The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“An Innovative Approach to Selecting a Senior Leader“
September 27, 2021
Intro: Is your organization in a position where it needs to hire a new senior leader? Is your recruiting and selection approach proven to select the best candidate for the role? Well, listen into today’s episode as we discuss an innovative approach where our guest describes how his organization conducted an internally led, professionally supported senior-leader selection process.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire Christian leaders to create a flourishing workplace. As we face today’s leadership challenges, we are here to keep you from experiencing the pain of losing your best people and facing the resulting disruptions. Listen in as we help you attract and keep fantastic teams of engaged people who love one another while accomplishing great things for a higher purpose. Yes, we believe a flourishing culture is more important now than ever before. I’m Al Lopus and will be your guide today as we have a conversation about actions you can take that put you in the driver’s seat on the road to flourishing.
Turnover in top positions of our churches, Christian nonprofits, and Christian-owned businesses has accelerated as the world is beginning to stabilize after the COVID-19 pandemic. And today’s conversation is about an alternative, well-thought-through approach to selecting a highly capable new leader with a strong culture alignment. Can this be done without the expense of an executive search firm? Well, join me as we lean in to learn from this high-profile case study.
I’m delighted to welcome Bob Smith, the pastor of church planting and expansion of 2|42 Church, with seven locations in southeastern Michigan. Bob, it’s great to visit with you. Welcome to the Flourishing Culture Podcast.
Bob Smith: Well, thank you very much, Al. I appreciate being invited.
Al: Well, thanks, Bob. I’m looking forward to our conversation. And I know we’re going to have a conversation that every leader is interested in today, and that’s around senior-leader succession. But before we get into our conversation and our discussion, tell us a bit about your role and the church you serve.
Bob: Yeah, absolutely. My family and I have been part of 2|42, actually, before it was ever 2|42. We were part of the launch team and strategy of building a new church in our community. So I retired from law enforcement back in 2010, and in 2010, I joined the church staff. I’ve served as a campus pastor, executive pastor of business, and I have the privilege of helping 2|42 raise up new church planters, campus planters, and resource and equip new church plants across the country and across the globe. 2|42 Community Church is named after Acts 2, verses 42-47. We just didn’t think we could add the “through 47” to our name because it might a bit too long. And we are a 17-year old church plant, with seven different campuses, as you mentioned.
Al: Oh, that’s great. Yeah, branding. And 2|42 is a good brand. But, yeah, the “dash 47,” that would be tough.
So, after your founding senior pastor left your church and let them know that he was leaving for another senior-pastor role, tell us about the discussions that ensued about how you were going to fill the role. Many churches your size would just call your favorite executive search firm, but you took a little different approach. Tell us about the options your search committee discussed in the process.
Bob: Yeah, absolutely. Our leadership advisory team, think elders, asked me to explore the different options or processes that we could call upon or that we might be able to avail ourselves of to locate our next senior pastor. I spent time talking to executive search firms. I’ve talked to churches that managed those searches entirely on their own. And while both are solid options for different reasons for particular organizations in church, we felt, however, that we were leaving some great options unavailable to us. So we decided, instead, that because we are confident with our network, we could recruit qualified applicants ourselves. It was the tools to create the systems and the analysis that we were lacking, basically, to develop the competencies that the leadership and the staff and attenders to 2|42 wanted to see in their next senior pastor. We also felt strongly that a behavioral assessment would play an important role in helping the search team decide who they were going to call as their next senior pastor.
Al: That’s interesting. So, sounds like you felt confident in your ability to secure qualified candidates through your networks. And, yeah, I know you’ve got a great network. And you also had internal candidates, but maybe less confident about the process involved in selecting one based on your culture DNA. So you really kind of decided to go with this internally led and professionally supported process, as I came to understand it. So describe that for us, and share with us some of the reasons for choosing this option.
Bob: Yeah. Let me set the stage for you. It’s March 2020. We had just learned about this brand-new word, COVID, that it was a virus, and we had no idea. We were fully expecting, after hearing the news that our senior pastor, our founding pastor, was leaving to go to another church, we were hit with COVID. And we just found that the church in America had never been so divided.
So one of the things that we did not want to do, we did not want to rush into a decision. We wanted to spend some time evaluating where we were as a church, where we were with staff health, and we wanted more information about who we are and where people sense God is calling us to go. So developing and managing the search entirely internally seemed to us that we were leaving valuable experiences and resources behind. Hiring a search firm to manage the search and bring in candidates to us, well, that seemed as if that would not allow us the level of oversight or involvement in the recruitment and evaluation of the initial applicants that we were really looking for.
So the internally led, professionally supported model or process was very appealing. We had already built a great relationship with Best Christian Workplaces Institute. We were very familiar with the assessment process and wanted to incorporate the behavioral assessment into our process as well. So we were blessed to have staff with significant experience in the private sector, in their previous careers, doing executive searches, and the combination of the professional support and the network connections that 2|42 already had, we felt confident that we would have a solid process to develop the competencies and process and the analysis to help the search committee make the right decision.
I also wanted to make sure that your audience knows the depth of prayer, fasting, seeking God’s wisdom that just permeated the entire process here as well. That was very intentional throughout the process.
Al: Yeah. Well, having been involved in senior-pastor searches and having led committees myself, I know the first step is creating a church profile. So in this process, you felt it was important to leverage the results of your Best Christian Workplace Engagement Survey results into the culture profile. Love to get your thoughts. What was your thinking behind that?
Bob: Well, we have benefited from each of the BCWI Surveys and debriefs that we have conducted. Tara VanderSande has been an absolute invaluable partner to us for several years, and she’s really helped us understand what we should be asking and how to use the Survey results to address the concerns of our staff. There are times we think we know what we need, but really understanding what is best and, better yet, having a strong understanding as to the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities that an organizational culture has is really the gold standard. And really, we benefited so much from understanding all that information that we have been given in the past few years.
Al: Yeah. That’s a great start to understanding the church building a profile.
And so, one of your early steps was to identify the criteria for selecting suitable candidates for this role, this important role. So tell us about the core ideas that were defined to begin this process for selecting a suitable candidate.
Bob: Yeah. As we began to work more with BCWI and particularly with Tara, one of the first things we did is create a senior-leadership preferred-future exercise that BCWI did with our operational team, our senior leadership. And really, a lot of the questions we were asking, what do you consider a sacred cow for 2|42 Community Church? What are the aspects of the church culture or community that you feel should be protected and not changed or altered? And you can imagine how important of a question that is for a future candidate to understand coming into a scenario in a new church. And then the second question we asked, imagine it’s two years after the hire of a senior pastor. What would you like to see the church accomplish? So it gives us an opportunity to kind of allow some future thinking to come into the conversation. So the senior pastor is coming in and has an understanding as to the goals, aspirations, and calling that God has on the lives of our operational team. It was a great exercise, gave us just a lot of valuable information to be able to share with the candidates.
And then we created a church profile, just trying to understand who we are as a church. And certainly the surveys that BCWI has done for us in the past gave us great information and insight into that. But it’s also, it’s more. It’s more about, again, it’s the aspirations, the collective aspirations, for 2|42 Community Church to impact the community. What have we done in the past that will demonstrate that we have a continued drive to do the same ministry in our communities and beyond.
And then, we developed a senior-pastor profile, using a lot of all the same information that was built on, what are the minimum qualifications that we would be looking for in a senior pastor? And I say minimum qualifications, they were really, they’re guidelines, because if we had a candidate come in that we were curious about, we would certainly extend further invitation to have conversation with them, even though they may not have completely lined up with the guidelines. So it was an opportunity, in many cases, for a candidate to opt out themselves when they looked at the qualifications. But they also, then, could measure up about how God is calling them, has equipped them uniquely, and decide to move forward as well.
We added, what are the priorities that the leadership would like the senior pastor embrace, and what are the expectations? One of the things you hear from me, I’m a big fan of clear expectations for any staff and then extending that to the senior pastor as well. It’s really a two-way street.
Then lastly, we began to—Tara and I began to work through developing the competencies, those skills and attributes that basically were common among CEOs and church planters. So I kind of worked the church-planter angle, and Tara worked the CEO senior-leadership angle, and we kind of just began to morph those together. And out of that, we spent a fair amount of time surveying our leadership, eldership, and staff and key volunteers of these competencies we developed, and they ranked them for us. What are the priorities? They really kind of set that out so we could properly weight them in the evaluations that were later developed.
Al: Yeah. And Bob, this impresses me. If you were just to take a guess, how many people were involved in this process, where you went to your leadership, the staff, even the congregation? How many people would you say would be involved where you sought their input in creating these four core processes?
Bob: Yeah. It would have been well over 80 staff members—
Al: Yeah, mm-hmm.
Bob: —and then, at least another 50 or so key volunteers and leaders in the church.
Al: Yeah. Wow, yeah. So, clearly, over 100, in that case, 125 or 130, probably. Yeah. That’s a key part. And I really like, you know, many organizations would go through a profile of organization, or church profile, a senior pastor or CEO profile, whatever the role is, but your preferred-future exercise, and then going through and really identifying competencies. And I’ve seen the competencies, and I mean, these weren’t just one-word lists. These were extensive summaries of the skills and attributes that you were looking for.
Well, you know, there’s not many organizations that have also defined your culture as you have. As I’ve looked at it, that’s just really impressive. Give us a rundown of your culture code and your significant culture markers, as you describe them.
Bob: Well, it is unique when a church names itself after a piece of scripture—
Bob: —that clearly, in our mind, defines what the early church looks like. Let me read Acts 2:42-47 for you here. You can begin to pick out some of those culture-code pieces, those things that identify the church that we want to be identified with as well in the Kingdom.
Acts 2:42-47. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day, they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with gladness and sincere hearts, praising God, and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Amen. That’s just—you can just hear culture in that statement of what the early church looked like.
Now, to kind of take that out a little bit further to some of the things that we’ve done. Our mission statement is helping people take their next steps with God, and we believe that everybody has a next step. We’ve taken time to develop some ethos, that we value people. We value fun. We want to be a fun place to work, and we encourage that. But we want to be a community that helps people develop who God has called them to become as well. We have values, visions, and standards for every ministry, you know, out there. So once again, these are the reason why and, then, how we accomplish those reasons, and we try to keep those consistent with the original message of helping people take the steps with God.
A couple of things that we talked about. We value the fringe more than the people are far from God. That’s our mission field. That’s who we’re called. We have a discipleship model called the nine, that’s very reproducible. And it really does clearly help someone understand what is it like to take you from the point of an unbeliever to an attender to someone who’s contributing to the mission of God to becoming a missionary in your own neighborhood, which we just love that idea.
And then, lastly, one of the things we talk about is killing the celebrity of the church. We have a teaching team, a model. So we have many different teachers who rotate to all of our different campuses. So we want to make Jesus famous. We don’t want to make any one particular worship leader or teacher famous. Jesus is who we want to focus on.
And those are some of the key aspects that even came up in our exercise of establishing what are the sacred cows, the future exercise we did with the ops team. Many of these things were identified as critical to be able to continue to move forward.
Al: Helping people take their next steps with God, that’s a great statement.
I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
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Al: And now, back to today’s special guest.
Well, next, Bob, you built a position profile, and as you finished this step, what was a unique outcome that might have been different than you originally expected? We go into these steps, I know, in this process, and we kind of have a plan, but then it almost never kind of works out to what we expected. Was there anything that came up that was different than you expected?
Bob: Well, I think that we found two really valuable outcomes. First, we wanted the applicants to understand what the leadership-advisory-team’s expectations were for their first year as the next senior pastor at 2|42. So we played that out. We modeled what a good year of pace and development would be for them.
Now, certainly there’s lots of conversation between leadership and the new senior pastor as to what does that look like. As you heard me say before, I’m just a big fan of clear expectations. And while 2|42 strives to be a simple church, we are seven campuses, hundreds of staff members, multimillion-dollar budget, and that just being, let me just say, a fair amount of complexity that’s already built into the process. So we wanted leadership to create an expectation of a healthy pace for that next senior pastor so they can still have margin to lead their family, develop community, and be missionaries in their own neighborhoods as well. So our hope is to create a 12-month expectation, and I think we did that, and I think that’s helping guide the next senior pastor as they begin their term with us right now.
This process also provided, I think, the applicant with a kind of the priorities that should be considered around the duties and responsibilities of the senior pastor. So in a structure like ours, we have really highly skilled ministerial staff and support staff and business staff. The senior pastor doesn’t need to have the depth of knowledge that a financial controller or a CFO have or small-groups’ leaders and worship leaders, things like that. So we wanted to create these priorities of leading and developing people as the key priorities over trying to become an expert in any one particular ministry.
The thought behind these two outcomes was to provide, really, a recommended roadmap to the next senior pastor that will aid them in their first year.
Al: Yeah. That really helped with the onboarding in that first year. Boy, that’s great.
So, we had an earlier discussion, and you mentioned the importance of defining key competencies that you used to evaluate the candidates. And as I understand, there were something like 17 total competencies, nine skills and experiences, and maybe seven attributes or behaviors that you’re looking for. So give us a quick review of the ones that you developed and how they were used in the selection process. I thought this was really helpful.
Bob: Yeah, absolutely. This is one of the biggest benefits we received by working with BCWI. We wanted to define and be able to identify skills and attributes, which we collectively call the competencies, that we were seeking in our applicants. We built a list, common competencies for a CEO and of a church planter. I think I mentioned that earlier. But we felt like focusing on these two roles, we could capture the heart of those competencies that 2|42 is looking for. BCWI helped create the survey that would allow our leaders, staff, and key volunteers, that 100-plus individuals, to rank, from most to least important, the competencies they saw for the next senior pastor. We weighted these competencies based on the results of the survey. So, lots and lots of people got to weigh in.
And there were a lot of great opinions, as is good, but it did, definitely, provide us a trajectory of what the leading competencies were that collectively our organization was looking for. And I can speak to a couple of those, if you like.
Al: Yeah, please. Yeah.
Bob: The first is visioning capacity, which is really communicates compelling, inspiring vision in the sense of core purpose. You can certainly hear what, understand how important that is in ministry—
Bob: —in any organization and leadership. Ministry empowerment, really, for someone who engages everyone to feel personally responsible for the growth and success of the church. People developer, someone who will identify and develop those strengths and develop the weaknesses in people. Inclusive integrator, intentionally integrates people of all races, cultures, disability, ages, and genders. Innovation manager, moves best ideas forward, with the highest potential for Kingdom impact. Relationship builder, someone who would cultivate strong personal relationships of all levels of influence and involvement. And then lastly, one of my favorites is relates to the unchurched, just that natural ability to move in and out of personal spaces of the unchurched, be able to build relationships with them.
So these are some of the competencies that we look for. And we often tell people we were looking for evidence. In my law-enforcement career, that just made perfect sense to me, that we wanted to look for the evidence of these competencies in candidates’ lives. We weren’t so much interested in hearing, asking the question, how would you be a developer of people? We will really want to get to the meat of it and go, how have you developed? and just dig down into those stories that they were able to relate to. And then be able to assess with the instruments that we developed with BCWI, a scoring mechanism, for where people would rank in our evaluations.
Al: Wow. So, then, the next phase was to develop a candid assessment process. So tell us a couple of the key steps in this process. And did it go as you expected?
Bob: Well, let me first say that BCWI’s help went far beyond providing the survey tools and the analysis. A wealth of HR knowledge in the senior-staff hiring was absolutely, again, invaluable. So what was some of the things we did? We created a guideline for the type of minimum experience that we would expect from the applicant. This would help that applicant opt out if they chose to look at it and, like, “This is not a fit for me.” We created a questionnaire for the applicant. So if you made it through the rest of the resume scoring phase, we would then invite you to complete a questionnaire, which was just the beginning of looking for that first level of evidence of competencies in a person’s life, their personal and their professional careers. We added as well an introductory video to that component. And you have to remember that through all this, this is COVID.
Bob: In many of these cases, we might have had meet ups or coffees and engagements. Our process up until the very, these last couple of months, has been entirely on video. It was quite unique. So we created a questionnaire, and we gave the search team the tools to look for the evidence and to score it. And then out of that, we would move people, then, into the next phase of a video interview with the entire search team.
But in the middle of that, we also took advantage of training our search team in how to listen for and ask the right questions. When you have a process, it’s all about building evidence towards competencies, because people ask a lot of different questions in HR world, and we’ve seen a lot of HR professionals just cringe at some of the questions. So we just wanted to make sure that we had unity within the search committee as to the direction we were going for the questioning and the style of questioning so we were as consistent as possible with all the applicants together. So that training was really important. It was mining for evidence of established competencies in a candidate’s life, just really enjoyed that.
Al: Yeah. I love those steps, Bob, for sure. And, yeah, this training the search team on interviewing, what an important step. How many people overall were on the search team, Bob?
Bob: There were 12.
Al: Twelve, yeah, okay.
Bob: And they—in ministry, it’s pretty common to have a high number of people.
Al: Yeah, yeah.
So, at this point, you had a list of candidates, and they made the first cut, and they were going to participate in interview. Tell us what’s next.
Bob: Well, I’ll probably be repeating myself here a bit, but, again, BCWI really leaned in and helped develop the questions the search team would be asking. So in that process, we sent someone to do the predominant purveyor questions, someone who’ll be asking those questions, and sent someone to follow up with additional questioning and things like that.
So the questions that we uniquely designed, that if you’re looking for somebody who has been successful developing new staff or raising staff to have their own platform ahead of their own, those are unique areas that you have to ask questions about. And to really get to the evidence, you have to hear the impact that their efforts in development had on the staff that they have led in the past. And hearing those stories is really where this becomes essential to the search team because those are the expectations that we would want moving forward. So it’s really, I think, it’s kind of a mix of science and art element of these questions. You want to discover evidence, you want that to be easy, but you also really want to mine for those nuggets from the candidate that will allow their skills and attributes to shine.
We have to remember that, again, we’re operating in the middle of a pandemic. Many of our segments that would normally be in person were instead handled via video, and we worked hard to create the same experience for all the candidates, regardless if they are internal or external. We wanted consistency. That was an important value in our process.
Al: Wow. Yeah. Then, after all this work, you come down to a final selection process. How did you feel the process helped you in the final selection as you are now getting into this phase?
Bob: Our goal was always to move from a bulk of candidates and moves through the process that would allow for the search team to narrow the list of candidates to a final two individuals. Each segment of the process was intended a little deeper into those skills and attributes of the candidates and also utilized that behavioral assessment that we hired through His Story, Dr. Matthew Lagrange. The goal was to build up enough confidence from our staff and congregation would have in the search team as well. We did other opportunities throughout the process for other members of our staff to interact with the candidates to kind of bring that into the process itself. They provided their observations and opinions back to us, and we looked at those, and we applied those to the overall reviews as well, trying to bring as many people into the process as possible, because this new person coming in, it’s their senior pastor, too. It’s my senior pastor, but it’s theirs as well. And while you can’t invite 120 people into a search process to the level that they want to be involved in—
Bob: —you can certainly try to make as much effort to show that we value their opinion, and we’re going to use that.
Al: And, you know, you had done a lot of culture work up to this point. So how did that culture work really give you confidence in your selection as well as following this process?
Bob: We had the benefit of conducting several annual surveys of our staff. In each case, it’s really an exercise of self-discovery. We loved hearing that we were considered a best Christian workplace, not once but twice. But to leave it there would be really a significant disservice to our staff. The fact that BCWI helped us engage with our staff and coach us through listening and learning sessions has been so instrumental in the staff, and it’s really helped us make some significant course corrections in how we lead. And that just built confidence, I hope, and I believe. One of the things we heard often repeated by our staff and the search-team members and candidates was that it was a fair process. There was equity across the board. I really think so much of that is the benefit because of our partnership with BCWI. It was just incredibly easy.
Al: Yeah. Wow, great.
And now you’ve got a selection, and he’s about ready to start. And from his perspective, how did this process go? How did this help him?
Bob: Yeah. So we selected Tony Johnson. He comes from LifeHouse Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And he said on several occasions that while looking at the profile and having conversations with us about the competencies and skills, attributes, that we were looking for, the way that they were defined really spoke to him, that he could clearly discern that these are skills and attributes that he possesses, that he desires to improve in his life. And I think it helped him personally discern that a next step and a next ministry is what God was calling him to do. So the level of intentionality the team had looking for evidence, I think really allowed the candidate to be confident that we were assessing the skills and attributes and their abilities. In the end, we wanted a candidate to really select us while we were selecting them. The senior-pastor profile also formed the basis of expectations and accountability. This will help the church leadership and Tony really start the relationship with very clear expectations and mission focus.
Al: Well, Bob, this has really been very exciting to learn all that you’ve been through in this process, and our prayers are with you in terms of the way this turns out and with Tony as he leads 2|42 going into the future.
I love the idea that you started out with, and that is to have an internally led but professionally supported process and how the combination of the resources and the skills and the networks that 2|42 had going into this, and then pulling in a couple of other resources to help you guide you through the process. And I love the core areas. As we talked about the way the leadership talked about the future, preferred-future exercise, and how you created the church profile, the senior-pastor profile, and really the competency work was helpful. And then, integrating your culture code and creating that roadmap of expectations and priorities. I mean, all of this was really well-thought-through exercise.
So to conclude, Bob, how about a final thought about the advantage of your internally led, professionally supported approach to the search, especially a thought that you’d like to leave with our listeners.
Bob: Yes, thank you. I truly believe that our process got us to the right point. Staff involvement is critical to hearing from the most diverse group possible and building trust in the process itself. BCWI made that possible for us. For 2|42, the internally led and professionally supported delivered the very best candidates. It allowed us to leverage staff involvement. It was financially responsible as well. With the right professional support, I believe that many churches’ or parachurches’ groups can be successful implementing a similar model in their organizations.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, Bob Smith, the pastor at 2|42 Church, thanks for your contributions today, and I really appreciate your leadership and devotion to God in this process and overall. So, really, thanks for taking the time out of your day and speaking into the lives of so many listeners. Thanks, Bob.
Bob: Well, you’re very welcome. Let me just, again, thank you to your organization, specifically Tara VanderSande and Dr. Matthew Lagrange of His Story, our psychologist, for their invaluable partnerships. It was a great team, and it was a great adventure, and I appreciate this opportunity to talk about it.
Al: Yeah. We’re certainly very proud of Tara, and we think that she’s one of the best leaders in the talent and engagement in the church today, absolutely. So, thanks for your support.
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