Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Today, our guest is Tojy Thomas. Tojy is the finance pastor at Woodman Valley Chapel. Hi, Tojy. How are you today?
Doing well. Thanks.
Excellent. So happy to have you on. You are, as we said, a finance pastor, which you’re, the first finance pastor that we’ve done. A lot of people we’ve interviewed had done finance, but to have somebody explicitly in that role is very unique for us. So why don’t you give a little bit of background about who you are and how you got to the position you’re in now?
Sure. My name is Tojy Thomas. My church is really new to Colorado Springs. I moved in from the Chicago land area where I was for about 18 years. I started off my career in corporate finance with a big 4 accounting firm. I did some forensic accounting. I dabbled into business valuation and did a lot of litigation consulting, as well.
Forensic Accounting sounds very cool. Is it as exciting as it sounds?
Well, yes and no. The great part of Forensic Accounting is that it was very diverse. So no project was the same, so to speak. You have different clients, different industries. We traveled a lot. So that was exciting as a single guy but there’s also a lot of tedious, a lot of data-intensive work as well. So we love the investigation part. We love the findings part but sometimes, when you go in corporations, there’s years and years of data that we had to go through and mine through and that can be tedious. But overall, it was a good experience, a good thing to have on your resume, and just a great opportunity to dive into different financials, like I said, of different industries, different companies. It ranges from anywhere, from mining, to healthcare, to financial institutions, to banks. Yeah, it was a great stepping stone. So I did that for about 5, 6 years for a big 4 firm. The travel got a little tiring, working long weekend. So I chose to go to a mid-tier firm and did that for another 3, 4 years. I met my wife at a church in Chicago, got married and then when she was pregnant with my oldest, I decided that the consulting life was not ideal in raising up children. So I took a job at a large university in Chicago, and I did some budget and finance for them. Then as I was doing that, I got really involved in my church where I was leading mission trips, launching different ministries. And then the latest position over there was the director of being in charge of the marriage ministry. And so as I was going through that, I felt God just talking on my heart to do more with just a burning desire to serve him full time. So as I started meeting with my pastor, went through a journey of just waiting on God and then applying for a position as a social pastor at a multi-site church in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago. And I joined the team of pastors there. So got involved in serving God in that capacity. And then recently, we felt led to move to Colorado Springs. My wife got an excellent opportunity and then I got connected with Woodman. The finance pastor role was a good combination of using my past skillset that I develop for the last 15 to 18 years and then adding on the pastoral role as well. What was really enticing about this role was that it had the pastoral role. So I could minister, as well as use my skill set to help the finances of the church.
So you’re not just sitting back in the back corner accounting all the offerings that are coming in but you have a lot of other things you do too, right?
No. No. It’s a part of it. I’ve got a team that helps me do that and oversee the finances, but then it’s also, I really wanna get involved in the ministry. There’s community groups, getting involved in the community in terms of just I’ve got an opportunity to do a ride along with a police officer and trying to see how I can serve them. So these things like that whereas opportunities come up like to step into it and serve my community and see how God uses me in that capacity.
Fantastic. So was the finance pastor role, did it exist before you came in or they matched your skill set with a need that they had?
No, it did exist. The previous finance pastors has transitioned to a different role within the church. So I just a stepped in to the new opportunity.
Okay. Well, why don’t you explain a little bit about Woodman Valley Chapel, about how it’s structured and just to give us a picture of the different departments over there?
Sure. We are multi-site church. We’ve got about three campuses, and we have a senior pastor, and we have different titles. Our senior pastor is more like a lead teaching and vision pastor. We have an executive pastor, but really with a different name, a pastor of church life. And then we’ve got campus pastors. We are now in the process of transitioning from a lot of central departments to a more campus specific model. So we have a lot of central roles that are now being transitioned into the specific campuses that we have. So we’ve got 3 campuses, like I said, and now we just got a heart and a burden to expand and grow as God leads.
So what are some of the roles that you are taking local to the campuses and what are the things you’re keeping in the central office?
We’ve got the connect role that was more central. The goal of the connect team was to get people plugged into our church, into the different ministries, into how they can either participate or lead. So that’s gonna be going to more of a campus-specific. We’ve got IT, finance, they remain central. Facilities also remain central. But a lot of ministry driven roles are now being campus specific. For example, we had the student pastor and the children’s pastors. They were overseeing a team centrally, and then they would then go to each campus. But now, what was previously central, are now reporting to our campus pastors. So we had early children’s, elementary children’s, we had a college team pastor. They all now will report to our campus pastor.
So finance remains one of those things that stays central. What are some of the processes that you’ve set up to help things go along smoothly, especially as you’re doing with multi-site type situations?
Yeah, good question. We’ve been very intentional incorporating technology into our new systems. We had a lot of dated systems. I think our software was 15 to 18 years old. And then we are actually going live with the new software today. We’ve introduced expense reimbursement software to help facilitate the whole process. Our pastors have been really encouraged by just using the credit cards and taking less time to process expense reimbursements, being able to use technology to facilitate that. In the last couple of months, we’ve been sending up this new accounting software. It’s a lot of work but at the end, it’s gonna be very useful itself. Using Excel, creating new models and redefining cells, and formatting reports. We can now use the software to help generate reports automatically and into the inbox emailing reports on a regular and more consistent basis. So it’s gonna be exciting. I just pass this to have easier access to data. I think at the beginning of the year, we will also introduce a new donor database. I wasn’t part of that process but now something that’s been really useful. And the process continues. We’re still looking at ways to help make payments easier. We’ve also moved in to looking into different electronic forms that we plan to implement in the fall. So yeah, we’re excited with things that are new and different and that makes things more efficient for us.
Yeah, I think that I hear this a lot from other churches that the handling of processes through emails, through spreadsheets is one thing. But a lot of people are starting to move towards more specialized systems that can handle those things like expenses, like purchase orders, like purchase requests.
Yeah. Exactly. Doing it electronic makes it so much easier. People are able to approve it on their phones when they are away from the office. It also saves on time as well as errors. Once you take data from the system and put in Excel, less tendency for errors to happen as you do the exporting or changing the data. And then even when you review the work, you know where the source is once it comes to out of the accounting software rather than exporting it to Excel.
Yeah. I was just working on something the other day and is an automated system that we’ve set up and I saw some error that it happened. It was nice to know right away. Well, I know the error didn’t happen when the system is passing back and forth because they don’t make mistake. So it must have come somewhere else. It helps you to identify those things better.
Yeah. Great. It’s exciting to hear how you guys are using technology and your systems and how it goes through. When it comes to being the finance pastor of a multi-site church, what are some of the consistent administrative challenges that you face?
I think probably two. One is, obviously, the finance. You don’t always think about systems when you lay out the budget. There are a lot of pressing needs like ministry, and maintaining the buildings, and things of that nature. So your accounting systems and the technology to help facilitate just managing data information tends to take a back step to these priorities. So being intentional about saving resources to invest into this has been beneficial for us. And two, is just to change the way people think. There’s a culture of doing things for the past 15, 18 years, and then when you introduce the system, for one, it takes a lot more time because you’re doing your day to day events, the day to day work, and then in addition to that, you gotta think about mapping accounts and cleaning up the chart of accounts and coming up with different systems. So that’s cumbersome, right? The last couple of months have always been I’ve heard a lot of responses, oh, that’s new. That’s different. That’s a paradigm shift. Just changing the way people think and how they can expect better things now because we’re going through a different system. But with that comes some growing pains. Something that used to take you to 20 minutes, now, might take you 45 minutes as you learn the system. But then it’s gonna come back down to maybe even 10 minutes once you’ve perfected the process. But then you’ve gotta go through the journey of change.
Yeah. That’s amazing. As you think about your church specifically, if there’s one process that you wish you could wave a magic wand and have everyone fully compliant, fully automated, what do you think would be the top process you would rate there?
That’s a good question. I would say just having processes all electronic for everything, from purchase orders, to submitting request, having approval process in place. Communication is huge. A lot of times you find HR doing something and that finance may not be informed or another pastor may not be informed. If we could have a system where everybody is informed, that there’s a trail of audit trail where people can look back and say, okay, this person informed this one, approved this change, this department should be aware of this because they were included in this chain of emails or chain of events, I think that would be pretty cool.
Yeah. Obviously, being able to see those things out and see the history of who got informed so no one can say, oh, I didn’t see that, because you did see that, you approved that.
Great. So as a finance pastor, where do you go to stay up to date on the latest things? Do you tend to stay that you now work with other finance pastors at large churches? Or do you go outside the church to network with other finance guys and ladies? What do you do to stay up to date?
I connect with a lot of people. I mean, being in Colorado Springs, we have a lot of Christian organizations here. So I’ve been able to connect with other finance folks and see what they do in the organizations. I have cups of coffee with them just to clear from them and understand how they do it, and see how I can incorporate those changes here at the church. When I was going through an expense reimbursement software research, I connected with several of those folks and they were really helpful. We also have a finance committee that meet on a monthly basis and they work in different organizations. So a lot of times, I would just email them and say, hey, what do you think of this? Or what kind of software is out there? What kind of technologies are out there? I get their input. So that’s been really useful now. Obviously, resources, online resources, podcast like the one that I’m currently on that I frequently listen to to see what else is out there that can help our church.
Yeah. That’s fantastic. It’s good to know that you’re in a place where there are a lot of the people to network with, and to connect with, and to learn from. So it’s obviously the best way to stay connected.
Yeah. It’s been huge. It’s a great way to just relationship building too. So they call me, I call them and it’s great. We do work together as we grow together too.
Great. Tojy, I’m gonna give you a chance. Here, you can speak to all the ExPs listening in. What do you think they should hear from the finance pastor, in ways of encouragement, or in ways of just some good advice and suggestions?
Just personally, I’ve been going through a journey of just seeking God more. When I moved to Colorado Springs, the scenery out here is just astounding. As I live east of our campus, as I drive to our campus, I get to see this beautiful range of mountains out there, Pikes Peak. And I asked people, does this ever get old? And they say, no. It’s incredible. But then just a couple of weeks ago, just driving and not noticing the mountains, and realizing that I’m just processing all the things that I need to do for the week and what communication do I need to do, what software implementation, what the projects do I need to address, what decisions I need to make, and forgetting that there’s just beauty around me and I just sensed that God was saying, slow down. Just ask for grace to listen to Him, wait on Him, pray for your finances, pray for your leadership, pray for your team. One of the incredible things that my team does is when they go through the offering with the volunteers, they sit down and they pray over it. They pray for our team, they pray for leadership, they pray for finances. I just wanna encourage executive pastors out there to slow down and ask for grace to want more of Him. Right now, I want more of Him. I want to want more of Him, just increased capacity. So from a financial perspective, how do you include God more into the things that we do and how do we stay different from a normal organization that’s out there? And that’s just by depending and committing things to God.
That’s great advice because, especially, people in our positions like this, we tend to have long to-do list, long things to get done, lots of the stuffs that we’re gonna focus on. But to be able to slow down and say, yeah, that’s good, but we also need to remember why we’re doing it and to slow down for it too. Great advice. Well, Tojy, thank so much for the podcast. It’s been great to speak with you. Woodmanvalley.org is the name of the website, for you to check it out. Contact Tojy if you’re around Colorado Springs. He can show you the sites.
Yes. Excellent. Thank you so much.