Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Virendra Vase is joining us today from Venture Christian Church in Los Gatos, California. Great to have you on the show today, Virendra.
Hey, glad to be here.
Virendra, what was your journey to becoming the Executive Pastor there at Venture?
You know, mine’s been a rather, I would say, unconventional path in some ways. God’s been working in me and through me for a long time. Without going to a lot of detail, I was raised in India, last of ten kids in a large Catholic family, great upbringing, mom and dad loving. And even though we didn’t have a ton when it came to material possessions, I think God had his hand in my life over there and my kept up dream definitely has shaped me. I came here to do my graduate work in engineering. I have moved here to Silicon Valley over 25 plus years ago and have worked in big companies like Experian, Yahoo, Salesforce. And then, I would say, my sweet spot was working in later stage startups, and ended up doing like seven late stage startups where God used me tremendously, I would say, in spite of me, at the same time, you know, trying to be Jesus to the Silicon Valley. I was involved with raising millions of dollars in venture capital, was involved with a dozen M&A activities, responsible for taking companies from single-product companies and small team to multiple-product companies, larger teams.
And then all along, I would say, integrating faith into the marketplace, actively involved in my church, heading up small group ministries, partnering or starting missions initiatives here or around the world was a part of me. Me and my wife were part of a church planting team here in the valley. And then, I would say, just this whole aspect of community has been in my heart. All along, I would say, doing my best to live out my calling as a godly husband and a dad of three kids. Now, there were couple of opportunities all along, I’d say, to join vocational ministry, as we all know it. In the past, we maybe work for Focus on the Family, or Family Life Today or even Living on the Edge. But it didn’t seem to be the right time. And then a few years ago, I had already been on the elder board for a few years and the discipleship moved away to be with grandchild. The XP had left to start his own organization. I told the Senior Pastor that I would help out being an elder, until they found someone. Well, six months into the role, I found myself really enjoying it. And God using my gifts and talents and, at the same time, growing like never before. So I took the plunge, I haven’t regretted it since, and I can honestly say that I’ve grown more in every area of my life in the last almost two years than the last 20.
The church is a very different group of people, very different pace, especially when you’re talking about being a part of late stage startups. Has that been an adjustment for you? Just the general pace and decision-making and timing that the church usually employs.
I’d say, yes. Unequivocally, yes. And I think it’s kind of interesting to see how God uses your past to inform and kind of mold you. And so pace is a question that did come up with all pastors that I work with, and I didn’t think I was going fast. But, it was definitely fast. I think Patrick Lencioni talks about how an ideal team player is humble, hungry, and smart. And so I had to work on my humility to say, okay, how do I adapt myself to the pastors over here because I have just been blessed with incredible pastors around me. And so it’s like, in some ways, I would say, working with them versus working against them. But it’s definitely been an adjustment. No doubt about it.
So, in general, how is your church structured? You said a Discipleship Pastor left and an Executive Pastor, and then you came in. What are some of the other roles that you have there?
Yeah. So, overall, I don’t know if it’s probably similar to a lot of the churches. The senior pastor reports to the board. I report to the Senior Pastor, Chip Ingram. And then all the other functions and departments report to me. So the Senior Pastor is responsible for elder recruiting/development, teaching, teacher development, pastoral care of leaders, vision. And then everything else, I’m responsible for. So strategy, execution, worship, discipleship, women’s, men’s, family, building, facilities, finance, HR. So all those things, I get the joy of kind of partnering with the people over there.
So what is a best practice that you have going on there at Venture that you’ve really found success with?
This almost feels like motherhood and apple pie, but it really did — I think in church world, one of the things, I think, I am constantly evaluating at this point–is this something that usually is done in businesses or churches? Or even in churches, is this cool or not? And so there are a couple of things, I would say, that have really been transformational for me and it’s real simple and almost feels like, oh, this is the thing to say. Even prayer. And I found out after doing some research some churches don’t necessarily have staff prayer. But we just do staff prayer three times a week. I struggle with, “Hey, do I make it mandatory?” But it’s just been awesome to see God moves. So we do it three times a week. There’s another. I do what’s called stand-ups in the software world. You do standups so just get people, you know, I get my executive team together. It’s 15 minutes, real quickly, we just go through what happened yesterday, what’s coming up today, and you have any blockers.
And then I do this thing that I think is trying to reinforce values in my one-on-ones. And so there are certain values that I want to kind of make sure that me, personally, am living out and then other people closest to me are also doing that, and overall in the organization. So, for example, one of the values that I personally have is, how is your soul and your Sabbath. So I ask everybody, you know, can I help? How is your soul and your Sabbath? How is your marriage and are you learning something? Second, diversity is extremely important to us, at the church over here, being in the valley. So I usually say, “Who are you meeting with that does not look like you this last week?” We’re an Ephesians 4 church, which is equipping the body to do the ministry. So I’ll usually ask them, “Hey, have you met with any volunteers?” Because I found with all the meetings and all the stuff, there’s a tendency, sometimes, to be kind of ingrown and be in your own echo chamber. So this really helps us, myself included, to go, hey, are you meeting with any volunteers? And the last one is, “Hey we got to take the church pastor wall. So in the past week, we get a chance to kind of share your faith or see God move in the community?” So those are some things that I’ve just really been finding to be really powerful for us here.
Yeah. And as you said, it doesn’t seem so complicated but the reality is it’s a bit rare, because often, you hire staff and then the staff just kind of functions as programming oversight and maybe empowering volunteers to do what you just described, but you’re making sure that your staff is also getting out into the community and outside of the walls.
Absolutely, because I think, again, part of it is from business background. I’m going, you know, it would be so important for us to actually talk to a customer because after awhile, you get so immune you forget what the customer’s needs are. In church world, it’s like, hey, the volunteer. Have you talked to the volunteer? So I make it a great practice. We do three services a year so I usually come 15 minutes or half an hour before and I’ll just walk. We’re relatively large. We’re kind of mega church in some ways, but I just walk the aisles, kind of old-school pastor, to shake the hands of people, welcome them. And it is just amazing. And part of it is leading by example, because I can’t ask the community pastor to do something that I’m not willing to do.
That’s great. Okay, so on the flip side of this then, what is a current challenge that you have there at Venture that you haven’t yet found a solution for?
Yeah. I think there’s a couple, I would say. Just this whole aspect, the balance between, I would say, I’m going to use the word grace and results in the church world, right? I mean holding people accountable for, you know, certain goals and metrics would have you, knowing very well it’s not about the numbers. I can’t say. I’m working through it. Part of it could be my background way. It’s really clear, in some ways, in the business world.
Yeah. Measurable data.
Measurable data, by shareholder value, it’s all about the profit. Whereas here, we’re about life change. We’re about transformation. Not everything is measurable. Even in some businesses, not everything is measurable. I mean, it’s the stock price, it’s the earnings per share. But here, it’s about life change. And I’m just holding it loosely. In fact, Pete Scazzero, he wrote this book Emotionally Healthy Leader. And there’s a phrase over there that I think it’s really powerful because he says: What performance in spiritual health are not mutually exclusive. And I hold that, but I always say for myself, hey, I want to be connected to the wise. So Sabbath rest is extremely important and at the same time, I believe, God can still kind of help us what he’s called us to do. So I think that’s one. The second part, I would say is, traditionally the XP and the Senior Pastor, how do you honor those roles and responsibilities, and what’s my lane and what’s Chip’s lane. The good news over here is that I’ve done — in a fair number of my startups, I was number two. So it felt like God’s prepared me for being number two. So there’s a unique role over there. You know you’re not number one, and the number one knows he needs number two. And so that dance, I think, is extremely critical. Can’t say that I nailed it, but that’s just a journey that me and the Senior Pastor are on.
Yeah. That’s certainly not a unique journey for all Executive Pastors and their Senior Pastors. You mentioned that measurable data, profit, and how to kind of balance between grace and results. And what I hear in a lot of that is also the issue of staff evaluations. What does that look like for you with your staff? Is this something that you kind of yearly sit down with a checklist of things to kind of measure it or is this more like every month, you’re checking in? How do you evaluate your staff?
That’s a good one. I would say, this is definitely, while I’ve been here, we’ve done it once. And so I am using a framework that I’d used before. So I tend to do two aspects of it. One is, in a full vectors, leadership, what I call execution, skills, and teamwork. So it’s like less framework that I came up with. So it’s like, we just go, hey, by the way, what was your leadership like? What kind of programs or outcomes that you are responsible for? How you’ve been with your skills and are you a good team player? I think of that on the performance side of things. And then I have another evaluation that’s more on the spiritual side of things, and probably more around for the pastoral staff as opposed to the operational staff where, hey, what’s your walk with God like? And so our discipleship pathway here is about coming before God. How are you coming before God? What does that look like? How are you growing over there? Are you growing in community? Are you on mission for the Lord?
And so I’ve broken up kind of performance evaluation into two parts. One tends to be more around kind of the work, and then the other part is on the spiritual walk. So that’s kind of how we do it. I’m trying, honestly, I’m on a journey to really focus on outcomes. The numbers–what’s within our control? What’s in God’s control? And so even our goals and things like that, I go, okay, we have certain goals, but what are you going to do on your own? I do have a rhythm that was hard but they are now, I think, on board. I have a rhythm of weekly meetings, and I have a monthly review, and a quarterly review. So those things help departments to get aligned overall, which makes the performance review somewhat easier, so people are not surprised. I do it for my staff which is about seven to nine people. I’ll usually have one-on-ones every week, and I try to do review, a mid-year review, personally. I haven’t instilled that completely at the church, but I do that once. We usually do that every fiscal year.
As you’ve mentioned, you’re pulling a lot from your previous experiences with these IT companies and these startups. But where are you going now that you’re in this church world and the Executive Pastor position? Where have you gone? What are some good resources you’ve tapped into to understand this world and this role?
I was feeling I’m like, wow. So I’d say that a couple of things. One, I have this guy who’s the XP at Saddleback. His name is Lance Witt. He’s been a person who’s been just amazing for me. I meet with him monthly and he’s been a really good coach for me. Number one, I have probably read more books just to keep my soul refreshed on leadership, spiritual formation, on prayer. The other website that I leverage a lot is xpastor.org by David Fletcher. And then another one that I use pretty regularly is Church Answers by Thom Rainier. If I have a question on performance reviews, or percentages, or hey, what should my budget look like. So there’s Church Answer. So I just go to Church Answers, just drop a question over there, and get some answers. So that’s what I do right now.
So, Virendra, what encouragement would you give to others in church leadership?
You know, Courtney, I think self-care is one of the most important things, I would say. Now, it seems like everyone knows it but no one does it. It feels like and I can attest to that. It’s like vegetables. Everybody knows it’s good for them but no one does it. And I can say there’s such a pull towards achievement and accomplishment. And, you know, coming from the business world, it’s pretty clear on that side. Here, it seems even more because it seems like the cause is really good with us. You’re taking a call, you’re working with people, or it’s a marriage, or somebody’s sick. And so that’s just such a big pull that type-a folks, generally speaking, most ExPs are, I had to ask, what’s the root of my drivenness? So I would say, you know, taking care of myself in Sabbath super important. That was a big one for me. I read Rest of God by Mark Buchanan, really good book. So I try to take care of myself, number one. My marriage, really important. In fact, I would probably say I love Scazzero’s 4 roots that he talks about in his book. A loving union with God, facing my shadow, I got a lead out of my marriage, and I got to enjoy a Sabbath delight. Those are four things I try to keep as I try to center me to making sure that I’m not going to off-kilter, per se.
That’s fantastic. Virendra, thanks so much for being on the podcast today.
Hey, glad to be there.