. Emails are huge, we text a lot, we make sure that we are able to communicate by text, it’s a large campus, we have to communicate. Everybody has an assistant who has direct access to us and they’re communicating.
In the past, when we’ve seen problems occur, most of the time it’s lack of communication. Ninety-eight percent of problems on staff, we think can be solved by good communication. I’m not talking about bad communication, I’m talking about respectful, career, detailed communication, and we just work for that, so we use email, we use text, everybody’s office is near enough each other that it’s a knock on the door, and we’re really good to say, “Hey, we need to get so and so and so, so we’re meeting real quick. And then we have an executive staff, myself, the pastor, and four of our pastors that really oversee the major errands by church. We meet pretty regularly, too, once a month, once every six weeks. So a lot of communication, I mean old school. You know, it doesn’t matter how big we get, how diverse we get, we all can say we’re meeting there at 4 o’clock, everybody be there. And that’s done by email and make sure the system is known and it’s a high priority. Nobody likes a meeting, but we’ve not found a better way sometimes than just to meet and talk about it. And like I heard Andy Stanley say not long ago that we all wanted to get creative and try to figure out ways not to have meetings, but it’s come down to we have to meet and we have to have good communication and talk, and somebody at that meeting needs to be the leader in the room. Somebody needs to be the final word and gets everybody going one direction and makes the final decision. And then we go. We implement whatever we discussed, but we do a lot of meetings. We have a lot of discussions and those meetings don’t need to be long. Our major staff meeting every week doesn’t take an hour and we cover a lot.
We used to have three hour meetings and we all wanted to shoot each other. And so we said, “We can do this in one hour less, and let’s bring an agenda, let’s get it done.” And then after that major staff meeting on Monday, there’s a lot of conversations that have to happen after that. But that’s when you tell the staff “Email each other and talk.” That seems to be the best system. And again, it goes back to also my pastor, I meet him every day at 11 o’clock. And so when he needs to speak into something that we talk about at staff meeting more, then he goes to meeting and I make sure I literally go to everybody’s office and say, or I call a meeting and say, “here’s one of the things the pastor wants”. And there we go.
Now, obviously, you learned a lot on the job when you made this transition into a role you weren’t expecting a transition into. But where do you go to learn and be challenged as an executive pastor?
Good question. Several ways. We are a southern Baptist Church, and there’s an association of southern Baptist executive pastors, we call it Metro, we meet once a year, and then we are really good about emailing each other questions. That’s a good resource for me. And then I have about a half dozen guys that I’m close to in ministry that, a phone call way or an email way, I probably wouldn’t make a major decision in this church without consulting one of those guys. I’ll give my call and say, “What do you think I should do?” I’m a pretty good reader and interestingly I’m daily on somebody’s podcast or blog about being in this second shared leadership role. And so that’s a daily thing. There are so many good leadership podcasts or blogs out there, that’s pretty regular for me as well. And also even about this – inside the church I was talking about how much we meet, well, there’s three or four staff members or pastoral staff guys that directly serve under me that I really trust their wisdom. I’ll typically pull one or two of those and say “What do you think about this? What do you think we should do in this situation?” before we take it to our entire staff.
Jerry, to close, what encouragement would you give to other executive pastors?
Well, to go back to that scripture, a while ago I think the executive pastor has a unique influence on his senior pastor. He said, Aaron and Hur role, you support him, you’re next to him, you can really influence the church by being a friend to the pastor, by being a counsel to the pastor, being a sounding board. I would say if you have the situation to be close to your pastor, that’s a relationship that has to be prayed over and cultivated all the time. That’s just a unique opportunity, that second chair executive pastor has a unique opportunity to influence a church through his pastor and through the staff that nobody else has. And so he has to see that and save the spiritual role that he is and really use that for God’s glory in a good way. If an executive pastor does not have that, I do think he has to make an appeal to his pastor to get as much time with him as he can, because I don’t know, I’ve only been an executive pastor at one church. I’ve been in ministry for 30 years, but I’ve been in this role now for nine years. So I only really know this role from my perspective in this church with this one pastor, but the key has been my relationship with him. I don’t know how I could help lead a church or lead a staff without knowing his heart and vision and even the details sometimes of what he desires. That’s been huge. So I would say too, if you will, an executive pastor has to really work hard at that role, in fact to be in that position in spite of him – I mean in a good way, not in a bad way, not to be anything other than just a positive person that that pastor has. And that pastor needs that, I’m convinced.
My former pastor, Dr. Jeffress would tell you, “yes, you have to have somebody that’s a partner almost, a guy that’s right there to assist.” And this is our pastor. Most churches don’t succeed unless that senior pastor ministry succeeds, and the executive pastor has the opportunity to help him succeed, help him be effective. So that’s an encouragement out there, I think everything that we tell our staff that we assume that they know how to take care of themselves spiritually, and if they don’t, they need to come to us because they’re going to have to take care of themselves spiritually, because so much will be demanded on them as a pastor, as a leader, that they’ve got to keep their personal walk with the world deep and strong, before they ever tried doing in ministry.
We hire guys here that we say first thing “Do you know how to take care of yourself spiritually? Do you know how to feed yourself and keep yourself strong?” If not, I’m really hesitant to hire a guy. I think you can have major problems. Long before we hire staff member, long before you ask about their skills and their experience, I just want to say “talk to him” or even their home life, I want to know that too, but I want to know, “tell me about your spiritual life, tell me how you keep so strong, how do you keep yourself healthy”, because we’re going to ask a lot of the staff member here. You know, a lot of time, a lot of energy, a lot of leadership, so how do you keep yourself balanced, how do you keep yourself healthy, and I’m talking about your soul. I also always tell the executive pastor, “Make sure you hire guys that are spiritual men, spiritual ladies and know how to stay strong. Because we can get involved doing the work and forget that, well, the real work is a spiritual work, and so you’ve got to hire spiritual people.
I hope that’s an encouragement to you, because that’s a big thing to us here. And we do have to assume that people at this level, you know, you wouldn’t be a ministry at church that, or at least you shouldn’t be at a ministry of church, that you have not grown spiritually with it to give this place in your life, but what am I trying to say…If a man or woman in a fairly demanding ministry cannot take care of themselves spiritually, there’s going to be problems. And so we just assume it, but then we try to help, we do what we can to help our staff grow spiritually, but at some level, we just don’t hire people unless they are. And we tell them, we always tell our staff or reminding them, I guess, keep yourself strong, keep yourself spiritual, if you find yourself slipping, let me know. Let me know, spend your time with somebody, I’ll be a mentor to them, I’ll suggest things they should be reading or listening to to help them grow spiritually, but that’s a given and has to be there. So I always encourage the executive pastor, I guess my encouragement to the executive pastor would be “Be a friend and help to your pastor and make sure that your staff underneath you are spiritually healthy.” If I could use those terms.
Now, that’s fantastic encouragement, Jerry. Thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
I enjoyed it. Bless you.