Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today, our guest is Mike Vaughn, who’s the Administration Pastor at Palm Valley Church in Goodyear, Arizona. Hi, Mike. How are you today?
Neil, I’m doing well. How are you?
Excellent. Very excited to speak with you and learn from your experience. Why don’t you share with us a little bit about your background? Did you come from a ministry background or a corporate background? How did you get to your role at Palm Valley?
Well, I’ve actually got a background in both. I was a bi-vocational pastor for 23, 24 years. So during that time, I had corporate positions that I had out of college. I was with IBM. I went from there, into the office furniture industry. I worked for a couple of large office furniture manufacturers in sales and sales management. And then I was on the distribution side of that industry for a number of years, where I was in sales management and then general management. And also was an owner of a sizable office furniture dealership for a number of years. And all during that time, I was involved in ministry, and then eventually became a licensed pastor, and served on a pastoral team as a bi-vocational pastor. I was responsible for Christian education, and Sunday school ministry, and a variety of other areas of ministry, financial secretary, and that sort of thing.
And then I was eventually sent to be the lead pastor of a church. That was part of our circle of churches in Detroit. And did that for some time. And then my employer asked me to move out west and came to determination that I needed to do that, that the Lord’s hand was in it. And that led me and my wife out to Arizona. And we ended up plugging in at Palm Valley. I began to volunteer and was ultimately licensed as a lay pastor at Palm Valley, based on my past experience. I served in that area. And the discipleship ministry was involved in leading small groups and shepherding small group leaders until I came on staff. And I’ve been on staff at Palm Valley for about four years now. My first year, I was actually in charge of our, what we called, our first steps ministry. So I was involved in new member assimilation, our core classes, and ministry to new believers. So I was responsible for baptism. I was responsible for our new believers class that we call Fresh Start and that sort of thing. And I did that for a year. And then I was asked to become a part of the executive committee of the church that we call our lead team. And that’s when I became the Administration Pastor. So I’ve been doing that for about three years.
Wow. What a journey. Yeah
Yeah, that’s been an interesting turn.
I want to get back to the lead team that you have and you’re in in a second, but let’s go back to some of your earlier days. Looking back on your career and how it led to this point, what would you feel like is the one job or the one role, whether it be sales or owning your own business, or managerial stuff that has been indispensable when it comes to you performing your role now? If you could go back and say, this one job really prepared me more than any other ones, which one would it have been?
Wow. That’s a great question because in general, what I tend to say is my whole career prepared me for my job because I worked in technology. Obviously, I worked in sales and have had extensive management experience. I would say owning my own business was probably the most preparation from a condensed time period because it was a general management role that involved being responsible, ultimately, for all of the core functions of the business. And so it required me to not only engage with customers and manage managers, but it also required me to be multi-disciplinary in terms of what I devoted my attention to. And I couldn’t just kind of over focus on any one single thing. I had to make sure I maintained a view of the horizon, both from the standpoint of the here and now, as well as engaging in mid and long term planning for the business.
Yeah, I don’t think anyone has more empathy in a business setting or humility than a former business owner. They can understand so much of what goes on.
Yeah. Well, and there’s also just, nothing teaches you how to deal with kind of pressure and stress more than meeting payroll and making sure that your receivables are in line and that you’re collecting what people owe you, that you’re paying the bills that you owe, most importantly, that you are paying your people in a timely fashion.
Wow. So jump us back to the present day. You are the Executive Pastor of Administration, which is one of several Executive Pastor roles at Palm Valley. Explain to us how your team is set up.
Well, we’ve got our lead pastor, Ryan Nunez, who was formally our Executive Pastor. Our founder, Greg Rohlinger, was a dynamic lead pastor over the church and very much obviously, started and established the ministry. Pastor Ryan was a part of his team in terms of launching the church. He, unfortunately, became ill and ultimately passed away from his illness. And a couple of years before he passed away, he designated Ryan as his successor. And Ryan has done just an amazing job of assuming the mantle of leadership and continuing to carry the ministry forward. So he hones our lead team and then he has five Executive Pastors that report to him. And that’s probably one of the chief changes he made in terms of our structure. Rather than having a single Executive Pastor that all of the functions report into and then that person report to him, he wanted to maintain — I think, just in terms of the difference in his personality, he wanted to have more of a pulse on the functional areas of the church. So I’m responsible for administration. There’s an Executive Pastor over worship parts, another over family life, which is essentially our children’s ministry and our student ministry. There is an Executive Pastor over discipleship, and an Executive Pastor over multi-site, our campuses, because we have three campuses where we have church ministry on the weekends. And that individual also serves as our chief of staff. And so special kind of cross-functional projects tend to fall under him.
It’s a good way to describe the complexities that grow when you have multi-site and you have so many different things that come to a church of your size. It kind of requires different specializations to be there. Right?
Right. Yeah. Exactly. Our multi-site pastor and chief of staff, his name is Brent Hodges, very, very gifted young man and a really effective leader, and just very systematic in his ability to take a lot of logistical details and boil them down to a workable plan. And he’s been on our staff about 10 years. And so he’s got a good kind of operational understanding of a variety of different areas in our church. So he’s a great person to pull together resources from across the church in order to get something done.
That’s great. Well, tell us a little bit more about your specific role in your world of Monday through Friday. What are the things that keep you going and what are the things that you’re constantly aware of as the Executive Pastor of Administration? What types of things fall under you?
Well, I’m responsible essentially for the business functions of the church, so finance, HR, marketing, facilities, and IT. So, as you might imagine, I’m always making sure I’ve got my finger on the pulse of our finances. What’s coming in, how we’re doing against our budget, and just in general, looking at our cash position, making sure that we have the financial resources that we need to operate. After that, making sure, from an HR standpoint, that we’re situated the way that we need to be there, people have what they need to do their jobs well. And then our people feel valued, and that we’re driving the right kind of culture. No, it’s not just my job. Obviously, that’s a responsibility that runs across the entire staff. But just making sure that from the standpoint of policies that we have in place and the way we execute on those policies is consistent with our values and causes our people to feel like they work some place where they’re valued and loved and cared for. In the area of marketing, that’s very much kind of an extension of our — it’s a business function, but it’s an extension of our missions ministry in a lot of ways, because we’re reaching out. And I guess in commerce language, we’re promoting our organization to the public but in so many respects, what we’re doing is enhancing the visibility of our church so that we can attract people to us, so that we can obviously share the life giving message of the Gospel.
So it’s a critical function for us and we’re always just challenged to grow in our effectiveness in getting that message out, and doing it in a manner where we exercise a good stewardship and where we get, I guess, an optimal return for whatever resources we invest in our activity there. And then facilities is an interesting piece. Just in that, we have a mix of facility resources. We have three campuses. Two of our campuses, in Buckeye, Arizona and Glendale Arizona, are executed on high school campuses. So those are not facilities that we own. So in a lot of respect, that’s about how do you execute, essentially, a mobile location each week, and do it in a way we respect the property of the schools that we operate on, and maintain good relationships with those school districts. And then we have owned and leased facilities in Goodyear. So we’ve got about a 50,000 square foot building, and then we’ve got about 8,000 square feet into suites that are behind our building. Then we have a little bit of warehouse space, as well as, some space for classes and for our student ministries. And so that’s where we’re involved in a lot of the — we’ve got a facility staff that manages and maintains that space. Preventative maintenance, custodial services, and all the stuff that we have to do to keep those facilities looking good.
So you keep your hands full. You keep the things going pretty well. I want to come back to a comment you made about using commerce language when you’re talking about marketing for a church. You’ve towed that line between ministry and business for decades now. Do you find it difficult, sometimes, to use the right term for the right business concept when you’re in a ministry situation, or do you feel like there’s certain terminology that crosses over well and doesn’t cross over well?
That’s a great question. I would say I used to struggle with it. Part of it, I think, is that when I was younger, I thought that the language of the corporate world had more value than it really had. And so I had a tendency to think that the church really needed to emulate the world of commerce as much as possible. And as I’ve gotten older and more experienced in ministry, I actually see it the opposite way. While I believe that there are practices and disciplines that the corporate world leverages, that the church has adopted and benefited from, you know, certain types of financial analysis, certain disciplines as it relates to marketing, certain disciplines as it relates to facilities, HR and IT. But in terms of the cultural surroundings of that, I think that the business world has a ton to learn from the church because the world of commerce treats people like resources.
And so it is, by its nature, because it is an extension of the systems of man and therefore is tainted by sin, it always descends into exploitation, at some point. Whereas within the context of the church, because we have the benefit of the Holy Spirit guiding us, if we are following a leading of the spirit, we ultimately are genuinely trying to do not only what’s best for the church, but what’s best for our people. And we operate from a framework of love. And that’s completely different. It’s not a facade. It should be something that’s real and genuine where the people that work and serve in the church derive as much benefit as the church itself derives from their efforts within the church. So from that standpoint, I would say that I’m often one of the voices in the church who encourages us to leverage appropriate disciplines from the commercial sector. But I’m also often the voice of cautions. I’m just making sure everybody remembers, we are not a business. We may execute or leverage certain practices that emulate the business world and appropriately so, but we are not a business, and it’s always important that we remember that because a ministry is a different piece altogether in the end.
Yeah. That’s a fascinating thought to go through. Mike Vaughn, if you go and restart your own business somewhere, you get out of church ministry for some reason, what would be one or two things you would do differently? I know, I’m putting you on the spot here.
Yeah. Well, I think one of the things I would probably do a little bit differently, the business that I owned was a business that a partner and I acquired. And because I didn’t start it from scratch, it just kind of had its own culture and kind of a direction all its own. The partnerships that were already pre-existing had a momentum of their own. So it kind of caused us to drive the business a certain way. I don’t regret any of that. But if I were to do it all over again, the first thing I would do is I would start a business, I would not have a partner, I would start it from scratch myself. Because there are fewer compromises, frankly, particularly as they relate to my faith, as a Christian businessman, that I would have to make. And then I would just be much more — I would just apply a great deal of more scrutiny to the alliances that I would form in driving a business. Now, having said all that, if I absolutely had to do it all over again, I would have done everything I could to go into full time ministry sooner. Now, it’s always this I kind of look back and go, wow, I wish I could have. And I genuinely believe that things played out the way they were supposed to. But I will say, having been in ministry full time now for the four years that I have, from a standpoint of my career, this is far and away the most rewarding period of my life. And I’m grateful. I’m very grateful for that. I think in a lot of ways, my perspective on that is very much driven by my experience up to this point. Just feeling like, man, if more of my years could have been doing this, that would’ve been great.
Very interesting. Mike, why don’t you share one of the other: either best practice you’d like to share with other people listening in, other ExPs, and things or something you guys are struggling with. Why don’t you pick one of those for us?
Oh, sure. I’ll share a best practice. We recently, I say recently, I’d say in the past year or two, we made the decision, from an HR hiring standpoint, that we’re only going to hire from within. And that was driven by two things. We kind of had a mix of hires over the past. I’d say about two years ago, we had kind of a mix of hire. Some of them from outside, some of them from within. And we noticed two things, I’d say, about a year after those hires have been made. The internal hires worked out great. The external hires were good people. Neither one of them are with us any longer. Not terminations or anything like that. But the thing that we noticed was that there was just a real struggle and challenge longer than we typically have in helping those individuals to assimilate to the culture of our church. And we just realized that we do better when we hire people who are already members of the church and have been part of the church for a decent period of time, and have been volunteering for a good length of times. They already have our DNA and we may need to simply train them in the particulars of their role, and certain policies and procedures with respect to being on staff. But they understand what Palm Valley Church is all about.
And so we basically made the determination that’s going to be our policy going forward. And a thing that played very much into that was we went back and just did an analysis and it really came to the termination. When we look at our internal hires, our turnover is exceptionally low. When we factor in external hires, the retention rate on those hires is not good. And so we just kind of arrived at the conclusion that the need to really kind of institute that policy was as plain as the nose on our face. We just weren’t paying attention to it. So we made that determination. And since then, we’ve done all of our hiring strictly from our membership ranks, and it has worked out extremely well. And if we need a certain type of expertise and we don’t find that we have it or able to access it within our members, then we may not need to make a hire. That might just be the indicator that we need to contract that as opposed to hire unto our staff. And that’s kind of how we look at it.
We’ve talked to a lot of churches, and I know several of them do this. But to have it as an actual HR policy is very, very interesting. So that’s very cool you guys do that.
Yeah. It seems to be working for us and I see that as a best practice. I absolutely don’t think that everybody should necessarily operate that way. There are certain aspects of the way that we go about doing ministry that I think makes that an effective policy for us and a wise move for us. Churches that maybe don’t pursue ministry in the same way that we do, it may not be as important for them. For instance, we very much focus our ministry on pursuing the unchurched. And so that lends itself to some fairly, I say, unique aspects to our culture and certain disciplines to the way that we go about doing ministry that some external hires can have a hard time with it. Because if they come from a church that the growth and development of the church is more aimed at transfer growth among Christians, and where the culture of the church is more, for lack of a better word, churchy, they can have a really hard time at our church because we are very focused on kind of rooting up the inside pool kind of thing, and really making sure that in every respect, we’re accessible to people that don’t go to church. And that can really be hard. It takes time to acclimate to that. And some people do, and some people have a really hard time with it. So for us, we find people that have become a part of our culture. And I understand why that’s such a kind of almost successive mission for us. Those are people that do well in our context.
No, it sounds like you guys have a great culture there, but it’s also one that you understand and you know what that culture is, and you know when somebody is a good fit or not. And so that makes that hiring practice even more important.
Great. Well, Mike, it has been great to have you on the show. Can you close this out with one short thought of encouragement for other ExPs listening in?
Oh, absolutely. I would just really encourage our Executive Pastors to always just keep in mind, ultimately, that this comes down to being faithful to our walk with God. We can get so immersed in the details of the operation, so to speak, that we can get a little bit kind of buried in the trees, so to speak, and lose sight of the forest. And it’s just really important to bear in mind that, as the word says, not by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord. So always keep in mind ultimately, that this is a spiritual endeavor and stay close to the Lord each and every day. And being faithful to that, God wanted that.
Absolutely. Well, thank so much for your encouragement, for sharing your story with us. We learned a lot and appreciate you being on the show.
Okay, thanks. Thanks for having me.