Embracing the Future with Humility: Community Christian’s Leadership Succession with Ted Coniaris

Welcome back to the unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Ted Coniaris, the Lead Pastor Apprentice at Community Christian Church. One of the fastest growing churches in the country, Community Christian is an entrepreneurial church which has been a ministry “teaching hospital” and vanguard for decades.

Whether it’s five years or fifty years, every lead pastor is called to shepherd their churches for a season. At some point they will step down from their role and pass the baton to a successor. How do we transition well and ensure that what we are building lasts beyond ourselves? Tune in as Ted shares about apprenticeship, team culture, and how to set your church culture up for a successful transition.

  • 5 steps to apprenticeship. // Apprenticeship is fundamental to how Community Christian operates as they develop leaders and people to be activated into their mission. Taken from Dave and Jon Ferguson’s book, Exponential, the five steps of apprenticeship have also been core to the pastoral transition process. Current lead pastor, Dave, is in the process of leading Ted through these five steps, which include Step 1: I do, you watch, we talk. Step 2: I do, you help, we talk. Step 3: You do, I help, we talk. Step 4: You do, I watch, we talk. Step 5: Someone else watches you—the next apprentice.
  • A culture of humility. // The transition process at Community Christian Church is marked by a clear timeline and benchmarks for progress. Ted attributes much of the success of this transition to the humility and leadership of Dave. In addition to setting a humble example, Ted stressed the importance of being deeply committed to Jesus, and prioritizing teamwork. These elements are crucial in fostering a culture of humility within the church, which is essential for any successful leadership transition.
  • Tend to your soul in the transition. // Pastoral transitions bring with them a sharp learning curve and juggling a lot of different responsibilities. Build a support network of other lead pastors and talk about what you are going through. Continue to develop a culture of humility by sharing how you’re doing with your team. Ask them for grace when needed. Create daily rhythms that will help to nurture your relationship with God and the most important people in your life.
  • Be open-handed. // There are things that will change in the leadership team and infrastructure as a church transitions to a new lead pastor. Be open to the new vision that God is calling the church to in this new chapter. What changes will best serve where God is leading you? Don’t be afraid to make changes that may benefit your church as the leadership changes.
  • Plan ahead for transitions. // Think about how your church culture sets up for a transition. If you are building something that you want to last past you, you have to imagine what it will look like when you are gone. Aggressively remove parts of your culture that will reject a transition, and align your culture so transition will be viewed as a good thing.

You can find out more about Community Christian Church at and email Ted.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. Every week we try to bring you a leader who will both inspire and equip you and I’m really excited to have Ted Coniaris with us today. He is from Community Christian Church. They are a multisite church in Illinois. If you do not know them I don’t know where you’ve been. There, ah if if I’m counting right, 7 physical locations. Although they always seem their launch another, one micro-churches, online space, Community Freedom locations at correctional institutions and treatment centers in the area. Ted is the Lead Pastor Apprentice at Community Christian. He has been ah a campus pastor in one of their locations but is in the midst of a transition. I’m looking forward to today’s conversation because we’re catching a story as it’s happening. So really looking forward to this, Ted. Welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.

Ted Coniaris — So glad to be here, Rich. Thank you so much for having me.

Rich Birch — Why don’t you tell us, kind of fill out the picture a little bit about Community. You know that was just kind of the standard boilerplate stuff. Give us kind of the passion, if we were to come this weekend, what would we experience? Fill in the picture there a little bit.

Ted Coniaris — Yeah, I mean you could really say so much about the legacy of our church over the last 35 years, but the unifying thread that ties it all together, and and really still is going to be pointing us towards our future is our mission, which is helping people find their way back to God. I mean from the very first day that Dave and John Ferguson founded this church that was the unifying passion. It’s still our unifying passion today and as we’re in the midst of this transition, you know, part of my stewardship is stewarding that mission into the future. I mean that’s that’s my heartbeat. That’s Dave’s heartbeat. That’s the heartbeat of our future as well. So that’s that’s the big idea that ties us all together.

Ted Coniaris — But I think you pretty much covered we had got a lot of stuff going on. We’re entrepreneurial kind of church. We love doing whatever we can help people find the way back to God. So that’s starting churches in prisons. Yep, we’re in.

Rich Birch — Nice.

Ted Coniaris — That starting micro-churches all around the world. We’re in. You know, we’ll do whatever it takes. And we kind of joke sometimes like we’re willing to be the first person to like kick through the door, and then we expect people to come in behind us and do it a whole lot better than we’re doing it. But…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Ted Coniaris — …that’s been the model for the thirty-five years. One of the first churches to go multisite.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — I think one of the first churches to leverage a micro expression in the way that we’re doing it. And you know that’s that’s a fun part of being here.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, the Community Christian is a vanguard, a teaching hospital kind of church place, that you you’re taking the the hits and making stuff up and then the rest of us are ah you know are benefiting from that. And that continues I would say that continues with this current transition that you find yourself in. Like this is one of those areas where I think a lot of our churches are looking at and trying to figure out, Okay, how do we pass this on to the next generation. So talk to me about kind of your connection kind of up to this point where you were ended up being identified as the Lead Pastor Apprentice with Community Christian. How did that work, kind of kind of where’d you come from, all that kind of stuff.

Ted Coniaris — Yeah, I mean there’s so many different places to start the story, but just for sake of time, I was at large church in Chicago area. Not so far from our Community locations, maybe 45 minutes away.

Ted Coniaris — And God had really been doing so much through our time there in all kinds of different roles, was like executive pastor teaching pastor kind of role there. And we started having this really uncomfortable nudge from the Holy Spirit that maybe we should plant a church. And of course with great faith we said, No. We don’t want to do that.

Rich Birch — And like a good multiplying leader I said no.

Ted Coniaris — And yes, and I heard from the Lord and said, no thank you.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Ted Coniaris — But we were at least willing to explore it a little bit.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — You know, we felt that we’re like okay, let’s let’s go to this conference. We had heard about called Exponential. And so actually it was like ten years ago my wife and I went to an Exponential Conference in Orlando. truthfully like the most engaged I could tell you was halfheartedly sort of exploring the idea of planting with this seed…

Rich Birch — Interesting.

Ted Coniaris — …that the Lord had planted. And I remember in the first session I leaned over to Melissa because Dave Ferguson and John lead Exponential. If you’re not familiar with what it is. It’s the largest global gathering of church planters. And if you are at all interested in that you should definitely go stop what you’re doing right now and register for Exponential next year in Orlando. it’s an incredible…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Ted Coniaris — …Spirit-moved experience. And I was like you know hey these guys are in Naperville did you know that? And she’s like oh wow. I’m like yeah, maybe I should reach out talk to them sometime. And little did I know about a year later I’d be sitting at a table with John and Dave connected through a mutual friend who is—you talk about Community being kind of like a teaching hospital, my friend, John Peacock who launched Mission Church also in Illinois he had did he had done his residency at Community. And Community actually had helped launch Mission and sent about a hundred of their people to go help start Mission along with our number one giver to help launch that really well. So that’s kind of our legacy.

Ted Coniaris — He’s like you know you got to talk to Dave and John. So ended up talking with them and as we were exploring church plant we’re looking at the same community in Downers Grove, which suburb of Chicago here. And really came away from that conversation thinking to myself, the only reason I wouldn’t plant with Dave and John as a part of Community is if it had to be about me. And that is a horrible reason to plant a church to make a name for yourself.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah, yes.

Ted Coniaris — And they’re like who I wanted to be when I grow up you know?

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — I’m sitting with these guys. They’re being so gracious and generous with me. And I had read some of their books and stuff and I was like man, I hope when I’m sixty I can be sitting across a table from somebody like this and encouraging them in the way they’re encouraging me.

Ted Coniaris — And so long story short we ended up planting. I’ve planted one of our churches in Downers Grove six years ago. And God really blessed that; amazing things have been happening – they’re still happening there. And then I started overseeing some of our locations, leading network is what we call it. And now I oversee all of our locations and expressions. So our physical locations and then you mentioned our micro churches, our online church, and our churches in prisons, Community Freedom. And then Dave and I started talking about this next step about apprenticing to become the next lead pastor of Community. So that’s the story in a nutshell.

Rich Birch — Um, and yeah, that’s so that’s yeah, that’s amazing. So the, you know, let’s let’s kind of zero in on the part of the story where you know Dave it takes you off for lunch and is like so what’s your future? You know God has a God loves you and I have a wonderful plan for your life. Like what does that look like? How do you know where what was that what was, you know, yeah, how does how does he broach that conversation? What’s going through your head? You know, obviously you’re a humble leader you’re you know you’re you’re not like you’re like of course I’m the guy. But like how does all that work? What’s going on inside you when you know when that conversation’s happening?

Ted Coniaris — Well first of all I’ll say a part of our culture that’s really important is we are like a very relational culture. And so Dave and John are brothers, if you don’t know, Dave and John Ferguson. They have co-founding pastors of our church. Dave is the lead pastor. And I often will tell people that we’ve inherited—they’re kind of like our family of origin, as a church culture. And there’s like a brotherly sort of vibe to our staff and our team and our church – nobody’s too big for their britches. You know like if you start trying to act like some kind of big shot around your brother, you’re gonna get punched, you know?

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, you’re gonna get it. Yep yep, you’re gonna get it. Yep.

Ted Coniaris — And so yeah, so we don’t nobody’s too big here. And so Dave and I had a great relationship, have had a great relationship. And the way it started was just very natural…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — …me where I see myself and frankly replacing Dave or being the next lead pastor was not something I was really considering at the time. All focused on planting Downers Grove and seeing it flourish and reaching the community that we live in and my neighbors and friends and kids’ families’ friends and all that. That’s about all I could think about. But as my ministry role expanded and thinking more globally about the church, I think the first time we had the conversation came on the heels of talking through some significant challenges that we’re facing as a church. And at the end and Davis one of those leaders is always just looking for everybody’s perspective on it. You know, he doesn’t come in front line high with the one answer you know he wants to hear.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah.

Ted Coniaris — And they after that conversation he’s like, you know, if you ever would you ever consider, you know, stepping into to this role? Like, oh well yeah, I would consider it. You know… you know I guess I consider it.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, honored to consider it humbling. Yeah yeah, yeah, totally, yeah yeah, yeah.

Ted Coniaris — Yeah and then we just kept meeting and talking about it and became more and more of a reality. And ah, then went through some of the formal steps and got to where we are here today.

Rich Birch — Interesting. So then what does what is the process look like kind of where are you at in that process? You know what what have you learned so far? I know we were joking before we recorded I was like I’m I’m really looking forward to this conversation, then 5 years from now we’ll follow up and hear, everything was great. Um, you know here’s the stuff we learned.

Ted Coniaris — Yeah.

Rich Birch — But what kind of where are you at now in the process? What is what have you kind of what’s that look like, you know help us help us understand that.

Ted Coniaris — Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that’s really fundamental to how we operate as a church is apprenticeship. You know, we are always developing leaders, always developing people to be activated into the mission that the Lord has called them to, however, they’re called and equipped to help people find their way back to God. And so our Kid City leaders have apprentices. They’re apprenticing people in the role that they’re in. our small group leaders. Our [inaudible] leaders, our Community Freedom leaders, ourCommunity Cares, our ministries out in the community. We always want all of our leaders to be apprenticing somebody…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — …from top to bottom.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — And so that’s like our operating system.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — And so that’s the most significant positions and the most, you know, small minor positions you might think of in our community. It’s that relational apprenticeship. And and the way we’ve talked about apprenticeship is that it’s 5 steps to apprenticeship, and you could look this up or read it in the book Exponential that Dave and John wrote. But step 1 is is “I do, you watch, we talk.” Step 2 is “I do, you help, we talk.”

Ted Coniaris — And then it’s “You do, I help, we talk.” And then “You do, I watch, we talk.” And then “You do, someone else watches,” and that’s the next apprentice, right?

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah.

Ted Coniaris — And those are the 5 steps of apprenticeship. And so we thought what better way to go through this transition than to have an apprenticeship process where we are visibly and publicly walking through these 5 steps in front of our church to reinforce this value, say nobody’s nobody’s too big to be apprenticed. You know what I mean?

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yes.

Ted Coniaris — We can always look and grow and develop. And so that’s what we’re doing. We’re publicly walking through the 5 steps of apprenticeship in front of our church which has just been awesome.

Rich Birch — Wow. And what’s the you know when you think about timeline. First of all, I love that framework. Obviously that’s… the thing I love, we you know we’ve talked about this in other contexts where you know we we talked to our people about hey everybody should have an apprentice. But then that seems to be not the case when it gets to the actual lead people. It’s like all you people need to get apprentices. But the fact that you’re structuring it that way I think is fantastic. Um, so kind of where are you at in that process? Is there a timeline, or how are you is it what are the benchmarks that you’ll know kind of you’re moving along? What’s how are you talking about that internally?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah, absolutely. So we the the finish line is May May 1, 2025. So that’s just over a year away now. And we started about six months ago in the public phase.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — And it so we’re we’re in this um I do, you help; you do, I help transition. So in between steps 2 and step 3 right now, where there are parts of what I’m doing now, which is me doing and Dave helping.

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — And there are parts of what I’m doing right now that is Dave doing and me helping.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Ted Coniaris — And we’re kind of transitioning more and more where I will be the primary doer and Dave will be a primary helper. So that’s that’s the transition. So Dave is going to be the lead pastor. He is the, like in terms of clarity organizationally, he is the lead pastor until May 2025.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — However, how we operate and how we function is these 5 steps of apprenticeship in terms of our day-to-day reality.

Rich Birch — Okay, that makes sense. I like that. I love the kind of clarity there around hey there is like ah there’s a tripwire date that we’re pushing towards, but then also we’re following this process that there is a it’s a handoff. I like that there’s like a baton there. That’s you know that’s really good. What, so far, good, bad, missing, confusing? What’s been good? You know what’s been bad? Anything that you’re like oh like hey this next time I do this, next time I transition into becoming a lead pastor, I’ll do that differently? No, but what a, yeah, what’s kind of what’s your evaluation so far? What advice would you give to other leaders maybe who are listening in?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah, great question. So much I could say. First of all I hope I never do this again, right. My goal in step is through this process is…

Rich Birch — Yes. [inaudible on the other side, this will be on the other side right?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah, I I’m deeply committed to being on the other side of this process in the future…

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, yeah, yes.

Ted Coniaris — …and I’m excited about that. But I I do not I’m sort of packing the coffin in this one. Like I don’t I don’t see myself going anywhere else like I want to be committed here.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah,

Ted Coniaris — But you talk about what were the categories used good, hard, or bad, and confusing… missing confusing?

Rich Birch — Yeah, good bad missing confusing. Yeah, just like kind of general of that evaluation. What’s you know, kind of what’s you already thinking so far?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah, um, the good I’ll start with that.

Rich Birch — Yep yep.

Ted Coniaris — This has felt inside and outside, and when I say inside and outside—like between Dave and I—in the inside, and the outside—like our leadership and our church—incredibly healthy and it really passes the smell test.

Rich Birch — Um, that’s good. That’s good.

Ted Coniaris — Like it just feels right. Like when we talk to people about, oh this is what we’re doing, and this is the amount of time we’re taking. like we decided to take a significant amount of time because we just didn’t feel like this is something that needed or should be hurried. Like let’s do this well, let’s take time.

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Ted Coniaris — Let’s give people time to adjust. And I don’t need that, Dave doesn’t need that, like it’s it’s it’s felt super healthy. And if Dave were here he would say the same thing. There hasn’t been a point for either one of us where it’s been like oooh is this the right thing to do? Is this…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, right, right, right.

Ted Coniaris — It’s just like felt natural…

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — …healthy, really really good. And I would say a lot of that is a credit to Dave’s leadership and his humility. You were just going to ask a question.

Rich Birch — Well I was going to ask that. So um I so I was a part Connexus Church in in Canada. And um, you know Carrie Nieuwhof handed off to Jeff Brody – both great leaders. And but I would say both of them have the humility that you’re talking about. Like there’s that they are and I don’t know how we get at that. How do we cultivate that? With you know, and maybe we can talk about this on the the person coming into the role. How have you kind of been able to keep your ego in check? Keep your you know is it close relationship with Jesus, is that all it comes down to? Or is there anything that you’ve you know that’s been helpful to keep your you know the humility, because I do think if man if we can stay humble through this process I think there’s a much higher likelihood that it’ll actually, you know, take kind of thing. But what’s what’s been helpful for you in this to kind of keep close accounts and stay humble?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah I think there’s so many ways I could answer that. I think one of the ways is Dave setting the tone. Um it paints a picture of somebody who’s been able to accomplish a ton. I mean in our church nationally, globally. I mean by all measures and on all accounts you could look at Dave’s ministry and be like man that guy he’s done so much incredible work.

Rich Birch — Yeah yep.

Ted Coniaris — But he’s just so humble…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — …and just a regular guy. I mean my wife and I often joke like our goal is to bring normal back to church leadership. Like we’re bringing normal back, baby, like we are normal people.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it. I love it. I love it. Yes, yes, true very much.

Ted Coniaris — You know what I mean? Like why do we have to pretend like we’re not normal people.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yes, yeah.

Ted Coniaris — Like I’m deeply committed to Jesus, I’m deeply committed to my wife, I’m deeply committed to the ministry of the church, to preaching, to to learning, to growing, to all of those things, to the spiritual disciplines. But but I’m not, you know, anything other than a normal person who’s deeply committed to those things.

Rich Birch — Right, right, right.

Ted Coniaris — And so I think the example of Dave, and just saying that on the outset, like I never try to be a superhero.

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — I never set myself up to be that. I think that is so dangerous. And and another piece of it that I think is really key is—like of course relationship with Jesus like you mentioned—I’m going to talk about some of the other things, is your commitment to team. I think is really key.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — You, I believe cannot be a really good team leader and create a really good team culture if you are not humble.

Rich Birch — Yep, yeah, true.

Ted Coniaris — I think you could be really successful…

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — …and you might have some teams that do successful things, but I would argue, you know, your team culture is probably not what you think it is…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Ted Coniaris — …if you’re not a humble person. I love team. I believe that our teams are going to end up with better decisions, better sermons, better everything that I could produce on my own. I genuinely believe that.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Ted Coniaris — So what place would pride have…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — …in that world. Of course pride is something we all struggle with. I’m not my life isn’t absent of pride by any means.

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — But if pride were to poke its head out in a meeting…

Rich Birch — Yep, yes.

Ted Coniaris — …we’re so team-centric and we have such incredible people on our staff team here, I think they’d be like all right big guy like why don’t you sit back down, you know?

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, that’s good. That’s good, dude.

Ted Coniaris — Like our culture, our culture will correct itself in that way.

Rich Birch — Yeah the culture would reject that. Yeah it would reject that, it would be like that’s not that’s not who we are.

Ted Coniaris — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s not who we are.

Ted Coniaris — No.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — Like somebody trying to build a brand, things like that in our culture, it’s like yeah that doesn’t fly here.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, that doesn’t. Yeah that would be as an outsider that has been my experience with both Dave and John. Like I I bumped in while I was talking talking to both of them. We just you know were recording this the week after Exponential and bumped into both of them and Dave I’ve had a fair amount of interaction back and forth with. John I I really haven’t. And like he stops me in the hallway and is like, hey Rich, and like shakes my hand. And I was like, what? Like how do you know me? Like what is you know, what’s that connection? And you know he doesn’t need to go out of his way to like say hi, right? Like you don’t need to do that. Um, but, you know and obviously he’s got those guys got a million other things going on at a thing like that. Man, that’s that’s great.

Rich Birch — What about on the, you know, bad, missing, confusing? We’ll lump that all together, stuff that maybe like, hey early on here’s some stuff we’re working through um, you know, that you know, we’re we’re so taking a bit to adjust to as we’re you know as we’re going through the process?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah. I mean I’ll speak to that one personally.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — Because I think that’s been the hardest part honestly. We’re in a phase right now where I have been wearing a bunch of different hats, as often happens in a church context. I’m sure all of you listening right now, men and women working in the church…

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah.

Ted Coniaris — …my hunch is that most of you wear multiple hats. Um, that’s how we operate too, being entrepreneurial as a community.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — We maybe wear more hats than what would be typical…

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — …in a different culture. And so I got I’m wearing a bunch of hats, and now I’m putting on more hats…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — …and I’m not yet where I’m able to take off some of those hats.

Rich Birch —How many hats can I get? Yeah.

I look like one of those Carnival people selling hats, honestly, you know? Like I’ve got all the hats.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes here you go.

Ted Coniaris — And if you want a hat like come into a hat. like I’m gonna be dishing out hats.

Rich Birch — Okay, yeah, yeah.

Ted Coniaris — But um, that’s been the hardest part. I I’m in like what I think and hope will be the most um, strenuous time-wise…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yep, yep.

Ted Coniaris — …season of the transition in these middle sections of the apprenticeship process, which I anticipated would be the case.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — But I think I underestimated how I would feel in this time. And so for me, that’s the thing that is the hardest that I’m actively working on right now. And actually coming out of Exponential that was kind of a light bulb for me where I was like, okay, I’ve accepted this storyline that I need to do these things right now. What if I don’t? Like what if what if there are parts of what I’m doing that I I actually need to hand off sooner or we need to stop doing sooner than what we had planned. And so that’s that’s like the rough and gritty middle…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah, right, right.

Ted Coniaris — …of the process that I’m feeling right now.

Rich Birch — Yeah, absolutely.

Ted Coniaris — Everything is wonderful, but it is not I am not operating at a sustainable pace at the moment.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — And that’s something that I’m I’m peeling back and it will take some time, but I’m definitely committed to. And now I’m saying it to you and to whoever’s listening. So you guys feel free to send me an email say, hey Ted, did you actually follow through on that?

Rich Birch — Did you do that? Did you act?

Ted Coniaris — Like give me some accountability.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. That’s great. Yeah, that’s that’s so good. What I yeah I can see that that makes sense. There’s like ah I think the idea of a pinch point here like we’re in a transition going across a bridge and it’s like hey you know things are going to be a little bit overwhelming. You know on the on the kind of personal human side, that is ah that could be a recipe for things to go sideways, right?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Because it’s like hey things are busy. What are you doing anything different in this season to kind of stay connected, pace yourself to try to, you know, or is that what you’re identifying like I got to get more of that in my life. What are what are you doing to try to keep/tend to your soul in the midst of that kind of transition?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah, great question. I mean I have a pretty robust kind of personal—ah I don’t know what you want to call it—infrastructure around me…

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Ted Coniaris — …or scaffolding around me…

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Ted Coniaris — …maybe is a better way to put it. And I think in this season of transition I’ve I’ve amped up some of the scaffolding…

Rich Birch — Yep

Ted Coniaris — …that I don’t think will be like permanent…

Rich Birch — Yep

Ted Coniaris — …for me moving forward, but it’s a helpful as I’m I’m building in this really crucial stage.

Rich Birch — No, that’s good. Yep.

Ted Coniaris — So I mean I’ve got a group of other lead pastors that I like who are my dear friends that live in the area here. We’re friends on mission together. We can share anything and everything.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — That’s really really important. Another part of like creating a culture of humility that actually helps me in this is I will share this with my team. So I’m not hiding this from anybody.If somebody comes and asks me how I’m doing I’ll tell them this.

Rich Birch — Right, right. Yes, yeah, yeah, exactly.

Ted Coniaris — The people who are reporting to me right now I say, hey I just want to apologize to you.

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — I feel like I haven’t been present as I need to be in as you need me to be in this season. And I’m wrestling in this in between to try to figure that out. So can you give me some grace in this as we’re moving forward because I might need a little bit more room than than we would we would want than either of us would want in any other circumstance.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Ted Coniaris — And so just putting it all above board, not trying to appear like I’ve got I’ve got all of it on my back and I have this is all perfect. You know it’s like things are going great like I do feel good. But I know I can’t keep this pace long term.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah.

Ted Coniaris — So those some things. And then my mornings are really important to me. That’s my space before the kids wake up, you know, my wife and I have a pretty regimented morning. We get up real early. You know, exercise is a part of that. Our quiet time is a part of that. Our connection is a part of that, just for us. We have three young boys 14, 11, and 8.

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — If we don’t do it then it’s just not gonna happen.

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — So that’s that’s a big part of it.

Rich Birch — So good. You know, um in ah Warren Bird and William Vanderbloemen’s book Next, where they talk about pastoral succession, one of the things, there’s lots of great insights in there, um you know, but one of them that that struck me as like so practical but like ah ah, kind of um, a stumbling point in these successions is oftentimes the the lead pastor who is transitioning out, they don’t have anything to do once they transition out. They don’t have like…

Ted Coniaris — No yeah.

Rich Birch — And and part of what they coach there is like you they need to get a hobby. Like they need to they need to find, you know, they you know… Now, Dave this is not the problem that Dave, you know, has. This like you know I can’t keep…

Ted Coniaris — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …he’s got a lot of hats, right?

Ted Coniaris — Yes. Yeah.

Rich Birch — Like he’s got New Thing, Exponential has got a lot of different things going on. How are you guys thinking about the kind of how does the post transition, you know, your connection Community’s connection with New Thing, with Exponential, how does all that fit together?Because you know I think it’s I think there’s lots of opportunity and good there’s good things there. But you know, how how are you navigating the kind of local mission of Community to reach the Chicagoland area versus, you know, the church’s connection as a teaching hospital, frankly for lots of other, you know, other churches?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah.

Rich Birch — What’s that look like for you?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah. Wow. So those of you maybe not aware we talked a little bit about Exponential…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Ted Coniaris — …which is a community with a cause is how we describe it. It’s a collection of conferences, gatherings, equippings for church planters all around the world and Dave is the leader the principal leader of Exponential. There’s Exponential USA, Español, Europe…

Rich Birch — Yeah, Australia

Ted Coniaris — …Asia, you know, it’s all over the world. And then there’s also New Thing which is the church planting arm of Community Christian Church which is now it’s on separate entity and organization as of this last year. Which has last year planted over 8000 churches alone…

Rich Birch — It’s amazing. It’s amazing.

Ted Coniaris — …help catalyze planting 8000 churches in one year. I mean it’s incredible like what God is doing through these things…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, it’s amazing. Yeah yeah.

Ted Coniaris — …and Dave is also the principal visionary and leader of that. So yeah, he’s got a lot going on. And and in God’s timing here it’s really been a season where those things are what Dave can uniquely bring to the table in the season of his life and leadership as a bridge builder and as somebody who can get different leaders at the kingdom table to work for the kingdom good. Dave is uniquely gifted in that. It’s really like an anointing. There’s no collection of things that he has or does where you say, oh that’s how you do that. It’s more like just who God has made Dave to be and the vision that that he’s set before him.

Ted Coniaris — And so definitely as we go through this transition Dave, I think, is stepping into his season of greatest contribution and most significant kingdom impact. And not not one of lesser kingdom impact. It’s going to look different but I also believe that a part of what I’m stewarding here is as a community to accelerate those things as well. Maybe the best correlation to a model that people may be more familiar with if you’ve been around the church for a while is ah and some churches still do this and it’s a wonderful thing to do but you have like your missionary partners who maybe are in this part of the world. And then every once a while they come back to the church and they speak you know this is what’s happening in Ukraine, and here’s how we’re helping people in the community and what we’re doing. And and we’re financially supporting them. We’re prayerfully supporting them. And we try to send teams and we’re. We see like this is a part of what we’re doing as a church. It’s not just what this missionary is doing. It’s like we have that like in spades, right? It’s like we have this amazing missionary named Dave Ferguson and John Ferguson…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — …and by the way these ministries have grown out of this church.

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — They are us.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Ted Coniaris — And we’re planting churches all over the world and we want to be their number one financial supporter. We want to be their number one people supporter, their number one leadership capital supporter. Like like we are all in for this mission to see more and new people find their way back to God And and we still believe that the best way to do that is to plant new churches. And so Exponential and New Thing are our chief partners in that ministry and we’re deeply involved. I’m personally involved in those things.

Ted Coniaris — And so Dave’s role here at the church pragmatically he’ll step into a founding pastor role. And he’ll still be involved with me relationally. He’ll still be teaching around the church. But it’s almost like ah like a chief missionary…

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Ted Coniaris — …and kind of like he and Sue, it’s like mom and dad.

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — You know it’s like a real healthy relationship…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — …and a really beautiful thing honestly. And and there’s zero part of me that feels threatened to have Dave around, have him teaching. And there’s zero part of Dave it feels threatened by me – that one makes more sense, you know. But ah ah well…

Rich Birch — That’s funny.

Ted Coniaris — But it’s just just works because we love and respect each other.

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — And we’re both are cheering for the same things you know.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — So that’s kind of how we’re seeing it.

Rich Birch — Are are you thinking, so this is like super tactical kind of nitty gritty thing…

Ted Coniaris — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …and this might not be sorted out and so you’re like, I don’t know; come back and ask me in a year. But you know, post the Dave transition, is there any discussion publicly around um, you know, restructuring how the leadership team works, or is it going to be is it literally like a one for one. You’re going to plop into what you know, kind of all the functions he used to have, you’re going to plop into that. Or is there what you know is there any kind of spread of some of the stuff he did and again it might be too early for that conversation. I don’t know.

Ted Coniaris — Yeah, I think we’ll see.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Ted Coniaris — The bigger thing is, you know, what is this new vision that God is calling us to in this next chapter.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — While there are parts that we’re deeply committed to and will not change…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — …like really significant parts of who we are like our mission and and our part of culture, there are new things that we’re going to be chasing. And so that structure, part of that will see what best serves as we move down that road towards this new vision.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — But there are some things that were we are already changing. So yeah, we’re restructuring our leadership team which actually starts next Tuesday on March 19.

Rich Birch — Oh okay.

Ted Coniaris — And so we’ve been working through that with our team. And and I’m sort of the impetus for that change…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — …and Leanna Weber who’s a key member of our team here, like an executive pastor. She’s gonna be leading that new team. And so we’re we’re starting to implement some of the infrastructure…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s smart. That’s smart. Yeah, that’s smart.

Ted Coniaris — …that we’ll need through the season of transition with Dave’s affirmation but with my leadership.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — And so that becomes I think the the best of both worlds.

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — …where you can use the influence and the leadership capital of the last thirty five years of faithfulness in Dave, but also the new vision and excitement for what’s yet to come.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — And Dave is fully on board with all of it where he’s like, as we talk about it’s like man, let’s just do it all right now!

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, exactly.

Ted Coniaris — You know like this this is what I would want to do if I was here.

Rich Birch —Yeah yeah, great.

Ted Coniaris — Like he’s he’s as ah, excited as I am about it. And and that really is a gift.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so good. Well Ted, this has been just such a rich conversation. I’ve loved we’ve you know like I say it’s ah hopefully you know we could come back in ah in a bit and kind of hear the next part of the the the journey. But anything else you want to share just as we wrap up today’s episode?

Ted Coniaris — Ah, no I think one thing you had mentioned earlier just kind of the who’s listening in here.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Ted Coniaris — And I think there’s probably some lead pastors who are listening in…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — …who are maybe considering like what might be next for you. And then there are probably a bunch of other people who are in second and third chairs who might be working with somebody. You know there’s transition talk. Um I’d like to say some to them and I’d like to say something to the younger group.

Rich Birch — Yeah, love it.

Ted Coniaris — So like the group that might be thinking, you’re nearing a transition…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Ted Coniaris — …my encouragement to you is start talking to other church leaders right now.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Ted Coniaris — If you don’t feel like you can talk about it publicly, that’s fine. I totally understand the sensitivity of that conversation. But shoot me an email. Shoot somebody else an email. Like talk about how you can do this with wisdom.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Ted Coniaris — So it’s not just like ah you don’t have to do the model where you just drop out and somebody else drops in.

Rich Birch — Yes, yeah, yeah.

Ted Coniaris — Like you don’t have to do it that way. In fact, that might be the worst way…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes, yep.

Ted Coniaris — …for your church to transition. And you need to start talking to other people about how that can happen – somebody that you trust, people that you can trust if it’s not within the context of your existing church.

Ted Coniaris — And then what I would say to the younger crowd who are in some of those same seats who aren’t thinking about a transition yet, be thinking about how your culture sets up for a transition.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Ted Coniaris — Because if you are building something you want to last past you, you have to imagine what it will look like when you leave. And so if there are parts of your culture that are going to reject a transition, remove them from your culture, aggressively.

Rich Birch — That’s so good.

Ted Coniaris — Part of what makes this work so well is that I don’t think Dave was thinking about a transition. But he aligned our culture in such a way where a transition is received as a good thing…

Rich Birch — Right.

Ted Coniaris — …and a healthy thing and actually something people expect, even though we never talked about it and Dave is a younger guy. It’s something that people weren’t they weren’t expecting it. But when we talked about it, when I came up and Dave and I and John talked about it with the church, everybody’s like oh yeah, that makes sense.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Ted Coniaris — And it makes sense because of our culture, right?

Rich Birch — Right. Yes, so good.

Ted Coniaris — It wasn’t like, oh my gosh! It’s you think it could happen with someone like Dave.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Ted Coniaris — Our culture is receptive because it’s a multiplying culture. And so…

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Ted Coniaris — …um, I would really really encourage the young leaders to be looking at their culture honestly through that lens…

Rich Birch — That’s good. That’s good.

Ted Coniaris — …because if it’s if it’s going to receive and grow past you, you know you got to you got to align the culture now because it takes time.

Rich Birch — Yeah I love that. I know you know I’ve talked with a number of folks that are in those placement, you know, different placement companies, and I’ve heard I heard the term recently a crash landing crash landed succession, where there are these like it’s it it and I and it sounds exactly how it sounds, right? They they show up to the, you know, those organizations and it’s like we you know it’s like a board chair or something from a church and it’s like our lead guy just told us he’s leaving in six weeks. He’s been here for 35 years. We have no way to we we don’t know where to start. And I was like that is terrifying, like that that’s tough, man. And so um, what a great word. You know, particularly on that side for leaders to, you know, raise the banner and say like hey let’s talk about it. Let’s let’s let’s engage with it. That’s yeah, that’s really really good.

Ted Coniaris — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Ted I really appreciate your generosity I appreciate your humility and and you know just jumping on the call and and talking through with us today. Really really appreciate that. If people want to connect with you or with the church, where do we want to send them online, where’s kind of the best place for that?

Ted Coniaris — Yeah, you can just check out my email [email protected] you could send me email. That’s the best way to get a hold of me. And then that’s our website you can check us out there. Connect anyway through there. But yeah feel free to shoot me an email, check out our website, check us out online, whatever you need. And we love to help churches and we love to help churches think about multiplication and planting, and you know multiplying discipleship. So if there’s any way that we can help you with that, not that we have all the answers, but we love talking about it, and helping, and you can join the community of us trying to figure that out.

Rich Birch — That’s great. Thanks so much, Ted, appreciate being here today.

Ted Coniaris — Hey, thanks, Rich. Really appreciate it.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.