Welcome back to Monday Morning Church, today’s guest is Jim Kuykendall of Celebration Church in Austin, Texas. Great to have you Jim.
Well thank you Courtney, it’s good to be with you today to.
Jim, you are an executive pastor at celebration church. Can you describe the path you took to get to your current position?
Yeah, I come from the marketplace. I actually came right straight out of high school into the family business. This is… I’m an old dog I’m sixty-four, so this is a back in the seventies, but went straight into a family business and helped grow and develop that, ended up owning the business and did that for several years. And in 2000, I was part of a church merger of two churches coming together, I was serving as a volunteer as an elder in one of the churches and during the merge process. The new senior pastor of the church invited me to possibly consider leaving my business and joining the staff team at the church. And that was a shock for me at that season of my life, but a wife and I prayed about it and we were excited about the opportunity. So I actually made that transition and joined that team there very quickly, got to be part of the leadership of that church, served there for a few years and served on the executive team, but also as the campus pastor of one of the campuses and after about four years there, I was invited by a good friend of mine, he had started a church earlier and it was just absolutely out of control for his ability to leave. He didn’t have an administrative bone in his body, and he called me and asked me if I would consider moving to his city and helping him with his church. And that was a very difficult decision because we loved where we were, but we really felt like the lord was leading us and my wife and I moved and served there as his senior associate pastor, it was very much an executive pastor role, and it kind of shifted into where it became more of management than leading. I felt like I had a few more years on me to really get involved in something, having kind of an entrepreneurial background and spirit and so I decided to just step away and see what would open up and thought I’d take a ninety-day sabbatical and about ten days into that, I got a call from pastor Joe, here at celebration because of some common acquaintance, he heard that I was on the market, I guess, and he invited me to come down here and we joined the staff here in January of 2014. And so I’ve been here a little over three years.
Now you guys have four people on the executive team, there at Celebration church. Could you go a little into what your executive team looks like?
Yeah, we have… we actually call it our leadership team, and there are three executive pastors and one executive director. One of our executive pastors overseas what we call church life, which would be small groups, pastoral care, our student ministry, our children’s ministry, our outreach, all those things are in his area. And then another executive pastor oversees our worship and production, creative communications and video, our executive director she serves to oversee really the operational side of the organization, finance, facilities, legal, and those things. And then I lead our leadership team, and my role really would probably be better described as a chief of staff role. I lead those three people on that team, but I’m also very involved with our staff. Human resources is certainly in my area, but I lead the team overall, but I really serve more in a chief of staff role.
What does your day to day that usually look like as chief of staff of a team like that?
Well, there’s a lot of interaction with the team. I have an open door policy. The team knows that I always make myself available. Our team leaders know that sometimes some of their team may want to come talk to me about an issue that they’re having. They might be frustrated; they might be maybe under challenged. Whatever the situation might be. They may be coming in because they’re having some personal issues, maybe some things going on at home. But my doors, it’s closed right now, but it’s rare that my door is closed. I have a lot driveby’s, if you will, people stop by and I spend time with that. I have a few scheduled meetings every week. I meet with our lead team once a week with our management team every other week. I meet with our pastors when they’re in town once a week, and those are the only scheduled meetings that I have. The rest of my time is really spent with staff and to be available for the team as a whole, to invite me to their meetings, to answer questions, to give them insight and just try to stay connected to what our pastors would like communicated across the whole team.
Could you go into more detail as of the administrative challenges you face with such a large team and a large church?
I would say the administrative challenges, probably the two that come to mind would be, one is we had a lot of young people on our staff. The average age on our team is twenty-nine, I’m the oldest, I’m the oldest guy on the team, but we have a lot of young people, a lot of the millennials on the team. We’ve been talking about the challenges that we’re having as we lead the millennials that we have good tribal knowledge, if you know what I mean by that, we understand the family language, if you will, and the family processes and systems, but we don’t probably don’t have the training that we need to have, the more intentional training that we need to have for this younger generation. They need a little bit more. I don’t like for the word rules, I like guidelines because that’s my style, I’ll leave more with guidelines, but we’re understanding we probably need to give some more clarity. So one administrative challenge would be a moving from that tribal to training. That would probably be the best way to describe it. And the other would be, we hire a lot from within the church. So a lot of people that come on the team have never worked on a church staff and when they joined the team, we try to be as clear as we can, “Hey, that you’re going to find out. We’re not behind the curtain and having prayer meetings every morning and devotionals, we’ve got a job to do.” And just that the process of getting them to see that I think when they come on the team, they think it’s going to be very different. But when they get here, they find out “oh how well you guys really work during the week. There’s a lot of things that you do. So those would probably be the two that would come to mind.
So I’m curious then with the generation gap is being even a lot of the people on staff. How do you bridge that gap?
Well, I try to be who I am. I think I’m a young sixty-four, and I think my team would say that as well, but I just try to be who I am and not try to be one of them, and that is proven for me, that that’s what they… they want someone who’s authentic and they want someone who doesn’t try to be someone that they’re not. I lead relationally, I like to have face to face conversations. I like to talk to people versus so much email and text, I use email and text but I really love to have that opportunity to spend time with, especially the young leaders on the team. And I found that their third hungry for that. They’re interested in that kind of relationship and that kind of leadership. And I feel like for me personally, there is not a significant bridge between us or a chasm, if you will, between myself and the team, the challenges would come when it comes down to getting the job done, which I’m not that involved in, I don’t get in the weeds much. I try to stay… I’m trying to stay a place where I can have an overall perspective, but that authenticity and honesty and the willingness to have hard conversations with people, but to have it in a way, it’s Jesus’ model to speaking the truth and love they appreciate that at any age. But I think the millennials, a least on our team have valued that as much as anything.
That’s really great. How have you incorporated technology and how you lead?
Well, I’ll tell you, that’s a great question, because I know just enough about technology to not get lost. I always feel like I’m hanging on by my fingernails to keep up with the latest technology. And I would say that it’s the tools that our team uses, I try to stay whether it would be Evernote or Wunderlist or tools like that. I don’t use them unless I need to be able to communicate with a particular person on the team, again, I’m more “hey come into my office and let’s talk about it” then I am to use too much technology, to the people that are listening to the podcast. I would just say, I’m not the guy to ask about technology, I’m limited there, I know enough to be able to stay, stay connected, but I’m not going to be the guy to give you the latest tools for technology.
Jim, where do you go to learn more about being a great executive pastor?
I try, I thought about this when I knew that it was going to be one of the questions that we’d be talking about. I just really try to have conversations with other people that are in that role, when we go, we’ll go to a conference when I introduce myself and I find that someone is in an executive pastor role. I love to just have a conversation with him and say, tell me about your role, tell me what you do. What are you learning? Regardless of their age, there’s a lot of executive pastors out there that are much younger than I am, but I can learn from them, I can always learn new ideas. I’m not… I love to read, but I really read more for my own personal development in my spiritual life, and maybe more general leadership books that I read, but I’m not one to go in and try to find the latest, like I’m looking at one of my books right here that someone gave me “The four disciplines of execution,” and I’ll probably never read that book just because that doesn’t ring my bell, I’m looking more for… as I’ve already described my, where I am now and how I can best serve the pastors here in being a really good shepherd of our team and making sure that everyone’s healthy, those are the kind of people that I like to connect with and learn from them.
It seems be a common theme that we hear, that connecting with other executive pastors is the primary way to learn more and grow.
I just like a few weeks ago, I met a guy, a conference that I was attending and someone came up to me and they said, “You should connect with him.” When I did, I could tell right off the bat, I wanna spend time with you because he had served as an executive pastor at another church. And as he… and I said, “I would love, can I just come see you?” And I bought a plane ticket and flew to his city and just spent three days with him just hanging out with him and sharing a few meals together. And that was a rich rewarding experience for me. And he would say, I think he would say the same thing. He would say the things that I was able to share from my journey, helped him as well, and the people that are listening to this, you gotta find some of those people out there that you could connect with at that level. And it’s great to have somebody that’s not in your church and not on your staff, and not even in your city, that you can have some good open dialogue with. And maybe even vent some frustrations that you need to have that ally to do that.
That’s a fantastic story. What encouragement would you give to other executive pastors aside from being able to connect with another executive pastor outside of their realm of influence?
I would encourage anyone out there that is an executive pastor, just to remind you just how important our roles are, the value that we can bring to an organization where we can support a visionary leader, a visionary pastor to help them see and come to fruition, the things that God has put in their heart. You don’t see… there’s some senior pastors out there that would make a great executive pastor, because that’s the way they’re wired. But there’s so many that aren’t, and I know if pastor Joe were part of this conversation, he would say, “I’m not one of those guys. I need someone like you.” Even though we’re operating behind the scenes, many times, we’re not necessarily in the spotlight. The value that we’re bringing to the church and the growth in the kingdom. In a bigger sense in the kingdom of God is so important. And if we can just continue to have confidence to how God has created us and have confidence in our identity in Christ, and not look for the accolades or the spotlight to find where we find our value, but understand that our value is to be in that role and to serve with humility and with passion, but understand in our hearts just how important that it is and how much value that we’re bringing to the team. That’s what I would encourage everybody to do, because executive pastor role is not that it’s not that old. I remember meeting a guy in probably mid-2000s, who at that time, it was with a group of executive pastors, and probably he had been an executive pastor longer than anybody, and he’d only been doing it for about fifteen years, it’s not a role that’s been around that long. But I sure think that it’s important for the success of churches to be able to do, especially these strong, passionate visionary leaders that need somebody to come alongside them and help them do what they do.
Absolutely, Jim thank you for being on the podcast today.
You are welcome, I’m honored that you asked me, so, glad to be a part of it today.