Winning in Your New Leadership Role (Part 2)
When it comes to ministry and leadership, it’s true that “you need to give up to go up” (John C. Maxwell). Your primary responsibilities will change. You have to delegate what you used to own. And the flaws and insecurities that were once hidden will come to the spotlight.
In Part 1 of our series on Winning in Your New Leadership Role, Amy and I discussed how to lead with a fresh vision and direction in a new role. This week, we’ll dive into the unique challenges of moving from an executive role to becoming the Senior Pastor.
WINNING IN YOUR NEW LEADERSHIP ROLE: EXECUTIVE TO SENIOR PASTOR
I recently had the opportunity to interview Jeff Brodie, Lead Pastor of Connexus Church in Barrie, Ontario. After serving for three years in student ministry and three years as Executive Director, Jeff was called to replace Carey Nieuwhof as the senior leader of the church.
In this week’s conversation, we explored that leadership transition and discussed:
- Delegating what you used to own
- Scaling up your senior leadership team
- The shift from solving problems to maintaining alignment
- Maintaining character in a new role
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Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. A great resignation has become a pandemic phenomenon of millions of people considering new careers, and the church hasn’t been unaffected. Dozens of church leaders, including senior pastors, have changed roles and churches. On this week’s podcast, Tony shares a conversation with Jeff Brodie, lead pastor of Connexus Church, about his journey several years ago into a new lead pastor role and what you can learn from his story. Before you listen today, though, make sure you stop and subscribe to get the show notes. Each week in your email, you’re going to get resources to go along with that week’s content, including our leader conversation guide, access to our podcast resource archive and bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to the unstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now, let’s join Tony, Amy and Jeff for today’s conversation.
Well, welcome back to The Unstuck Church Podcast. Last week, we began a brand new series of episodes to help you win in your new leadership role, and with so many leaders changing jobs in recent months and taking on new leadership positions, we thought the timing was right to help you experience success in your new leadership role. And, Tony, after last week, I’m assuming everyone is back today for the continuation of this series with maybe the exception of listeners who are considering becoming a church consultant. So, everybody else, welcome back with us today.
Yeah. So yeah, I want to begin today’s episode by apologizing. I think I may have pushed too hard last week. I mean, the point I was trying to make is that the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence, but many times those greener opportunities come with an entirely different set of challenges. But, Amy, when I went back and listened to our conversation from last week, this thought occurred to me: maybe listeners were thinking I pushed like that because I was afraid of new competition in the church consulting space. And, of course, that could be the furthest thing from the truth. Our competition has very little to do with the future success of our mission at The Unstuck Group. Just like I believe actually that the health of churches isn’t impacted by the competition, if you will, from other churches in their community. I mean, what does impact our success are things like the quality and distinctiveness of our Unstuck Process and the capacity of the team that we’re building. It’s people like Amy joining our team and making us all better as a result of that and our ability to connect with church leaders by continuing to create and distribute content that helps you lead unstuck churches. And just to demonstrate how much I believe our competition isn’t really our competition, let me, you’re always afraid of where it might be going with these things, aren’t you? Yeah, so I’m going to provide some free advertising to other organizations that do church consulting. I mean, some of those organizations I’ve heard other church leaders mentioned include folks like The Malphurs Group, Auxano, Intentional Churches and 95Network. I’ve heard other church leaders mentioned that their denomination provides consulting services. I think my friend Thom Rainer actually provides an online course to help someone become a certified church consultant. So they may have a list of consultants who have gone through that online process. I don’t know a lot about what these organizations do because I’m so focused on our mission, our direction, our strategy, building our team and the quality of our content. But, if your church is stuck and you know you need help and you don’t want to work with me or the team at The Unstuck Group, and maybe that’s because I tried to convince you last week that the grass isn’t always greener, then maybe you can contact one of those organizations and see how they can help you in your church. And tell them Tony Morgan sent you.
Before we move forward, I just want to let our sales and marketing team know that I had nothing to do with Tony’s tangent today. And last week you had two tangents. So is there anything else you want to get off your chest before we move on?
No, no, but I want to know, am I in trouble again? Am I going to have to start next week’s episode with an apology again?
Well, we’re not done yet, so we’ll see. We’ll see. Let’s move forward as quickly as possible. Let’s get back to helping pastors when in their new leadership role. This week, Tony, we want to equip new senior pastors and help them consider delegating the things that they used to own in their previous ministry roles. And I guess this is sort of along John Maxwell’s principle that you need to give up to go up, and, Tony, I hesitate to do this, but will you introduce the leader that you interviewed on this topic?
I will use my best behavior going forward, Amy.
I recently had an opportunity to connect with Jeff Brodie. He’s the lead pastor of Connexus Church, a church that’s located just a little bit north of Toronto in Barrie, Ontario. And I met Jeff several years ago as he was transitioning into his new lead pastor role. Jeff’s name may not be familiar to you, but you may have heard of the previous senior pastor at Connexus church. His name’s Carey Nieuwhof, who essentially founded the church. Carey, if you don’t know him, has a fledgling leadership podcast that you might want to check out at some point. I started the conversation today with Jeff by asking about his leadership transition. And here’s what he had to share. Jeff, at this point, it’s really hard for me to remember when you weren’t the lead pastor at Connexus Church, but just to put this conversation into context, will you remind us when you stepped into that role and a little bit about what that transition looked like between you and Carey?
Yeah, absolutely. I’ve been at Connexus 13 years. So, in order to be the lead pastor, you just have to stay the longest. I’m the longest running staff member.
That’s the only reason why I’m leading The Unstuck Group.
That’s right. You just got to outlast everybody; you don’t have to be qualified. You just have to, you know, outlast everyone, but I’ve been a lead pastor for almost six years of those 13 years. Took the baton from Carey almost six years ago, and yeah, just celebrated 13 years at Connexus and 20 years of full-time ministry as of this year.
And, yeah, give us a little bit about just kind of the process of transition. I know it’s a little bit of an unusual situation because of Carey and what he does, but it just wasn’t an overnight transition. Was it?
Yeah, it wasn’t an overnight transition. I spent about three and a half years in student ministry. That’s what I first came to do—that’s my first passion in ministry. I did that for three and a half years. Then I became the executive director, kind of Carey’s right hand, for another three years, and I was completing a building project then. And Carey and the elders approached me, and said, “would you be willing to consider the lead pastor position at Connexus?” And what happened was I prayed about it, felt called to it, took the position and was just really honored by that. And then Carrie continued on in a teaching role up until the beginning of COVID. So, at this point, that was about 18 months ago, and the idea was he would do that for about three to four or up to five years with like a bit of a ramp down at the end. The idea was actually that we would hire another communicator, but what happened was I felt more and more called to more regular communication. And so I ended up doing kind of the point communicator, and we’ve actually built a team over time of communicators over the last 18 months. So, Carey had, over the course of about maybe 12 months ago or eight months ago, kind of preached sort of for, not that he won’t come in and preach from time to time for us, but kind of his final official series on staff with us at Connexus. And he’s still a part of the church; Carey and I are friends. I was talking to him right before this podcast. We probably talk almost every day. So we have a great relationship, and he’s still a part of our church. He and Tony have been just amazing to Leslie and I.
And we should explain Carey’s wife’s name is Tony. So that’s the reference there.
That’s right. Yeah. I mean, I think this is a great story to share because this whole podcast series we’re focusing on new leaders in new roles. And it’s been an interesting transition, specifically for you, Jeff, because you were a part of the Connexus team. Then you stepped into this new lead pastor role, but it wasn’t just a title change. Was it? I’m curious to hear what you found to be kind of the biggest changes as far as your responsibilities were concerned when you stepped into the lead pastor position.
I mean, what I used to say when Carrie and I were passing the baton. So, to give you an idea on the timeline, I officially became the lead pastor for the staff on October 1st and publicly to the church on November 1st. So it went fairly quick that way. And it was a season where I used to say, “I feel like I’m wearing my dad’s suit.” You know, the big suit with all your sleeves hanging off, and Carey was wearing a suit that was too small. He was trying to figure out, “how do I operate in a smaller suit?” And I was trying to figure out how to operate in the big suit and kind of figure it all out. And I would say, I mean, I was already leading the staff. I’d already led, you know, the operational finance side. I’d come up in the kind of next gen ministry. So I knew kind of how all those things operated, but a big change for me was just the vision casting piece: casting vision a lot more often and casting vision to a camera a lot more. And stepping into a position that previously had been held by someone, Carey, who is so gifted at being clear, hyper clear. And the biggest challenge was how do I speak from my heart and be who I am and, at the same time, try to bring the level of clarity that people were used to. That was a really big challenge for me over time because you want to sound like you; you don’t want to start to sound like Carey. And so that was really, really important. And the other one would be donor relationships. So, while I’d handled the finances, I’d had limited relationships with donors. And so fostering those relationships, communicating with them and investing in them that all became, that was really a new facet for me, and trying to build those relationships. So those would be kind of two of the bigger changes around the kind of the leadership side.
Jeff, what I’ve found personally in new leadership roles that I’ve taken on is, you know, first you kind of understand the position in one way when you read the profile of the job and you see the job description. And then you get a little bit more clarity when you start the onboarding process and you actually start to step into those new responsibilities. But then somewhere along the way, there’s a surprise that kind of catches you where you thought, oh goodness, I didn’t realize that was part of the job. So I’m curious to hear from you, what was the biggest surprise for you? In other words, having been a pastor in a church but not being in the lead pastor role, was there anything about that new role that you didn’t fully grasp until you were actually in that position?
Yeah, absolutely. So I would say, you know, there are a couple of surprises that caught me along the way. One was when I transitioned, a lot of people had said to Carey and I, “you’re going to have staff transition when you transition.” And both Carey and I agreed that that probably wasn’t going to happen because I was already leading the staff. I was already relationally connected. They were already on board with my leadership. But it was probably, I became the lead pastor publicly in November. I came back from Christmas in January, and I had two staff give me a heads up that they’re moving off the staff team in January and were giving me notice. And they were the people I’d worked with the longest and the most closely and who I had the best relationship with. Huge surprise. And those people still attend our church and still volunteer at our church. But Carey’s transition created an atmosphere of transition. And when that happened, it wasn’t that these people weren’t loyal to the mission, but they started to rethink what they were doing. It wasn’t about me personally. So that was a big surprise. The staff team shrunk really, really quickly. And so it was a brand new foxhole experience to create new memories and to solidify my relationship with a new group of staff. But I think that the other big surprise was I knew that there would be a weight to the position, but it was the day-to-day pressure. I called my wife one day, and I said to her, “I feel like I walk around this place emotionally naked—like this is pushing out all my problems. Like whatever personal struggles I had just became more obvious, more evident.” The stuff that I struggle with became more evident to me and the people around me because the pressure was pushing it out. And so for me, it was going, “okay, when it comes to my own leadership, I’m starting to see the cracks more and more and more.” And having to deal with those one by one, that was definitely a big surprise to me. And I think the other shift is in a role like that, when you’re in an executive role, you’re solving a lot of problems. And when you’re in the lead pastor seat, your role is more to bring perspective first and solve the problem second.
Oh, that’s good.
I think when I was the executive director I was the problem solver for Carey. Now, you bring me a problem, what I need to do is put this in the context of the vision, put it in the context of the big picture, align you around the rest of the team and then help you solve the problem, versus, okay, let’s solve the problem; I’m the executive director, that’s my job. And so that was a big shift for me as well. Asking more questions, giving less answers. You know, I’m still trying to grow in that area and reminding people the big picture when they feel overwhelmed by the problem in front of them.
That’s very good, Jeff. So related to this, and maybe what you just shared answers this question, but you know, as I have stepped into new roles with new responsibilities, sometimes I have found that it’s difficult for me to give up the things that were a part of my previous job that I kind of grew comfortable doing because I felt like I was good at them. But in order to go to this next level of leadership, I needed to hand that off to somebody else. So I’m curious to hear from you, what was the hardest responsibility for you to give up from your previous role? When you took on your new responsibilities as a lead pastor, what did you have to start delegating to others and was kind of hard for you to give that away?
When I stepped into an executive director position and stepped away from student ministry, back then, I’d already done the hard work of stepping away from that; student ministry was my first love. But when I became a lead pastor, it wasn’t the responsibilities that were hard to step away from. It was the relationships. It was, “oh, I’m no longer working shoulder to shoulder with that person. And I’m no longer having a one-on-one with this person. Other people are doing that now.” And for me, ministry has all been about just not just what you do, it’s who you do it with. And for me, that’s always been a passion and a strength of mine. So I would say the hardest thing for me was stepping away from relationships and having someone else build the relationship with that key staff member and not being able to connect with them as often.
Yeah. I certainly get that. Yeah, that’s a good reminder of what that needs to look like as we’re transitioning into new leadership roles. You know, Jeff, we often talk about kind of these four key roles that senior pastors can’t delegate, and that includes spiritual leadership of the church, which of course primarily happens through the teaching that we do, leading the senior leadership team of the church, casting vision and then being the primary champion of culture—not only within the staff team, but also within the church as a whole. So I guess the first question is now that you’re in that lead pastor role, do you agree with that list? And if so or if not, of those roles, which one has challenged you the most early on in your lead pastor role?
Yeah, so I would say on that one, if I were to disagree on one, it would be teaching; spiritual leadership is, to me, is different than teaching. So I was clearly the leader of our church and not the primary teacher for a number of years. My friend Jeff Henderson did the same thing when Andy Stanley was on screen most of the time, and he was providing spiritual leadership. And he and I have talked about that before that you are able to provide spiritual leadership in other ways, not just as the primary communicator. So that would be the one kind of nuance I would put on that. But, you know, all the others: vision casting and creating culture—absolutely. But that was part of my journey figuring out, okay, how do I lead spiritually and vision cast when I don’t have 40 minutes on Sunday morning? And finding the spots to do that was a whole journey in itself. I would say the most challenging has been leading the leadership team. I would say that’s been the most challenging. We really wanted to move. Carey’s a real start-up guy; he had started the church, you know, original founder in very much what you would call a constellation model, where most of the staff would report directly to him. And what we wanted to do is we needed to scale larger. We’re launching another location, we’re beginning a network of partner churches and we needed to scale up at the senior leadership level position, which meant creating an executive leadership team. So I had had a leadership team that all reported to me. And then, all of a sudden, there was an executive team between myself and that team. And I would say, trying to figure out what that system looks like, trying to figure out, hey, who actually has relationship to who, who is reporting to who, how you manage projects—all of those things change. I think when you start scaling your leadership, you end up scaling your infrastructure in a brand new way. And I would say that was one of the biggest challenges that I ended up facing: trying to move to a place where there’s an executive team, making high-quality decisions over a leadership team of people who just all reported directly to me.
Yeah, and that we have found is actually a critical transition for churches to make. And oftentimes, it needs to happen between that first-generation leader and the second-generation leader. It’s not uncommon for, at least in the church context, I don’t know if this carries over to the marketplace or not, Jeff, but in church context, what we find is that oftentimes that first-generation leader, all the key leaders do report directly to that person. The challenge is over time, if you don’t transition to a tighter senior leadership team, that flat organization, it sounds crazy, but what we see end up happening is it actually creates more division within the team. And I don’t know why that is, but maybe it’s just because one person can only engage with a certain number of leaders. And as a result of that, it’s impossible to keep a broad team fully integrated. But that’s an important transition that we see. And oftentimes, it is the second-generation leader that has to take on that responsibility to walk the team through that transition.
And, again, that means changing the way your relationships work with particular staff.
It creates the challenge of aligning that senior leadership team around culture. If you’re bringing in people from outside, we did a little bit of that. And so what that does is it’s getting them aligned with the culture, getting them aligned with the vision. When the person who reports to them, who used to be on your team actually gets the culture better and trying to align everybody along those lines with a brand new layer creates a new challenge.
So, Jeff, there’s a big transition happening in the church world. I mean, the builder and boomer, senior pastors are passing the baton to the Gen Xers and the millennials. So, as this is happening, what encouragement would you give senior pastors who are stepping into this new lead role for the very first time?
I think the number one thing that I’ve learned, and I knew this at other levels, but what changed for me at the leadership level—it’s your character that’s going to be the real journey, not your competency. And I think at the beginning, you start with so much insecurity around your competency. But it’s your character at the end of the day. Because what happens is when it comes to stepping into the leadership role, it ends up just bringing a megaphone to so much of your character issues. And so if you’re trying to be a different leader—if you’re trying to be John Mark Comer or you’re trying to be Andy Stanley—and you’re trying to fake it till you make it, at a certain point that becomes obvious to people. The pressure of leadership will push that out. And if you struggle to delegate now, when you become the lead pastor, that struggle will be standing next to the megaphone to you, and you will realize how big an issue that really is for you. And the important thing for longevity in my mind is to lean into those things. And as you do, you become more of who you are, who the leader Jesus has called you to be. And it’s easier for you, I think, it was for me, at that point, to follow the lead of Jesus and leading my church rather than following the lead of my predecessor. It’s easy for me to lead out and take risks rather than worry about breaking what I’ve been given. And to me, it’s the character piece at the end of it; it feels like it’s all competency when you start, but the long game is the character side of who you are. And as you lean into that, it’s hard work, but it will pay off on the other end.
That’s so good, Jeff. Thank you for sharing that. Any final thoughts you want to share?
You know what I just want to say to anybody who’s in leadership these days. I mean, in the church world, what you’re doing is really, really important. And if I’m talking to anybody today who feels like that’s not true, I just want you to know it is true. That person who you interact with today, that phone call or that email, it is important. It’s impacting somebody. Don’t give up. Keep leaning into where God’s called you to, and he really is going to use you where you’re at.
Well, it’s really helpful to hear firsthand from someone who stepped from a previous ministry role into a senior pastor role for the very first time. It was also really refreshing to hear Jeff’s authenticity as a leader, you know, that really came through. Tony, what stood out to you from that conversation?
Well, there are a number of great nuggets that Jeff shared. One of them was just about the importance of growing in his vision, casting responsibility. You know he had served at the church in different leadership roles but never in the senior pastor role. And as the senior leader, we’ve talked to many times, senior pastors are responsible for bringing clarity, bringing focus about where the church is heading into the future. He also talked about the importance of linking vision with generosity and how he had to step into this new role of really nurturing donor relationships within the church, too. He talked about as a senior leader, that transition, when that happens, it actually starts to create an atmosphere of transition. And other people start to consider next steps for their ministry or their career. And we should really expect additional staff transitions when someone steps away from a senior leadership position like that. He also mentioned shifting responsibilities, which meant that also he had to shift relationships. And I know how challenging that is many times for pastors. Because having served in churches for many years, I know you build relational connection with folks on your team, volunteers in your ministry and others. And as you step into new leadership responsibilities, your relational focus has to shift as well. And then he also talked about the importance of creating that executive leadership team. We often call this the senior leadership team, but he alluded to the fact that it was important for him to do that, for his team to walk through this transition, because it allowed them to scale their leadership so that the church could also continue to minister to more and more people through the church’s ministry. So those were some of the things that jumped out to me, Amy, from that conversation.
Yeah. You know, Tony, whenever we invite other leaders onto our podcast episodes like this, we try to give our listeners just one next step that they can take based on the conversation that they’ve heard. With that in mind, what’s one specific next step that you recommend first time senior pastors should take as they move into this new responsibility?
Yeah. And actually you may have heard my audible reaction when Jeff alluded to this in our conversation, but I thought it was very insightful when he shared executive pastors/executive leaders tend to be problem solvers. Senior pastors need to bring perspective first, and then secondarily they’re focused on solving problems. I mean, he encouraged us to be thinking about how as senior pastors, we need to put problems in the context of vision and big picture. And then we need to bring alignment with the rest of our leadership team around those problems and then empower others to solve the problems. And this is a key element of delegation that senior pastors/senior leaders need to be considering as they step up in leadership responsibility. Related to that, the key is who’s on your next team. And so you might be thinking about in this season, if you are new in your senior pastor/lead pastor role, taking a good look at the leaders around you and asking this critical question, “do I have leaders who are problem solvers or do I have problem deliverers around me?” Amy, you’ve probably experienced this, where you have people on your team, they identify problems; they’re good at that.
Great at that.
Then they just bring the problems to you, and they kind of set them in your lap. As we rise up in leadership, we can’t afford that. We have to, because of the new responsibilities that we have to engage as leaders, we have to make sure the team around us not only can identify problems, but they can also solve the problems and help us get on the other side of those problems. So, for senior pastors that are going through this increase in bandwidth of their leadership, they’re thinking about spiritual leadership for the church, vision casting, leading this team of senior leaders and being the champion of culture. And because of this expanded responsibility as a senior pastor, you have to delegate problem-solving to the high-capacity team of leaders around you.
You know, having that executive pastor who really is a great problem solver or that person who carries the load and leads this team is so helpful, too. I find myself often with executive pastors and senior pastors having the executive pastor actually facilitate those meetings so that the senior pastor has time to think and do the things you said: connect that to vision and connect that to big picture.
And bring that clarity and focus, too. Yeah.
That’s right. Well, Tony, any final thoughts before we wrap up today’s conversation?
Yeah, Amy, what I didn’t ask Jeff about in our conversation, maybe I should have, was their team’s engagement with The Unstuck Group as he was stepping into this new lead pastor role. We’ve actually had the opportunity to work with the team at Connexus Church on a couple of separate occasions. The first time was during that transition season with Carey and Jeff. The second time was just last year during the COVID pandemic. And we helped Jeff and the team at Connexus Church refresh their vision, their direction for the future and also refreshing their staffing structure once again. And needless to say, I’m really looking forward to what God continues to do through their ministry in the coming days. The story with Connexus Church, though, isn’t unique. We’ve had the opportunity to help several churches clarify mission, vision, ministry, strategies and structure as they were going through a key leadership transition. And so, if you’re experiencing a similar leadership transition in your church, now may be a good time for us to help you and your team as well. If you’d like to learn more about our process, you can reach out today at theunstuckgroup.com.
Thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. If you like what you’re hearing on this podcast and it’s helped you in some way, we’d love your help in getting the word out. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform and giving us a review there. Next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. So until then, have a great week.