Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Michael Upshur is joining us today from Grace Christian Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan. Great to have you on the show today, Michael.
Yeah. Thanks for having me.
Michael, you are the Administrative Pastor there at Grace Christian Church. Would you tell us a little bit about how you came into your position?
Yeah, it was a different path. It’s never something I thought I would be doing. So got my college degree in Accounting and immediately went into working in the automotive industry, because that’s pretty big here in Detroit area. So I worked at Chrysler for a couple of years, in accounting and audit. I was there at the time where Chrysler was entering bankruptcy, so I ended up leaving there. I went to go get my Masters, an MBA. And took a job at another automotive company, American Axle. I worked there for about eight years in all different fields of accounting — accounts receivable, accounts payable, plant finance. Eventually came back and ran our North American accounts payable. And then one day, I got a call from our pastor asking me to come in for a meeting. I was actually kind of nervous at first. I was like, oh no, they’ll kick me out of the church. What did I do? I just announced at a video last week. Did I say something that offended people? But he called me and just said, hey, we’re looking to bring in an Administrative Pastor and we wanted to approach you and see if you’d be interested. And I told them to give me a little bit of time because it wasn’t something I had ever even thought about doing. Actually, it took three months to make my decision, which thankfully, he was patient enough. And so I accepted the position to come on staff here at Grace.
So when was that that you came on staff?
It would have been 2016
Okay. So you’re about two years into it. And this is a big transition coming from the automotive industry. Looking back on the two years, how has that journey been for you adjusting to this new work climate?
It’s a huge change, and I think I’m still adjusting to it. You go from being in the corporate world to being surrounded by these “business professionals”, and you’re surrounded by people that think like you, and process things the way you do. In my last job, there was around 100 or so financial associates, so there’s always someone to go to, and you’re driven by process. And then you come into a church which is much more relational, and people don’t necessarily have the same schooling background as me. The way they process things there, there was a lot of ministers and volunteers. So it’s a big adjustment. People want to talk to you and know how your day’s going, or you’re being driven to just get things done.
So what exactly does fall under your responsibility as the Administrative Pastor?
So the way we kind of have it here is, I actually oversee — my main area that I oversee is the accounting and finance, and payroll. I also am involved in building use and facilities management. We have a small cafe and bookstore that I have oversight. As far as HR goes, I basically handle all the paperwork. Our Executive Pastor handles the people side of HR. They don’t really want me dealing with people. But I take care of all the paperwork. Everything filed, and it’s in the right drawer, and that we can find it when we need it.
So what would you — looking back on these two years, what would you say to someone who is going to be going from the marketplace into the ministry? What are some little pearls of wisdom you might share with someone who’s just starting that journey?
The biggest thing I’ve realized is I had to really change my perspective of what success is. Because again, in the corporate world, success is driven by profit. As a church, we’re not here to make money. But for me, that was a big mindset change, that success isn’t driven by the money. Success is driven by how are we carrying out what God’s given us to do. Are we reaching people? Are we building disciples? Are we equipping them to be successful Christians in their life? So the money, it’s a part of it because you obviously need to fund what you’re doing, but it’s not the goal. And for me, it’s still something that when I wake up in the morning, I kind of have to change my mindset on it. That’s probably the biggest thing. Getting into that mindset is really what success is defined by.
So. Do you handle most of the accounting and payroll facilities on your own, or do you have a team of people underneath you who you manage?
I have a team of people underneath me that I manage. So we have one employee that handles all the contributions. She actually fills a couple of different roles, but she enters all the donations into our system from the weekends and mid-week services. And then we have another employee that does the bookkeeping, the basic bookkeeping. I do some of the higher level, closing the month and things like that. But she does the day-to-day payables and entering all those things.
Had you been in any kind of management before?
Yeah. Actually, the position that I was in just before coming to work at the church, I was in a supervisor role and had six associates underneath me that I supervise.
That’s good because I often hear that that’s one of the biggest struggles is going from a situation where you can do just do your thing every day to managing the team of people can be a challenge. So it’s nice you had that experience before.
Yeah. Definitely. It was different too, because my previous position, it was three college co-ops, and then usually three new hires into the company. So the big part of my job was training and trying to mold them into the company way, and helping them get their feet wet. Here, the team that I oversee, obviously, it’s not college students and younger people. So it’s a difference. But yeah, having previous supervising experiences, definitely help one having to step into a role like that here at the church.
So tell me something, from your team or your area, that you guys are doing there at Grace that you’ve really found success with.
Yeah. As I sit and think about that, it’s like, wow, what have we done? What have I done to help us run things smoothly here? Because actually, when I came in, we were in a big point of transition. Our church grew really fast in the last 10 years, and we did a lot of things to just keep up with the flow. And so decisions were made on the fly. So actually, three years ago, they hired an Executive Pastor. And then two years ago, they hired me for the administrative side. So him and I have really been working closely together to take a few steps back and lay some of the foundation we need. One of the biggest problems that we’ve noticed is the communication channel within our church between staff and volunteers. So in my area, one of the things that we implemented that’s been really helpful for is on the building use and operation side. We had a lot of miscommunications. If there was an event, tables weren’t getting set up and nobody was there to empty trash, and we were finding that we had so many different people communicating things. So we in centralized the communication to come out of one person who it’s her role to do the building use.
And now we actually have a monthly operations meeting, which for me coming out of corporate world, seemed like a no brainer. Yeah, of course, you meet monthly to go over it. But we didn’t have that here. So now, we bring together our cafe, and some of our key volunteers, and our events coordinator, and our building use coordinator, our facilities manager, our cafe manager, actually our worship administrative assistants that comes and attends the meeting. We all come together and we go over the previous month’s events, and big meetings and things that we had, and we kind find where there was gaps and holes where we missed things, and come up with a solution together as a team. So it’s not just one person handing a decision down, common people having to set the line. But we kind of work together. And then we go over what went well. So we know like, hey, we’re doing this, it’s working well, let’s keep doing that. And then we kind of preview the next month coming up and make sure that people have the information they need. So it was something that wasn’t here that we kind of put in place and has been running pretty well, so far. We’ve been doing it for about, I think, six months consistently now, maybe a little while.
So a lot of question can be division of responsibilities among staff. So when you talked about centralizing the communication, the person who is that kind of central figure now, what other tasks do they do? Where have you placed that role, I guess?
Yeah. So it’s actually the same lady that does our contribution, because we were finding the contributions really heavily on Monday and Thursday for her. And then she had three other days a week where she was having some time to fill. So we kind of centralized all of that building use communication underneath her.
Now, does she do most of that through email, text messaging or any kind of particular app?
We use CCB, Church Community Builder. So she does the majority of it through that. Obviously, there’s some email communication as well that comes out of that. Yeah, we have forms that we’ve created that people fill out. They get the general information of what we need.
So now, on the other side of this, what is something you guys have going on that you haven’t yet found a solution for or something you’re still working through?
How much time do we have to go over these (laughs)? So like I said, we grew really fast, really in the last 10 years. We went from, I want to say 2005-ish, we were a church of around 5 to 600. And now we’re, I think, just over 2,000. Most of that growth is probably from 2009 to 2012, ’13. So it was pretty rapid growth. And so like I said, we made a lot of decisions in that time, not necessarily thinking down the road. And so a lot of the technology-related decisions we made were good in the time but long run, they are not causing us problems, but we’re finding it hard to go back and undo. We’re not really a technology-driven church. We tend to be in more of a blue collar area, so technology isn’t as prevalent as it may be in other areas of the country. So I would say our challenge is understanding technology and trying to integrate it into what we do. And with that kind of goes, more on my end of things, is finding the balance between ministry and function because I’m driven by, specifically in the Finance, that I’m driven by data. I want to know how much we’re spending on cups and how much we’re spending on different things. But that’s not necessarily important overall to the ministry. Obviously, we have budgeted goals, but it’s taking that information and giving it to the different departments, the pastors over those areas, to give them the information they need in a way that they can understand it and use it. Because I could hand them a spreadsheet and they’ll look at it and glaze over in their eyes, and it doesn’t mean anything. So between finding balance first, ministry and function of my end, and then seeing how to integrate technology, that’s where we’re really focusing a lot of time and trying to look long term and see really what’s going to help us grow, but also help us today at the same time.
Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on this, because a lot of people listening will wonder. When you talked about going from 500 to 2000 in just a couple of years span, what was it that led to that kind of growth? Was there some kind of change at the church or in the community? What was it?
We actually changed locations at that time. In 2007, we moved from a school building to actually, we had — there was actually an old, I believe, a builder’s square that was vacant for eight years. We actually purchased it and renovated it, which gave us about, I think, a facility about two times the size of what we had. In a more prominent location too, off of the main road. So I think that was a big factor in it. And honestly, the rest of it, I don’t actually know. I was just a member at that time. So I wasn’t necessarily interested.
You were just doing announcements.
Yeah. I was just doing announcement videos here and there, thinking that I was saying something wrong, and I was going to be kicked out. No, actually at that time, I wasn’t necessarily paying attention to it as much. Like obviously, as a member you realized it was a lot more people. I know during that time, we had a pretty heavy investment into our children’s and youth ministries. Specifically, in the youth, with outreach in the local community and local schools. There was a period of time where we were having roughly 3 to 400 youth at our mid-week, once they serve us. Most of them unchurched too. I think we were seeing a lot of kids from that, as well. Those kids coming and potentially bringing families and things like that. Probably a lot of fact that those are the things, from my perspective, that as a member at that time, that I was like, oh, that’s probably contributing to what we’re doing.
So Michael, what kind of resources do you use to make sure you’re staying sharp in this role that is kind of still new for you? Where you go to learn more?
I spend a lot of time reading online. I subscribed to a few different blogs and websites that put out continuous articles and updates. One of the — I believe it is the ECFA. They have monthly emails that they send out. So I do a lot of reading on my own. Whenever a topic comes up, I try to go research and find good articles or books that I can read regarding that. So it helps me a little bit in the day to day. It is the biggest part. I recently, actually, joined a group of other Church Administrators, and Administrative Pastors and Executive Pastors. I believe there’s eight or nine pastors in the group in our local area that meet once a month. So it’s people that have common problems or facing common issues that I’m having. Because in my day to day, I don’t necessarily have people that I can go talk to sometimes that work through an issue that I’m having. But within that group now, it’s a common group of people that are dealing with the same issues that I’m dealing with. So that’s big. And then seeking out what I would call, veteran Church Administrators and Executive Pastors, just in connections with other churches, finding somebody that’s been doing kind of what I do. I have a couple of pastors that I actually call a few times a year, and email here and there. Whenever I have a big question or just need to hear out an idea from somebody that, I feel, actually understands the side that I’m looking at it from.
So Michael, what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
One thing we try to tell our staff here that we’re working on is that there’s always a solution. Specifically myself, I get in situations and it’s like, I don’t know why I’m going to do. How are we going to fix this problem? Or how are we going to address this? But it’s really just trusting the Lord that we’ll find a solution to get through. And what I’m finding more and more is I’ve joined this other group of Executive and Administrative Pastors is, no, I’m not alone in what I’m doing. We’re not the only church out here, reaching people and preaching the word. There’s a whole community of churches around. And to be okay for me — it’s something that I learned, it’s okay to ask questions and try to seek advice from other people because I’m not the only one doing it, even though sometimes it feels like that.
That’s great. Michael, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Yeah. No problem. Thanks for having me.