Welcome back to Monday Morning Church. Today’s guest is Jim Bushoven who was joining us from Hawthorne Gospel Church in Hawthorne, New Jersey. Really happy to have you, Jim.
Thanks, Courtney. I really look forward to talking to everyone just a little bit about my role here and what it’s like doing ministry in New Jersey.
Yeah. Jim, you’ve been the Executive pastor at Hawthorne Gospel Church for about four years now. Is that right?
Actually, I’ve been Executive pastor now for about one year. I’ve been on staff for 9. Basically, the way it worked was I came on as a young adult pastor, did some small groups. Then about 4 years ago, transitioned into creating a community development role where I really worked a lot on just doing a better job with helping our people get connected and then also really working on our local outreach ministry. And then from that, I have now transitioned as the Executive pastor as of January, really full-time.
So especially since you’ve gone through a transition within the same church, would you describe how your church is structured and how some of your responsibilities changed with that transition?
Sure. Yeah. We have a very interesting, unique situation, I think, as a church. Our church is currently 92 years old and we’ve only had two senior pastors. The founder of the church stayed for 60 years, and he retired. And then the current senior pastor took over, and he just celebrated his 32nd year of ministry here at Hawthorne Gospel Church as a senior pastor. I came on 9 years ago. Like I said, I started with young adult ministry, get my feet wet, but I am the creator-type. I like building new things and coming up with new ideas. And so really to get to the Executive pastor role has been kind of a climbing the ladder, but also a timely thing. After about 4 years of young adults, I had a long time passion for outreach and really getting it at the local community. I just thought that the outreach ministry at our church was kind of typical. You donate things to people in need, and then there’s not too much more to it than that. It wasn’t like we were in the community building relationships or anything like that. So I started up what was the community development role. I created it myself. The senior pastor and the board, the elder board, they approved it. Within about six months, I’m starting to build our local outreach. I was put in touch, actually, with Kevin Palau, who, I don’t know if listeners are familiar with Kevin Palau and the work of Louis Palau of Oregon, but I started working with them in this New Jersey and New York City serve effort. So that gave me a great opportunity to work throughout really all of greater New York and New Jersey to help churches build outreach ministry and really start to become part of the local community fabric, more so than it was. Our church, at least in New Jersey for a long time, had become very much like pulled out of society. And so we’re now going back in as Christ’s representatives and really just becoming part of the service and the well-being of the local community, going outside the church with that whole thing. So I did that. And then after about 3 and a half to 4 years, we had what was only our first Executive pastor, trying to get to the point where it was just time for him to go on to something else and needed new energy, a new insight for the future of Hawthorne Gospel. And so there was a little bit of a transition period there for me to come into the role. And then I kinda helped organize a little bit what that role would look like as well. It’s structured a little bit differently than some churches. We are what you would consider a big church in New Jersey. Nationally, we are not called a big church but we’re about 2000 people on a weekend. And because it’s a decent size, we actually have another person on our team. That’s the church administrator. So the way the structure works really is kind of like a team of 3. The senior pastor still has the ultimate authority, but right under him and with him would be myself as the Executive pastor and a church administrator. So that allows me to really prioritize my work with staff and people and leadership development, and continuing to really engage our community for the sake of Christ. And the church administrator is able to take on a lot of the nuts and bolts of business and health insurance and all that kind of stuff.
That’s an interesting distinction between those two roles.
Yeah. Yeah. It was. Kind of what had happened was we had a church administrator in here for a long time and then really in the last 8 or 9 years, the Executive pastor position became something that really, well I could say, at least for us, it was something very new but clearly in need. I think for a long time, senior pastors, in my experience, having been in the church my whole life, senior pastors really were kind of expected to play every role. Now with the production of the Executive pastor, he can really prioritize his ability to just preach and teach the word of God and be with the people who need him. It works for me anyway, because I absolutely love kind of the business models, and the development of people, and the processes of everything. So try to create that really out of nothing because we didn’t really have a whole lot of process in place before taking on this role. So that’s been a bit of a challenge. But I like a good challenge.
Yeah. So more into those processes, how have you incorporated some technology into how you administrate?
Like I said, having a church that’s 92 years old, with two senior pastors, basically, we have deep roots. We have a great history of faith. But things do not change quickly. And so it’s always a battle of — I’m just reading a book actually about Bear Grylls. You know the guy from Men vs Wild? It is their climbing Mt. Everest. I was like, that’s kind of being in this position, sometimes. It’s like climbing Everest. You take a couple of steps up and then you pull back a little bit and then you keep going and strategizing to really help the church grow. And as far as technology, probably, we’ve just been trying to clean up our effort in the basics. Nothing that would probably blow any church away. There’s a lot of other churches there, probably, doing way more amazing things. But to just being more attentive to get a website development, we’ve cleaned up the website, we still have to actually spend some more time on that. We are going to more of a model of using videos to do leadership training because we really have not had much leadership development and training previously. I had created a number of measures but it’s like, I don’t know what it’s like around the rest of the country, but especially in New Jersey, you try to get people out to meetings and you probably lack to get 50% to show up to the meetings. And so what we have found to be more effective is, people will watch a 30 second video or even a 4-minute video on training if they could just do it in the comfort of whenever they’re available to do it rather have to come to another meeting at church. So we are using more videos that I’ve been creating myself with our production team here at the church for leadership development. The way that I remind this, but I was the one who really pushed, about three years ago, to finally get online giving. We didn’t have online giving at the time. So now we have that kind of stuff in place. So it is really trying to a better job with that. And using texting, and emails, email videos for just kind of weekly announcements. We just found that you make too many plugs or too many requests for things from the pulpit on a Sunday and people just get tired of listening to it so they don’t sign up for it. You’re trying this medium so that people can be in touch with what we’re doing and what’s happening at the church, I guess, at a pace and in a place that’s more convenient for them.
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. What are some of the administrative challenges that you face?
The administrative challenge for Hawthorne Gospel Church has to do a lot with the dynamic of leadership. Having had a senior pastor who’s really run the show for the last 30 years, basically, the authority has kind of been his. He is just a wonderful man of God with incredible integrity but he’s kind of always called the shots. The other board is very much involved in the process, but there’s never been that level of executive pastor that’s played a significant role here at the church. So the challenges include, one, really him learning, as much as me, this role. Really giving me the authority and the ability to make the changes we need to make and he’s really been great about it. But it’s still a challenge for him to just slowly really be giving over major authority after having just had it for 30 years himself. And the other challenge with it is he really took the church to a whole another level quite a while ago, and the church just grew and became healthier and stronger. Sometimes when you do that, over time, you allow your processes to just continue and linger and most of the processes that are in place and the expectation of how things are done are just incredibly stale at this point. And so creating new expectations and finding rates and trying to raise the level of engagement from people and even staff can, sometimes, be a challenge because it’s kind of been lax for so long. And I am a young executive pastor too, so that adds to the challenge. It’s not like I’m coming and saying, hey, I got 30 years experience in this position. I have the trust, but then to start altering things takes a lot of time. The good thing is I had literally a 3-year strategy of how to shift our church in a healthier direction. Currently, I’m 9 month in on that strategy and we’re almost right on point, give or take a few little things. But that’s going very well, right now. And one of the big things that I’m changing that’s slowly started to impact the experience here is just an intentional effort of leadership development. Our church here is a bigger church, and when people get involved, they can just do their thing forever. And so now we’re putting this a little bit more in the plans to, okay, we’re gonna expect some things of our leaders and we’re gonna raise the level of engagement. But we are also gonna gift to them with more knowledge and more resources to help them do their role well. A lot of the leaders have really enjoyed that. There’s always a few that is the push back. They kinda wanna do it the way they’ve always done it. But the majority of leaders are very pro the idea of advancing themselves as spiritual leaders, whether that’s a way or even pastoral staff.
Yeah. As you were saying, that’s quite a task to have the richness of deep roots but also making sure it’s not stale, like you mentioned.
Yeah. It’s an ongoing challenge. It’s funny, for quite a while ago, I read the book Tough Choices by Carly Fiorina. She had said some things about an organization, big organizations sometimes they change slowly, but they also have a lot of momentum. And once you get them going in the right direction, the momentum really picks up and it builds. That’s been something that I’ve always camped in in my own mind as I try to shift a ship that’s been sailing certain way for so long. I love the strategic effort of accomplishing. So the challenge is there for me and so I thrive off of that challenge. It takes time but we are seeing some change. It’s a lot of balancing act, but so far so good.
So more about resources like tough choices. Where do you go to learn more about being a great executive pastor?
I have found that the number one place I turn is other executive pastors in the area who have just been doing this longer. And I have a nice little network up about 4 or 5 other executive pastors that I talk to on a fairly regular basis just to learn from them. They can even here for me is I’m the new one in the game. So we feed off of each other and it really becomes really a rich time. They’ll even check in on me, sometimes. It’s pretty cool because they’re from other churches and they just wanna find it how is it going at Hawthorne, what’s new? What are you working on? And so we kinda build each other up that way. I also have quite a bit — because of my work with the Flower Organization and Outreach across New Jersey, I’m pretty well in touch with a lot of leaders across the state. And so therefore, I’m aware what’s happened to quite a few people that I can just, you know, once in a while I just need some information or guidance or just a little transparency that I can ring up and we can chat or grab coffee or whatever. So that tangible, hands on meeting with the local executive or even seeing your pastor leaders of some churches to get some more guidance is huge. I’m a reader. I try to read some of these different leadership books. I like that kind of stuff. I’ve always gravitated more towards those kinds of readings. And then little things like this, just staying in touch with what other executive pastors were talking about. Just a few weeks ago, you had, I think, it was Jeremy Taylor on, from Black Rock. That would call my attention because Black Rock is the church I attended in college and really had a spirit will turn around in. So I was like: “Wow! Black Rock is on here.” Just hearing how they’ve dealt with different things, it is helpful. And so I appreciate that. And so that’s just some of the basic things I do and use to my advantage.
So what kind of encouragement would you give to other executive pastors listening to this?
Couple things that I always kinda go with, first of all, with the Executive pastor role, you definitely need outlets. You’re kind of, in a way, you have a lot of responsibility and you can make a lot of decisions but not every decision falls to you. And so therefore, there’s that, I guess, leading from the 2nd chair kind of thing. So knowing how to talk through and handle, know when there are differences in leadership ideas, and you feel you need to go through when you can’t, how do you handle that? Just having those voices of transparency, those voices of coaching to kind of talk through it. Also, as far as being an executive pastor, I’d say, don’t be afraid to create new things. That’s probably one of the success of most of my ministry for even having an executive pastor is I find that, a lot of times, the reason churches are stuck is because they’re just not creating new initiatives and new processes. And so everybody kinda gets into the routine of doing what they’ve always done and they get comfortable in that but once you produce something that gives them new life and energy, they usually end up loving it. They just hadn’t been able to see it or create it before. I can even see that it has to senior pastor. They have so many things on their plate, and they have so many things to hold together that the executive pastor can really take the initiative of saying: “Hey, we need to go in a new direction. We have to redo some things.” But if you just say that to somebody like the elder board or senior pastor, it goes in one ear out the other. Once you begin creating it and put in front of them, this is what it can look like, usually I find that I can get a lot done and a lot of approved, and we can really start moving things forward at our church. And don’t be afraid to climb Mt. Everest. Sometimes you do have to take two steps back after five step forward, and just kind of keep moving things in the right direction. I think one challenge I would give executive pastors an encouragement would be, don’t get caught up in the expediency of the business world in the church. In the business world, you have that pressure, you have those timelines, you have those demands and if you don’t do it, you’re out, kind of a thing. The church just is a different thing. And although we can learn from the business models, we deal with people, we deal with volunteers, we’re ministering to really serve, and so therefore, I think we need to be okay with pacing ourselves at a church pace and not at a business pace. That doesn’t mean you wanna be a snail, you don’t wanna get in a way behind the game, but at times I’ve had to learn this just doesn’t have to get done in the next three months. If this takes 6 to 9 months and we do it right, we’re gonna be better off in the long run. So let me just go out of pace that’s appropriate for the church, which might not have seemed acceptable in the business world. So that’s just something to keep in mind.
Yeah. That’s really excellent encouragement and advice. Jim, thank you for being on the podcast today. It was really great to hear from you.
Awesome. Thanks for having me, Courtney. I really appreciate it.