Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today, our guest is Rob Deveney who’s joining us from the Twin Rivers Worship Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Hi, Rob. How are you today?
Great, Neil. Great to be with you guys.
Yeah. I’m really excited to have you on. You have a very diverse, wide story to tell so why don’t you just jump into it? How did you wind up being the ExP at Twin Rivers? What was the journey you took there?
Well, Neil, I came out of college and I knew that I wanted to be in full time ministry. I had studied pastoral ministry and really told God I’ll just take the first full time job that’s offered to me. And I was 22, and I became a youth pastor and newly married. I didn’t even know that I wanted to be pastor. I really just wanted to be working at a church and I was so excited to get that opportunity. So I jumped into youth ministry full time back in 2001. My wife and I kind of immediately connected to it. It was one of those things that was a God moment. So we did youth ministry full time for 8 and a half years and just have a fantastic time doing that. Throughout youth ministry, we did all kinds of other things too. It seems like in smaller churches, churches below 500 or so, if there’s a lot of innovation in church, it happens in youth ministry so we had found ourselves being the people who made the first website at our church. We did the first Facebook account when it came around. We were the ones who did street outreach and we ended up doing the short-term missions trip. So we got a really broad scope of ministry experience in those 8 years. It has become invaluable for me at my job now because I can sit across the desk from a staff pastor and I’ve been there. I’ve started that program. I’ve seen it fail and I’ve seen it succeed. I’ve tried things that didn’t work but learning experience doing that has been really, really helpful to me and I can just see where God sort of shaped my direction through that time. So after that time of 8 years of youth ministry, we had two kids by then. We were really loving it. We felt like we could sort of go into a place and knock out youth ministry. That was our image of ourselves, of course. So we started praying for God to do something new in our life and we ended up planting a church. My wife is from South Carolina so we spent most of the youth ministry time there. We moved from there to Northern Ohio to play at the church from scratch, had never done it before. It was sort of we just felt this real strong passion to go do it. We had some friends up there, some connections, and we ended up staying 5 and a half years in Northern Ohio and planting a church. It was just one of the most rewarding times of our ministry. We had two more kids while we were there. I finished my master’s while doing that. God let us grow that church to about 150. It was a couple staff pastors. Really, just a great experience there in a very Catholic area. We had started a modern family church and had tried to do some innovative things in that community. And then after that period of time, I really felt that we were done. I was praying for God to sort of open up a new door and we took a chance and planted a campus at a church, a larger church in Kansas City in 2014. Moved our family to Kansas City for one year, opened the 3rd campus to the whole lawn structure of it, went mobile, purchased the church’s whole mobile set up. I was right in the middle of all of that, about a year in, when a mutual friend of mine and the pastors I work for now gave me a call and they were really searching for a new structure here at Twin Rivers. The executive pastor had become the lead pastor after a pastor that had been here for almost 30 years and so big, huge transition, big, huge shift to Twin Rivers, and asked me to come on as executive pastor. Took about four months for us to come to an agreement that it was the right thing to do. And in the summer of 2015, I came on as the executive pastor here in Twin Rivers.
When I hear you talking, I feel like we’re doing an entrepreneur podcast because you’re always talking about doing new things, coming up a new innovative things, planting churches, launching new things. Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
For a long time, Neil, I really didn’t. It kind of gotten a while for me to catch up to sort of what God was doing through me and my wife and I — I still say we wouldn’t term ourselves that, but we do have a healthy knowledge that every time the Lord has brought us into a situation, it has been to innovate and create. I really enjoy that. I find it invigorating and exciting. There are moments when you say, “Wow, I’d love to come into something that is established and just watch it flourish or whatever.” But I do feel like He’s allowed us to see that in the ministries we’ve been in. But yes, entrepreneurial kind of bend to what we do has always been present. And I don’t know if that is partly a spiritual gifting, but I know that it is a divine directive for our life. So we don’t shy away from it like we used to. When were younger, we were fearful of that. Because innovation is not something that the church is always comfortable with. Most of the time, organizations don’t have a ton of safety nets for people who are innovators and along with that, that ton of risk comes into play. And so when you have a family and you want it to be a secure thing for them, trying to start a new thing to doesn’t always pan out. But for us, I just feel really a grace to God has been with us and blessed us and so we’ll continue to innovate as long as He allows us to you.
Yeah. So walk us into what you’re doing now because from the outside, it sounds like, okay, you’re coming into an established role of being an executive pastor. It’s a position that existed before. It’s at a larger church. So it sounds like, yeah, it’s what you talked about. You’re just keeping things going, keeping truth flowing. But I know there’s a lot of change that you talked about, a lot of things going on. So what is going on at Twin Rivers and how can you describe what you’re doing?
Sure. Well, I kind of had the impression that coming in, it would take a new direction. There is some established things that I work in every single day here. My role as executive pastor at Twin Rivers is a pastoral role. I don’t deal with the business side or budget side. We have a structure of an executive team, which is our lead pastor, myself and a business executive. Her role is she oversees all the HR business, all that. But I have a hand in things like our employee policy manuals, and follow up as far as evaluations go and things like that. All kind of staff development is under me. So when we’re talking about a vision for year or an initiative for our staff when it comes to training and reading books, and staff development projects through round table discussions, how can we better our organization, how can we grow ourselves, grow our teams, volunteerism, all that does fall under me. So that is more of a traditional executive pastor role. But I have another side to it and I get to oversee our outreach and missions projects here at the church, including everything, benevolence, which that is all new for the executive pastor role here. Pastor Joe, our lead pastor, when he’s executive pastor was much more of a structured executive pastor. All the direct reports came to him. We, about a year ago, took all our direct report, all our staff pastors, and we split them up between the three of us. So I do what is considered general ministries, they’re my discipleship, specialized ministry for senior adults, all our prayer. We have a counseling center, so that falls under me, campuses and first impressions. And then I oversee directly volunteer teams for outreach and missions. So it is a broad scope still but next generations is under business executive and all our creative worship, media arts, all that is underneath our lead pastor right now. So the three of us function in that way. For me, the innovative side of it is that we have taken where the church was and steered it to a much more diverse, outgoing, modern ministry that is really trying to pull in the St. Louis community. Because St. Louis is a very diverse city. It has people from all over the country. There’s as many people in our church that did not grow up in St. Louis as there are that did. And so we have really identified that there are certain things that we wanna do to make this church more open to that community. So we have really diversified our staff. We have women pastors, we have minority pastors, we have people that have not been in St. Louis for very long at all but have come here and found a great fit. So then with our outreach ministries, we put just a huge push in 2016 to open up to about 7, 8 organizations that are already existing in St. Louis that do Syrian refugee outreach, that do single mothers, nursing homes, downtown street ministry, homeless ministry, all those things. We’re connected with our dream center here. So we really made a connection with those to funnel people from Twin Rivers into those ministries on a monthly basis. So we have an annual survey that we mobilize about 4500 adults in 30 to 50 projects around the city in one day. And then we also have monthly served projects or 2nd Saturdays that we partner with those organizations. As a matter of fact, last year, we have a huge foster home conglomerate here called Angel’s Arms. It’s a non-profit organization that buys homes for foster parents to raise their kids in. They have 13 homes around St. Louis. Last year, just by partnering with them, we were there volunteering the year. They have tons of volunteers around the city but we just had an amazing relationship time with them so we continue to do that, one of the passions that I have about reaching our city. And then we kind of lifted up missions here. So we have 12 missionaries, 6 of which are from Twin Rivers, all around the world on 5 continents. And so we have a new missions team. We do missionary care. We do about five trips a year and we have three major fundraisers that we oversee to raise money for missions.
Wow! So much is going on at the church and it sounds like the structure of the church is not necessarily so much like a best practice thing but just has fit into the personalities of those three people on the leadership team that you mentioned. Is that the case where it’s like each of you has your own passion and your own experience and that’s how the structure the church has grown?
Well, I do think that we take in to stack a lot of personality. Everybody on our staff has been through disk, understands each other, how we communicate, how we work well together. That has been super important for us because trying to get a church, an established church, a lot of times, in a siloed ministry model, that’s been something that the church world has been talking about for over a decade. How you change from a siloed ministry model to a team collaborative model, how you make the vision playing across all departments. Understanding each other has been huge in that. And so we do talk a lot about personality. But at the same time, we don’t wanna build our teams based on personality. We just wanna use everybody in their gifting areas. So I wouldn’t think it’s necessarily passion as much as it is where this team functions best together, where we can get the most done, support each other the most. For instance, our bases’ executive has never been in a next general kids, or youth, or college. However, when we were in a hiring place where we needed a kids’ pastor for a year, she filled in this interim, really find a passion for it. When we restructured with our new children’s pastor, our existing teams in college and all that, she really said: “You know what? I think I had a lot to offer there.” It wasn’t something that she thought she would be really good at but God has really given her grace with that. So it’s been a great experience, actually. It’s been eye opening for the three of us because it really helps us to be aware of our strengths and weaknesses. We help each other. We really do. We come together as a large team, as well. Twice a month, we have a chapel service and we also have a large team leaders’ meeting where everybody in those roles is together. But then we also have our separate team meetings that really helps us hone in on what we can do best as a team.
Yeah. There’s one thing you mentioned I wanted to go a little bit deeper into is you talked about diversity on your staff, which is a big thing. How intentional, as an ExP looking at this thing, if a church is looking to realize they need to be more multi-ethnic or they need to include women more and their things, how much of an intentionality to take on your part and the other leaders to bring in those people and how much of it just happens? So walk us through that a little bit more.
So I believe that good church is both strategic and divine. So there is a side of it that is very intentional. If we can affect that eventuality, we’re gonna do it. So if we’re hiring someone, we’re looking broad. But we’re gonna take the best candidate not because they’re a woman, or not because they’re an ethnic minority, not because they’re diverse or different, but if we can find that, and so we really pray in that direction. God help us to reflect our city, help us to reflect our church, bring people on board here that will be a mentor voice, a discipleship voice, a voice for change for the people who already exist in our congregation and the people he’s gonna send. So he kinda do leave some of that up to God to bring together. I would say our current staff make up has grown diverse over the last 5 years and some of it has been intentional, but some of it has really been organic. I think that’s a beautiful thing because you can force something but it doesn’t have the same effect as when God puts it together. And so we just look for the opportunity to be diverse. We’re strategic about that in every way that we can, as far as messaging, media, all that. But when it comes to staffing, when it comes to volunteer teams, we also have to recognize there’s a spiritual side to this. God knows what the church needs and so we really do commit that to him to bring about the right person for that right thing to do.
Great. Great. That’s a really nice insight to bring in. When it comes to technology, which is something we always talk about on this podcast, we’ve been talking about being innovative, we’ve been talking about all sorts of things around it. Tell us a little bit about Twin Rivers and how you guys use technology to grow and be progressive in this way.
Well, we absolutely are forging ahead in that. I would say that it’s probably the area that we talk about the most that needs the biggest upgrade. Technology changes so fast. You knew that. The vast majority of church people use technology every single day in their work place. It doesn’t necessarily mean they view the church that way so we do have to drive it forward. If people can get settled in sort the system they used 10 years ago, 5 years ago, even 2 years ago, a lot of times we have to push forward in that. So what we’re constantly doing is evaluating what we have. We have a database system right now that I think technology-wise is okay but we would love to change it and move forward. We do a lot of digital outreach, a lot of social media. For instance, we’re in 21 days of prayer right now for the summer and last night we did an online Facebook live event that’s 30 minutes long. It was me and another staff pastor talking about prayer, the effectiveness of it on Facebook, and then we take comments, the comments are prayer requests, and pray together. So our churches really embraced that. They really love those kinds of things. But it’s not like it’s been the norm around here. We’ve had to really push that last years. On the staffing side, on the development side, we’re always looking for new ways to make systems better, for instance, through our media department, which affects everyone. There’s a creative arts element to every department in the church. So I really sit with — one of our campus pastors is really good at that. We have a creative pastor and his team. I sit with them a lot and we say, how can we make this better for our disciples of ministry? How can they get in contact with their life group leaders in a better way? How can we recruit for prayer retreat better than we’re doing? How can the youth group use technology better? And we’re trying to create systems. But I would tell you it’s a constant thing for us. We have creative team every single week. We’re always talking about doing new technologies to pull people in text-to-give which hits a small demographic of people, actually. The way we do online signups for our serve projects, we address that constantly. Is this the most effective way to get people plugged in? And we have a large senior adult population here. We actually have a senior adult pastor on staff. So there is a population of our church that hasn’t completely bought into technology so it’s not our only communication method. We use other methods to communicate to a broad scope of generational people.
Yeah. It’s great to be able to see, okay, what’s gonna work for one group, maybe not with another group. And that’s all within the same church. So it’s really nice to hear the breadth of ways you guys are trying to engage. Trying for new things, but sticking with some old things too. Like you said, it’s always as something you’re adjusting, you’re tweaking, trying to find new systems that work well.
My encouragement to anybody that’s facing a very diverse generational church is that don’t be married to one thing. Sometimes things come along the pipe that are cool, just for cool sake, but it doesn’t make it easier for your church to be connected to one another or to get communication or get information. So just because those things are new and out there does it mean they’re gonna work for the church and we have to be okay with that. Not every department of our church is as cool as we want it to be. But we want it to be effective more than we want to be cool. So we are willing to take any leap towards the future that is provided unto us as long as it’s also effective for our people.
Absolutely. It sounds great. Rod, you’ve showed a lot of great things with us, a lot of cool stories that go wrong. Close us out with some encouragement you can give to some other executive pastors out there who are wanting to push forward, wanting to do change, coming from an entrepreneurial guy — I’ll go head and call you that, but an entrepreneurial guy like you, what would you like to tell them?
My encouragement would be that I think that the executive pastor role or, a lot of places, Assistant Pastor role maybe, or that 2nd Chair Leader is a tough spot to be in. A lot of times you have to have a passion or a gift and you really want to do new things, you hear God speaking. So it becomes this balancing act between how much you can enact and how much you really have to steward in that position. And so my encouragement would be that any executive pastor out there that wants to enact change, maybe that it’s a slow going thing for your church, you really wanna bring in new systems to immerse yourself personally in that spiritual growth. Whether there’s a development side to what you like to bring to your staff, do that for yourself. If there is a change you like to make in your personal life, in technology, make that change first for yourself. See how it works for yourself before you advocate it for your church. And know that about 50% of the things that you bring to the table are probably not gonna get done and just be okay with that. I’ve come to the place that really got us a promoter of my ministry. So if I’m kind of tuned into what He’s saying and what He’s doing, I’m sensitive to the spirit of God in my life, then He is going to give me opportunity. But I can’t force that door by myself. So having a healthy understanding of my position of really healthy respect for my senior pastor and what he’s been in, it has helped me when I was senior pastor for five and a years. I understand that chair a little better and I understand the weight of it. So there are things that I wanna do that I just don’t do yet because I feel like there’s a specific timing for it. That’s just a great thing that someone told me early in my life. Great ideas have great timing. If you wanna do something, understand that you have to do it in the right time. So the Lord has to kind of open that door. For the executive pastor out there that their plate is really full, I just wanna say, you’re not alone. Growing to be a person that has a healthy “no” is really, really important. I’ve had to sit in that executive team and say: “I may have done that before and maybe gift them in that, but I can’t actively do that and do everything else I’m doing. So let’s find another solution.” Being able to say no to those things, sometimes, is really, really important. Especially if you’re a person who’s a utility player, which a lot of the executive pastors are generalists, you may be able to do it, but doesn’t mean you should be doing it. And so it’s a constant task for me to find somebody beneath me who can do it. Gregory Shell said if somebody could do something 70% as good as you, let them do it. And that is something that I’ve had to constantly enact because I might be able to do that at 80, 90%, but this person, this key volunteer, this great young person coming up, this intern, to toll it off at 70, I’m gonna hand it down to them and allow them to innovate and try new things because someone did that for me. And so having that healthy perspective of yourself, what can do, what you should do, is really, really important.
Fantastic. Well, Rob, it’s been great to speak with you. I really enjoyed all the things you said and brought into it. Blessings on your ministry. Twinrivers.church is the name of the website. Thank you so much for being on the show.
Thanks so much, Neil. It’s been great.