Chris Mavity interviews Shawn Lovejoy, Founder & CEO of CouragetoLead.com, on what his best gift is, a church's first ten years, and a "strategic half-day."
Read the full audio transcript here:
Mavity: We have the distinct pleasure of having Shawn Lovejoy with us today and we’re gunna chat a little bit. I’ve got a couple of questions for him. So Shawn, say, thank you so much for being part of this.
Lovejoy: Honored to do so. Great to see you and hear you today, old friend.
Mavity: Oh my goodness. I can remember the times at Mountain Lake and Cumming, Georgia and the church that you started that’s just an absolute blast to go to.
Lovejoy: We had a great time man, had a great run and I’m excited about the season and place God has me in today and you as well. We’re both at different places today.
Mavity: You know time passes, so. Say, for those of our audience that don’t know you, when did you first become a senior pastor?
Lovejoy: So, I moved to Atlanta in 1999 to plant a church. I had read a book called Purpose Driven Church. Didn’t have a clue, never been a senior leader before, and really had just come out of the business world a few years earlier. I’d been a real estate developer, if you remember that part of the story, and God placed me in Atlanta and you know, just had a seed of leadership in my heart. And then a pastor friend of mine called me. He said, “We’re going to the Purpose Driven Church Planting Conference and we’re going to meet this cool church out there we’ve heard of called North Coast Church.” And that’s the summer that I met you. Six months before we had launched is when you and I met.
Mavity: I remember that. We met with Larry if I recall correctly. That was twenty plus years ago, so I might not have that right in my mind, but yeah.
Lovejoy: Around that time I began to realize that I was, like, an executive pastor trapped in a senior pastors body. I mean, I know very, very well that you and I have hung out more over the years frankly. I mean I have more friends like you on the exec team than I did senior pastors. And I realized that I had like a wiring, gifting, to teach the between Sunday stuff to other pastors.
Lovejoy: As well as like everything kinda comes out of a place of help for me and good rhythms in your life. So we started teaching that to a ministry called ChurchPlanters.com. That’s how I got started coaching pastors while I was pastoring, you know, there in Atlanta.
"What most pastors do is they respond and they react. Rather than designing the ministry system far in advance, initiating the way they want everything to look."
Mavity: Yeah, and you’ve commented to me before, Shawn, about, as a senior pastor, you didn’t feel like your communication gift was your best gift. So, I wanted you to share with me, well, what do you think your best gift is?
Lovejoy: Well, I think there are some guys that would do themselves a lot of justice to surrender that component of wanting to be on stage and have the masses bow down to them. I never understood the guy who said, “Man, I’ve been out of the platform a couple of weeks. I haven’t been behind the pulpit and I miss it.” I'm like, you need counseling for that. I just did not understand that some guys lead so they can preach, and preach so they can lead. And obviously I believe in the role of preaching and I was reasonably good at it. I mean the church grew to be a mega-church while I was leading it and I was a good communicator but I never invited myself to preach anywhere in twenty years of being a senior pastor. I always wanted to be with guys between Sundays. And I can look back now over my spiritual markers and recognize that it’s just a wiring in my heart and in my life. By the time we were ten years old, and this was private at the time, but I went to my wife and said, “Hey, what if we turned the church over to one of these young guys and we just coached pastors full time?” To which she responded, “Are you kidding me? We’re just now enjoying this.”
Mavity: Well, you still didn’t answer my question. You’re like every other senior pastor I know. You're good at deflecting. I really do want you to share with our audience what you think you're best at, because I think it has something to do with what you’re doing now and of course that’s important to me.
Lovejoy: Well, I’m schizophrenic. My top three strengths are strategic, futuristic, and responsibility. So I’m very, very strategic in asking through the long term affect of things – why we’re doing what were doing. But then that responsibility gift allows me to drop down to the execution level very quickly. So I always had very short fuse for those meetings where we sit around and talk about things and don't do anything about it. So it’s really helped me become a good coach. You’re good at that. There are some of us like you and me, Chris, we were good players but we’re even better coaches. And when it comes to the church, I just feel like that’s my gift – to help walk guys through the strategy but then the execution plan of the strategy.
Mavity: Very good, I’m glad you said that. And I wanna endorse and affirm that in you and our friendship over the years and the personal relationship that we've had and the little tidbits I pick up from you. But even wise counsel over the years has been amazing to me. The wisdom that you have especially one-on-one. I wanna thank you for that and I want our audience to hear that from you. So, you talked to me here, gosh, maybe five or six months ago. Maybe it was four months ago, about the importance not of a church’s first month or first year or the launch, but the perspective of the church planter or any other person that’s doing ministry to kinda have this ten-year outlook. And I'm not saying it as well as you did to me, but will you talk to me about that concept of, like, a church’s first ten years or a pastor starting in ministry the first ten years?
Lovejoy: Well, you know Ed Stetzer did research years ago and found statistically there was a success factor difference between guys and gals who had interned in a large ministry or been on staff at a larger ministry, and then gone out to plant the church. And what they understood through that process of assimilating and asking the right questions is that there’s a different way of thinking that goes into a ministry if you can see four or five levels beyond you and several levels beyond where you are now. And so you back into that. You begin to realize a lot more pastors could benefit from thinking long term. What it’s gunna look like? What is the end result organizational structure going to best benefit the ministry, and how can I begin to build that structure and organizational system now for my ministry? And I see that as - theres a difference there between the churches that scale and break and get to five-hundred or one-thousand people relatively quickly and those that don’t.
Mavity: If you had to describe that difference in thinking, in a sentence, what would that be?
Lovejoy: Initiating, not responding. What most pastors do is they respond and they react. Rather than designing the ministry system far in advance, initiating the way they want everything to look. No plan’s perfect but working your plan. I think Jim Collins called it the flywheel effect. If you push that long enough, and you stay committed to that process and that system, over time it has great benefits. Sometimes you're slower out of the shoot because you're not doing everything. But Andy Stanley was my mentor there for a few years in Atlanta. He said, “Shawn, when you start a church, you start out doing everything but the longer you do everything you become the lid.” I think that is a definitive reason why a lot of these guys never break 100, 200, 500. It’s all they can do. And they will not release and empower leaders.
Mavity: One of my favorite coaching concepts is people don't scale; systems do. And so getting that system is an important factor. So good. Hey, another question I had for you was this idea of thinking about the future, especially three to five years out or even as far as ten years, and what you would want that to look like or be like? How do I get the time to do that when the weekend is always just around the corner, even on a Monday morning the weekend is just around the corner. Help us out with that if you would, Shawn.
Lovejoy: So, I’m a big fan of taking one half day a month. Just one half day a month. I coach this with the leaders that I coach, and make it a strategic day. Just no appointments that day. Turn your cell phone off; they'll live without you for a Thursday afternoon or Monday morning and design the structure. Then the goal is to work yourself out of a job. And I really do think designing that org chart – what is and what should be – can be an absolute turning point for not only ministry leaders but organizational leaders who tend to hang on too long.
Mavity: Okay, so when you say a strategic half-day, that hits me as, “I don't have my cell phone on, I’m not answering texts or emails.” Are you talking about to that length, where it’s a day away focusing?
Lovejoy: I would advocate for no technology whatsoever because it’s so distracting.
"...designing that org chart – what is and what should be – can be an absolute turning point for not only ministry leaders but organizational leaders who tend to hang on too long..."
Mavity: Okay. So your scratch and free half day, strategic day, and is this by yourself only, or do you invite people into that?
Lovejoy: Yeah, I think it’s wise to start with yourself and decipher through your own mind and you're own heart what you want to say and what God wants to do in and through you. And then of course you need to process it through a multitude of witnesses. Whatever you do, don't come down from the mountain and say, “God told me,” because it could've been something you ate.
Mavity: All right. Maybe others in this episode can relate to that, “God told me.” Anyway, that’s another interview. So say, one of the things that I've appreciated about you over the years, Shawn, is just your ability to take complexity bring it down to the practical, and then share tips about that. So I want you to give us a couple and the first one that comes to mind. Can you give us a tip on what is the one thing every pastor needs to learn, and the sooner the better?
Lovejoy: Most pastors do not know how to add value to other people before asking something from them. And I really do think if more pastors out there would really recognize, what is it that they’re interested in? What is it that resonates with them? What are they passionate about? And I’m not talking about inside the walls of our church. I’m talking about in their life, in their family, in their business. You give people what they want, you add value to them, when you need them they'll take a bullet and tackle hell with a water gun for you. And so, one of the things they don't teach us in seminary is people skills. How to love people. And I meet these young pastors all the time, Chris, that are brilliant but they don't know how to love people. They're mean people, Chris. I meet mean pastors all the time and they blow right past people and they value productions and processes over people. But the churches I see really getting it done the pastors an amazing leader and he gets processes and they have amazing productions, but he's good with people. And I see a lot of pastors skip over that. Last I heard most important thing in the world – love God love people. And so I learned a lot from people like Lencioni and John Maxwell. Sadly, I had to read a lot about valuing people from resources outside the church! But I made it a study to love and value and show interest in other people and then when you need to ask something from them it’s easy.
Mavity: Well, give me one or two tips for somebody out there that’s hearing that. We think that we’re loving people because of the work we do and all of that, but what are one or two tips that would be a tell tale sign that I would need to work on my ability to love people? How would you know that about me?
Lovejoy: Shut up in the name of Jesus. Talk less, listen more. Ask questions, monitor your conversations. How much are you talking about what the church is doing, what you're trying to do, and what’s going on, and what’s coming down the pipeline, and how you need them, and more about the other people. Monitor your conversations and what you do. Monitor your motivations. Do I seek to add value to someone every day for which I will get nothing in return? And if we’re not careful in ministry, man, all we do is value people for what we think we can get out of them and over time it’s very draining. It adds value and energy to my own life knowing that I've actually added value to somebody else’s life. If I'm always wanting something from someone else, in the long run it’s very draining. I'm telling you I've succumbed to that in ministry at times. It’s all about building a machine. Getting everybody to help me build my thing. I've repented to God privately and this is my public repentance of many times. It’s something you have to fight against. We got into ministry for people, and so it’s a constant readjust daily to say I need to monitor my speech and monitor my motivations.
Mavity: Yeah, if ‘listen’ was on the New York stock exchange like, LSTN or something like that, I would put all my retirement money in ‘listen’. The value of listening, especially in a noisy world, is going up quite significantly. For those of you that are on the show now, man that tip that Shawn just, give practice it for one week and see if you're better off at the end of that week and my bet is that you will be and then just do it some more. Say, what’s one thing that, in your mind, every pastor needs to forget, and the sooner the better?
Lovejoy: Oh gosh, you know we only changed one value. We had a set of values for our team at our church that I led there in at Atlanta for 17 years and one of them was excellence, that’s the only one we ever changed, Chris, in 17 years. I changed that to resourcefulness because excellence, in all these ministry values in churches every day and of course I’m consulting with churches every day, every week, excellence is normally one of their values. But that can be a mask for perfectionism. And nothing’s ever good enough, and all we do is sit around and talk about what’s wrong, and everybody that’s wrong, and everybody that’s not getting it done, and it can become a miserable enterprise in the ministry. And once again, suck the life out of you. So, I tell guys, “don't take yourself so seriously and enjoy the journey, and celebrate the wins, and celebrate what God’s doing. Share stories with your life, with your family, with your ministry.” A pastor told me years ago, he said, “When you go home and talk to your spouse, it’s okay to give them the ‘Empire Strikes’ version, just come back around and give them the ‘Return of the Jedi’ version.” We come back sometimes, we win and they get better and we have good days, but if you're not careful, over time pastors are some of the most jaded, cynical people because we see everything that’s wrong. Nothing’s ever good enough every time and God forbid we go to a conference and they've got hazers, and intelligent lightings, and video screens they can touch with their fingers while they're preaching. We can't afford that so we think we’re nothing and our four people we led to the Lord was awesome until we got on twitter and saw Steven Furtick’s salvation numbers this weekend and then we feel terrible and nothing we do is ever good enough.
"Shut up in the name of Jesus. Talk less, listen more. Ask questions, monitor your conversations."
The Lord never asked us to be faithful with more than what we have. So to answer your question in one sentence, start focusing on being faithful with what you have. You are not responsible for what you don't have. You are responsible for what you do have. I wish pastors would stop asking for God to grow their church and say grow me, grow me. I don't think we’re waiting on God to grow our churches, I think he's waiting on us to grow so we can be good stewards to the people. He will never send us more people than we can effectively steward as a leader so grow. Grow yourself and the ministry will take care of itself.
Mavity: Let’s go on to this stewardship thing just real quickly. My questions don’t have to do with the finances part of it. That’s not what I'm interested in. But when God entrusts his children, especially those that know Him, to a pastor, a church, a staff if you will, eldership, a leadership – there is a huge value there and there is a responsibility. Talk to me about that stewardship of people versus, like, often when we think of stewardship we think of money or buildings.
Lovejoy: Yes, and you will love my answer. It’s one of the reasons we've become friends and you are where you are today and everything else. I mean I run into churches everyday who say, “Man, we’re seeing people come to Christ, we’re seeing new families, but we’re not growing.” So I began to ask some questions – well how many families have visited? What types of families have visited? Did they come back a second time? They don't have any idea. They don't have any way of telling me. They're a church running five-hundred to a thousand people or more. They don't have a church database management system to track the spiritual development and attendance patterns of the people that are coming. So why would God send more people if we’re not monitoring and measuring and facilitating ministry and communicating with and helping people process through their spiritual life that are coming now? Why would the Lord send more? So it’s another example of why churches need to focus on getting better not bigger. If we get better at really knowing what’s going on with the people that are coming and being good stewards of them, measuring and monitoring their every step they take. When a person came back to church a second time for us it was a significant spiritual decision. And we knew who those people were and we went after them. And I think it’s one of the reasons our church was able to grow. I didn’t build it around my communication skills and the church didn’t implode when I left. I was not the perfect pastor, nobody has to be, but good stewardship systems being good stewards of people. Yeah I'm not talking about money at all I'm talking about being good stewards of people. If we’re good stewards of the people that the Lord is bringing now, guess what he promises to do? Bring more. If we’re faithful with what we have more will be entrusted to us. If we’re not, what we have will be taken away. And that’s what’s happening with churches all around the country. They're not being faithful with what they have, so the Lord’s taken away from them and planting them somewhere else. So God does have favorites and we get to choose who he picks. I mean we get to be one of his favorites if we steward his people.
Mavity: Well, you're right I do love your answer. That’s awesome. Now, I wanna kind of wrap up with this: you're a senior leader at a great church in the north side of Atlanta, Cumming, Georgia. Things are going well for you. As a matter of fact, if I recall correctly, when I got the phone call from you that you were making a shift I was like, “Well, who does that?” I mean, what could be better for you?
Lovejoy: You’re right.
Mavity: You got churchfinders.com going like a rocket, your church is awesome, your wife knows better at ten years it started being fun, when you’re seventeen it was even funner and you had more opportunities and so this idea – courage to lead, by the way I love the title, because it does it takes a bunch of courage to step out and lead, but what the heck? What were you thinking?
Lovejoy: Well, I was with one of my mentors, Sam Chan. You know Sam. We were at On the Border in Buckhead in Atlanta there and I was just processing through all of this and the Lord used him in my life this day. I had no reason to leave, but he made this quote to me. He said, “Shawn, change is difficult because we often overestimate the value of what we have, and we underestimate the value of what we might gain by giving that up.” And I made my decision to leave a great opportunity to pursue something even bigger, right there at On the Border that day. After much prayer and fasting and a lot of consultation behind the scenes, that day at On the Border. That’s what I feel called to do, you know, pursue something even greater. So now we've scaled the ministry. We’re working with churches one-on-one all over North America or British Columbia, Toronto, Mexico City, New Zealand, and then all over the states. You know our coaching played a huge role in my life. Talked me off a ledge, kept me from quitting, helped me have difficult conversations, restack the staff. I had a generosity mentor, our good friend Jim Shepherd. These relationships were everything to me and now I feel called to offer that same type of hand-holding, if you will, to every pastor and leader in North America that needs those. Times when they need someone to give permission. Good leaders need to hear, “you're not crazy for thinking what you're thinking.” And then there’s outside perspective. The biggest mistake I see pastors make is isolation. I’m not saying just the unsuccessful ones. I’m saying the successful ones. When you get isolated, then you won't learn. Learning churches are growing churches and non-learning churches are non-growing churches. I can prove it to you statistically. If they're a learning church, they're growing. If they're not learning, they’re not growing. We want to help churches do that all across North America and that’s what I've given my life to for this next season.
"Most pastors do not know how to add value to other people before asking something from them."
Mavity: That’s beautiful Shawn. And for those of you listening, man, nobody’s better at it than Shawn. He's helped the best of the best and he's been helped by the best of the best. And the other thing is, he's been helped by the worst of the worst, too. We can learn from both extremes, right?
Lovejoy: Yeah, in fact one of the mistakes I see guys make, Chris, is they won't learn from guys outside their own lane or their own screen. I could learn something from any church and any pastor. And more pastors should posture themselves that way. Success is found in many counselors and you've been one of those guys for me over the years. I’m thankful for you. Thankful for your mentorship and your friendship and I love what you guys do in effectively stewarding people and I'm one of your favorite cheerleaders and champions.
Mavity: You have been over the years, that’s for sure and we appreciate that, too. So, Shawn, courage to lead. How does somebody get in touch with you and what’s easiest way? I know you have a website and all that. Would you give us that information please?
Lovejoy: Yeah I’ve probably over the years been the most ridiculously available and accessible pastor outside of Larry Osbourne, probably, but I'm still easy get. firstname.lastname@example.org comes straight to me.
Lovejoy: Someone else will probably see that email, but I will read that email and of course CourageToLead.com has all of our information on what we try to do for coaches – the types of coaching that we offer.
Mavity: I appreciate you sharing your wisdom and insight. For those of you that want to get ahold of Shawn or find out more information, head over to his website or if you’re in the southeast, what’s your address? I’m just kidding.
Lovejoy: I’m in Birmingham, I’ll treat you to some barbecue if you come by.
Mavity: All right. Well, we appreciate the time, Shawn. Thank you so much and that’s it for this episode of the ministry show. Thank you so much for joining us until next week God bless.
There's always a next step:
Subscribe to the Ministry Labs and stay up to date with the latest content and resources for church leaders.