Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today, we’ve got John Collins from Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California. Great to have you on today, John.
Thank you for having me.
So John, you are the Executive Pastor there at Harvest Christian Fellowship. Would you tell us a little bit about how you came into that position?
That’s correct. I am the Executive Pastor here. I didn’t actually grow up thinking about becoming an Executive Pastor. I don’t even know that that term was coined when I was younger, before the era of the megachurch. And actually, I kind of look at it in a more biblical reference. We call ourselves administrative pastors. But there is a role as an Executive Pastor in a large church that fits as well. Yeah. So to get back to your question, I really didn’t plan for it. And then God interrupted my life and took me on a path that prepared me for what I’m doing now. And when I was in college, I was a communications major and was looking to be a sports writer of all things. I have always loved to write and loved communication. But then God got a hold of me out of college and kind of sent me in a new direction. And I got plugged into our local church here and started serving in the church and just realized that I had a heart for ministry and that was outgrowing the desire I had to be writing in a newspaper. So I eventually wound up coming on staff as an Associate Pastor. And then after about six months, then Pastor Greg Laurie, who was the pastor of the church asked me to take on all of the communications of the church because the guy who was doing that left, and since I had the degree, it kind of fell in my lap. So since that time, I’ve continued to operate in an administrative capacity in the church and now oversee our outreach ministry, Harvest crusades, and many of the church functions as well.
As you mentioned, the Executive Pastor, as you said, is the Administrative Pastor and the Executive Director for Harvest crusades which are large scale events. You must be a great delegator. I’m curious to hear about the team you’ve got working with you.
Yeah. Well, we are blessed to have just a great group of people that have all been raised up out of this church. We’re not a para-church organization. We all exist in the same church. We all go to church on Sundays together and Greg Laurie is our pastor and so he’s teaching on Sundays when he’s not out doing some other work of ministry. But yeah, we’re all members of the same church together, which I think is a healthy model because then when it comes to doing outreach, we draw within the church for various resources and personnel to help us. And so we’re, oftentimes, wearing multiple hats. Many of the pastors on our staff will help with our crusade ministry in various capacities and then we’re able to reach into a sizeable volunteer pool of people in the church that just love to support their pastor in his heart for evangelism. So as an example, when we were in Dallas two years ago, there were over 500 people from our church that came and supported the event in Dallas through being ushers, and counselors, and helpers in whatever way they could.
Now, that can often be, kind of, a thorn in the side of mega churches, where as you go larger, you tend to get really staff heavy and the volunteer support goes down. So how is it that you’ve kept that connection with the lay ministers at your church?
Yeah. I think that is a danger that you stop becoming kind of a church family and you can become very corporate in your outlook. And there are certain aspects of that that are true. Even in our situation, as you grow, you’ve got to add things like Human Resource Department and things like that that we’ve never used to have. But just to stay on top of all of the legal requirements and go through the proper hiring procedures, you’ve got to have things like that in place. And so there are corporate issues at times that you have to deal with. But I think because we focus on the fact that we are all members of the same church, that we’re able to get past a lot of that stuff. It’s an ongoing challenge, but you try to operate a large organization in the same way that you would a small church. We, as pastors on staff, we’re not employers first. We’re pastors first and employer second. And if people need counseling, if they need prayer, we want to always put that forward first and then deal with the employee relationship after that.
Now, you touched on this a little bit, but what are the specifics of your role as an Administrative Pastor? What do you oversee?
Well, I oversee all of our outreach ministry in terms of our crusade outreaches that we do, Harvest America. And then I also, from the church side, oversee a lot of our finance ministry and a lot of our facility ministry. We have multiple locations. So it takes some oversight with various venues to attract them and just stay on top of how they’re doing. I don’t oversee a lot of the program ministries. We have a 4-man administrative team and we each divide up the various responsibilities of the ministry. One of the individuals oversees our communications and marketing end of things. Another one oversees our pastoral staff and the various program ministries that we have. And then our fourth individual receives more of the business entities of the church, our bookstore, cafe, and school, things like that. But we all talk frequently, weekly with each other and can fill in for the other where there’s need.
So what is one thing that you got going on there at Harvest Christian Fellowship that you’ve really found success with?
Well, that’s a big question. I think, when it comes in terms of — because a lot of my role at this stage is finding the right people. We call it Executive Pastor and that would imply that we’re executing the mission or the vision of the pastor. And as an administrative team, that’s definitely what we try to do. So a lot of that revolves around having the right people. And as I mentioned earlier, we’ve got just a team of great people, but most of them come right out of our church. But that’s not always the case. And I think to be a really successful organization, you’ve got to have the right people in the right place. And so there’s an old phrase or a book I read one time that talked about hiring people, and the phrase was, hire slow but fire fast. And I think that’s a great way of operating. Really take your time in putting people into positions because once they’re there, if they’re not the right person doing the job or filling the role that needs to be filled, they may become a disruptor more than a helper. And if you get the right people in the right place, with the right skill set, you get a lot of things done. And so I think paying attention to that helps. It’s not that we haven’t made mistakes in those areas but when we do make a mistake, we try to correct that. And you’re doing a disservice to the person who’s in that role too, if it’s not the right role. You’re not helping them. And they feel out of position, and they feel awkward, and they feel like they’re not being successful. So sometimes, moving a person out or moving them on or whatever, moving them to a new position is hard, but it’s the best thing you can do for your organization.
That can be notoriously hard in any organization and especially in a church setting where it seems to be much more personal and even maybe turned into a spiritual sometimes.
Yeah. That’s very true. I think a lot of times, churches or ministries make mistake because they don’t want to make those hard moves and they end up hurting themselves. And they said, they’re not doing that individual a favor. But because we’re Christians and we want to be nice and be loving, we try to avoid those conflicts. But that’s not always the right course of action. It’s not always the most biblical or Godly action either.
On the other side of this, what is a current challenge that you have there at Harvest Christian Fellowship that you haven’t yet found a solution for?
I would say, being able to predict change.
That’s a unicorn, I think.
Yeah. Yeah. People hate change for the most part. Everybody likes to get up in the morning and just feel like everything’s going to be the same, and yet we never know what’s around the next corner. And to be an effective church, or to be an effective communicator, you’ve got to adapt to the circumstances that are around you. If we’re going to get the gospel out to people, we need to be a culturally relevant and adaptive to changes that are all around us. So being able to foresee that and be proactive before some kind of a change occur and to be ready for it is difficult. It’s more often we’re in the reactive role and just trying to keep up with the culture. So I would think that’s maybe one of the greatest challenges.
I think I hear a lot of Executive Pastors talk about trying to move their data and analytics past just counting how many people come on Sunday mornings. Have you all been able to experiment with some data collection to help you anticipate trends coming up or anything?
Well, it’s interesting, yes, because we just went through, this last couple of weeks, doing a survey in the church. It had been a long time since we surveyed who’s in our midst and trying to find out what the prevailing ages are, and the ethnic mix of our congregation, and just knowing who’s out there. We’re a fairly large church. Anywhere from to 12,000 to 14,000 people who attend on a Sunday. And so just knowing who’s in the pews can be a big help. So we went through this and we’re right in the midst of it still taking all the data and trying to decipher what it means. But for us, specifically, one of the main reasons we’re doing it is to know how we can most effectively reach the next generation. Most of the leadership in our church grew up with Pastor Greg, and we’re now in our 60s. Some are still into 50s. The lucky ones, I guess. And we’re wanting to make sure that we leave a healthy church behind us. That requires that we have good, strong, young leaders, and those that are able to maintain the DNA of what Harvest is, and being a church that is totally committed to evangelism. And so looking for ways and methods of building a team that last long, long after we’re gone.
Some specifics about that survey, because a lot of times people don’t end up doing these things because there are simple questions they can’t get answered. How did you disperse it to the congregation? Was it online? Did you actually give a paper to people when they came on Sunday morning and ask them to fill it out?
Yeah. We actually did both. We’re finding — I’m sure most churches are finding that those that are more old school might choose to be more apt to fill out a survey questionnaire that you give them on that Sunday morning, and then others are more comfortable just doing it online. So we gave both options. But we also wanted to create a moment of commitment. And so on the final day of the survey, we challenged those that are in our congregation but not serving. And that was also a big part of having the survey, was to find out who is serving and who’s not, and to make sure that they have an opportunity to serve. And so we had, on the final day, an opportunity for them to make a serving commitment and to come forward and to give us their name and their desire to serve and we’ll do our best to plug them in. And we had some 1700 people in that place. And so it was very well-received.
Yeah. I’d say so. I’m curious to hear how the result of the survey for you on decision making and programming comes about.
Well, call me in about six months and I’ll let you know.
I’ll also put it on Google alert and I’ll find out from you. We can do a follow up. So where do you go to just make sure you’re staying sharp in your role as an Executive Pastor?
It probably sounds trite and overused, but I think you got to stay in the scriptures and you have to just look after your own spiritual life. I think that it’s really easy in a role of administrator or somebody involved in the workings of the church, mechanics of the church, that you can cut yourself loose from the real lifeblood of what the church is all about. And that, of course, is having that strong personal walk with God and being refreshed each and every day. Everything of real value in ministry flows out of a great relationship with God, in a day to day, moment by moment relationship with God. And nothing of any real value is going to occur in your life unless you’re connected to Him, and you’re in the place that He has you, and you’re functioning in the way that He wants you to function.
This is going to piggyback off of that, but what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership, aside from making sure that they’re staying in the scriptures?
Yeah. Well, yeah, I think drawing near to God and recognizing that no matter how difficult your job is or what kind of results you see — there’s a lot of times in ministry that we don’t see our results, they’re not before us in a way that we can actually see them, and yet we trust that God’s doing a work through us. And if you’re behind a desk, counting the offering from the week before, doing some kind of a menial job like that, you may not be able to connect it right away to how people are being impacted by your ministry. But it all really is connected. We all have parts in the body of Christ that need to be efficient, they need to be connected. And we need to all realize that as we move together and we do the role that God has given us to do, the whole body will benefit from that. So I would just encourage leaders to keep your head down, keep plugging along, and trust God’s going to use you in ways that you never dreamed possible. And one day, it will all come to you. We’ll all know how it all work together, but in the era, we just need to be faithful.
And that’s great. John, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Yeah. Thank you for having me.