Chris Vacher on How Senior Leaders and Creatives Can Work Together Better
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Chris Vacher is in the minority when it comes to being a creative leader within a local church … he’s a worship pastor that’s stayed longer than 2 years! During today’s interview Chris talks about how senior leaders can work with creative leaders within their church. He gives insights into the healthy relationship he has with his senior pastor and provides practical tips for how you can work more closely with the creative folks on your team.
Chris Vacher // [Chris’ Website] [twitter]
02:10 // Chris’ church is older than the country in which it was birthed
02:30 // History of Compass Community Church
02:40 // Reason behind the church’s name change
03:20 // Chris’ role at Compass
04:08 // Average tenure of a worship pastor
04:55 // Everybody likes the new guy, until he’s not the new guy anymore.
05:11 // The difference in skill set between a traveling worship leader and a permanent worship pastor
06:12 // Rich recalls how he see’s Chris honoring his senior pastor
06:55 // How Chris has fostered a positive relationship with his senior pasto
07:30 // Chris’ tip to eliminate resentment between the worship and senior pastors
09:10 // Spiritual enterprise
10:10 // How to build trust: Deliver good work
10:40 // You don’t need home runs every Sunday, but you need solid base hits.
11:27 // Chris’ encouragement to senior pastors
12:40 // When a worship pastors needs pastoral care
13:50 // Why tension has risen between Chris and Earl
15:16 // Compass Community Church’s staff communication
16:58 // ‘Thursday Night Gospel Hour’
17:40 // The key to executing constantly great services
18:01 // Chris practices a service pre-brief versus a debrief
19:29 // What senior pastors need to know about what their worship pastors really think
21:25 // A final practical trust building tip for worship leaders
Lightning Round Highlights
Helpful Online Resource // Evernote, Graceway Media (editable photoshop files)
Books That are Having an Impact // ‘David and Goliath‘ by Malcolm Gladwell
Inspiring Ministries // Church on the Move (Tulsa, Oklahoma), Vertical Church Band (Band out of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago)
Inspiring Leader // Jony Ive
What does he do for fun? // Wife and 4 kids, date night on Friday with his wife, Saturday morning pancakes with his family, dreaming with teams, Worship Rises (Canadian worship leaders writing songs.)
Check This Out // 4 Frameworks for Church Service Review Meetings (and 20 Evaluation Questions!)
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Well, welcome to this week’s UnSeminary podcast. We’ve got an incredible treat. Now I know I say that every week. But this week really is an incredible treat. We’ve got Chris Vacher with us, a worship pastor, great guy, and he’s also a Canadian. It’s always nice to have some Canadian content on the show. Hey Chris, Welcome to the show.
Chris – Thanks Rich. It’s great to connect. I love your blog. I love this podcast. I love that you’re from Canada. I love what Liquid does and what you’re all about. I love tracking with you so thanks for having me on your show. I’m really excited about this!
Rich – Ah, that’s nice. I guess I’ll have to slip that twenty to you next time we’re together. So Chris, why don’t you tell us a little about yourself and your current ministry context. Where do you serve?
Chris – Great. So I’m on staff at Compass Community Church in Orangeville ON. Orangville is, we’re about an hour away from down town Toronto. We are a small town, 30 000 people, about 50 000 people in our region. So we are close to the city so we can get down to the city to watch Blue Jays games, although that wasn’t so fun this year, but ah, all this stuff in the city is really close by, but we live in a beautiful part of the country. Canada has lots of beautiful parts but this is a real magnificent place to live. Our church was founded in 1861 so our church is older than Canada.
Rich – Wow, that’s amazing!
Chris – We started being a country in 1867, and at that point we had already been a church for 6 years.
Rich – Nice.
Chris – We were founded as the regular Baptist church of Orangeville, and for about 100 or so years we were Orangeville Baptist Church. Almost a year ago we became Compass, Compass Community Church. We sensed a real strong call from the Lord to begin multiplication and church planting, expanding what God was doing here, and felt we needed a name that reflected who we are and what we are all about. Compass, we say we are all about Direction Upward and Outward. Our relationship with God is really important and that fuels our relationship with others in our region, just reaching people with the Gospel. We just announced that we are doing to do our first what we call multiplication. So there’s a town about 25 minutes down the road and we are going there. We will have another location called Compass. So we are really excited about that. So, awesome church. I am the Director of Worship here so I oversee Sunday morning. I work really closely with our Senior Pastor and I love that part of my job and just oversee everything that happens in our services on Sunday.
Rich – Nice. Well, there’s a lot we could talk about there. The fact that you went through this name change, and that cultural stuff. That’s huge. Maybe we will have to have you back sometime and you can tell that story. It was fun to watch that! But particularly today, I would love to talk about the worship stuff, and your relationship particularly with the senior pastor, and what that process looks like. How long have you been there at Compass?
Chris – I’ve been on staff here since November 2005. It;s coming up on 8 years.
Rich – Wow! That’s amazing. Now you were sharing that the average tenure of a worship pastor is what?
Chris – It’s about 2 years. A year and a half to two years. And to me that’s is brutal. Although I did feel that when I came here, at about the 2 year mark, I felt a change in how people responded to me in the sense that, I think you can run on maybe, I don’t want to say gimmick, but you can run on charisma and talent for about 2 years. And my sense is that for a lot of guys that kind of runs out and they lose some relational equity with the congregation. I felt the change after 2 years of relationship with my congregation at that point, but that’s the average length of stay for a worship leader in a church, about 2 years.
Rich – That’s amazing. That’s interesting that idea that you can run on some gimmick, you can run on a bit of the show, but something has to shift. That just makes sense intuitively. Everybody likes the new guy, until he’s not the new guy anymore. And there’s got to be something more there to sustain that.
Chris – Ya and if you come from the world of traveling worship leader, where you’re going and doing the same set or the same show, you know, day in and day out regardless of who you are leading, and now you are in a place where you are in relationship with people and your tricks are really not going to last that long. But beyond that too, you’ve got a group of people that become family to you. You have people who are at the mountain top and you have people who are in the valley and from a pastoral perspective you’ve got to really lead them together as a church family through all of those things. So it’s just a different skill set. I’m thankful I had a lot of grace shown as I’ve learned and grown through that. I certainly haven’t done everything perfectly, but part of that growth has been my relationship with my senior pastor and our elders and my relationship with our congregation.
Rich – Let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about particularly your relationship with your senior leader. It’s Earl right, that’s his name?
Chris – Earl Marshall.
Rich – One of the things I appreciate about you I see you honoring him, just through twitter and stuff like that. I don’t know Earl at all. I don’t have any connection with him. I always find that interesting that at a distance I see you talking about what he talks about. Let’s talk about that relationship. I often say, or I have said in the past, a lot of times the worship person, whether it’s director, or pastor, whatever they call them at your church. A lot of times that the person with the second highest profile in the church. You know they’re seen by a lot of people. But you know a lot of times the senior leader, for whatever reason, doesn’t have a good relationship with them, or really much of a relationship with them at all. What has worked for you, in your relationship with Earl in the last couple of years?
Chris – Well just in practical terms, think about a Sunday service. And like most places, our service is probably 80 minutes whether you are 70 minutes, 80, 90…whatever it is, and Earl preached for 40. So he takes up half the time, the other half of the time is going to be music, and some sort of congregational corporate prayer, integrated scripture, announcements whatever. So basically, half the service is him, and half the service is lead by me or my team from a creative content perspective and so one of the things I like to talk about with worship leaders who might have some kind of tension with their senior pastor, or even sometimes I talk with senior pastors who have a tense relationship, just the understanding that your senior pastor is putting a lot of trust in you. Even the fact that he’s putting you in front of the flock that he’s called to shepherd for that many minutes on a Sunday. I thinks we all agree Jesus is the head of the church, Jesus is the senior pastor, Jesus is the leader of the church and that’s true. And the beauty of the church is that Jesus calls some to be pastors, some people to lead specific flocks. Pastors then get to equip and invite others to lead part of his flock, and you’re a worship leader / worship pastor, that’s a great start just to remember the amount of trust that your senior leaders has placed in you by opening of the opportunity for you to lead his flock. You know that really quickly can eliminate a high level of resentment that can get built up from a worship leader perspective. “Oh why doesn’t he understand me? Why doesn’t he let me do this? Why does he complain when we do this?” He’s kind of allowed some of his authority that God has given to him and flowed that through to you and now putting you in that real crucial role. Start there, and let that be the starting point in your conversation with your senior pastor. That might open up a whole world in your relationship with your senior pastor.
Rich – That’s a great insight. I think sometimes that we are called, we forget because we get caught in the weekly routine of it all, and we can forget the fact that this is spiritual enterprise. God has given that leader at your church, has given them that authority. And our job is to follow that person. Now I would imagine it takes a fair amount of trust in that relationship. Can you give me a time that you have built great trust with Earl? How do you build trust as a worship leader with the senior leaders at your church?
Chris – That’s definitely been a part of our relationship. It’s not day one you start and your job and there it is. Trust really is earned, it really is a process and it’s got to be two ways. Your senior pastor has give you the worship leader trust, number one, of being in front of his flock and you’ve got to build up that trust as well. I think the easiest way is just to deliver. Do good work. Your church has hired a worship pastor because there is a significant need there on Sunday. Do good work and do consistently good work. And that doesn’t mean, if you are going to use a baseball analogy, hit home runs every Sunday. I know you like to talk about , not every Sunday is a big Sunday. Some are bigger than others. You don’t need home runs every Sunday, but you need solid base hits.
Rich – Absolutely
Chris – Be faithful, deliver. To me that’s the difference between a major league hitter and a minor league hitter is consistency and constant production. Just do the work that you said you are going to do. Have that be your baseline. If you said you are going to do something, do it, and then do it well. Don’t feel like you’ve got to be the hero every Sunday. Serve your pastor. Help accomplish the vision that God has given him for your church. And allow your worship time, whatever that looks like or sounds like each Sunday, to build that trust with your pastor. And then if you are a senior pastor, then respond to that. Take time to acknowledge that when your worship pastor has done good work. Acknowledge him or her specifically and take time to do that. Worship leaders thrive on feedback. There is nothing worse as a creative than to poor my heart and soul into something, have it go (what I think) well on Sunday and there’s no feedback, no response, there’s no like ‘man when we did that on Sunday you said you would do this, and we were hoping for this and it came through, and God was honored with that and people responded in worship to that. Thank you! Thanks for doing that.” That kind of feedback will buy you a lot of really great relational equity with your worship leader.
Rich – Ya, I can imagine that even negative feedback is probably better than the, ‘meh’. You want to hear something. it’s like you want to hear something. “Do you know how much time we poured into making that happen. Let’s talk about it. Help me understand how it went from your perspective.”
Chris – And if something totally bombs the worship leader knows.
Rich – Yes, that’s very true.
Chris – They know, and so at least be their pastor. Go to them and comfort them. I am so thankful that I have that relationship with Earl, my pastor that if something doesn’t go well, or doesn’t go as expected, we were hoping and praying for people to respond in some sort of way and it didn’t come out how we would have hoped. We are not afraid to go back and say ‘Did we really do the work we needed to? Did we lay it out? Did we explain it odd for people? Was it something on our end? We did what we said we’d do, we delivered and people didn’t respond. That’s OK, we’ll move on.’ If you are able to have those kinds of conversations that really does build trust between worship leader and senior leader.
Rich- Alright, so I’m going to ask you to get personal. So a time when you maybe kind of broke trust with Earl a little bit. What did you do that didn’t turn out so well and it didn’t break his trust but it frayed a bit. And then what did you do to regain that with him.
Chris – We haven’t had major falling out in our time together. Maybe that means we aren’t risking enough. I think in the times when there has been tension, where I have come short I haven’t communicated enough and i haven’t said I’m not yet ready to reveal the whole plan, ‘here’s where we are going, from ‘eh’ to z (as we say up here) A-Z that would be the finished product, we are not there yet, but we are hoping to get there. And the times that I have failed to do that, that may have been the times when there’s been some tension between the two of us. I do try to say to him, ‘We’ve got this big dream’. In a couple weeks, we have this baptism service coming up, we are working on the process, helping people to write their story, get those stories video-taped, get them ready for that day, encourage them to be inviting friends….all that stuff. We are not ready yet but we try to stay in touch, here’s where we are at on this, we are not there yet, to just be in communication. I would say that in the times when there is tension on my end, that’s where I have fallen short, I’ve failed to communicate the plan and how to get there.
Rich – What is your communication process look like. Obviously trust is built on communication. What is your regular rhythm of interactions with Earl?
Chris – In our context, Monday is our staff day off. Tuesday is our meeting day. So we have a check-in strategy meeting with all or our staff Tuesday morning. Twice a month we have a ministry director meeting. So that’s like a high level, it might be a management team, or a strategic team. There’s 6 of us on that and we spend 3-4 hours together twice a month. That’s like big issues. We will talk about one or two things in those four hours. And then he and I interact through the week through email, texting back and forth. He spends a good amount of time at the office. We know when he is writing and when he’s accessible and that kind of stuff. And then Fridays, is a really cool day where I get usually an hour and a half, two hours just he and I. We walk through our whole service on Sunday. So we use Planning Center. He has access to Planning Center so he see’s what’s coming up. He also adds his content as well. And then on that Friday meeting is the two of us, if there is another worship leader, or another host for the service, they will be a part of that as well. We just walk through the service. Here’s what we are expecting to do. We really try to nail transition in those things so there’s no surprises on Sunday. And then usually we go off on a bunny trail and we start talking about something that’s going on that week, or something that we read about and he just gets to pour into others from a leadership perspective. That’s a really valuable time. I really treasure that time. And that’s a standing meeting, every Friday afternoon, we do that every week.
Rich – That’s really cool. I know in our context we do a thing call Thursday Night Gospel Hour. And it’s the same idea. It really rotates around the teaching piece and it’s Tim our lead and Tom our secondary teaching guy, and usually some of our graphics people, all together really nailing down the exact details. Our pattern is to try and put everything to bed before the of day Thursday and so that’s ended up, it usually bleeds into late on Thursday, that’s why it’s called Thursday Night Gospel Hour. The idea being on our end, we are off Friday / Saturday. That’s our sabbath routine here. Those time are super critical. I think the difference between churches that are able to execute great services, time in / time out, are those kinds of times where you are really trying to nailed down not leaving the transitions just up in the air, actually let’s talk through how that’s going to go.
Christ – I get asked a lot ‘How do you debrief a service or an event?’ And we do debrief, I shouldn’t say we don’t do it, but what I usually say is that we do a lot more pre-brief where we will run through before the service has even happened so if something on Sunday goes really wacky, what we are measuring against is what we had talked about, not what we thought was going to happen. ‘I was kind of thinking that when you prayed you would kind of pray for this or I thought you were going to invite that person up’ or whatever the train wreck is. If there is a train wreck we can at least say ‘dude we talked about that on Friday, that really didn’t go, so let’s tighten that up’. Instead of basing a debrief against a set of individual expectations, we do that together. So we call it pre-briefing rather than debriefing. We do debrief and debrief is very important. I would say it’s more around process and how we get to the finished product rather than the actual event itself.
Rich – What actually happened. That makes sense. So what would you say, there’s a bunch of senior pastors listening in, a bunch of executive types, and you now are going to play the role of the worship person, director, pastor, whatever they call them, and theres something that that worship pastor would like to say to them but they just don’t. What is it that you think they want to say.
Chris – Only good things right.
Rich – Ya, good things.
Chris – What I generally hear from other worship guys is that they really love their church and they are really committed to their church and they love the mission and they love the vision. And sometimes I think worship leaders think that senior pastors are ‘Are you just looking for the next gig? Are you here because of the stage?’ And what I would encourage senior leaders to do is do just thank their worship leaders to just thank their worship leaders for the work that they do there. Take time to build that trust, but remember that your worship guy is there because he loves that church. And he loves how God has called you to lead that church. And he probably is really excited about the vision and the mission, and he may not know how to express that or to say thank you specifically for that, but it’s there. If it wasn’t, there would be very little motivation for him to pour himself deeply into what he is doing. Not just picking a few songs and picking a Bible passage to read. If your worship leader is like me, we spend hours just sort of mentally and from a heart level, and a prayer perspective just thinking through what’s going to happen on Sunday? What am I going to say? How’s that transition going to work? God, we want our worship to be honoring to you and God we want to come and meet with you on Sunday when we do that. And it’s probably not just a gig. If it’s just a gig that’s going to be really obvious, and as a senior leader you are going to need to address that. Your worship leader is pouring heart and soul into this so just take time to acknowledge that and thank him for that. Honor the commitment and the work that he’s doing.
Rich – Cool. Anything else you would like to share with our audience before we jump into the Lightening Round.
Chris – I’ll just give one real practical thing that I do. We’ve talk about a lot of conversations and do the work and deliver and all that, but here’s one thing that I do there to actively build trust with my senior pastor. And this isn’t going to work in your context, but it might. I sit in the auditorium for both of our services on Sunday. Now you might have 5 services, you might have one. But I sit, the first service with my wife, the second service in the front row, Bible open, notebook open, pen in hand and I am like 100% engaged with what he’s saying. Ya, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what he’s preaching, and where he’s going to go with his message, but I want him to see and to know that he is my pastor, and what he’s teaching has an impact on me and my life, not just my job. And so I do that every service, every Sunday, both services. I also want to model that for people who serve in our worship ministry and also for our church as a whole. If you are a worship leader your church is looking to you as a leader and model that for your church. And so I just do that, partly form a heart level, I just need that, but partly to help show my pastor that I really appreciate his teaching, I’m focussed, I’m ready to go, I’m paying attention.
Thanks again, Rich! Thanks for giving big encouragement to worship leaders who might have a real challenging relationship with their senior pastor. So thankful that we’re in this together!