Welcome to the Monday Morning Church Podcast. Today our guest is Tim Stevens. Tim is the director of Executive Search Consultancy team at Vanderbloemen, which is a big name in the church staffing industry. Tim has also been an executive pastor at Granger Church. He has a lot of experience to share with us. I am so excited to have him on the show. Hi Tim, how are you today?
I am doing great and really glad to talk to you today.
Yeah, it’s fantastic because we were talking before the show about your experience and the kind of insights you bring to that XP role to really dig into that. But let’s start a little bit earlier. Tell us about your career path, how you came to where you are right now?
Yeah so interesting road, so coming out of high school wasn’t sure what I wanted to do related to college. I felt I call the ministry but the only thing that I really knew, just based on what I had seen at my church growing up was either you are a senior pastor, and I wasn’t that great of a teacher preacher or you are a youth pastor. And I didn’t even like youth when I was one, so – or you are missionary. And I didn’t think I was going to do that. So joined up with a non-profit organization that worked with churches around the country and I spent first nine years working with this organization, and we traveled around the country and worked with churches. So I got this huge exposure to all different kinds of churches and ministries and denominations and styles, and really really cool experience – I met my wife during that season. And during that time just becoming exposed to churches like, okay I found this thing called executive pastor and it’s like wow that just kind of checked every box, what I felt like God had gifted and strengthened me with. And so didn’t know I’d be one actually but started really thinking and dreaming about that. While I was with that organization, I started attending this new church plant that was a few miles down the road from us – meeting in a movie theater, it’s called Granger Community Church near the South Bend, Indiana area, and just got excited about the possibility of helping this church grow. And within maybe a year of attending there, they asked me to come on the staff and initially in this position called executive pastor, and I remember talking to the lead pastor saying, “Can we call it something else? I don’t exactly know what that means. And I don’t know if I am a pastor, I feel like I am maybe an executive director.” And he says, “No, I am going to make you into a pastor.” And so began to groom me for that. I spent 20 years at that church. We grew from 250 to 5-6000 during that season; lots of exciting growth and new services and new locations and multi-site and all of that stuff that goes with the growing church.
Yeah, let me ask you one question about that time because this was kind the early stages of when churches were having this position, so to speak, of executive director, executive pastor – that it take a long time for you to settle into exactly what you would be doing or was it pretty clear from the beginning – okay, these are my roles and responsibilities?
Yeah, for me it was kind of focus on my strengths and my time on the things that the lead pastor wasn’t doing because the church was so small, there was five or six of us on staff when I started, and most of the positions were pretty distinct. It’s students, its children and I am kind of like everything else initially in a small church. And then as time went on and the church began to grow pretty fast, then it was raising up leaders. A lot of it became a chief of staff focus where I was starting ministries, raising up leaders, handing them off; start other ministry, raising up leaders, handing them off, building buildings with teams of people, those kinds of things. So yeah, we kind of made it up as we went I guess.
Yeah so then about three years ago, you made a decision to leave Granger and step into your new role, right?
Yeah, I’d been at Granger for 20 years, really kind of came to a season where I felt like for the future of Granger, they needed a different kind of leader than me and also its just want to scratch my itch of working with multiple churches again. And so a few years before about three years, I guess before I left there, I had worked, I had hired Vanderbloemen in search group to help me fill out campus pastor position, and it was a great experience. And so I started talking to William Vanderbloemen as I was leaving Granger and said, “I’d love to come on the team”, and this opportunity came to lead the executive search consultant team. And so now I get to work with all kinds of executive pastors across the country, helping them solve problems with staffing or find staff.
Yes, so let’s dive into that a little more because I think that’s kind of a need of what people are wanting to hear here. As you have your ears to the ground, you are interacting with lots of different churches. What are some of the things that churches are looking for specifically in this executive pastor roles if a church is hiring for this? Are you seeing any unique trends that are going on right now?
Yeah, I would say eight to ten years ago, five to ten years ago, you would hear about an executive pastor. These days I am hearing more executive pastor of something, of ministry, of operations, of family ministries, those kinds of things. So that executive pastor term is becoming a little bit more specialized. And honestly when I left Granger because we had almost 130 staff when I left, it wouldn’t have been helpful for the church to try to replace me with an executive pastor. And so they actually went to one of ministries and one of operations just because of the size and scope of the role and I grew up in it, so I was able to do it. But I am seeing more of the specialties. Now sometimes – I still think it’s really important that there is a chief of staff responsibility that whether you use that title or not doesn’t matter, it’s kind of a corporate title or government title, but that component, that role of someone who has their hand on the pulse, who is able to communicate well, who is able to jump into conflict or solve problems to hire spot talent, raise up people, develop leaders, sometimes have to let leaders go, those kind of things. I think that’s a real important component, regardless of what it’s called.
Yeah, I think that that’s – I am also seeing that as I am interacting a lot of people whether they are at that specialization that you talked about of ministries, of operations, of different things that are coming into those things. What do you see are the biggest challenges of that XP role specifically in terms of maybe the operations side of things? What are some of the things that the churches are facing now that maybe they hadn’t faced 10-20 years ago?
Well, it’s just complicated now. You’ve seen probably as well as a lot of your listeners that the list of the top 100 fastest growing or largest churches in the country and almost all of them are multi-site, and a lot of churches that aren’t on that list are multi-site as well And that’s just really complicated. And operations leaders especially are having to figure out acquisitions and properties in different places and in different counties and even across state lines and how does the taxing authority work for all of that. Or they have lots of entities underneath their roof – they have a bookstore or they have a coffee shop or they rent their space out. So it’s just getting pretty complex; much more than it was just a few years ago. And so one thing that I see is a lot of churches are hiring executive pastors of operations, guys that aren’t coming with ministry experience; they are coming from the marketplace. I shouldn’t say guys, men or women; women who come with this marketplace business background and finding that real value where they have a heart for ministry and they have a little bit of a hurdle or of a ramp up to figure out the differences between business and ministry. But they bring this huge value of having this business background, operational background that can help because the church has a lot of business pieces to it that need to handle.
So speaking as a search consultant, a church comes to you – they are looking for an XP role, at what point do you give that advising? Let’s look outside of somebody with ministry experience, let’s tap into the business world – is there a certain kind of mix that you can see right away when that’s the right situation?
We definitely talk about that – part of what we do is really try to figure out the DNA and culture of that church, and that we want to find someone that fits them really well and that part of why they pay us is to consult and to get input advice on that. So if we can get them to broaden; sometimes they are very sad, we have to have someone who has experience in a church and that’s fine. We will find that person. But if we can broaden that a little bit and say, “Hey, let’s look at some folks that fill the call for ministry they have been doing, volunteer leadership in significant ways for a decade or two, and our filling this kind of discontent in what they are doing in this call for ministry. And there is – and talk to a lot of folks out there that are in that transition and they know guys calling them and they are looking for the right first role to be able to serve the church.
As you are interacting with lots of different churches that are around, what do you see in that that is really innovative in terms of administration, in terms of technology? What are the churches out there that other people should be looking towards? What are they doing?
Yeah a couple of things come to my mind and these may not be ultra-innovative for some of your listeners, but for others they might be. So basically, just getting rid of all paper and I know this isn’t new but I am seeing churches now fully commit to it, going to Google Drive or Drop boxes, those kind of things for all of their document storage, which reduces the use of servers and or even the need for having large hard drives in every laptop of the building because all of their documents are accessible in the cloud. So that’s not incredibly innovative but a lot of churches are just starting to grasp that. Another thing is in the accounting process and lots of churches are doing this and we actually do this at Vanderbloemen as well. We use a program called Expensify and so we don’t have to paper-wise keep any receipts – we just, as soon as someone has an expense, they take a picture of the receipt. It’s loaded up into Expensify. We can do our expense reports there; we can do our reimbursements through Expensify. Everything is again in-stored in the cloud through Expensify. There is other apps as well and programs to do that as well – that’s just one we found that works well and I see churches doing that and it just saves so much time. It is just more efficient, saves all the storage for paper of keeping these files for years and years and years. So those are a couple things that come to mind.
Yeah, that’s a good thing to think about, especially when you think about going paperless, trying to ease your processes, how things go. I think that’s even component when you are talking about these multi-site models. I mean that’s imperative that you can’t even do inter-office memos anymore when you are trying to send something across the state or across the city in those situations.
Yeah absolutely. And I know churches are figuring out ways to make that work and even figure out how do we have productive meetings when we are in multiple locations. I think the multi-site, the churches that have figured out how to make multi-site work or the churches that are innovative, they are kind of free from that will never work kind of thinking, and they are having, they are reinforced to think way outside the box because it’s different than what’s been true for decades and decades.
Yeah, so we have a lot of executive pastors directors who are listening in here. What’s one tip you could give them to stay relevance in their career path, let’s say they are looking for a change or they are looking for something different, just want to stay equipped well – what are some resources you could direct them to that would help them to stay up their game, different ways to really be at the top of the league?
Yeah so one that your listeners may or may not be aware of – about eight or nine years ago, I started doing what we call an executive pastor coaching network, and it came out of a sense of a couple of things. One is I want to be connected to other executive pastors that are doing what I am doing. And secondly, I’m kind of like burnt out on the conference circuit, I mean the conference circuit is good for community, building community if you take a team, it is good for inspiration, but it wasn’t great for practical tangible, what do I do with this problem that’s right in front of me, kind of thing. So twice a year now we gather no more than 16, usually 12 to 16 executive pastors. And I use that term loosely because its men or women that are in that type of function. Sometimes it’s an executive director, sometimes it’s a director operations – different titles, but that type of role. And we get together for six days, three days at a time. So, for example, the one coming up, we’ll meet three days in early October and then we meet three days right after Thanksgiving. And there is a bit of upfront training but that’s maybe only 30 or 40 percent of sent up that I am bringing in like Dan Reiland, who is the executive pastor of 12Stone. We will be teaching Kevin Lloyd, who is an executive pastor down in Georgia. So there will be some facilitation happening and we will be throwing topics up but a lot of it will be just the co-learning. It’s like when you are sitting there as an executive pastor and suddenly your health insurance rates double and you are like I got to find another solution where you got 15 other people in the room that have also struggled with the same thing – had to figure that out, or I’ve got a fire my best friend, and I am not sure how to go about. You got 15 other people in the room, some of them who had to face that. And so it’s really become a community learning experience. And so I’ll have you have put the link up on your site but I think we have maybe half of the spots left for the fall session coming up. So we are gearing up for that. It takes place in Houston and at the Vanderbloemen search group offices. We have a conference room that we meet in and our team takes care of the participants during the six days that they are with us.
Yeah, as I talk to a lot of XPs out there, this is continuously the one thing that they say helps them the most. There is books out there, there is conferences, there is different things you can listen to, but really to get in the same room with other people who are doing the same thing you are, be able to ask those tough questions – that seems to be the biggest help for people. So yeah, I’ve definitely encouraged people to check this out. It seems like it’s going to be a great option.
Yeah yeah and it’s been for me those kind of small intimate network opportunities, have been the strongest thing for my own personal growth.
Yeah, you are also an author; you write a lot, you blog a lot. You are very active in that space. So leadingsmart.com, which is a great URL. I am glad you got that early on. That was good. But tell us a little bit about the stuff you write there, the stuff you post there.
So a lot of it is just my own leadership learnings. In fact, every Friday I post what I call Friday Fines, which is just five or six leadership articles or podcasts or maybe some videos or things that training conferences, things that opportunities that have benefited me out, put there as a link, just to pass along, and then other leadership thoughts as well. I published a book about a year and a half ago called “Fairness is Overrated”, which is basically a compilation of leadership thoughts in four major categories – leading yourself, finding great staff, building a great culture and then leading it through crisis. And so a lot of times I’ll take chunks from there or new thoughts around those four topics and post something earlier in the week to help people that are leading. And mostly focused for people leading in ministry context and church or non-profit but I carry over to those that are in business as well.
Yeah, so it’s very fantastic. I’ve had a look through it. And one of the cool resources you have there is you do your book reviews; you go through, you read a book, you put the insights on which for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time is a great the way just to going to go through and get a little best of greatest hits type thing going through.
Yeah absolutely. And I think my most recent post was a Q&A with Tony Morgan who just came out with a book. So I try to do that every now and then as well. If I’ve got a connection with an author that I can get a little insight behind their book and then put that there as well.
Yeah well, great. Tim, why don’t you leave us with a little bit of encouragement for XPs out there who are doing the job every day Monday through Sunday most of the time. But what can you tell them to give them some encouragement?
Yeah, I would just say be who you are in any position. This isn’t just executive pastor, in any position you can look at someone else who is somewhere else, who is at the bigger place, who seems like they don’t have all the problems you do or the issues you do or they certainly don’t have the staffing issues that you do and so forth. And we see the highlights of their story and we don’t really see the day to day and it can be discouraging. And I would just say, be who God’s called you to be – keep learning, keep growing. Don’t become stagnant, not even if you’ve been executive pastor for 40 years. There is someone and something you can learn from everyone and so continue to grow and learn. And as you get to my age and beyond – I turn 50 year here in five days – so as you get to my age and beyond, and start looking for leaders that you can mentor and come alongside of and kind of share your wisdom and social capital with so that they can thrive and grow in their ministry role as well.
Fantastic. Thanks a lot for sharing, Tim. I really appreciate you be on the show and blessings on the rest of your ministry too.
Thank you so much.