Welcome to Monday Morning Church. Today, our guest is Marc Sundstrom from the Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, Indiana. Hi Marc, how are you?
Doing great. How are you doing today?
Excellent. Marc, I’m excited to talk to you, get to know you a bit better, about your situation. Why don’t you start off just telling people a little bit about how you got into your executive pastor role?
Sure. Well, I started in ministry, in the call of ministry, at a pretty good sized church in Casper, Wyoming, it was running about 1500 at the time in attendance. And I had been serving on the church and some of the boards and things like that, was on the board of finance, was teaching a Sunday school class, all as a pretty successful insurance agent, but sensing a call to ministry. And then the position of administrative pastor at the church was suddenly vacant. And I’ve been in conversation with my senior pastor about what a call looked like and those types of things. And so as the doors opened, he approached me and said, I think you’ve got a lot of experience in the financial side of things, and this might be a really good fit for you. You might really be able to help us. So within a few months, I’d resigned from the business that I had selling insurance and was on staff as the administrative pastor, which was not quite an executive pastor, I didn’t have a lot of staff supervision, but I was the church treasurer and dealt a lot with the finances. And we were right on the cusp of a major building project, so I was heavily involved in that over the next couple of years. After that project ended, I was sensing more of a call towards the kind of the speaking and teaching and preaching. I moved into more of a missions and discipleship pastor position, but still stayed with supervisory functions over…
This is still at the church in Casper?
Still at the church in Casper. But still stayed real involved in the financial side, we hired a business manager that reported to me, those types of things. So from there, I took a position as a lead pastor in a medium sized church, was running about 300 or so when we got there. And didn’t have an EP, we had a part time church treasurer type of the thing. So never really got too far away from the business side of the church in that role.
And where was this church?
That was in Charleston, West Virginia. And it was a young energetic ministry and staff, and was a great experience there, but didn’t really mesh well with culture, particularly the family. I think I did okay acclimating, but I was working with people that I was close to every day basically, and the family wasn’t as much. So we started to look at what God might be doing next, and that was when some doors opened for, at the time, it was a senior associate pastor role that was less in the business area, more in ministry implementation, working with the other associate pastors who would report to me. And this was at Madison Park in Anderson. Shortly after I got there, some changes in the way staffing and things were going and a recognition, I think, of some financial background and gifting, moved it to more of an executive pastor role and that type of change.
You come in, and seeing your skill set, they were willing to kind of change the position to kind of suit what you were bringing in.
Yeah, and some other external factors, I think, influenced that as well, and some necessity influenced that as well. So by about four, five months in, it was more of an executive pastor role, directly involved in finances, HR building, property transactions, those types of things, still with supervision over the associate pastors and number of the directors and departments within the church. So kind of a merger or blend of the two.
So maybe you could just describe that transition from going from the business world as an insurance salesman into kind of this, you’re serving at the church, but still a very business, and then going straight into, even in that medium-sized church in West Virginia, what was that like for you to make that transition in that stage of your life?
Those transitions were pretty seamless. I think it really had a lot to do with what God was doing in my life. I grew up in a small town, small church. We were in church every Sunday, but I don’t really feel like I began a relationship with Jesus until I was in college, and it was at the church that I ended up joining the staff and stepping into that role. So as God started awakening things in me and revealing leadership gifts and administration gifts, those are my highest spiritual gifts for leadership administration, and then preaching and teaching. So as those gifts were uncovered, that transition was pretty smooth. And one of the nice things about that career in insurance was it was very flexible. So I got involved in leadership at a board of a local rescue mission. I started teaching classes, I started leading small groups and really enjoying those things. So that was pretty smooth transition. Moving across the country into a new role and all those things. It was a major transition when we took the church in West Virginia, but really had a very strong sense of call, and I felt like God was in it and really enjoyed that opportunity to lead, to preach every week and be involved in everything that was happening. And kind of test philosophies and theories that you developed when you’re maybe coming up and see how those work.
What are some of the things that you learned, talk about philosophies and theories. Who are your influences? Who were the people that you looked to for guidance?
There’s close ones that you interact with on a regular basis, and my senior pastor at my church in Casper, who I came to Christ at the end of one of his sermons, he baptized me, married my wife and I to each other, dedicated all of our kids. He’s been my primary personal influence in ministry. Much of my philosophy comes directly from him in the way that churches do worship and evangelism and discipleship, and how we engage in mission and how we’re reaching the community and what a global mission looks like, global missions presents. And then some personal philosophies that maybe we’re informed more from outside voices, a big student of leadership. And so people like Bill Hybels, Andy Stanley, who have spoken into that sphere for the church for a very long time. I’ve been students of them and engaged in their content, whether it’s books or podcasts, or conferences and really allow, when something hits a passion point to take note of that and say, this is kind of how I think things should be done. And I think a final one would be Patrick Lencioni and what he has written and spoken about in regards to organizational leadership, and then taking the opportunity and having the opportunity to implement those things as I see them, was really a fun and exciting challenge.
Yeah, it’s one thing to read and to listen to experience and then actually put it into practice is another thing.
Especially as an associate, sometimes you think, I think we should do it this way, and you don’t always have the opportunity to really influence that. And then when I was suddenly a lead pastor, I think we should do it this way. And so we do it this way and for better or worse, and sometimes that works really well. And sometimes you learn something else. So you say, you know, that works in a classroom or that works in Chicago, but I don’t know that that works right here. And so make tweaks or change in free to fail and those types of things.
Why don’t we, you tell a little bit about the church in Anderson. How is it set up, structured? How did you come about the roles you have now? What are your responsibilities?
Yeah, it’s a church that has been present in the community for a very long time, over 100 years. For a long time, it was North Anderson Church of God, and it had its main ministry facility up on the north side of town. About 10 years ago, it moved south into the area where it is now right adjacent to the interstate, one of the main exits in that development is called Madison Park. So the church was renamed Madison Park Church of God, and it’s got an impact in the community in a number of different streams, it has a daycare childcare center, used to have two locations, one on the north side, one on the south side. Now we’re just on the south side, we’ve got a women’s shelter for women that are in desperate situations, kind of right near the heart of the community. There’s also an adoption agency and a counseling center that are affiliated with the church. So it’s got a pretty broad reach and it’s pretty broad in regards to the complexity of the organization. So the way that it’s structured is we have board of elders that does the governments of the church, and then a senior leadership team that reports directly to board of elders, that’s the senior pastor myself as executive pastor, and then our office manager. So from a staffing standpoint, the office manager and myself report to the senior pastor, but everybody else in the organization reports to one of us. So all of our administrative side will report to our office manager and then our three main areas of focus are worship, discipleship and missions. So our associate pastors and directors filter down through that, but they all ultimately report to me. And then up to the senior pastor. We also have properties, team facilities, team that reports to a director who reports to me. So everything funnels through me and the office manager.
So looking over all of that, what’s your favorite part of your job, what parts do you really look forward to?
I think the part I enjoy the most is the staff development and leadership development portion, having that strong inclination towards leadership and learning and growing. One of my primary themes and the strengths finder is to be a learner and a maximizer. And so I like to learn new things that I like to share those things with people to see them really grow and develop. So doing staff advances, we don’t call them retreats because we think it sends the wrong message. So we have quarterly staff advances where we’ll take a day and carve out and we’ll learn something new, or we’ll go to another church and see how they do things or process, tackle big problems, big issues. So I enjoy that. And also the monthly meetings that I get to lead and to invest in people and make those meetings worth their time. I think meetings are really a hinge point in any organization. If the meetings are good, there’s positive traction. It seems like things are moving forward. If the meetings are bad and people aren’t looking forward to them and they’re not engaged, that can really be a drain on the energy level of an organization. So I like that task a lot.
I think a lot of that responsibility falls on an executive pastor position a lot too. I think it’s a good litmus test. If the meetings are good, then the executive pastor is doing their work or facilitating people and making sure they’re coming together. But if they’re kind of a drain and that affects everything that goes on there too, very good.
Let’s talk technology a little bit. What are some of the things you guys use to collaborate, to make sure things flow all together with each other? What are the tools you use?
Well, one of the things I really like that was already in place when I got there, was that everybody has a Google email calendars that can be shared, coordinated and layered. So I can see the people who are reporting to me, see their calendars, ministry calendars, those types of things and share things. And so having that platform has been really helpful. In addition to that, there’s the Google Docs that we’ve started to implement a lot more in administration type of things and sharing things where multiple people can either view or edit. You can change the permissions on that, which has been really helpful. One example is a ministry dashboard that we use to show things like the basics dollars, weekly offerings, weekly attendance, monthly salvations, and baptisms, and other types of response where we can keep that and have all that data available and share it with varying people at varying levels. We have a public version that anybody can access at any time that shows the last week and year to date information, and we have another level where people can see a few more tabs in that document and a final level, that’s the full document that has some historical data and some comparison data that has been really helpful in some of the administrative functions. So we’re broadening our use of that type of technology where it’s cloud-based. It’s accessible anywhere. You can use it mobile, you can use it on a computer, you can use it on an iPad or something like that. We’re also pushing people more and more towards as we replace computers, we’re making sure we’re replacing them with laptops that are portable. We work more with open office, open office setups, where you have a group of people without walls in between them. So like our discipleship ministry is the best example of that. All of our age-based ministry, assimilation and adult discipleship are all kind of in an open office area, which provide a lot of opportunity for collaboration. But we’ve also made sure that there’s spaces and ways to make sure that folks can get some quiet time or some, hey, don’t drop in on me right now. They used to have with an office that had a door. That kind of thing. We’ve also just tried to be strategic in the way that we communicate so that we’re not sending low priority things, maybe by text message or phone call on the weekend that feels like there’s a reflex that you have to attend to that immediately. And so we kind of said email is the lowest priority. We also don’t want to be emailing something high priority that somebody may not see, encouraging people to manage their notifications so that they can actually get away from the office. And there’s so many ways to communicate now. And whether it’s text message, Facebook message, emails, direct message through Twitter, whatever. We’re so accessible that we’ve encouraged people to manage their notifications and their commissions, but also to be intentional about. If you need a response from me on something, don’t send it to me on an email on my weekday off or something. Sent me a text message so that I can see it within an hour and respond to you. And then phone call being the most urgent that we don’t overuse that.
Yeah, I think that’s so important when it comes to communication, making sure everyone’s on the same page about, because everything just gets thrown to email. And so even if you’re using something like Gmail, it’s great at organizing things, but when you have that many types of things to organize, it just can’t keep up. So if it’s business processes or if it’s something urgent or if it’s something, just a note of encouraging or something like that. It all ends up in the same place. So to be able to designate where those goes is really good.
Yeah, just be strategic and intentional about it, and we’ve had to remind people at times and, hey, think about before you click the Reply All, because if it goes to all staff and you say, okay, I’m going to Reply All, just being intentional about that and leveraging technology because it’s a tool, but it also has a backside to it, a shadow side that can be really distracting and inefficient. So we try to avoid that.
Yeah, let’s think about any other… anything that’s coming up for you in the next year. We’re at the start of 2017, what are your priorities in terms of what you hope to do with the staff? Anything you want to add on, some new things that coming for you guys?
One of the focuses has been, we recognize that most people didn’t have a current strengths finder, so we just spent some time with a consultant that could explain and how people navigate their own personal strengths finder profile, but also then incorporating that within the team. So we started with that early in the year. We’re going to revisit that later in the year and help guide people towards really building out their team well and looking for volunteers that have certain strengths where we’re weak instead of this focus on, get better in your weak areas, build your team around your weak areas or your energy into maximizing your strengths. So that’s one thing that we’re kind of doing more at an organizational level. One of my priorities, I think is to learn more about the EP role. So when you reached out to me, I said, I’m not sure I’m your guy, I need your podcast more than I need to contribute to it, but to look for those resources that are out there registered for the executive pastor conference, that’s happening annually in Dallas, I look forward to that. Just understanding that there are a lot of different ways to do an executive pastor role and as many churches as there are, there’s probably as many ways as it actually functions. And so figuring out if we’re doing it the right way for the people that are involved, what changes maybe we need to make, and not just assume that what we’re doing is right, but learn from some other people and figure out what changes might be necessary.
Yeah, as I’ve been talking to people, I’ve been amazed at, like you said, the different models that are out there, different types of things that the executive pastor role can take. It can be, you’re the CFO or you’re the business manager, or maybe you’re just managing the staff or maybe you’ve just been in the church long enough and they needed to create a position for you. But it’s neat to see people who take it seriously and who really want to focus on using their strengths, like you said in those situations. And I think that role can give a lot of room for people.
And it’s fluid, I think it can be fairly fluid, so it could be multiple iterations of it in the same place. And so I think that that gives us some flexibility that can be appealing.
Well, Marc, why don’t you end with a, just a note of encouragement or whatever you would like to tell to other executive pastors out there, what you would like to learn from them maybe?
Sure. Well, I think one of the things that God has been showing me in the last few months is, it’s an encouraging thought, is to realize that as an executive pastor, you really have a hand in every win that the organization sees because you’re very central to the organization. And coming from a lead pastor in a young growing church where we were baptizing people on a regular basis. And I was like, I was kind of at the middle of every win. And that was a big adjustment. And coming over to that executive pastor role where not as many people request to be baptized by the executive pastor, that’s more of a senior pastor function or a youth pastor function. And so seeing that you have a very essential part, even though it maybe is secondary or it’s behind the scenes in almost everything that happens in the church and focusing on that being fulfilled and satisfied by that. I think sometimes I feel like Aaron and Hur holding Moses’ arms up, while the battle is taking place and being comfortable in that. And then, other times realizing, well, maybe I’m Moses and somebody needs to hold my arms up because the team’s down on the field themselves and just being committed to that and understanding that and finding fulfillment in that can be a challenge at times just to encourage that it matters and it’s worthwhile and it’s making a difference.
Great. I love that imagery of Aaron holding up the arms, and then also sometimes you’re the one that needs the arms held up.
Well, thanks a lot for your time Marc.
Well thank you. Thanks for the invitation. I look forward to being a listener of your podcast as well.