Welcome to Monday Morning Church. Today, our guest is Roger Clark. He’s coming to us as the executive pastor at Sherwood Oaks Church in Bloomington, Indiana. Good morning, Roger. How are you?
I’m just fine, Neil.
Very good. Thanks for joining the show. Oh, Roger, why don’t you start off just kind of giving a little bit about your journey to become executive pastor and how you got to be at Sherwood Oaks?
Well, I never expected to be really where I am right now. I started out in public education, I trained as a teacher. After I started teaching many years ago, before you were born, I discovered, I went home one day, told my wife, you know, I don’t think I can do this for 40 more years. For some reason, it just didn’t quite click for me. I loved the teaching part, but the rest of it was just not that appealing. And I happen to get a call from a small Christian college in the mid west saying they needed someone to do some instructing for them. And I made a move quite early then, after a year of public school teaching to Christian higher education. Spent about 18 years doing that and found that I was helping equip people for ministry in local churches. And I found that I was getting attracted to maybe doing it myself, rather than equipping people, so started out part time at a church in St. Louis and moved here 23 years ago. Kind of an odd way to get here as a teacher, did my advanced training in education of leadership being at an institution of higher education. That’s always nice, to have some extra education. So I got certified to be a public school administrator just in case I ever needed it. So my background is, educationally is educational administration leadership. My experience has been in administration of leadership in collegiate setting, and of course, now a lot of what I do has to do with administration and those sorts of things. So it all kind of fits together and makes sense. And my original discipline was music. And so when you’re dealing with lots of musicians, there’s a lot of orchestration of individual creative kinds of types who…you just have to use a lot of finesse sometimes, and have some people smarts to get through that. So that hasn’t hurt me any, s I deal with stuff that happens around here.
So Roger, it’s pretty easy to see some of the similarities between the different hats you’ve had over the years. What are the differences between a college setting and then going into a local church? What were some of the more stark differences for you?
Well, the stark differences were a college setting, of course. You have your targets sort of really are maybe mid semester, in semester. So you have these periods of time where you’re working towards markers, we’re working towards Sunday’s coming all the time, you’ve got.the pace is different. That was the first thing that I noticed. You just… you’re always turning something around and getting ready for the next thing where the pace of the college experience, of course, is quite a bit different than that. The other thing is college students that you’re working with, you do have a little bit more formal influence because there are grades and graduations and those sorts of things to put out in front of them when you’re working with particularly getting ministry done through volunteer groups. It’s a whole different story of the motivation, the inspiration that has to be used, because at the end of the day, they’re the volunteer. And knowing that you need all these volunteers to accomplish what’s going to happen just in a few days. If you have mid week kinds of things, it’s turning it over every two or three days.
Right. Yeah, wow.
That’s the pace that I wasn’t quite used to.
Yeah, that makes lot of sense. Tell us little bit about Sherwood Oaks. How is it set up? What’s kind of under your responsibility? Because there’s a lot of different ways that executive pastors are structured. So tell us about your situation.
Well, my situation is that, a colleague of mine once called it breathing and non breathing. I’m basically over breathing, and then we have business manager and there are other kinds of folks to deal with the non breathing. Although they report to me, I don’t really have to do much with that because they’re pretty good on their own. But I keep in the loop there, but mainly I’m the breathing personnel looking at volunteers and teams, trying to keep that communication flowing, trying to get the connections made, coaching the staff, particularly problem solving. And of course, alignment is an issue about every day.
If not more times a day, right?
Well yeah, if it’s once a day, it’s a great day.
Yeah, I actually saw an article that you wrote about meetings, the right question to ask at the end of it. Why don’t you talk a little bit more about, because obviously you’re going to be in meetings all through the week. So what’s been your insights from that?
Well, a lot of meetings really could be accomplished in different ways. A lot of meetings. There’s a lot of talk. And then when we’re done, we don’t know why we were there. And so I think it’s important not only that to kind of tag some, obviously, some action points and make sure people know what they’re supposed to do next. But one of the things that I’ve noticed is there’s so many people that depend on us and we depend on them for getting ministry done. And if we don’t let them know what we’re thinking about, the very people who often have to accomplish some of this are completely in the dark. And so, one of the things that I hope that we can ask at meetings is, who else needs to know this? Just as a courtesy, I learned in public school, I was taught by my supervision instructor that the people that I needed to make friends with first were all the custodians and school secretaries, because their opinion was the whole school really runs with them in charge. There’s an illusion that the rest of us know what’s going on. What I find out around in most places is the very folks that have to implement some of this that we’re talking about, don’t really get in that loop until maybe it’s too late. So I always hope that we can try to keep that line of communication open. And sometimes I feel like a person that’s plugging in things all the time. This got unplugged, we’re going to plug it back in and make sure everybody understands what’s happening and make sure especially why it’s happening. And that’s where I think the two-way communication is extremely important. But in our meetings, we get so busy and move on to the next thing. We’ve settled it, but not everybody knows that we’ve settled it.
Right. I like that imagery of making sure that everything is plugged in right, and plugged in to the right source and everything. That’s great. When you think about the challenges that come as an executive pastor and specifically yours, do you think most of them would come under that communication umbrella, or do you think of something else?
I think almost everything boils down to a matter of how we communicate and how we solve those problems through communication and misunderstandings. But also part of it is, like I said before, the alignment issue, are we moving in, all moving in the same direction. That also though, is a matter of communication, when you stop and think about it, because those kinds of conversations, you just have to have them constantly and make sure everyone is kind of talking to one another. Even if they’re not, I’m the go-between a lot. I can find out and see what’s going on in one place. So we need to sit down and talk about this because we’re not quite lined up, or we were going in such directions that maybe they were duplicating efforts. So alignment is really a big deal, especially as you get larger and you’ve all heard that often and overused idea of silos. Well, they’re there and breaking down those silos is part of what I’m trying to do about every day.
Roger, let’s talk a little bit about technology and about how that might help or hinder what you’re trying to do there. What are some of the things you rely on from a technology standpoint and what are the areas you have challenges there?
Well, we’re not really extremely technology savvy, the standard things most people use. We’re not… we don’t use any, except for email, which is basically the way we’ve communicated. We’re not real savvy on that. We obviously all have mobiles and contacted always by that, that means practically 24/7. I find with some of my younger staff members, texting is a quicker, more efficient way to get some communication going. The older we get, the more likely we are to be using email. So that sometimes causes a little issue if we’re trying to communicate databases and that kind of thing. Everybody’s got one and rely on that for some of our information, especially about folks and where they are in their journey and what kind of things they’re doing. I’ve noticed that technology, this is not exactly technology, but it does have to do with digital world. We are certainly not using, at least for information purposes, as much paper as we used to. Everything is digital files, sending those kinds of things. I think the challenge is sending a digital file, hoping people actually read it because we’re getting so much information now that it’s really hard. My first two positions, you may not even know about this because you’re such a young guy, we used those inter office memo things to pass around and it might be two days or three before I got back around to you. And now with the ability to communicate so quickly, I think that’s both a help and a hindrance, because not only is it inter office, but it’s with the folks outside who communicate into us through digital means, and we’re competing with everybody else, not just churches and the fact that how quickly is that response time. And I think sometimes that part of technology actually hinders our ministry because we’re basically responding and not getting much else done. We try to make a balance around here. We like folks to respond. We like our staff to respond to the folks, especially digitally, and even on that old fashioned voicemail kind of thing within 24 hours. But sometimes the messages just keep coming and it’s the, why haven’t you got back to me, I texted you 15 minutes ago. That part of the impatience of technology can sometimes and often hinder us making any headway and maybe what we need to do for the day.
Yeah. Makes a lot of sense. Let me give a little informal survey here. How many emails do you get every day on average?
Oh, I wish I knew. A hundred maybe? Maybe more. Just depends on the day. The first of the year, I haven’t done this yet. I usually go and unsubscribe. That’s one of my… if I haven’t, and then if I miss it, I can go back and subscribe it over the course of the year. You get kind of sucked into a lot of stuff and to get a right paper or whatever you like to read, you have to put in your address and then you start getting stuff and that kind of stuff. You can filter it out, which I do, but your inbox fills up with trivial things. And so I try to look at my inbox as somebody else’s to do list for me. I look through it quickly and for the most part, if it’s not something that I know that is really urgent, I save it for the next day. That’s everybody else’s, what everybody else wants me to do, and that means really what I need to do for the day. So I try to look at the list very quickly. I’ve got some filters to focus to filter things out. That helps. And of course, I don’t turn on my notifications so they don’t keep popping up because that could just drive you absolutely crazy.
Yeah, I bet. Roger, when you look at your job as an entirety, what’s your favorite part? What’s the thing you really look forward to when you head off to the office on Monday morning?
Well, when you say head out to the office on Monday morning, that might be different than other mornings because sometimes Monday mornings are the days that you find out how much you’ve disappointed somebody on the weekend.
What happened over the weekend, right?
You don’t necessarily look forward to that part because we pretty well know if we’re doing anything, somebody’s going to be disappointed or somebody’s going to misunderstand something, and then we have to maybe put out some fires here and there.
We’ll take up Wednesday then maybe.
Wednesday or any other time. I really think what I do is so varied, it’s hard to explain to somebody what you do. And I think that’s part of the… as you said earlier, there are so many different permutations of what an executive pastor would do depending on the lead guys, your leadership teams, and then try to explain that to an average ordinary, congregational person. I could be talking about carpet and paint and the next minute talking about some sort of really serious issue with a person of congregation who’s struggling and how to deal with that situation, or somebody’s saying, we’ve got a suspicion that some child might be being mistreated at home. It’s just a gamut of things that it’s challenging and there’s a variety there that I can’t really expect. We’ve had several people from the work world retire and come to help us in many different ways. People who have been executives and so forth, and they’ll come to volunteer and do things around the building, or they’ll actually volunteer to maybe do something kind of part-time to help us out. And I’m thinking several of the folks that will come in and say, you know, I really didn’t realize how complex this is. I just thought you all sit around and pray and read the Bible. This is not that way at all. One fellow in particular said, you know, because he had an actual role here at the church for a while. He said, I can plan, but he said, about 80 percent of the stuff that comes to me in this day, I didn’t plan. It’s hard for me to make real motion on things because of the human element, the pastoral element, all the kinds of things that might come to our doorstep. And that’s kind of why I like it because it’s extremely challenging and there’s a variety, and that’s sometimes the reason why you don’t like it, because it’s extremely challenging and there’s a lot of variety. It depends on the day, but for the most part, I’m the kind of person that I get tired of one thing, and I like to move on to the next. So the variety does challenge me. I like that.
Nice. Where do you go to for information or help or support in order to continue to grow as an executive pastor yourself? What resources do you rely on?
Well, there is an ex pastor network. There’s a Google group that’s an ex pastor network that I’m a stalker on that group. I don’t contribute a lot, occasionally I do, but every… you can get a report about every week from questions from the ex pastor network, about things that they’re dealing with. See some of the responses. I can keep up on what everybody else is struggling with. And I just… I subscribe to a lot of just wide varied email feeds. I read a lot. I use Evernote like crazy to clip things. I clip blog post, I’ll clip anything I find, I try to categorize it so that I can find them, ministry trends, discipleship, leadership, spiritual formation, all the categories that we might be dealing with. I just search a lot. It’s kind of my hobby. I do that a lot in the evenings or in the early mornings when nothing else is happening. I don’t just sit around here and surf a lot during the day. But I’ve got that stuff available. And I think the interesting about technology, of course, is it’s mobile now so that I have it anywhere. I have it at my laptop, I got it at my mobile anywhere I go, I can access that. I have an article I read, I need to check that out many times that comes in handy, even dealing with folks and trying to solve a problem. Oh, have we ever thought about this? Or even thought about that? And then I read a lot, I try to read leadership books. I try to read some of the latest stuff, follow some of the things that the Global Leadership Summit puts out every year, the ones that really kind of trip my trigger. I have a lot of books. I’m glad that you can’t see here because they’re just every place. And I read a lot so that’s… and I use my reading as kind of a prescription for folks. A staff member will come in or congregational, and I say, hey here’s a book you ought to read, take it, come back and talk to me about it. They get kind of tired of that, I think. But I’m also finding the fewer and fewer people actually read, so I’m getting to be a dinosaur. If it’s not digital, if it’s not quick, or it’s not a podcast or whatnot, no offence, but long forms are not really appreciated as much as they used to be.
I think it’s true, I think it’s true. Good. Well, I think you’ve given a lot of good advice for us anyway, but is there anything else you’d like to leave us with, especially for the other executive pastors out there listening that you would like to encourage them with?
Well, I think the encouragement is just try to stay up with what you think is happening and can apply, but at the same time, there is so much information that you can literally become depressed, trying to soak it all in. I had a leader once who told me we don’t need any more good ideas, we just need good execution of what we’ve got. And I think that’s part of thing. We can really be organizationally ADD because there’s so many strategies out there to accomplish ministry. And we have our staff members who also are researching those, going to the latest conference, listening to podcasts. And so we have so many good ideas. It floods us to the point where we really just have to say, stop, let’s go with something and let’s not stop. Let’s try this for a while and not keep jumping from thing to thing. Essentialism is one of the books I read last year, which is an excellent book that really helps you say that really less is more in all parts of your life, less is more. And so we tend to be people who tack on ministry opportunities, ministry events to the point of it’s unmanageable and it’s unsustainable, to both us and our community. So that’s a big challenge for us to help aligning all this with reality. In reality, what can we accomplish? In reality, what can we expect from the folks who see us as their equippers, and I challenge folks to think about less is more. And also the idea that in my particular position and most executive pastors, you have this unusual relationship because you’re not really the guy yet you are responsible for perhaps some of the stuff that needs to happen, but you may not be the final guy, you may not be the final…in Indiana, we call it the trump card. You may not have the trump card, you may not have the power to throw on the deck. And so you’re the one that’s kind of the negotiator, the diplomat, the person trying to work all the different stakeholders together to try to come to some sort of agreement. So just patience with that. I think the relationship that executive pastor has with the lead is incredibly important. I don’t think you can… I just don’t think it can happen unless you have a good relationship. So continuing to develop that relationship, no surprise, it’s kind of a thing. And then your own personal relationship within your spiritual walk. If you let that go, you’re not going to sustain for very long. So finding the time to make space for God and have spiritual habits is extremely important for your own health and for the health of your organization. And it’s a great example.
Yeah, and doing that Bible reading and praying that people think you’re doing anyway.
Yeah, absolutely! So we ought to do a little of it anyway.
Great. Well, Roger, this has been fantastic. I really appreciate your insights, and it’s been great to know you a little bit.
Thank you Neil. And I hope some of this was a little bit helpful and I encourage everybody to just hang in there. Don’t get weary in well doing.
Very good, I think somebody else mentioned that same verse. It’s very good encouraging. Alright. Thank you.
Okay, thanks Neil. Bye.