Welcome back to Monday Morning Church. Today’s guest is Scott Whaley, who is joining us from the Crossing Christian Church in Las Vegas. Really happy to have you, Scott.
I am happy to be here Courtney, thanks for inviting me.
Scott, you are an Executive Pastor at Crossing Christian Church. What was the path you took to get to your current position?
Actually, I started in children’s ministry, I came over about 18 years ago to start the church with the senior guy. We were both on staff at one of the planting churches. They sent us out here to plan a church in the southwest part of Vegas, so, he invited me to come over with him as the children’s pastor. So, I did that about four years and from that went into a groups role. That role expanded. It ended up at one point, we had a four-person executive team: there was the lead pastor, there was myself at that point (I was the spiritual formation executive), there was an executive dealing with primarily creative arts production, and then the operations executive.
Then unexpectedly, the operations executive passed away, and that was a dark day in the life of our church. It was tough for all of us, but once the dust settled, we had to come back together and figure out what we were going to do going forward. So, were we going to replace this person or were we going to restructure? So, we ended up restructuring. As we looked at the two, there were three of us remaining, the lead pastor and the other two executives.
As we looked at the two executives and kind of our wiring and giftedness pretty much, it came out that I was always kind of wired for operations, systems, and processes. And that has always been my thing. I initially began in the corporate world, and so we ended up just landing on the three executive roles, basically with the lead pastor, and then two executives with me over the primary operations area and the other executive pastor, working with the production, missions, and ministries.
So, what was that like for you going from the group’s ministry role into this Executive Pastor of Operations role?
Yes, I am glad you asked that it is interesting because I have been furthering my education in spiritual formation, so I had been working on my Masters and my Doctorate during that time. And it was sort of interesting then to transition from that, to working with groups, special growth, development, and to transition into operations. But for me, my wiring is operations, but the thing that helps give me life and kind of keep me centered is the Spiritual Formation part.
So, for me to be able to bring that over was very beneficial because of natural wiring, like I said, its programming and things like that. So, the systems, the finances, overseeing of all of that – that was okay. But to me, because of the spiritual formation aspect, bringing that over, and my desire to see people grow in their relationship with Jesus, my desire for myself to be able to grow in that, especially found a home in my oversight of HR in those areas, for the staff.
How long have you been at your current position then?
I have been doing this for a little over three years.
Okay, now there are actually two executive pastors at the Crossing Christian Church. Is that right?
Okay, so would you describe how the church is structured and what things fall under your responsibility.
Yes, basically I started off with traditional operations role with finance, facilities, HR it, risk management, things like that. In addition to that I also oversee guest services, assimilation, care ministries, benevolence, that sort of thing. But the other executive, he oversees production, missions and ministries.
Now, how have you incorporated technology into how you administrate?
A number of different ways; just personally, I am a huge fan of Evernote just for my own note keeping. I love that you can clip from the web and drop stuff in. So, just from my own personal recordkeeping, I use Evernote.
Recently, we have begun to be more involved with Google GSuite for collaboration. We just recently started our first satellite, and so we’re finding that the need to collaborate together is far more central, more than what it has been and not everyone is on the same campus together anymore. We began to use that resource more, leaning into that.
Also, a church app has been something we begin to use more and more. We’ve done away with the collection of the giving. So, now everything’s online or through the app. We’ve also even added to the app, a section called MyCare, which is a way for even our small group leaders to access our benevolence process, so they can join those in need within the congregation within some of the resources that the church itself has.
But probably, I would say one of the biggest benefits I see with technology, especially in the area of our staff, is an engagement software, employment engagement software called 15Five. That’s something that we use monthly in place of performance reviews.
And how have your staff responded to that?
Actually very beneficial. Performance reviews are just a tricky animal because it seems like what happens is, you do a once or twice a year, and then the manager struggles to try to remember the previous year. In fact, what they’re really going to list is whatever’s happened over the last month or maybe two, unless they are incredible record keepers, which most of us are just doing our thing reading.
The other part too is, research pretty much establishes that we’re horrible at rating people. We’re just not good at it. So, depending on which supervisor or manager you got would greatly affect the rating or the process. It was this very formal clunky process, which just didn’t fit our culture.
So, now with the 15Five, what happens is once a month our staff received five questions that shouldn’t take more about 15 minutes to complete to begin a dialogue. This is in addition to all the face time that they may normally get with their supervisor.
So, once a month, they get these five questions, they review the five questions, they answer them. Then what the supervisor does is goes back and comments on those questions, and so what it does, it ensures a regular dialogue with every person in a fairly informal environment. Plus, it also allows a section there, where the supervisor can then comment on, “Hey, here’s something I saw you did great this past month, let’s see if we can continue to do that. Maybe here’s an area for improvement. Here’s something you can work on.” So, it allows us to track performance as well.
You had mentioned something important, which is bringing in technology that fits in with your culture. How would you describe your culture?
Well, I would say highly relational, that’s a big piece of our culture. I’m sure as most places feel like you’re family and things like that. But I would say that literally one of our values is “we are in this together”. So, that speaks to silos, that speaks to how things get done around here. We’ve got a lot of open doors at various levels. We will regularly invite people from various levels within the organization to speak to strategy, to speak to some of the mission specific things we’re trying to do.
When I say relational, it’s more than just we’re friendly. Relationships are really going to be the leverage to get what you need to get. To have things happen the way they need to more than your position, more than any sense of authority or power. It’s going to be that we’ve got to constantly be reminded, that we are in this together. So, it’s not about the individual win as much as it’s about the kingdom win.
Absolutely. What are some of the administrative challenges that you face?
Well, I would say I mentioned that I transitioned from one role to the other. So in the spiritual formation role, I was very congregation focused on getting people in groups and growing in discipleship.
When I came over to my role here in the operations realm, that HR piece fell to me, it was almost an internal shift. When I begin to look at our staff, that I had not looked at before in the sense of just their health, and their growth and their well being. I had some experiences pretty quickly and saw some things that caused me a lot of concern that I began to investigate even further. One of the things I saw was, it’s interesting because of our staff, a piece of our staff are pastoral, but the largest majority of our staff are in fact administrative support, technical staff, other non-pastoral roles. What I begin to see with these other roles is that especially when we hired internally, some of them went through some very, very difficult and painful transitions coming on staff.
This caught me off guard and surprised me initially. But one of the things I noticed as I begin to look at this more and began to investigate more a little bit more was when people came on especially from within the church, onto a staff especially in a support role, and things like that, they would experience these conflicted emotions or the sense of loss. They would come on staff and sometimes experience a sense of like they’d lost their pastor.
What I mean by that is our lead guy is incredible. The guy you see on stage is the same guy you are going to see behind the scenes. But every last one of us without exception is human.
And so, for staff to come on and kind of expect that there’s going to be this nonstop mentoring and care and leadership. Our guy is preaching, and he is taking a lot of time to do messages and to lead the upper-level leaders. He isn’t always around the staff that much. And so, this kind of causes some concern with them and even their immediate supervisor, their immediate pastor, part of their role oftentimes they see is protecting that person, protecting their time or their resources and not wanting to impose. So, then when an administrative support staff is struggling and having issues, she does not want to take that to their boss and add to their load. So, what do they do with that?
Then another area that they run into is the sense of losing the church a little bit. Anybody who has worked on the church staff knows it’s hard to walk into that room and be fully engaged, because you’re looking at, “Oh, I need to talk to that person, or I had this weird interaction with that person.” Or “Did I do everything I needed to do before I came in today.” When they are able to actually make it into the sanctuary into that moment, even then oftentimes they’re distracted somewhere else in their minds.
Finally, I think one of the other things that I began to see and wanted to address was people come on and join your staff with an expectation – this expectation of what is it going to be like. “I’m gonna leave my job working at the local business supply company. I’m gonna come to the church, I’m going to do the same job, but it’s gonna feel very different.” In fact, it doesn’t end up feeling all that different. It feels like the job at the builder supply company or whatever, for the most part. There are still boxes that need to be checked in, processes and room reservations, and things like that. So, that’s been some of the stuff that I’ve really been focusing a lot on the past last year or two.
So, what are some of the answers you’ve found to those challenges? I’m sure some are a little bit open-ended, but what have you found so far?
I would say most of them are still open-ended, because, it’s just tough. There’s no one size fits all, and I don’t honestly know if there is any one answer is going to work across all locations. I begin to look at organizational spirituality and not just in the church, but there’s a lot of corporate businesses are out there looking at the sense of meaning and purpose in work. Some of the studies that came out of that was that in order to have a spiritually healthy organization; need to have three things. One is that the staff person needs to know that you recognize and support their inner life, their spiritual life. The second is a sense of community at work, of belonging, of being part of something. And third, a sense of purpose and meaning –whatever the work is. You would think that of all places the church, we would nail that whole purpose thing. But when we just assume that’s going to happen without facilitating it, it doesn’t happen.
So, one of the things that we’ve begun to do as far as meaning goes with our staff, and even in the job descriptions, is to point our people more and more towards the larger impact that they have.
Recently I did a devotion with our facilities team. I took them to Acts 6 and unpacked where folks were ministering through, the serving at tables. And this team is very familiar with setting up and tearing down tables. I wanted to be able to show them, “Man, you guys often times, are not in the middle of it, you show it before it happens, and they come and clean up after. Do you see here that the ministry you’re doing as you are preparing the way for what God’s going to do in there through there?” So, I’m just trying to help redirect intentionally to our staff that every role is a ministry, not just those with the word pastor attached.
One of the things that we do is recognize that when we talk about the sacred space, the church, the Sunday service, the place where most of our congregation can go for that moment of connection – our staff can’t. So, how do we reproduce situations like that in other ways and build community? So, we have once a month, all-staff meeting. It’s more fellowship than a meeting. We eat together for about half an hour. Then we share “Yeah God” stories, and just share want God is doing in our lives. Then usually maybe 15 minutes of actual business that happens there. There’s time for us there to pray together, to celebrate together, to laugh together.
Our other departments will have small group time together, where they might be studying a book or listen to a podcast and things like that together. Once a quarter, we have an all-day staff retreat, all-day staff prayer day; where basically we just close the doors, and all day we’ve got this time just to be able to be praying and seeking God in each of our personal lives, and pray for one another.
Finally, one of the things we’re doing to address the whole idea of folks feeling like they’ve lost their pastor is, we’ve got a local partnership with a Christian Counseling Center. Not only do they do Christian Counseling, but they also do spiritual direction. Spiritual direction is really beneficial for those that are mature Christians that are solid, but just are really looking to hear from God more clearly to seek God more specifically and have someone just journey with them in that. Not necessarily dealing with any pathology, or any brokenness or any hurts from the past or anything, but really trying to move forward in a relationship with God. So, one of the benefits that we have is that we provide that as a benefit to people who have been with us for a year or more.
So, what they can do is monthly, they get a meet with somebody and just unpack what’s going on with them and God and have somebody pour into them specifically doing that time for guidance.
That’s fantastic. And some creative solutions to some of those challenges. Where do you go to learn more about being a great executive pastor?
I think there’s a lot of great resources. We are so fortunate to be able to have the benefit of technology – there’s so many things at our fingertips. First of all, let me say, as the specific role of being an executive pastor, you know is very varied and looks very different in different environments. But I would say this podcast, Monday Morning Church, I am a huge fan. I have been listening for a while, I love hearing different people’s stories and different people’s experiences, and everybody brings a nugget. I also love that it’s very short. You don’t have to spend an hour, right? I can do it, and I can knock it out, get it and move on. Then obviously, I talk with other XPs which is always just incredibly beneficial.
For risk management, which is a piece of my job, I find Church Law and Tax newsletter keeps me informed on the things that I need to be watching out for regarding child safety and taxes, but all the legal craziness that might be ensuing in our country.
Strategy, part of my job is strategy. So, in that we’ve got, I think, bringing in outside people to speak into your model is huge. So, we partnered with the organization called Intentional Churches and my buddy Doug Parks meet with us regularly, to help us move forward and help us look at things differently. Because often times we get so embedded that you don’t do that.
As far as leadership, obviously my work culture is the piece of this. I find that a podcast are huge. Also, on my phone, I got a little app called Flipboard, where I can just dump all kinds of links and build my own magazine. I love it because it’s just quick hits. We can just spend a minute strolling through and hear from Harvard Business Review, or Carrey Neuhoff r some of some various organizations for that.
Then also in my inbox, once a week, the Church Network Multi Brief, it’s a newsletter from the National Association of Church Business Administrators; which doesn’t sound super sexy, but it’s really beneficial because they just again, do the same thing. They just take some high points about what’s been going around, what went on that week that might pertain to my role or my job or leadership.
Those are some fantastic resources.
Yes, it took me awhile to find them. But yeah, there’s are lots of great stuff out there.
Scott, what encouragement would you give to other executive pastors?
I would say, based on own employee challenges, it’s very probably just recognizing. When you think about the direction that the church is going, when you think about impacting lives and people, I think there is an argument to be made their staff or some of the most influential people in our church. More than the people with power or finances or anything else. But often times the people in the church are looking to our staff, to see what relationships look like. What does the spiritual life look like? Because there is an expectation of maturity and growth and things like that. So, I think it’s so important that we are making a point to start there in an investment of our staff. Encourage pastors to take the pulse of your staff, encourage the leaders and directors out there, take a pulse and figure out through employee satisfaction surveys, or even exit strategies sometimes. Find out, do they find their role meaningful? Do they feel like that they’ve got someone investing in them spiritually? And do they feel like they got a rich community along the rest of the staff? I get the answers to those questions and then try to figure it out from there. Then if you come across something cool, share with me because I would love to figure this stuff out.
Scott, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and a lot of your creative ideas too.
I appreciate you inviting on to this, and I look forward to hearing want other folks have to say on future podcasts.