Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Nate Witiuk is joining us today from Awaken Church in Clarksville, Tennessee. Great to have you on the show today, Nate.
Thanks for having me, Courtney. I appreciate it.
So, Nate, let’s start out, tell us a little bit about how you came into your position there at Awaken.
Well, it’s kind of a funny story. I am not originally from Clarksville, Tennessee. I’m from Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s been quite the journey even just getting here. So for me, how I got to the position I was in, I had always wanted to be in ministry as a kid growing up. I went to a really big church in Albuquerque and got involved there, loves what was happening there. So coming out of high school, I wanted to go into ministry. But I’ve seen my friends before say they want to go into ministry, they go to do this school and they normally come out and they don’t really do anything with this degree. And I was dating my wife at the time. She wasn’t my wife, but my girlfriend, who would become my wife at the time, and I thought, I want to provide, I want to have money to provide for us. We had big dreams with what we wanted to do. And so I thought that I don’t want to go to the school of ministry. I want to go to the University of New Mexico and let me get a job and let me provide for my family that way. And so I kind of first took ministry, in a way. I thought, well, that’s a nice dream to have someday, but that’s probably not going to be reality. Then in my entire four years of college and towards the end of that, I started serving in the youth group at our church and really fell in love with what we were doing. I never thought I would. I served in the Middle School youth group, never thought I would love middle schoolers or feel like that was a place I was called. But I really enjoyed it. They were so hungry for Jesus. They were not the age where they were trying to impress me or felt like they were too cool for everything. They were very open to the things of Jesus and I love hanging out with them. And it was really a cool opportunity for me to be involved in ministry. And as I applied originally thinking, I’ll be the worship leader. I can help them with their worship program and how to lead. That’s what I went in thinking I would do. But what I ended up finding out was I loved every aspect of it and that worship wasn’t really something that I felt like I needed to do. It was just kind of the cherry on top, so to speak. So I was serving there and I led a mission trip there. I was there Sundays and they had a Wednesday night. So I was there at any time I could, even during the week, in the offices. I just loved being a part of that. So I remember sitting down with my wife and saying, man, I really feel like I screwed up. I should have gone to the school of ministry and got involved sooner because I feel like I’ve just wasted four years in my life. I went to business school there in New Mexico and I thought, man, I just totally wrecked my whole course of my life.
And at the time, we had a lot of friends starting up churches in different parts of the country. We were asked to be a part of a couple of them. Never really felt called to be a part of those plants. And I just remember sitting down, talking with our lead pastor here at Awaken and, he said, “Hey, I’m thinking about starting this church called Awaken Clarksville, Tennessee.” And he said, I’m not forcing you to come. I’m not saying, hey, come with me, but I’m just giving you an opportunity if you want to be a part of it. And there was just something that was just so overwhelming and my thoughts that I went, yeah, let’s do this. I was about to graduate from college and my wife, her, she was a nurse, so her nursing contract was coming up. And so it just seemed like it worked out really well, and this is something from the Lord. So without ever moving to Tennessee, without ever stepping foot in the entire state, I moved out about almost 10 years ago with them to help plant Awaken church. And it’s kind of a crazy story about how I thought my whole life was messed up by going to college for business degree. But what I ended up finding out was God stepped me up for success and being in ministry, that he knew that that was the desire in my heart. And had I gone to ministry school, I think that would have been great, but what I found was that by going through business school, I’ve been able to help the church with the business side of things, and something that I hadn’t really thought of, because this role as Executive Pastor or Administrative Pastor, whatever the church might call it, I never really thought about the business side of a church, and that church really just have a business side of things. And so I was actually able to help set up the church for the success that we’re even seeing now and being able to be a part of that. So what I found was what I thought was a bummer, hey, I went to the University of Mexico. What I found is that God really used that to help build his Church here in Clarksville, Tennessee. So that’s how I got into my position here in Clarksville.
Tell us a little more about your position there. What exactly falls under your responsibility?
So I am an Executive Pastor. We have a Lead Pastor who gives our vision and direction for where the Lord is leading us, and I will get that vision and direction from him and we’ll carry it out through the church. I oversee a lot of what happens on a Sunday. And, basically, our executive levels are divided three ways. It’s through reach, grow, and lift. Another way to think about it, we don’t use, churchy words for those would be Evangelism, Discipleship, and Worship. So I oversee anything that deals with worship and anything that deals with Evangelism. We have another Executive Pastor here who oversees all of our growth, so groups, de groups, things like that. So basically, I talk with those teams, I meet with those teams and then from there, just carry out the vision. So a lot of what happens on Sundays, a lot of the ton of the business side of the church, I oversee as well.
Now, it’s interesting because you’ve been able to start out from the very beginning at a church plant, and there’s been a lot of writings in the Executive Pastor world about how if you over policy or over administrate, you can kill growth, especially in a new church. How have you found that balance for you being a little more administratively minded, having that education, but also resisting the urge to over policy and administrate? What does that look like for you?
Sure. Part of it is we’ve just had, I think, a lot of organic growth from some of that too. The thing is our Lead Pastor and I balance each other out. So while I might be very administrative minded and hey, we need to have these policies, we need to do these steps. He’s also very, on the other side of just, hey, let’s have faith. Let’s move forward and trust that God will provide for this, or we’re going to move forward with this then trust God. So what I found is that we balance each other out with not being too administrative in everything that we do, but also allowing the Lord to do the leading up His church. We’re just trying to be stewards of what the Lord has given us.
So what is a best practice that you’ve implemented there at Awaken that you’ve really found success with?
I would say that the best thing that we’ve done is not try to be over managers of everything. We don’t sit in an office and then come up with policies and then cast it down to the rest of the church. We really try to involve our staff and our ministry leaders in some of the decisions that we make. Because what we found is that when people have buy in with the idea, sometimes they come in going, this is a great idea, let’s do it. And they will find other ways to do it even better, or they’ll find ways to make things happen in a better way. But what we really try to do is create a family feel here and not be so, these are the pastors’ orders, they’re going to tell you what to do. It’s more along the lines of, hey, we’re coming alongside you guys, we want to help grow this together. And so we do a lot of collaboration together as the staff and as a pastoral staff. One example is recently, we’ve been trying to revamp how people get connected here at the church. So instead of me going, here are my ideas, this is what I think we should do. It’s more me meeting the people who are kind of on the ground doing the ministry and saying, what’s working for you guys? Do you think this would be helpful? Do you think this is effective? And together we’re coming up with ideas to help grow the church together. So that gives them buy in. A lot of times, my ideas haven’t really worked out real well. And I can tell that by just talking to the ministry leaders. This is a great idea, they’re like, that’s a good idea but we found this is a lot more effective. So it feels a little less like management coming down and talking to them. But it feels like we’re together trying to create an atmosphere where people can meet Jesus and people buy in to that a lot easier than me coming and saying, this is how we should do something.
Now with what you just said, can you give us a picture of overlapping all that and see how it mixes together? What has the growth looked like for Awaken in the last 10 years, from starting the church to where you are now?
Yeah. Sure, it has been very rapid. When we started the church, we met on Saturday nights and we had a handful of people, ten people at tops, maybe, that were consistent. And then back in 2009, we had a flood. And so we were 10 months into a church plant and we’re right across the street from a river. So the river completely flooded into our parking lot, into our church building. And so we lost everything we had. And we were only 10 months into the church plant. It was devastating and yet at the same time, it was remarkable to see how God provided for us to do that. We could totally see God’s hand in the whole thing. And here at Awaken, we do say, monuments drive the movements. So we take a lot of pictures to try to remember where we were so that we don’t forget how God moves, because a lot of times the ministry, we can get so caught up doing the next thing, the next task, dealing with the next person that sometimes we forget where God has taken us and how God has provided for us. And so we lost everything in the flood. We were one of the first businesses to open up in our shopping center, and we saw rapid growth in about, I would say 6 to 8 months.
We had to move across the street. There was a business that didn’t reopen, and the landlord said, hey, you guys will need more space, I’ll build this venue out, anyway, there is this part of the building, this is 2400 square feet, however you want it to be because everything has to be destroyed anyway because of the flood. So he’s like, you guys just tell me what you want, I’ll build it. And so that’s what we did. We came in, we drew out where we wanted walls, and we created a bigger sanctuary. And from that point, we grew. In another year, we had to open up four different services. And then we grew more, our kids, of course, grew a lot. And we just kept opening up space and opening up space until we were about in 6000 square feet. And we have what sort of a satellite campus, but it still meets on our property. We have what’s called in North venue where our lead pastor teaches live, and we have what we call a South venue, where everything is live, but the teaching. So we have a live video feed that goes across. So we have a satellite campus, but it’s still attached and meets at the same time. We don’t ever call it overflow, we call it another campus because it has its own teams, its own people that run it. But we have just seen massive growth in that area to where we’re now a church of about 800 people. And it’s been amazing to see God, how he’s moved from a handful of people who are attending on a Saturday night, to a flood that has been devastating to a ten month old church plant. We ended up buying the entire property back in 2014 that we lost everything in. So now we own the entire property, which is amazing to see how God moved in that, as well. It’s been very rapid and very quick. And so kind of even going back to your other question about how we not made things so administrative, I think it’s because, at times, we didn’t have time to think about it. It was just kind of, hey, we got to get this, let’s go. And it was very fast and very quick. So we never really had time to overthink anything.
That’s great. Flipping on the other side of this, then, what is a challenge you haven’t yet quite found a solution for?
Sure. I would say, for us, and for me, in particular, it’s our staff. Our staff is all very part time. Some come in two days a week, some come three days a week to do some work around here. So a challenge that I’ve had is how to deal with staff part time, and when is the right time to start bringing people on full time. Who do you bring on full time? When’s the right time and how to effectively keep moving the church forward with the staff that only has maybe 20 hours a week to dedicate to helping move that forward? And so another thing that we say here is we have a huge vision and simple focus, and so we try to do everything with that mindset. We have this huge vision of what God wants to do through us as the church, but we need to simplify our focus. And so a challenge has really been how to continue to simplify that focus, because there’s a lot of needs in our city. There’s a lot of needs that we want to meet, and there’s a lot of things that we want to be there for but we have to always go back to that simplified focus. So a big challenge has always been how to deal with part time staff that only has so many hours to give and has so much time to be able to pour into ministry before you feel like, alright, that’s it, and you have to stop mid-way through your project.
So tell us a little more about your staff. How many of you are full time and how many part times you have?
Sure. Right now, the lead pastor and myself are the full time employees, and then we have about 13 others who are part time, ranging anywhere from 20 hours to 25 hours. Sometimes, some people, they work a little overtime every now and then so we get to the 30 hour mark, but the rest are pretty much there. In our staff is, we have worship leader on staff, we have Kids’ Ministry on staff, we have IT on staff. We have a Creative Director, so anything printed, designed. We have, on staff, Administrative Assistant on staff, we have groups’ pastor and groups’ coordinator on staff, and we have facilities. I think I’ve included everybody. But that’s pretty much it. Really, what it basically boils down to is it’s our core ministry leaders who are paid staff right now.
Now, this tells me that you probably have a pretty strong volunteer presence at your church.
Yeah. Yeah. The last number I saw was about 40% volunteering here at the church, which is really good. And I think it goes back again to letting people feel ownership of what’s happening here. Not coming down and saying, hey, this is what it is, but presenting people why. That’s really the biggest thing that we’ve come to is saying why is it that you should give your time to be here and why is it that you should give so much of your energy to this? And even still, we struggle with not having kids’ pastor still, and we struggle with not having a parking team out there, and we struggle with band being in and out and not being able to be here. So we still struggle with a lot of people volunteering, but we also do have a very strong presence of people saying, this is my ministry, this is what I oversee, this is what I’m a part of. So we do have a very strong presence of people volunteering. And we’re very careful even how we communicate to our people. Our volunteers, we don’t call them volunteers, we call them team members because we want them to have the idea that, yeah, they’re volunteering, but really they’re part of the team and they’re members of that team, and we’re all trying to accomplish the same goal. So we try to keep our vision of the church visible to people. We always try to go back to, why is it that someone should be serving kids? Why is it that someone should park people? Why is it that we have a VIP temp where new people can come in and sign up? Why do we want people there? It always goes back to us. It always communicates back to the why. Why is it that people should be involved?
Are these part time staff — because for a church of 800, it’s pretty rare to only have two full time staff. Is that a strategic decision? Is that a financial decision? What has brought you to this place?
Yeah. It is part a financial decision. It’s not ideal. If we really had our way, I would have a much bigger staff and all being full time. It really just has come down to it being a financial situation of not being able to bring on more employees. And that goes back to — even what I’m talking about earlier, we’re trying to figure out when’s the right time to bring on more people. And right now that’s where we’re at. We’re a strategy of, right, we need to bring on more people. We need to fill in some of these places where there’s frustrations of like, why is it just happening? Why isn’t that happening? It comes back to, we don’t have time, okay. So now we’re looking back and saying, okay, how can we bring more people on? What do we need to cut? What do we need to do to be able to bring on more people so that we have more people’s focus, so that we can continue to grow? Because really, ultimately, the church isn’t going to grow on the shoulders of two full time people. You need a group of people to do this because then you’re just eventually going to hit a ceiling of people’s growth, both numerically, but also spiritually. So we’ve realized that we need to bring more people on full time. But like I said, our church is growing so rapidly over the last few years that it was really like, well, we have a little bit of money now, so we’ll bring you on. We have a little bit of money on, so we’ll bring you on. And so now it’s like, wow, we’ve got all these people. They’re all key and core positions, I think, in the church. So now we’re at a place of, all right, we have our core people, now we just need there to be a greater increase in giving and a greater increase in money coming in so that we can bring more people on staff, so that we can be more focused.
So, Nate, what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
That’s a good question. I would always encourage any church leader — I encourage our team, it’s even been encouraged to me, something that I was told a long time ago. They said, there’s already been one savior of the world and his name wasn’t Nate. So don’t try to do everything. And I’ve always encouraged our team with that, that there’s been one savior of the world and they weren’t so and so. I’m reminding them that Jesus is the savior, and Jesus is ultimately why we’re here and doing what we’re doing. And so it’s easy to feel like you could take the burdens in the way of ministry on yourself. But if you’re in where you’re supposed to be, where God has called you to where you’re supposed to be, then He’s going to equip you to do that service. He’s not going to just leave you out there on your own. He’s going to equip you to see the problems through, to see the troubles through. And I would say, even personally speaking, I have my own journal where I write down moments that I’ve seen God move through the church and moments where I’ve seen God use me in places that shocked me. So they’re kind of my own monuments.
And I would encourage any leader to always write down those moments where you saw God used you and those moments where you saw God used the church or anything that brings you to God, because the haters are always going to hate and they’re going to be the loudest people in your life. But you got to remember that as a leader, you’re not always going to please everybody. And so you got to make sure you write down those moments where you can go back and refer when you feel down because the haters and they’re sipping that hater aide so much and just don’t know what to do. So you have to open up that book and remind yourself what God has done through you and what God is doing in your church, because, specifically in executive pastoral, I find that it can be a lonely thing because you’re a lot of times the know man. So being able to remind yourself of what God is doing through you and what God’s doing in the church is very helpful and very encouraging. But I believe that God has ultimately equipped us and called us to it, and He’s not going to leave us. And He reminds us that in the bible too that He will never leave or forsake us. And so, I think, holding on to that has been a really big encouragement to me.
I love that monuments drive the movement. Nate, thank you so much for being on the podcast today.
Thanks for having me. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to be on it and to speak to your listeners.