Chris Vacher (00:00):
I push for clarity. I'm a huge proponent for clarity and inspiration. To me, those are the two ingredients. If you want to actually accomplish the thing that you're setting out to do, clarity and inspiration. So what is your mission? And there are situations where I will work with leadership teams to go word by word, through their mission statement. What do you mean when you say, reach people? What do you mean when you say, disciple people? What do you mean when you say, your mission is to help people become fully devoted followers of Jesus.
Welcome to the modern church leader where you'll hear executive pastors share practical tactics and strategies that churches are using right now to thrive in our digital world and advance the kingdom of God. Here's your host, Frank Berry.
Frank Barry (00:48):
Hey guys. Frank here with another episode of Modern Church Leader, super excited. We're going to talk a little bit about church growth and mission, vision, values, leadership, and all the things with my newfound Canadian friend, Mr. Chris, whose last name, I'm not even going to try to say. Because I'll get it wrong, but you can tell us all. Chris, welcome to the show, man.
Chris Vacher (01:09):
Thanks Frank. Chris Vacher.
Frank Barry (01:12):
Vacher, see, I would've got it wrong. I would've tried again, even though you told me and I would've just messed it up.
Chris Vacher (01:17):
Sometimes you just got to go for it, even if you're going to get it wrong. No, it's great to be here. Thanks for the invite, Frank. Awesome to be with you.
Frank Barry (01:23):
Give us a little bit of your background, help people get to know you. How'd you get into ministry and serving the church and all that? And where are you from?
Chris Vacher (01:33):
Yeah, I live outside Toronto with my wife, we got four kids. And I grew up in a home that actually had no church connection at all. Had no faith background, no church community, had never heard about Jesus. Never heard the gospel. When I was in high school, got connected with some people. And I say all the time, "They loved me into the Kingdom." And just people who, really just loved me, had friendship with me, explained the gospel to me. So because I was musical, I got involved in leading worship, kind of right away when I became a Christian in high school. And was leading worship for our youth group and our church and in our city and then at camp and then in university on campus and did the obvious next thing, get in a band and start leading worship and traveling. I had to travel all over Canada, the US parts of Europe is amazing.
And so I got into my early twenties and sort of found myself working in a church and had not gone to seminary or anything. But really just loved serving the church, loved leading people and thinking about how churches can organize themselves and capitalize on opportunities and how do we reach more people? So I spent 20 years doing that and in worship and creative roles, but also in multisite.
My last role, I was the executive pastor at a church with five locations. A staff team of almost 50 people and just an amazing, amazing privilege to get to spend 20 years serving and leading in staff roles in different kinds of churches, all over the place. So stepped away from that. And now I still love working with pastors and working with churches. I just get to do it in a different way, where I come alongside and help bring clarity and inspiration to what they're doing, what they're leading, what God's doing in their church. And looking to the future and putting some pieces together and how to move forward and how to take some steps to actually accomplish the big things that God is calling them to do as a church.
Frank Barry (03:39):
Yeah. I love it. And you only just started that this year, right in January you were saying is when you started the transition and a couple months later you were like, "I can't do all of this."
Chris Vacher (03:51):
So in January I went part-time in my staff role so that I could do coaching and consulting. I just finished a master's degree in leadership and I started part time and picking up the phone and calling some people and saying, "Hey, I'm doing this more officially." And a lot of people said yes. And so my calendar was going bananas. And I just got to the point where it was, I'm not going to be able to do my pastor job well, and I'm not going to be able to serve these other churches well. And so I knew God was calling me into this new direction. So we still go to the church where I've been on staff for the last eight years. It's still our church home. But I've stepped away from my job to now do this leadership development, strategic planning, coaching, consulting, full time.
Frank Barry (04:37):
Yeah. I love it. That's a fun, I mean, it's a new thing. Let's do a bunch of it.
Chris Vacher (04:43):
Yeah. It's incredible. And really, I love pastors. I love the church. And so to bring my education, experience, outside perspective, but really understanding in general how churches work on the inside. And to be able to bring a different set of eyes and ears to some situations like that has, it's been a real privilege.
Frank Barry (05:06):
Yeah. What do you find, I'm thinking of, it sounds like you help churches that are healthy and growing, but they're looking maybe for this outside perspective. Maybe the senior leadership once some sort of evaluation or just an outside set of eyes to give them something. So how does a church find you or how does a church know they need someone like you? What clicks on the leadership team's side of things to go, "Oh man, I want to bring in Chris or somebody like Chris, because we need some help here."
Chris Vacher (05:45):
Usually when people come to me, it's because things are going good and somebody in a senior role, either the senior pastor or the executive pastor recognizes things are good. But they're frustrated because they see the growth that's happening and they can anticipate and see what's coming maybe 3, 6, 12 months down the road. If it's a senior pastor, it's generally from that faith filled visionary long term perspective. If it's from the executive pastor side, it's more around the operations, there are some internal inner workings of this thing. We're just bumping into each other. Where people are getting frustrated with each other.
This just isn't working. We're having communication problems internally, whatever it is. And so it's sort of where it gets to this frustration point. And sometimes people know me or someone knows another church that I've worked with or there's a referral. But usually that's what I see is, "Hey, things are going good. We're moving in a good direction. But there's something about where we are right now. This can't continue into the future." So we need to really figure out what are the pitfalls? What are the potholes? What are the things that we're stumbling over? Sometimes leaders have a hard time even seeing that. And what's behind that. What's below the surface and going on, that's causing these issues. Sometimes when you live in it, it's just hard to recognize it. And so that's where sometimes an outside perspective can be really helpful.
Frank Barry (07:19):
You said you were busy from day one. I'm just wondering, do church leaders see this need well or what types of leaders do you... What is the persona of the leader that goes, "Man, I need some outsider help here." Versus being stuck in their thing and going like, "We're going to figure it out inside."
Chris Vacher (07:49):
There is sort of a persona that I've developed or I've worked with enough churches now that I have a good idea of the right kind of church, the right kind of leadership situation. The first thing is if the senior pastor is not on board with this, it doesn't matter what opinions I bring to the table. Or what ideas or even what workshops or assessments or trainings because I'm certified in stuff. And I can bring in personality assessments or team assessments. But if the senior pastors not board-
Frank Barry (08:20):
Please don't get into the Angiogram. I got whole teams that want us all to do it.
Chris Vacher (08:26):
We won't go there. I am certified in it. It has its place. It has its place and it is helpful, but won't go into it. But there are others that I'm certified in. And so the point is the senior pastor needs to really say, "Yeah, this is something that we have to address. Because if we keep on going in this direction, it's not going to work." It's also got to be a pastor or a leadership team that says, "We're willing to think about some new ideas. We're willing to look at our staff structure. We're willing to evaluate is our mission clear is our vision inspirational? Do our values actually represent what we actually do? Are people on the same page? Do we have alignment among our team? How are we doing goal setting?"
All of those things that it takes a willingness to sometimes be a little humble, because sometimes I'll go in and have conversations and say, "You might think this is a very visionary vision, but it's really not." Or, "You might want these to be your values, but I don't see them in action." And so that can take some tough work. So those are some general characteristics of how those conversations go or who the right people are for these kind of situations.
Frank Barry (09:47):
Does it come back to mission, vision and values every time?
Chris Vacher (09:52):
Frank Barry (09:53):
Do you find that to be in almost every situation I get into getting clarity on that and then getting everybody going the same direction around those. It sounds really simple. I know it's not, but I'm like, "Is that where you end up with most people?"
Chris Vacher (10:12):
I think that's the thing. It does sound simple. And so a lot of times pastors will think that they've done it. They think they've been clear about the mission or they've been clear about the vision. And we all know just because you've been living with it for a while, doesn't mean anyone else knows what it is or knows what you mean when you say it. By the time-
Frank Barry (10:34):
Or you might not say it. You might not even say it, it might just be in your head or in your heart or whatever.
Chris Vacher (10:39):
So I push for clarity. I'm a huge proponent for clarity and inspiration. To me, those are the two ingredients. If you want to actually accomplish the thing that you're setting out to do, clarity and inspiration. So what is your mission? And there are situations where I will work with leadership teams to go word by word, through their mission statement. What do you mean when you say reach people? What do you mean when you say disciple people? What do you mean when you say your mission is to help people become fully devoted followers of Jesus?
Frank Barry (11:12):
You're like, "Every church says the same things. Let's really dig into what you actually mean."
Chris Vacher (11:18):
So mission in general, mission's going to be some smashing together of great commission and great commandment. Most churches are going to have some kind of that. Then you get into, okay, now what do we value? What is distinctive about us and who we are? Values are the things that are going to help us make hard decisions, values are costly. I'm going to say no to one thing and yes to something else because of values. So then you start to get into some of the uniqueness about your culture, your location, who you're trying to reach your history, all that.
And again, sometimes values are just words on a page, because you thought, "Well, we should all value integrity. Well, okay, great. Most Christians should." But what does integrity, what does that mean in your context? How is that lived out? How are you actually going to make decisions around integrity. And then vision, "Hey, if we do mission in line with our values for a long time and God keeps his promises to our church, we might see a future that looks like something, that's vision to me." And so that better get your heart racing as a pastor, as a leadership team because the vision is going to have to drive so much of what you do when you want to give up.
Frank Barry (12:35):
What is vision? Give me some examples of vision just for people listening. As a church, you mentioned a little bit, it's the great commission. It's the great commandment. Those are the things, a lot of church, "Well we live out the Bible." It's already spelt out for us.
Chris Vacher (12:54):
Let's just do that.
Frank Barry (12:57):
But I ask it very sincerely, I know that's true. Every church knows that's true. But then you also have to have vision your own vision somehow that is God's vision, but you're coming along for the ride because we're not creating any of this, but you got to have a vision. And so what does that actually look like? Give us some examples.
Chris Vacher (13:19):
So the church where I just came off staff, our vision was to be a regional church of 10,000 meeting the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of people in Jesus name. That's what we were going for. I'm working with a church now, their vision is to be a certain number of locations by a certain date and be known for certain things. So vision should be tangible. It should be the future that you see. It should be just out of reach. A vision isn't something that you say like, "Hey, if we just do a good job for a year, we'll get there." Vision should be something that people aspire to. That is really inspiring. Vision might pull in things like church planting or training leaders or making a certain difference in your community or whatever it is. But it's that step that goes beyond every Christian is called to daily discipleship.
Every church is called to great commission, great commandment. But what's unique about this place. Why did God call this pastor, these leaders, if you have a building, why are you in that location at this time? What's the heartbeat that God has given to you for your city, your community, your country, whatever it is. And that's where those conversations start to really get people fired up. Because now if we're going to see that come true, then it begins to have impact on what, "What new ministries do we need to start?" Or, "Hey, maybe we need to put some money away because three years from now we're going to start a Bible training institute," or something like that. But vision starts to inform some real on the ground decisions and get people really excited about the future.
Frank Barry (15:10):
Do you think most churches have a vision? There's 320,000 churches in America, I don't know how many there are in Canada. I'm sure there's a lot. So there's a lot of churches out there and most are small. Most churches are under a hundred people or under 120 people or something like that. And I think that's the cool thing about the church is there's churches of all different sizes and shapes and types and things like that. So you can find a place that really works and meets the needs of your family, that community or whatever it is. But do you think most church leaders have a vision for their church?
Chris Vacher (15:52):
I think a lot of church leaders would say their vision is to carry out faithful day to day. Great commission, great commandment ministry. And I don't fault them for that. I think there will be pastors who would say every church is somewhere between Acts 2 and Revelation. And so the vision really is every nation, every tribe, every tongue gathered around the throne and yes and amen to that. At the same time, I do see Jesus having vision for his disciples, for his followers. I see all through the new Testament, leaders having vision for community and a real commitment to looking at what's possible. I love first Corinthians three where Paul talking to the Corinthian Church, he says, "I Paul planted, Apollos water, but God brings the growth." And to think what if Paul had not planted in people's lives and there was nothing there for Apollos to water and ultimately nothing there for God to grow.
And so how can leaders be invested and committed to dreaming about what might God grow in us and through us, if we're faithful in the planting and watering. But I think in general, there's not a whole lot of energy given to vision for small churches, solo pastors, bivocational pastors. They're trying to keep the lights on. They're trying to keep people happy. They're trying to keep services going. Vision doesn't need to be this sort of fancy, exclusive impossible thing. Vision could be, we want to make sure every family in this community hears about Jesus. We want to make sure that every kid has the opportunity to have three meals a day, whatever it is. The vision can be right for your local context. It doesn't need to be some big grand thing.
Frank Barry (17:51):
I want 12 sites in the next three months and crazy. Crazy, yeah.
Chris Vacher (17:56):
Delusions of grander.
Frank Barry (17:57):
Yeah. How do you help pastors? It sounds like you work with churches who are generally growing or healthy in many ways. So are you helping them refine their vision and their values or is it like you're coming in often and helping them get those from scratch?
Chris Vacher (18:21):
So it ranges, sometimes I'll work with the church for a day and it's just talk about what's going on. And then I give them a report of what I see. And some recommendations and some churches, I work with them for 12 months or 18 months. And I'm coming alongside and coaching the senior pastor and doing some team development stuff. And actually beginning to help them put together the organizational infrastructure for this thing to grow. I think after COVID one thing I'm seeing is there are fewer, what's the right way to say this, fewer churches have these extraneous ministries that are just sort hanging on for no reason. There are fewer things in more churches that are just, that thing happens on the side and we don't want to kill it because we really like the people who run it. But it doesn't really do anything for us. And so coming out of COVID people are more focused.
I think there's a higher level of conviction on the role of the church and the priority of the church. And we've really got to figure this out. And the church has a lot of value to bring to society. And we've really got to focus on what that is and worry less about some of these side things that over time we had let grow. So sometimes it is getting clear. Sometimes it is going back to, the vision is now not just to have online church go and keep the lights on.
We're out of that phase. And so we can revisit some stuff. I'm finding there is a lot of passion and there is a lot of vitality about reaching people, making a real difference. Maybe churches that had thought about multisite before, or had thought about planting before COVID and put that on the back burner. And so I have the opportunity to go have maybe hard conversations with senior pastors or executive pastors. And really encourage them to not give up and to go back and listen again. What's that burden that God had really given to you when you first came here maybe and we've been distracted by so much.
Frank Barry (20:40):
Are you seeing a lot of burnout in a sense?
Chris Vacher (20:43):
Frank Barry (20:44):
It's been hard, it's been a hard-
Chris Vacher (20:45):
It's been really hard.
Frank Barry (20:46):
... three years. I don't even, it's been a long go and a lot of the pastors I talk to are just like, "It's been tough. It's been really hard."
Chris Vacher (20:57):
Everyone's exhausted. Everyone's doing more work because now that we're back open, we're also keeping online going. And so everyone's portfolio's gotten bigger. People have left and most churches aren't finding...
Frank Barry (21:15):
Giving is, I'm seeing this year, even financial giving is coming down a little bit.
Chris Vacher (21:21):
Frank Barry (21:22):
It was oddly up for a while, but now, so I think it's hitting people's budgets too.
Chris Vacher (21:27):
The economic situation in Canada and the US is tough. So I think people are cautious about giving. So there's some challenges there. Even if there is budget to hire, there's not a lot of great leaders out there to bring into open positions. So it's causing a lot of stress, causing a lot of strain. Lead senior pastors are three years closer to retirement than they were before COVID, but they haven't maybe been able to do a lot of thinking about succession planning. So there's some strain there. In a lot of churches, everyone's mad. They're mad that you did this. They're mad that you didn't do that. So it is, there's a lot of stress and there's a lot of strain. Pastors everywhere are just tired and as places are reopening and people are coming back. It can be challenging to rev up the engine and get excited to help people who might be cautious about serving. It's tough. It is a real challenge for sure.
Frank Barry (22:27):
Yeah. What do you think, so maybe from a different angle here, a church that's got a decent sized church, maybe it's a thousand members or something like that in a community. And they've gone through all the stuff and maybe plateaued or decreased a little bit, COVID all the things. And now it's like, we're on the other side. People want to get after it and whatnot, but you've got a leadership team that isn't necessarily all on the same page. How do you help leadership teams, I don't know. Maybe somebody, maybe a campus pastor or somebody else comes in that wants someone like you, you or somebody like you to come in and help. How do you work in that situation? Because you even said at the beginning, if the senior guy's not in, it's really hard but is it possible?
Chris Vacher (23:29):
I think if there's an associate staff level role that sees at the executive level, this is not going good. If they don't see it at the executive level, it's going to be really hard for me to convince them. And it will probably end up feeling like sabotage. So I would say tread very carefully, tread very lightly. At the same time where I have seen a lot of breakthrough is if you can get a discussion happening, that's outside of, we're here because of our roles. And instead we're here because of our personality or our experience or our competency or whatever. So when I do strategic planning or when I do some of these explorations around mission or vision, I don't necessarily want the senior pastor and the executive pastor and the creative arts pastor. Because those are the three people on the executive team. I will want maybe a couple key leaders from the congregation, maybe a board member, maybe a representation of the staff team, because when I'm facilitating the conversation, I can raise questions.
I can lead the conversation in a direction where I feel there's some tension or I feel there's some lack of clarity. Not in a way that is going to end up with people being combative with one another. But where we can have real honest discussion in a safe place where we're talking about the future of the church. We're talking about, "Hey, when we say this word is part of our mission, do we all understand that word to mean the same thing? Well, what if this is about that?" And then we begin to uncover some of what's below the surface. And that's whereas a facilitator, I have to navigate pretty delicately because I don't want to insert myself too soon. Want to let it go. So I think there is wisdom in how to have the right people around the table at the right time for those conversations.
If you're on staff at a church and you see a ton of dysfunction on the executive team, and you're not sure. Either your supervisor or their supervisor is on that team, you should have every right in a one-on-one meeting or something to raise that and say, "Hey, I'm being asked to carry out these responsibilities, but let me tell you why that's challenging for me." And to do it in a way that's not attacking or gossip or pulling someone down. But instead to say, "I'm being asked to follow through in some things, and I'm not able to, because of reason, one, two, and three." I've seen that as an approach that can work.
Frank Barry (26:17):
Yeah. Yeah. I could pick your brain all day long, because I just am personally interested in the whole coaching churches from the outside. And even the psychology of that from the leadership team and all the things. But we don't have all day. So let me ask you one last quick question and then a couple rapid fire things I'll throw at you.
Chris Vacher (26:39):
Frank Barry (26:39):
Is there a thing that you see most often or commonly enough where it's a pattern that it's this moment or this thing that usually brings the biggest breakthrough?
Chris Vacher (26:52):
Oh, sorry. Did you say the biggest breakthrough?
Frank Barry (26:54):
Yeah. The biggest breakthrough, something that you just, there's a pattern where you see this thing all the time or enough where it's identifiable.
Chris Vacher (27:05):
I love when a pastor is able to communicate their vision for the church with inspiration and with clarity. And like I said, those are things that I fight for. But when they do it and when they really do it, not just in a way where they've said it a thousand times a four. But when we peel back some of the layers and get to the, "Why are you so passionate about this thing?" And then you hear the story of somebody knocked on my door when I was a kid and led my mom to Christ or whatever it is. There's always something there. When a pastor's able to communicate that to a team and a team gets it, is a massive light bulb moment.
And then when there can be clarity around, how are we going to actually move forward on this? The biggest win there that I love is when I hear stories of pastors who can then communicate that to other leaders. And when they start to pass on, "Hey, this is what we're doing. And this is why, and this is how you can be a part of it. You get to be a part of this." To me, it's incredible. But usually those big breakthroughs happen when we get beyond just the words and we get to what's at the heart of this and what are the implications? How are we going to start to live this out now across the whole church? To me, that's where the amazing work starts to happen.
Frank Barry (28:34):
Yeah. That's cool. I love that. Yeah. It's like personal and there's a real story behind it and now it's heart. It's heart that's connecting and not just, I don't know. It's not just a job. It's the heart part is really coming through and people are grabbing on to that.
Chris Vacher (28:53):
And then it's not just someone else's vision that we borrowed and we slapped it on our website because it reads well. It really is something that's unique and distinct about us and something that we really believe God is calling our church to do into the future. When I see a pastor, a team of pastors, staff, leaders, volunteers, whatever and ultimately a whole congregation see them get fired up about that, is incredible.
Frank Barry (29:24):
I love that. I love that. Well, where can folks go to find out more about what you do and how you help churches?
Chris Vacher (29:30):
Frank Barry (29:32):
Vacher, I'm going to remember that.
Chris Vacher (29:33):
If you don't know how to spell it. It'll get linked. Chrisvacher.com. On social, heychrisvacher, it rhymes. So it's easier to remember. heychrisvacher on social. I'm loving LinkedIn these days. I'm spending a lot of time, there's a lot of really cool stuff happening on LinkedIn. So if people are there, they can find me, but heychrisvacher on social, chrisvasher.com.
Frank Barry (29:53):
Love it. Okay. Couple little questions here. What's a book that you read recently or really a book that you read anytime that you're like, "This book was just foundational for me." Really turned the lights on for you in some way.
Chris Vacher (30:11):
A couple years ago, I read a book called Canoeing the Mountains by Tod Bolsinger. I read it when I was doing my grad work and I can't stop recommending it to people. It's about adaptive leadership and understanding that if all you have is a canoe and you get to a mountain, you're not getting over the mountain with a canoe. And so as the church, finding ourself in a world filled with mountains and for a couple generations, we've just been canoeing. We're not going to get over the mountains in our canoes. And the book is very pastoral. It's academic, it's well researched. It's very empathetic and compassionate. It's not just a bunch of, go do this, do that, abandon everything. It really is an unbelievable book that teams can read together to think about how are we going to do this thing into the future?
Frank Barry (31:03):
All right. Love that. Okay. Last one, podcast that you listen to, that you're obsessed with. Any kind of podcast.
Chris Vacher (31:12):
I'll go off the board, Nate Bargatze, my favorite comedian. The Nateland Podcast is just, it's two hours of them once a week, talking about a different topic. It's four comedians around the table and it is drop dead funny and it's a hundred percent clean. I listen with my kids. We just laugh nonstop. Listen to them. So The Nateland Podcast, Nate Bargatze.
Frank Barry (31:35):
How do you say Nateland? L-A-N-D.
Chris Vacher (31:38):
Frank Barry (31:40):
Love it. All right, check it out. That sounds hilarious. And you can listen to it with the kids. That's even better.
Chris Vacher (31:47):
It's even better. It's amazing. They'll spend two hours talking about potatoes or the state of Colorado or physics. It's just fantastic.
Frank Barry (31:59):
Oh, that's amazing. Well, Chris man, it's been great having you on the show today. I appreciate you spending some time.
Chris Vacher (32:03):
Thanks Frank. Really appreciate the invite.
Frank Barry (32:06):
Yeah. We'll let you know when it airs and everybody listening. Thanks you guys. We'll see you on the next episode of Modern Church Leader. See yeah.
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