Leadership Collective Podcast, Episode 1
In this episode, we sit down with Pastor Nate Holdridge from Calvary Chapel Monterey, California and Pastor Ed Taylor from Calvary Church in Aurora, Colorado to discuss the process of setting and casting vision. Together, we explore the varying ways that leaders clarify and develop vision, the differing styles of casting vision, and how to pivot as circumstances warrant. We examine the Biblical principles of vision found in verses like Proverbs 29:18 & Habakkuk 2:2 and discover some practical ways that ministry leaders can apply these truths in their organizations.
Hello, and welcome to the Leadership Collective Podcast, a conversation focusing on the challenges that leaders face in ministry. Each month we sit down with seasoned ministry leaders to discuss the nuts and bolts of how they’ve navigated challenges in ministry and the lessons they’ve learned along the way. I’m Ted Leavenworth, the pastor of Reliance Church in Temecula, California. And I’m Rob Salvato, lead pastor at Calvary Vista in Vista, California.
(Ed Taylor) “The burden that I feel that I think gets translated into the vision is, ‘Lord, I know you have us here and I know You’ve surrounded us with great people and they love You and they love this community and they love this church. What great emphasis, what mark, are You going to make?’”
(Ted) This is episode one of the Leadership Collective Podcasts and I’m super excited about this conversation that we’re going to have today and the guests that are going to be joining us. We’re going to be talking today about all things “Vision.” We’re going to be discussing different styles of setting vision for your ministry, how you cast vision for your ministry, and how you pivot when a crisis or pandemic hits! Not that we haven’t experienced a lot of that recently! We’re going to ask, as well, is it possible to pivot and still maintain the overall vision that God has given for your ministry? Our guests today are going to be Nate Holdridge of Calvary Chapel, Monterey, and Ed Taylor from Calvary Church in Aurora, Colorado.
(Rob)You know, Ted, I’m really looking forward to this conversation as well because we all know how important vision is. We’re told in Proverbs, chapter 29, verse 18…it reads this way in the King James Version:
Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) Where [there is] no vision, the people perish…
Another translation puts it, “without vision they run wild!” It’s like there’s just no direction whatsoever! And, one of my favorites, and this is a life verse for me, is Habakkuk 2:2 which reads:
Habakkuk 2:2 (NKJV) …“Write the vision And make [it] plain…That he may run who reads it.
But what I find so interesting about vision is that leaders approach it in so many different ways. Nate’s a twenty-five year guy and he’s casting a broad vision for his church and other guys are more a five-to-ten year plan, some guys are a three-year plan, and others are sort of year-to-year. So Ted, how do you guys approach vision at Reliance?
(Ted) Well, I think first of all, of the importance of distinguishing between general vision and specific vision. This is really important, you know? For example, for us, we have an overarching general vision that the Lord has given to me for the trajectory of our church and to sum it up in one word, it’s “Discipleship.” Greg Laurie might say to sum up in one word what he’s doing is “Evangelism.” So for us there is a general vision and we articulate that vision this way, we say, “We exist to make disciples to know, love and serve Jesus.” So that’s our general vision, but then that has some specific categories. So for us specifically to accomplish that general vision, you know, if you’re going to make disciples, you first got to have disciples. So evangelism is a key part of our vision and then leadership training is a key part of our vision, education is a key part and mentoring is a key part of our vision and so these are specific ways. So then you get there into the specifics of how you accomplish that. So, in general, there’s a trajectory that’s already set and that’s going to transcend the calendar year, but that informs, as well, some of the things that we do. As well, in addition to that, if the Lord allows me, I’m entering into the fourth quarter of my ministry so that’s looking way down the road. We’re looking a decade down the road, which sounds like a lot of time but I mean, I’ve got shirts that are older than that, you know?!
(Rob) That’s so true!
(Ted) So that informs my specific vision where I’m thinking, Ok, I got to start thinking now about a transition plan for me. So that’s informing who I’m training up and how I’m training them up and how I’m setting that. But after getting into the specifics, having said all of that and what that entails, looking further down than your calendar year, I’m really more of a year-to-year guy. That’s kind of how I tick. So we’re taking all these things in general, but then I’m seeking the Lord for this year. I’m sitting down with my guys in advance of the coming year and talking about those things. What do you do, Rob?
(Rob) We definitely have an overall vision as well, like you do, very, very similar in that, and I’m definitely a forward thinker so I’m thinking ahead on some things that I believe the Lord wants to do that could be five to ten years out and there’s definitely some burdens on my heart that I’m praying about, but over the last few years I could sum up our vision process at Calvary Vista with this phrase, “Catching the Wave.” Here’s what I mean by that, if you’ve ever surfed or body-boarded or watched someone who knows how to catch waves, here’s what you will find, they are constantly looking out towards the horizon. They’re looking for that set that’s going to be rolling in, they’re looking for that perfect wave and when they see the wave forming, they paddle over into position and wait to then catch it and from there the wave does most of the work. Well about five years ago I realized that some of the best ministry that has come out of Calvary Vista has happened in that way. So I look at ministry, or kind of where the Lord has us, like we’re in this ocean of humanity and God is bringing the waves.
(Rob) So we’re looking for the wave of effective ministry, the wave for reaching our community, the wave for doing missions. When we see it forming, we recognize, “Ok, God’s doing something here,” and we try to paddle over to get into position and watch as the Lord takes us for a ride. For instance, our involvement in Eastern Europe and in Russia over the years, where we helped plant tons of churches, happened just like that. Same thing in Costa Rica.
(Ted) Right on!
(Rob) Let me give you one example from 2020. At the beginning of last year, really toward the end of 2019, one of the things that was just really heavy on our hearts was that we wanted to make an impact in our community in a more practical sense, you know, to meet practical, physical needs. We’re in a low income community here in Vista so there are a lot of hurting people around us so we were just kind of praying and looking at the horizon saying, “Lord, how do we do that?” And we met a guy who was doing this food distribution ministry and we wanted to help support him. We’re like, “This guy is like a wave and we want to get behind him.” So we were thinking like we could give him some money, help him get food, that type of thing, and he had a better idea. He said, “How about if you let me use your parking lot once a week on Wednesday mornings and you provide workers?” He says, “I’ll bring the food,” and then he brings a semi-truck full of food! He says, “I’ll bring the food. You provide the parking lot and you provide the workers.” And, in 2020 we served 50,000 families in our community through that partnership.
(Ted) That’s amazing!
(Rob) So that’s what I mean. There’s an example, like ok, here’s this wave that’s forming and so what we’re looking at is the wave could be an opportunity, it could be an open door, it could be a person, you know, that we just want to get behind.
(Rob) So that’s been our approach over the last few years and the Lord has really seemed to work well in that way for us.
(Ted) Yeah, I love that. Ok, let’s jump into today’s round table conversation with Nate Holdridge and Ed Taylor. Welcome to the conversation guys! So today we’re going to talk about vision and Nate, we’re going to start with you. When it comes to setting vision for your church, you’re looking really far out. You are a guy who has a twenty-five year vision plan and so what’s the thought process in planning that far out for you?
(Nate) Well, yeah, thanks for having us on the show with you guys. You know, for me, it really doesn’t have much to do with being some kind of visionary person. I really don’t see myself in that way. If anything, vision is really hard for me to come by because most of what I have a vision for as a pastor is I am just strongly oriented toward being a pastor/teacher. So much of my vision has to do with that particular role as a pastor/teacher, where I’m going over the twenty-five years, what I want to produce as teaching for the next twenty-five years, the stuff I want to write over the next twenty-five years. So a lot of it has to do with that, with the role of a pastor/teacher and the pulpit work I want to do and the written work I want to do, all of that. The twenty-five year vision is not just for our church, our local congregation, but it’s partly for our entire church community. I just find that when I think about something twenty-five years out, I’m able to dream a little bit more beyond just the walls of our fellowship and into the entire Monterey Peninsula which is where we’re located. So some of the twenty-five year things have to do with the whole Monterey Peninsula and the churches I’d like to see planted, the legacy of Bible preaching, gospel preaching, that we’d like to leave behind, the Christ-centered focus, not just in our church but in all the churches of this region. That’s kind of where that vision takes me. So it’s partly a vision for our entire church community and so that’s kind of the way it works for me. I try to detach, in the twenty-five year vision, the spiritual realities that I hope to see from things like buildings and budgets. Because the more the buildings and budgets, for me, become part of the twenty-five year plan, the more murky things get. I need to be seeing a kind of spiritual tone and emphasis and health and revival and all of that which I am hoping for in this community in twenty-five years and my prayer is that the buildings and the budget and all of that stuff, is going to be a reflection of all those things in the future. So I try to do a little detaching there and it’s more in the five year realm that I’m thinking about buildings and all that because you have to. But for me, it’s more about the atmosphere that I’m wanting to see over the next twenty-five years.
(Ted) I think it’s encouraging for our listeners to hear you share that vision is challenging for you, that it is daunting, because we are all familiar with the Bible’s admonition that without vision the people perish so we feel this burden as though, “Man, I have to have this vision!” It is a weighty thing that we are responsible for. So you mentioned your five year plan factoring in various things so how do you reconcile your broader twenty-five year vision with your five year plan? Can you unpack that for us?
(Nate) Sure, for me, as I said earlier, that’s where the buildings and the budgets kind of start coming into play. So to me, the twenty-five year thing is more of “Nate,” of my heart, the stuff that I’ll declare to the congregation, and the hopes and dreams that Christina, my wife, and I have for our lives, and what we’d like God to do in us and through us over the next couple of decades. But the five year thing, that’s where the church leadership really comes into play a little bit more and we start asking questions about the congregation’s immediate health in reflection on the big vision that we have over all. Is there anything that we need to help them with in the next five years? Are there any initiatives that we need to undertake? Are there any opportunities that God is presenting before us that we need to heavily invest in? You asked the question about five years and we’ve never thought of it exactly as a five year plan, but I think that’s a great number because there is so much that shifts inside about that length of time. I mean you think back five years and the world is so different today than it was five years ago!
(Ted) So true! Right!
(Nate) So, five years from now, there will probably be different expressions of what we need to do in this congregation to meet our objectives. Obviously there are going to be some things that stay the same and those are the kind of things that translate into that twenty-five year mark for me. Stuff that are convictions in my heart that there’s no way I am going to let go of them. I’ll be doing them until the day I die, kind of stuff.
(Ted) Right on.
(Nate) But the five year thing is like, “Well hey, maybe this building that we thought was for a second sanctuary, maybe that needs to be repurposed because there is a new need in our community, or a new need in our fellowship.” So I think for us that’s where staffing comes into play a lot more. We’re not asking, “Is this a twenty-five year staff member?” as much as it’s more, “Hey, over the next five years, is this person supposed to run with us?” That kind of thing. So, the five year mark is probably a little bit more where we practically are operating on a day-to-day basis.
(Rob) So, within the five year, would you say that’s a lot more fluid because it’s contingent upon what’s changing in culture and in the community of your fellowship and that type of thing, Nate?
(Nate) I’d say the one year is probably what’s really fluid. I’m trying to come up with another substance to describe the five year because it definitely has flexibility, but there is some rigidity to it because you can’t every year, tell your church where you’re going in the next five years and then change it each year, you know?
(Rob) Got you!
(Nate) Because in five years you can accomplish some pretty significant things if you stick with it, you know, but from year to year you might have to shift. So like for instance, I was looking over a document that I wrote for our whole church and then wrote in a more detailed way for our staff and our pastors about three years ago and it was kind of our five year, like, “Here’s what the next five years needs to look like in some big-picture initiatives,” and over the last three years, you know, being three years into these five years, there’s been a lot that’s changed, but we’re still trending in that same overall direction. We’re still trying to get to that same spot but, you know, you hit different crossroads and you realize, “Well, this part of the plan is going to need to shift,” so I wouldn’t say fluid in the sense that it’s hyper-moveable, but it’s got to be flexible.
(Rob) Got you.
(Nate) At least that’s how it is for us.
(Rob) Ok. So, Ed, I’ve been to your church and you have an amazing ministry there. God’s done an incredible work with you guys there in Aurora, Colorado. How is your approach to vision different from Nate’s and maybe how is it similar? How do you approach vision?
(Ed) It’s pretty interesting listening to Nate and especially when I was reviewing these questions and thinking, Twenty-five year vision? I am a planner. I am an administrator at heart. I have the gift of leadership administration. I like things decently and in order, however, I don’t know that I’ve ever thought, even for my own personal life – like he was sharing with he and his wife – of what I would think could happen or desire to do in twenty-five years. I thought that was interesting and so that would probably be one of the differences in the sense that even in the ministry here we have only just finished now twenty-one years. So it caused me to really think as he was talking and I thought, Hmm, when we first started the church, where would I have wanted the church to be in twenty-five years? And I probably think that back then, I was just thinking, I hope there is a church in twenty-five years from now!
(Ed) So, there’s probably a difference there even in a five year plan because we don’t have a five year plan and I’ve never even thought of a twenty-five year plan in a sense. Now that’s not to say that we don’t plan. That’s not to say that we don’t look ahead. But I think the similarities in the heart of a shepherd, of a pastor – that I know we all share together – is that care and concern for the church, that care and concern for our community, knowing that we have a place and that we are surrounded by wonderful congregations of churches that are similar and yet unique in their own calling and what God is really wanting to do and so how we can collaborate with them. I think that we’re similar in the sense that I know that the Lord wants us to have a rallying point. That’s kind of how I viewed vision as I was thinking this through. The vision or the direction for the church is like a rallying point, you know? Like, in 1998 there was no Calvary Church that existed in our city. There wasn’t one there. So I’ve always approached the question, “Why then did God begin a church? Why did He move us out to that area of the country? Why did He decide to use us?” And we ask that question every year and I think we’ll get into it a little later, but we ask that question even of the staff every year, “Why are we here? What is it that God wants to accomplish in using this little church? Where do we fit in the community? Where do we fit in the body of Christ? Where is it that He wants to move resources through us in the core vision?” So, following the pattern of some other churches, we reduced our core vision down to, “Win, Disciple & Send.” Which is very evangelistic. Then we reduced that down over the years to, “Here’s our vision in one word: Evangelism.” That’s the core movement of our church through the teaching of the Word, edifying the saints, building them up, and there’s a lot that goes into that, and then we get into unique things every year. But I think there is a similar care and concern in the community but different in the sense that I don’t have a five year plan for the church.
(Rob) So, would you say it’s more year to year?
(Ed) It is more year to year and we kind of use the calendar year as the rallying point. We don’t have a schedule like I know a lot of our friends have this scheduled day that is Vision Sunday. We don’t have a Vision Sunday but certainly as the year’s winding down…and that’s symbolic…I mean, how many of us were just waiting for 2020 to end, symbolic or not?! And it’s just like, ok, here’s a New Year and everybody is thinking new. It just makes it easier to use that New Year, especially if you’re making massive changes. It’s like, “Ok, we’re all just making changes, let’s just roll with it.”
(Rob) Right, right. Now Ed, before we talk about casting vision, I want to ask you who is involved in the setting of vision for your church? Is there a team that you gather with and kind of talk this through? How does it happen at Calvary Aurora?
(Ed) So, as the year is winding down and we’re kind of reflecting back on the previous year and looking ahead to a New Year, I spend some time alone because I really believe that the Lord chooses a man, raises up a man, and gives him that responsibility and in our movement, in our family of churches, it’s the senior pastor, that lead pastor, and I just pray, “Lord, what are You doing?” Because usually it’s not a radical or massive black and white change from year to year; it’s like a nuanced direction. Maybe it’s a little bit to the left or a little bit to the right. Then we begin to pray and I meet with the guys, our pastoral team, and we ask a question. We don’t always use the same exact words, but here’s the mindset, “If we were planting this church again this year, and we all just moved here and we’re planting this church as it is with the people we have and all the resources that God has entrusted to us, what would we do differently? Or what could we do? Or how would we launch off into the year like when I first moved here?” Of course I moved here alone, just the five of us, and that was my mindset. So I’m always thinking that God entrusts us with these resources and we collaborate together so we can bounce ideas off one another. We’re developing a like-mindedness that way. It usually ends up with a text. I usually bring a text to that pastor’s meeting and we talk it through and I listen to the different nuances of what they have. And so I see the vision develop for our church really through me and that heartbeat of what God is wanting to accomplish here, but now that there is a team of men around me, and there has been for many years, I’m really eager to verify, to make sure that I’ve heard from the Lord correctly, to adapt and change where they are in the body and then usually it ends up with some real laser-focused, “Here’s where the Lord is taking us.”
(Rob) I love that. One of the things that I really love about Ted and I getting to do this podcast is that we’re going to learn a lot over the course of the year with all the different guests! I love that whole idea that we’re going to ask the question, “What would we do if we were planting fresh?” That’s so good. What about at your church, Nate? Who’s involved in setting the vision for your church?
(Nate) It’s very similar to what Ed just shared. I think I would probably add the nuance, or just kind of start with – and I’m not trying to be cute or clever with it but – in a sense everyone is involved with setting the vision of the church because like Ed said, with our style of church government, my heart, my focus, what God is saying to me, you know, really matters a lot in our fellowship. But I think, as he was alluding to, one of the big ways that God speaks to me is definitely alone in prayer, in the Word, with my pastoral team and all of that. But as I’m just interacting with people in the congregation or in the community, I’m hearing things. They might not be saying, “You know what the church needs to do?” They’re not saying that – I mean, obviously people do say those types of things and we’ve all had that experience! – but when I’m talking to a nineteen year old kid who is working at the local coffee shop and I’m hearing what his struggles are, that’s God forming more vision for me about our fellowship. So that’s what I mean by saying in a sense everyone is involved in shaping that vision. But, to put it succinctly with like who’s actually involved in the real discussions about it, it’s me before the Lord, and I would say parenthetically, my wife is kind of really involved in that first level. She’s not leading in the church in any official capacity, but she’s my number one sounding board. So she’s processing a lot of these things with me and asking me lots of searching questions as I’m kind of groping for that vision with God. Then there are the elders in the church. I know “elders” is probably a loaded term for a lot of people because people define that office in a lot of different ways, but for us “elders” merely means “pastors” who are working here at the church. So my elder team and then eventually the financial board because we do have an independent financial board who are voting on the major expenditures and approving the budget and all of that. At the end of the day, they do need to come along and catch the vision so I like to include them in there as well and because personally I’ve never had to, and I don’t want to, come to the place where I have to kind of run “roughshod” over the elder group or the financial board group. It’s not that I’m operating in looking for their permission, but I want to lead them into the vision and have them feeling as if they’ve had an opportunity to be heard, to give feedback, and all of that. So I would say myself, with my wife, the elders, and then the financial board lastly.
(Ted) That’s excellent and it leads us right into the idea of casting vision and a summary of what I hear you both saying is that you’re getting away with the Lord, you’re seeking the Lord for a general sense, a general vision, a general and specific direction from Him, and then meeting with the guys God has entrusted you with that are a key part of your team to be able to seek the wisdom of a multitude of counselors and for them to help inform or shape that, which is beautiful. Now, taking it out to the broader circles of those who are laboring with us and Nate, for this question we’ll start with you, and that is communicating that vision to your staff and leaders. I mean you’ve fairly shared with us how you go about approaching communicating to the key people in your inner circle, and then once you kind of have settled on your direction, how then do you go about casting the vision? You touched on it about with your financial board, but unpack that for us.
(Nate) Yeah, I was looking at this question that you had sent ahead of time, “How do you communicate vision to your staff and leaders?” And honestly, my first response was, “Poorly!”
(Ted) Well that’s why we asked it! Rob and I are just grabbing at straws here!
(Rob) Yeah, Nate, they called us about it ahead of time!
(Nate) Yeah, they said, “Please interview Nate about this! He needs to work on it!” I don’t know if anybody listening to this will be able to relate, but I’m kind of one of those people that if I say it one time, I can make the mistake of assuming that I’ve covered it, you know? I shared the vision once and everybody’s got it, right?! Why do I have to keep on saying it over and over and over again? What I’ve discovered over the years and what I’m definitely still trying to grow in, is that there seems to be no end in how much I can communicate the vision, both to leadership and to the congregation, and I’ve also discovered that nobody can really communicate for me as good as I can. In other words, if I’m punting vision casting to other people, it just doesn’t work as well. So, practically speaking, here are some ways that I’ve tried to communicate vision to our staff and leaders. The first is, and this is just the way my mind works, but I’m a writer by nature so I’ve got to get my thoughts organized in written form. I’ve tried to harness that over the years so that I’m not just writing so I can say it to everybody, but also to publish it, print it and send it to them so that they, if they’re wired that way, can do more than just hear me say the vision, they can see it written down. So that’s one thing I try to focus on is writing. The second is, I’ve found that for me, it just works well to get off-site with my pastors and for some reason when we go to the house of somebody in the church – somebody who has a house that is nicer than all of our houses! – like sit in their backyard or whatever, it just means something to those men and they know this is a serious time, this is a holy moment. So I’ve found that off-sites with my pastors are helpful in communicating vision. I’ve also found it helpful to have an “all staff” meeting. Now obviously when we’re talking to church pastors, some pastors have staff and some pastors have no staff, but we all have key leadership so this is where I have a key leadership meeting. It’s not necessarily other pastors, but just people that are key and are involved in the church. I find that gathering all them together and sharing my heart with them is helpful. Then a fourth thing that I’ve found really helpful for casting vision, to be honest with you, is to keep on the church calendar an “Introduction to our Church” class constantly available every two or three months for people who are new to the congregation. We call it “Intro to Calvary” and in that class there are all these new people, but I find it’s almost more invigorating for all the pastors who are required to be there meeting these new people to rehear the vision and it’s important for me to reconnect to it before I declare it to them in this class. So that just like keeps me on pace and on schedule to be sharing it. Not just with the people there but with the key pastors. And then finally, the fifth thing I would say about how I communicate it is from the pulpit. And I know you’re asking how I communicate it to staff and leaders but that is one of the ways that I do it because I believe the pulpit drives the church’s vision and is one of the greatest resources for accomplishing the church’s vision. So what I don’t mean is doing a vision presentation and all that kind of stuff. I’m not talking about that right now. I’m talking about “from the pulpit,” in the flow of almost every teaching I give I’m looking for parts of the text that reflect where our church is going and talk about that for just a minute or so in the teaching. I think if you have a biblical vision that is the emphasis that God has, then you’re going to find ample opportunities to share that from the Word because it’s what God’s about. So I try to sprinkle in our church’s vision often in the public declaration of the Word, hoping and believing that staff and key leaders are catching that, picking up on that, and kind of putting the pieces together and connecting the dots as they listen.
(Ted) That’s excellent. You know John Maxwell talks about casting vision in leading and how he has these intrinsic circles where he will bring his key people in and he’ll begin to share an initiative with them and then he listens to their response, to the questions that they ask, the push back that he gets, and that then, he says, informs him for the next group that he’s going to meet with. He says that in hearing those questions and in answering those questions, what it does, is it gives him an opportunity to clarify his vision and then that also informs him about what is going to be coming up next. But also, having had that opportunity to address these questions with his leaders and answer them for them, they then are enlisted for the next meeting where they can participate in the casting of the vision. Do you find that to be true?
(Nate) Absolutely. I’ll tell people sometimes, if I’m sharing the vision with my pastors or elders team, I’ll tell them, “I’m practicing on you right now.”
(Ted) That’s great!
(Nate) I’ll say, “This is practice, so push back. What are you hearing when I say these words? Because I know what I’m saying…or I think I know what I’m saying…but what are you hearing? Help me shape this better than just kind of this first rough draft.”
(Ted) That’s awesome. How about you, Ed?
(Ed) Communicating to the staff and the leaders is a lot of fun. I’m a big whiteboard guy so in our conference room we’ve got a whiteboard and now as we’re meeting we’re distancing and stuff, we’ve got to roll a whiteboard into where we’re having our staff meeting, but I like to put a title up on the whiteboard and talk about it and then just write down everybody’s views, everybody’s input, everybody’s questions. It’s kind of like interacting with the people in front of me and then interacting with the whiteboard and then at the end we can take a picture of it and send it around so it will spark everybody’s memory of the moment that they were in and kind of hold them accountable to what we talked about and bring some conclusions. But you know, when I’m thinking vision, I’m thinking at least two tiers to that. As I’m listening to Nate and hearing that, I see two tiers. You have the overall, “Why does this church exist?” where we are revamping our assimilation tools of bringing people in and teaching them about the church, teaching about where we came from, who we are, and where we’re going type of information, and then I think of a second tier which is more along the lines of, “Now, what is God doing today? What do we see in the next month or two, three, four?” I think as we talk about the “pivot” in a minute with the pandemic, I think that’s a great example of how important it is to clarify where we all are and make sure we’re all on the same page. But, I think for many, many years here in my pastoral ministry, I made a huge mistake along these lines of communication. That mistake surrounded what I perceived – whether someone taught it to me or not really doesn’t matter – I just learned it by observation and I learned it incorrectly and that was that I would spend more time with the multitudes and more time thinking about the multitudes, more time integrating and going after the lost, than I did with those that were closest to me. My assumption was, “Hey man, Jesus came to seek and to save the lost so let’s get into the community, let’s interface, let’s connect! And these other men and women who are lay leaders and later staff members, they’re already on board, they’re already here so they’re committed, they don’t need a lot of my time. My time needs to go to the new people.” And of course it was a few years into ministry here where I was greatly convicted for such a really bad mistake. In studying the life of Jesus this is my philosophy now looking forward that Jesus spent more time with the people closest to Him, or you could say the people closest to Him got more of His time than the multitudes. Whether it’s Peter, James and John, whether it’s the twelve, you could draw, as you said with John Maxwell, concentric circles of the people that would get the most amount of attention. So the people closest to me need to get most of my attention. We need to talk through things. We need to make sure that we’re on the same page in terms of where they are and what we’re doing. But, at the same time, listening in to this podcast, in my mind, this is not a complicated thing. As a matter of fact, if you would have asked me what the vision of our church is, I don’t know that I have this great burden to have a vision for the church or even as it comes up in January, like, “Oh my gosh, it’s a New Year! We’d better have a new vision.” I don’t really feel that burden at all. The burden that I feel that I think gets translated into the vision is, “Lord, I know you have us here and I know You’ve surround us with great people and they love You and they love this community and they love this church. What great emphasis, what mark, are You going to make?”
So, you know, we use the whiteboards for ideas, clarity, and then I have a lot of one-on-one meetings. Whether it’s a phone call, whether it’s texting or whether it’s just walking into offices and just bouncing off, “Hey, I saw you were a little hesitant.” Because they may not want to speak up in a larger group in the way that they can speak to me personally, so I’ll ask them, “Hey, what are you thinking? Did we miss something? Did you have something to add?” And through the larger groups and then the smaller groups and through a lot of texting and a lot of phone calls, we’re able to say, “Ok, we’re on board and let’s just run with what God’s given us for this coming year.”
(Ted) Ed, when you had that revelation from God that, “Oh man, I’ve been spending a lot of time with the people, but I really need to give the priority of my time to my key leaders as Jesus did.” What perceptible impact did that have on your staff and what did you notice with them?
(Ed) Well I think that they began to feel loved, appreciated and cared for and valued. It also increased friction and disagreement and accountability, both ways. So I think there was a little bit of response both ways but that’s all part of relationship. But I have a real heart to support pastors, to encourage them, to check in on them, to pray for them, all around the country, even all around the world. I’m just so grateful. I can’t believe God allows me to do what I’m doing and to be involved in so many wonderful lives. At the same time though, when I am thinking about reaching out to a pastor in Colorado Springs, I want to make sure I also remember I have a pastor in Aurora. I have a few that are just as important and I want to pray for them and they’re valuable. I found it was more positive than negative for sure. Some people, and this was back in the early days as I shared this great revelation of what God was doing, they kind of felt mad at me for the years I didn’t pay attention to them, like I did it on purpose or something and they weren’t able to come along. That was a great revelation to me that they were like, “Great, I’ve been here three years and you didn’t really care.” Which isn’t true, however, I was doing it wrong and they carried the weight of that…I guess I could call it a sinful decision…and so there are going to be consequences to that and some guys were upset that I didn’t come to that revelation earlier.
(Ted) Yeah, I’m reminded of the saying, “What’s real to a person is real to that person.” So their perception is reality to them.
(Rob) It’s funny Nate, when you were talking about how you used to think you would share the vision once and think, Ok, I’ve shared it, they’ve got it. Early on I fell into that same trap and it wasn’t until the Lord really stirred my heart reading in Peter where Peter says, “I seek to stir up your minds by way of a reminder,” and it’s like God said, “You need to do that.” And so for me, at our church at Calvary Vista, we actually do a Vision Sunday every year and I wouldn’t say that it’s necessarily casting a new vision, it’s just communicating our vision in a new way. For instance this year, and a lot of times, it’s a word that the Lord gives me, or two words that the Lord gives me, and this year, it may sound a little bit corny, but the two words that God gave me for our church for this year was, “Deep and Wide.” The idea being that we want to grow deep in our love and understanding of Jesus, which is our discipleship, and then we want to go wide in our reach for Jesus, which is our outreach. This year we actually printed a giant poster that is right at the entry of our building that everybody has to walk by every single time they walk into our sanctuary. So I’m looking to re-communicate it that way, and in the messages, and then we do our staff meeting every Tuesday and probably almost every Tuesday, in one way or another, I’m reminding our staff of what that vision is because the reminder is so important for people to get it and they’re not going to get it the first time. That’s what I’ve found. Now Ed, when we talk about casting vision to the church body, how does that look for you and how far out are you casting vision with the body? I have an idea that it’s probably continual because you said you don’t really do a Vision Sunday type of a thing at Calvary Aurora.
(Ed) We don’t have a schedule…but before that, I wanted to ask, did you say your two words were “Deep and Wide?”
(Ed) Because our words are “Wide and Deep” this year! No…I’m just kidding.
(Ed) So we don’t have this scheduled vision, but from time to time I’ll definitely give the fundamentals of who we are. It’s a repetitive thing but I think it’s been coming very naturally. I have to say, for the sake of those listening, there was a traumatic event in my life eight years ago. My son passed away and everything changed for me and I’m not so uptight about stuff anymore. Even though I am pretty focused on how I do things, I’ve just relaxed a little bit in my own personality so that if I don’t have something by January, I’m ok with that. I’m ok with just going with the flow, at least more than I ever have been before. Sometimes I guess I could be perceived as being lackadaisical or apathetic. It’s not, but it is a big shift from the first, let’s say, thirteen years of how we ran and oversaw this church. But one of the things that I’ve kept, Rob, over the years, is I tell the guys who serve with me, “You cannot over communicate with me. You can’t. It’s impossible.” Even the last guy who said he was going to try, I buried him! You won’t be able to over-communicate with me. I want to hear everything! I want to hear good, bad, I’ll check in on you, you check in on me. You will not over-communicate. You can text me any time. If I’m available, I’ll answer, if I’m not, I’ll answer when I am available and that’s carried over into our church. So like last year God really just overwhelmed me probably back in…I don’t know…maybe September, with all the tension last year with everybody talking about if church is essential and all of that, the Lord really led me to where we’re headed this year and the phrase that came was, “Hey man, the world is going to be the world, but the church needs to be the church.” And I just kept saying that every message. It wasn’t like on purpose; it was just in me. Like, man, if we have to tell the world that the church is essential, maybe we’re not as essential as we think we are because we have to communicate that. That was my perception, my perspective of everything and so we kept on saying that. We were saying it in staff meetings and now, for this year, here’s our 2021, we’re going to “Be the Church.” That’s it, “Be the Church.” And I communicated it in messages at least monthly, maybe every couple of weeks. Like last night in 1 Peter, this is an example of, “Be the Church,” where Peter talks about “when they defame you as evil doers, let your good works be seen so they will praise God on the day of visitation.” That’s “Be the Church!” And when we have “Missions March” – every March we emphasize missions – that’s, “Be the Church.” So what we do is every year we make T-shirts with different designs and we make them available to the church and all the proceeds goes to missions. So they can just be wearing them all year. They can even wash their cars with them if they want to, but at least they’ll be thinking, Be the Church, Be the Church. We print documents and we make sure it’s on the web. One of the things we’ve done as we’ve been remodeling the building is we just started painting things on the walls and making it permanent. So the overall vision of our church – like you, have the banner – we have it painted right on the wall and the phrase is, “We will do anything short of sin to reach the lost.”
(Rob) I love that.
(Ed) And everybody has to see it and it’s probably to the point where you start to “not” see it anymore, but we’ll emphasize it. And, if something happens and we’re sharing a testimony, we’ll emphasize it, “See what the Lord is doing? I’m going to be the church! I know the whole world is locked down, but we’re going to take off on a short term trip and we’re going to be the church!” We are going to continue with banners, posters, apparel, and our graphics, so that it’s just continually before them and hopefully along the way people catch it. If we had one moment in everybody’s lives where they go, “You know what? Today, I’m the church,” then I think that would be a home run.
(Rob) Yeah, that’s really cool. What about you, Nate, how do you cast vision to the body? Does your body know…would you say they actually know what your twenty-five year plan is?
(Nate) I’d say to a degree they know what the twenty-five year plan is and what I mean by that is they probably know just as much as I know because how much do we know about what will happen in twenty-five years? But as they look at me they can see, “Ok, this guy is intent on teaching the Bible over and over again, so apparently that’s the twenty-five year plan. And I’m always talking about the desire to multiply and plant churches, so they could assume that would be the kind of thing over the next twenty-five years that we would continue to do. So I don’t have to tell them, “Hey, in twenty-five years, in this community, we want to see a Calvary in this city, this city, this city, this city, and this city.” I mean I’ve done that before, but from everything we’ve communicated and continue to communicate, they should be able to come to that conclusion, “Ok, that’s what we’re doing together as a church and we’re for that.” But, you know, there’s obviously so much of the next twenty-five years that none of us know about so on that level, no, they don’t know the twenty-five year vision because I don’t know it either, but we’ll get there. But did you ask me how I cast vision with the body?
(Rob) Yeah and you’ve kind of covered that, but if you want to, do a real quick summary of how you do that with the body as a whole.
(Nate) One thing, for me, somebody told me years ago, “Look, the man is the message.” In one sense what you’re doing, opening up the Bible, giving it that kind of prominence, that’s part of the vision, right? We have a vision that the people would have a high regard for the Bible and what God says and the gospel that is contained therein. So I’m acting that out every week, right? That’s part of what they’re seeing me do, in opening the scriptures, reading it respectfully, wanting to find Jesus there inside of it, proclaiming grace, and all of these things, that’s part of the vision of what we want for their lives. So in a sense, just being me is part of communicating the vision. And then of course you know, like I said earlier, I love to write so when it’s like a big thing that we’re working through, like a building project or something like that, I like to write about it to kind of let the people see the process, the logic, the needs, all that kind of stuff. And then I’ve mentioned sharing in the message and all of that, and though we don’t do a Vision Sunday, I will from time to time, when needed, take twenty minutes to give like a massive presentation on something like a church shifting kind of thing that we’re doing. But one thing that I would also mention is that God has really led me…because I am kind of one of these guys who, when I get in the pulpit in front of everybody, I just really don’t want to waste anybody’s time and I haven’t met any pastor who has a regular problem of ending his sermon too early!
(Nate) You know?! So I’m always conscious of that, you know? I get up there and I’m like, “Look, I have a certain amount of minutes to deal with here and I know they’ll give me grace if I go a little bit long, but I just want to get into it so I can maximize my time.” But what I’ve found over the years is that meant I was not really sharing much vision outside of the sermons with the people so I felt the Holy Spirit just kind of saying to me, “Hey, say something before every message. Say something that has to do with how you’re seeing things, what God is doing today, even if it’s just you picking one of the events that are coming up in the church and saying why you think that’s important. That’s part of sharing that vision. So just go up there, tell them to open up their Bibles to such-and-such address and while they’re turning there, give them two minutes of vision and then pray and get into the Word.” So that’s been helpful for me because I don’t often feel like I have something to share, but when the Spirit just puts it on you like that, like, “Bro, you got to say something!” Then it helps me just to think it through and go, “Actually, you know what? I have a lot more to share vision-wise than I probably thought I did, so I’m going to share about this this weekend and that next weekend.” It just kind of kept me in the groove of communicating with the people which they so appreciate.
(Rob) I love that!
(Ted) Yeah, that’s excellent! And you know, as I listen to you guys, so many things are standing out. Two of the key ones, Nate, you’re talking about keeping the vision fresh and before the people, and Ed, you’re talking really about establishing a culture within your staff where they can challenge and ask questions and where you said it increased conflict but that was good because it gave you the opportunity to work through things. So those are a couple of great take aways for me personally.
I want to pivot here – no pun intended – because I want to talk to you about pivoting. In 2020 we all got very familiar with that term and the reality of pivoting and so, you know, it’s true in this year, regarding our practices, but also as it pertains to our visions. So how did you guys handle that? Nate, we’ll start with you. How did you keep your vision intact but then have everything challenged so radically?
(Nate) Yeah, it was a fun year of ministry, wasn’t it?
(Nate) Yeah, it was challenging! For us the vision remained the same. Our church’s vision is “Jesus Famous.” We want the fame, honor, glory of Christ to permeate through every man, woman and child in our church community and in this region. So it just had a different feel to it in 2020, obviously. But that was still our same mission and goal. I think it helped us in some ways because I think there were pressures from in the church and outside of the church to behave certain ways and to me we would just go back to our vision, “Well, does this glorify Christ if we act in this way or don’t act in this way?” It just kind of helped us navigate those times. So I don’t know how much detail you want. You can ask me any follow-up questions that you’d like to, Ted, but it was a wild year. I don’t feel like it’s quite over. Here in the Monterey Peninsula, when it comes to COVID, I would describe the community as probably one of the most cautious in the United States so it’s still a big hurdle for us. It is a very liberal-leaning community politically, so there have been so many issues to navigate through and deal with, but I think probably the word I’d use is it’s just been “stretching” because we’re meeting on site but we’re also meeting online and doing two separate types of gatherings for both of those venues. We’re not just live streaming the Sunday gatherings and that’s challenging! The team is challenged, the volunteers are challenged, the staff is challenged, but yeah, we were able to do it and I felt, for me, you know, my prayer life improved, my dependence on God improved, I feel like my preaching improved, my boldness increased because I was just pressing into the Lord week after week, “God, You got to give me the words to say to these people. They’re shaken up, they’re confused, they’re angry, they’re stressed.” But I think for us, at least in our context, it actually…well, let’s just use numbers. So let’s say at the beginning of 2020, let’s say maybe 50% of the church was about the vision of this church and the other half was like, you know, they’re checking it out, or it’s just the church they picked, or whatever. I think at the end of 2020, we were much closer to the 100% mark of people that are in on the vision of the church because we just had to really proclaim it this year and say, “No, we’re not about that, we are about this.”
(Nate) And that kind of identification, it’s a dividing line for a lot of people because it makes them say, “That’s not the kind of church I want to be a part of,” or, “Dang, I love this church!” You know? And so I feel like it was a greatly unifying experience for us in a lot of ways and still is.
(Ted) Ed, what about you? What have been your experiences?
(Ed) Well that’s a great way of looking at it! That’s a very positive way, like looking at the end of the year. Listening to Nate talk, I realize that had he not gone first, I would not have said it was a unifying experience.
(Ed) However, his description of it is really just the flip side of the coin of how I think most of us feel, and that’s the devisiveness of it.
(Ted) I think that’s perfect.
(Ed) And he included that…this pandemic, the government overreach, the racial tensions coming to the surface again, the riots, the coopting of the gospel, which is impossible. Even saying that is wrong because you don’t “co-opt” the gospel, and if you do, it’s not the gospel anymore.
(Ed) And all of that on top of not being able to meet together, a real virus with real consequences, aside from the government, it’s been a very challenging, hard year. Then on top of that, on our team – we have the privilege of having a staff of pastors – and through 2020 and now, into the first couple of months here in 2021, we’ve lost three pastors. It’s been for a variety of reasons, however I would say that the pressure and difficulties of COVID probably accelerated some of the exits. I mean, I know they did. So we enter into this year down two full time positions and we’re waiting for what God’s going to do with that. I think when this all went down, we pretty much thought it was going to be over by Easter and here we are and it’s almost Easter a year later.
(Ed) As we experienced it here in Colorado, it was a little less dramatic than our friends in California did, but as we experienced it here, everything came to an abrupt stop! Like we had to slam the brakes on. For whatever reason, the Lord was giving me, I wouldn’t say like it’s some prophetic insight into all this, but He was giving me a sense to listen carefully to our governor because he was tipping his hand every time. Everybody was listening to him for the moment, but the Lord was giving me insight to see, “No, he’s telling you what’s going to happen in a couple of weeks as well.” And it was a really bazaar experience because I was like, “No, no, you guys didn’t hear the governor right. He’s actually saying, ‘This is going to happen.’ He’s going to shut down.” So we called a big meeting and we stopped before they shut us down. We actually shut down early, one week before he did, in anticipation that he would do it and in anticipation that it would probably be safer to do it. We made some calculated decisions that I think really benefitted us down the road in terms of what we’re seeing with the congregation because what we were able to communicate to the church was, “We’re taking our lead from the Holy Spirit, not from the government,” and what we found was that most of the time the Holy Spirit was leading us right alongside of the government. It was not as dramatic as it may seem to some just watching the news. Like we wanted safety, we wanted security, we wanted the congregation to understand that we cared about them and we wanted to demonstrate that to them. We wanted our community to understand we cared for them and to demonstrate that to them. So the “bigger picture” funnels that we chose helped us in the real challenging day by day stuff…and man, it’s still challenging to this day! It’s still very challenging because our approach was a hyper-conservative approach. That’s just who I am but I think that’s how God uses me. What I mean by “hyper-conservative” is that it was much easier to close. That was an easy pivot. I mean it was really easy. It was hard in the sense that “we’ve never done this before”…but that’s not even entirely true! We have closed our church on multipleoccasions, completely online only, but in Colorado they call that a “Snow Day!”
(Ed) I had never experienced this growing up in Southern California. We had this idea that, “Oh, we never close our church! We have to meet in a building,” but that’s not true! We close it all the time for the safety of the people. We don’t want them on icy roads. It’s ok! I mean how many times have we preached this message, “The church is not a building! The church is not a building!” Then, all of the sudden when there’s some tension with governmental officials, all of a sudden the church is only the building. Obviously we’re not going to get into all the nuances of that discussion, but the reality is…well I’ll just put it this way, I was talking to a dad yesterday and he’s in a different stage of parenting than I am. I’ve raised my kids to adulthood now but he’s got teenagers and as we were talking about his one particular issue, I said, “Look, let me tell you the biggest mistake I made as a dad and I made it repetitively and I wish I wouldn’t have, but with each successive kid you improve, right? So my oldest got most of this, but here’s the thing. The biggest mistake I made with my kids was overreacting to whatever they brought me and I think that’s the same in pastoring. Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made that led me to sin, or make a sinful decision, was overreacting. I believe the Holy Spirit wants us to reasonably stop, wait, and then follow His lead. Although that probably wouldn’t be on the whiteboard, but the whiteboard exercise for this was, “How is everybody feeling? What do you guys think about this?” And that’s when we find out, “Well, my mom’s in a nursing home and if she gets this virus it could be fatal.” Or, “Oh, you know, I get sick all the time, it’s ok.” Then merging that together so that we have mutual respect for one another. If we have mutual respect among our staff, then that’s going to pour out into mutual respect and we’ll all just go with the flow even if we disagree with the decisions.
(Ted) Oh, that’s good. That’s so good.
(Nate) Just to dovetail onto that if I might?
(Ted) Yeah, Nate, go ahead.
(Nate) I know we’re pushing up against the clock but I love that response, Ed, and we felt the same way here. I don’t think I was always out in front of things, but I always tried to communicate with people early on because I could tell that we were going to have people in the same congregation who were on polar opposite vantage points. So we shared from the very beginning, “Listen, we, for our part, as elders, we are not infectious disease experts. We didn’t go to school for this.” So we just told them, “Look, we’ve got no choice except we’re just going to go along with what the governing authority’s guidelines are. They can’t tell us to shut down. We don’t really believe that. We are God’s church and nothing can stop His church but, if they ask us not to meet for public health reasons, we’re going to go as far as they want us to, but we’re not going to be more extreme than that either.” Because there were some people in the church who were like, “You shouldn’t meet until 2022 no matter what the governing authorities allow,” you know? So we just had to kind of give them that vision of where we were going. And then what I discovered real quickly, as I would give these presentations and walk people through, “Here’s the logic. Here’s why we’re doing it this way,” and try to reason with them, I began to discover that everybody had their logic for why they saw it the way they saw it. Everybody had a website or a doctor or a medical expert, somebody out there who was telling them logically this is how you should behave right now. So as I realized this, I thought, you know, I’ve been here in the pulpit for thirteen years now and they know what I’m about. They know I’m about Jesus. They know I’m about the Word. I think they can see that I’m not a man of compromise. So, what I started doing was appealing more to their hearts and just saying, “Hey, here’s the logic, I’m appealing to your head, but even if you disagree, I just want you to know that I love you and I hope you can come with me, because I hope you know that I love Jesus, that the pastors here love Jesus, and we’re really just trying our best right now.” And there were some great people who I knew disagreed with the decisions we were making but who really learned about Christian maturity and submission during that time and said, “Even though that’s not what I would do, I support my pastors.” That was, I think, part of the unifying effect because there were obviously some people in the church who couldn’t do that, who couldn’t make that decision and follow during a time where they disagreed. It was that big of an issue for them.
(Ted) Nate, I love what you share because what you’re communicating when you communicate vision, a big part of it, is just communicating your heart as the shepherd that has been entrusted with this flock and the people see you as their under-shepherd, so to speak, under Christ, so I love that. And Ed, you may not realize it but you actually gave a great plug for a future episode that we’re going to have because we’re going to focus a future episode on “Biggest Mistakes and Best Decisions,” so you, sharing the mistake, that was solid gold and we look forward to that in the future.
(Ed) Well, I would love for all my failures to be very encouraging to you!
(Rob) You know I wrote a book called Lessons from a Church Planter: The things I learned from my mistakes. I think it was eight chapters all on mistakes!
So, anyway, that’s all the time we have for today and I just want to thank you guys so much for joining us and being our guests. You guys did an awesome job and I just appreciate your hearts, I appreciate the way that you lead and the way that you are ministering to your churches and to other pastors, and I know I speak for Ted when I say that we are really thankful to be able to call you guys friends.
(Nate) Thank you brothers.
(Ed) I’m so thankful you guys are doing this.
(Rob) Yeah, God bless.
(Ted) God bless you guys. Thanks.
(Rob) Well that’s going to conclude our conversation for today and we hope that you enjoyed this conversation on “Vision” with Nate Holdridge and Ed Taylor. Next week we’re going to follow up this conversation with a bonusconversation on “Vision” and our guests are going to be Pastor Nick Cady of Whitefields Church in Longmont, Colorado. Whitefields is a midsized church that is really making a tremendous impact in their community and Nick is a great visionary leader that I know you’re going to enjoy hearing from. Our other guest will be Mark Foreman. Mark is the pastor of North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, California. Mark is one of the best and most humble leaders I have ever met. His church is making an incredible and broad impact in their community so don’t miss this bonus episode of the Leadership Collective Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review and subscribe on whatever podcast platform you are listening on. I’m Rob Salvato.
(Ted) I’m Ted Leavenworth.
(Rob) And we look forward to being with you next time on the Leadership Collective.