Welcome come back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today, our guest is Terry Feix, who’s the executive pastor at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City. Hi Terry, how are you today?
I’m doing well, good to hear from you Neil.
It’s excellent to be talking with you this morning. Why don’t you give us a little bit of background, who you are, where you’ve come from and how you got to be the ex. p. at Crossings?
Will do, I probably had a maybe slightly non traditional route to this. My careers before coming to the church were first in information technology, out of college with a tech firm, and then was a regional vice president over a large sales organization, and what is now AT&T. While I was there, I was teaching at Crossings Church. I was a teacher, I’m teacher by gifting, mainly, if I have any gifts, that’s probably it. And our senior pastor after a while came to me and talked about joining the church. And I couple of times said no, because it wasn’t my vision of my future, but he’s a persistent and persuasive guy and what they needed here was management, some leadership in terms of the execution, because it’s a large, fairly complex model of a church and teaching. And so it seemed that that fit my gifting and training. And so about 10 years ago, I came on staff at the church and kind of an unlikely executive pastor.
Yeah, a lot of ex. p’s out there. Some of them do a little bit of teaching, but not many of them. So how does that work with your role? How often do you teach, do you teach mostly Sunday morning, on a Sunday school type setup, what do you do?
Yes, we are a church that has a huge commitment to discipleship education programs. We do a full Sunday school on Sunday mornings from children all the way to adults. We do a Wednesday night, mid-week training education, Bible studies, a variety of things. We also have Monday and Thursday night care series which go in more into the psychology and grief and divorce care, etc. So we have a lot of opportunities for teaching. We have a robust men’s and women’s ministry, for men’s and women’s small groups that meet. So there are plenty of opportunities to teach. I preach occasionally, obviously, we like our senior pastor, obviously in the pulpit, and he is in the pulpit, probably 40+ times a year, but I teach several times a week, Sunday school class, large Wednesday night class, several men’s groups during the week. So we have plenty of opportunities to teach in a variety of venues.
Nice. Let’s walk back to your days in sales and IT and different things. What are some of the skills you picked up in those days that were instantly you were able to apply them in your role as ex. p?
Yeah, there are several. First, as you come into a situation like this, and you’re not very intimidated by the size of the organization. This is a good-sized church, has a good-sized budget, has 120 some employees, but this is the smallest job that I have had in terms of the management side of it, in terms of money and people and organizational size. So first you come in and you’re not really intimidated by the management aspects of it. I understand the church is a little different world, but it’s not daunting from that perspective, but the immediately transferable things I have found, and this may sound like I’m denigrating the church, and I’m really not, but the church seems to be by and large behind on management skills and management training. And I think that’s because most of the people that come here have an unbelievable heart for God and a calling, but didn’t come up through any kind of program or job situation that teaches some basic management skills. So the first thing we did was we simply did a little business 101 with some goal setting evaluations, and just kind of a little bit of a structured process to help people organize their work to be a little more productive in what God had called them to do.
Yeah, that’s great. I myself grew up in a church world and that kind of education too, and it wasn’t until I spent time in the business world that I really realized how much there was to learn from that and how…I don’t want to say, inefficient, or just like you said a little bit behind the times when it comes to management, when it comes to putting together your thing. So it’s great that you’ve done that. What are some of the outcomes you’ve seen of that?
Well, I’ll tell you, the idea was less to structure it for structure’s sake, and this was a little bit different in the business world, but you realize you had… and I was just really blown away by how absolutely committed and called people are who work at the church. And so they really were a little resistant to anything that looked like structure. But I found that as soon as you could show them that from personal productivity to group productivity, that you could actually improve the impact of their ministry, impact more people in a more effective way. They really bought into that pretty quickly because that is their calling, to impact people for the Kingdom. And if you can link these businesses’ practices to their goals, they embrace them.
Yeah, absolutely. What advice would you give to somebody who is in the professional world right now thinking about maybe joining into a church setting in a full time position, what kind of advice would you give to somebody in that position?
Well, I do have a couple pieces of advice, because there are things that when you move into the church world, first of all, it’s just an incredibly enriching calling. You’re working in Kingdom work. I always felt like my work in business was a ministry as well. I think we’re all ministering where we are in the circumstances that we’re in, but it really took it up a notch and I got the privilege of working with people who were just unbelievably committed, but two things that I noticed coming in. First of all, it is incredibly frustrating how slowly things move in a church. When you come from a business world, and again, I’m knocking the church, I think it’s the way it needs to work sometimes, but the pace was difficult to adjust to, how much slower the pace was. And then secondly, when you’re dealing with a large number of people and volunteers, have to realize that you cannot implement change as quickly as you want. And I found that pacing change, controlling the pace of change was as important as the changes that we were making.
Wow, I’m really intrigued by that concept, pacing change. Give us an example of what you’re talking about.
Well, in a high command and control environment, you can typically implement things from the top down. You have people in your organization that are motivated by essentially making money or career etc. So you have a highly motivated workforce to respond to initiatives. So, for example, in the business world, we would roll out a number of initiatives each year tied to making our revenue commitments to the corporation. Those things typically lined up with everybody’s self interest and you could implement them really quickly, really aggressively. When you get into a church situation, and this isn’t, I realize, rocket science for any of your listeners out there, but you have people that have different motivations. You have a staff that obviously wants to follow the initiatives. You have volunteers who need to be brought along, and of course, you have congregation members trying to do things without broad buy-in in a church tends to result in less than desirable results. And so getting a little broader buy-in, getting the various stakeholders and showing them why this is going to be good for their mission, for their Kingdom vision. That took a little longer than I thought. The other thing is churches tend to hold on to the way we’ve always done things. And again, I’m painting with a pretty broad brush here, but business, the pace of business is you’re kind of used to doing something new every year, maybe faster than that. That’s not really the case for the church staff or church, and there’s a good reason for that. We do hold to tradition. And so, as you’re instituting change too quickly, really is turbulent in the system for volunteers, for staff and for the congregation. So I found that trying to figure out this organization and the DNA of this place and bring the change along at the pace that people can accept, because obviously, it doesn’t do much good to make a change, charge the hill, get to the top, look back, and there’s no one with you. So, kind of have to make sure we all get there together and here that meant going just a little bit slower at times.
So do you consciously limit the number of larger changes that happen in the course of a church calendar year?
That’s a great question. Yes. As a matter of fact, we do. We have a much longer list of things we’d like to change than we are currently working on, because we do want to pace that. People have an appetite for change, but they also have a capacity for change and changing too many things gives people the sense that they are losing something, even if those changes are good. And I think we’re all this way in different aspects of our life. If we have too much change coming out as too quickly, we feel a sense of loss that we can’t resolve very quickly. So yes, that’s a very astute question. We pace the number of changes that we will make in any given period ministry season or year to people’s tolerance for that.
Great. Well, all these questions I feel like are leading around our typical question, we talk about technology that churches are using, you’re talking about change, you have some IT background, you’re talking about incorporating best practices. So what are some things that you as a church, and especially in ex. p. role rely on in terms of systems and technology to make sure everything’s functioning with such a large staff?
Great question. And obviously, a lot of the other folks have gone into the broader aspects of it. Things like writing a dashboard to be able to keep our eye on all the key indicators in the church. You want to make sure the right people have the right information in front of them to act, whether that’s our elders, it’s our department heads or it’s the head of a ministry. I want to make sure everybody’s looking at the right information to be able to tell if the things they’re doing are effective so they can calibrate it if they’re not. So we do have some macro level technology that we use, but one that might be useful to talk about is I have a thought that you really can’t manage an organization or manage a group of people or lead them if you can’t manage or lead yourself very well. So we spend quite a bit of time talking about personal productivity, just simple things – time management, task management, information sharing. So, for example, we require that everyone have an electronic calendar. We share our calendars to make it more efficient to communicate with each other and meet with each other. We require everybody to use a to-do list type of a deal. We store all of our information in the cloud, particularly for the leadership team, we’re pretty linked electronically because we have relatively little face to face time because everyone is so busy. So in that sense, it looks a little bit more like traditional businesses. We use technology on a personal productivity side to make us more efficient, but also to make us work a little bit better as a team.
Yeah. When you say everyone has a to-do list, do you recommend everyone uses the same platform and system for that, or everyone just needs to have something that’s accessible by others?
That’s a good question. We don’t mandate it, but for example, there are a lot of products like this, but one that we happen to use a lot is Wunderlist, because it has not only multiple lists for yourself, but you can share them and sort of delegate electronically to other people. Now, we’re not trying to remove the face to face aspect of this, but there are times when it’s just very efficient to be transferring things like that around electronically. So we don’t mandate anything, but we do like people to be using a tool like that.
You’ve talked a lot about the fact that you’re not face to face very often. You are a multisite church. How does that play into how you communicate? You talked about, do you do a lot of video conferencing, or how do you work your way around to make sure everyone’s staying connected?
Well, that’s a good question. I make it sound like we’re farther apart than we are because right now we just have one satellite that isn’t that far away. And we have one person on our leadership team that runs that satellite. Our problem with getting face to face is simply the busyness level. We’re a full service church, at least that’s what I like to think of it as. And we have a very robust amount of ministries, we’re by no means a simple church. If we wrote a book, it would be called Overly Complicated Church. We do a lot of different ministries, and kind of have this saying that came from the business world, and that is “One Riot, One Ranger” meaning we don’t like to send several leaders to do a job that we can have one leader go do, sort of like the old Texas rangers. They send one guy out to catch a bunch of bad guys, they didn’t really send a posse. So, the fact that we’re working independently in the areas that we oversee mean that we meet regularly, standing meeting once a week with the leadership team. We’ll do a few door jam conversations during the week, but not too many. I think everybody’s usually pretty busy, so we’re not physically spread out. We just try to load everybody’s boat up to their capacity.
Yeah, I like that “One Riot, One Ranger” philosophy, it’s a good one. Because I think a lot of times something just happens and either we don’t know how to deal with it or we send a lot of people in, or we ask volunteers to take over with it. But it seems like a really good way to handle things as they come about.
We’ve got some really good leaders and we try to bring them up to that level where they’re very capable of getting out there and understand our decision making process and our DNA well enough to feel…one thing you obviously want is you want your leaders to have a high degree of confidence that the decisions they are making are going to be considered good decisions in the organization. So we try to be very clear about our DNA and our vision and who we are and what makes us who we are. And the reason we do that is so that our people at every level can make decisions consistent with that, that magnifies our impact. We don’t have a lot of calling, checking. Is it okay if I do this? Is it okay if I make this decision? We’d really like to minimize that, and we’re blessed with a lot of good leaders who have a lot of initiative.
Yeah, but like you said, it’s also a big culture piece of it, because if I know that I’m going make a decision and Terry is going to be fine with this, because I know his culture and I know his DNA, then that frees me up to be able to make those decisions well.
Absolutely. And in fact, that’s one thing, again, is preaching the choir here. I’m sure all your folks know this, but one of the things that I spend my time doing is a very little of do this, don’t do that. Or bring a decision and say, okay, here’s the way you should do it in this situation. It’s really more trying to teach predictability. And so, we work on a particular problem, we obviously have a lot of those situations. We kind of walk through it to try to teach a principle out of the situation, not just a decision, because that way the next time that leader faces that decision, they’ll be able to say ‘I know how Terry thinks about this.’ I know how our organization thinks in this situation. So I think I know how to make a good decision here. So most of my job is trying to transmit what I call predictability, knowing how we think, knowing how we decide so that they can operate independently in the future.
Terry, you got a lot of good one liners that are going to be book titles one day, I think. Pacing change, teaching predictability. These are good ones. I like it. You’re fairly networked guy. You seem like you got a lot of good things around you. Where do you go to learn more about being a great executive pastor?
That’s a great question, because not coming from the church world, one of the things I realized coming from the business world into the church world is things really are different here. Everything from the vocabulary to the titles, even little things, I realized for a while, our senior pastor and I were really talking past each other. We were using the same vocabulary, but we meant different things by it. So I began, like you would in any profession, reading voraciously. And so I found that a lot of the things that are published out there have been very helpful to me about church life. But frankly, I get most of my skill upgrades as an executive pastor from things like what you do, these forums where I can listen to other executive pastors and sort through the things they do. And it’s also just being immersed in that, whether it’s blogs or audio blogs like you’re doing. Those things are probably my primary source, and that is just learning from other people who have been here longer than I’ve been here.
That’s great. There are many more resources today than there were before. So especially somebody coming in new to be able to step into it and to listen, to read, all those things are great ways to be connected. Terry, what kind of encouragement can you give to other ex. p’s listening in there? You’ve heard several the episodes that have gone through, what’s something that you would like to say to them?
Well, I’d give this one simple thought, and that is executive pastors often, particularly if you don’t teach, for me, I get a lot of platform time, so that’s kind of a different world. But if not, it’s easy to be kind of a forgotten person behind the scenes. And I would really encourage people with this. One of the things I noticed when I came into the church world was there’s a lot of emphasis on vision but not very much on execution.
And it seemed like we were really asking everybody to be a visionary, a vision caster, but not much was getting done. And when you look around, you realize that you need somebody that can execute those things as well. I think Simon Sinek in his little book Start With Why, has a neat little section about this where he talks about that leaders who are strong on vision don’t end up accomplishing much without someone or some group of people who can really turn that into reality. And I would encourage executive pastors that I think at the end of the day, this executing on the vision laid out by our leadership or senior pastor is going to end up having just a huge Kingdom impact. So it may be toiling a little bit in anonymity, but I believe the job is really important.
That’s great. I totally agree with you. I think that execution piece is important also in the business world, but especially in the church world. It’s something that needs to happen more in. That’s just a great encouragement to come through.
Terry, thanks so much for being on the show. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you. You’ve given a lot of great insights. I wish we could talk longer, but thanks so much for coming on.
Well, it’s been my pleasure. It’s great to talk to you Neil.