Leading Through the Crisis Your Church is In (Or About to Be In) with Rusty George

Thanks for tuning in for this week’s unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Rusty George this week, the lead pastor of Real Life Church in Southern California. In addition to being a pastor, Rusty is a speaker, teacher and author focused on making real-life simple.

As leaders, we all face difficult times and crises that challenge our faith and our ability to lead. Don’t miss this important conversation where Rusty shares his experiences and offers valuable lessons for how church leaders can prepare to deal with a crisis before it hits.

  • Crises will come. // The last few years have taught us that crises will come whether our church is ready for them or not. Particularly as a church grows, it will face more complex issues ranging from moral failures and suicide on your staff, to school shootings in the community, or even discord among team members. In addition your church may experience backlash from the larger community when crises hit. Admit that yes, you are broken and you don’t have it all together. Use the issues your staff is facing to reach out to people in the community experiencing the same hardships.
  • Care for your staff. // When crises hit, often the executive pastor is the first person who deals with the issue because he is trying to protect both the staff and the lead pastor. Remember that this work takes a toll on your staff and can lead to burnout. After dealing with the immediate needs, make sure to provide your staff with rest and the help they need.
  • Managing a crisis. // How do we manage a crisis when we’re in the middle of it? Think about the impact as a series of concentric circles. First evaluate who is the closest to the blast zone in this crisis. What do they need first and how can you help them? Then think about your staff and how to communicate what’s happening and how much to share. Next ask yourself what the church needs to know, and finally what the community needs to know. Lastly, circle back to the impact in your own life after dealing with the immediate crisis. Take time to process your grief and pursue healing with a therapist.
  • Plan ahead for crises. // Have the conversation with your elders and church leadership about what you’ll do in the face of crisis before it happens. Having a policy ahead of time prevents people from debating the consequences because everyone will know the plan to work through in that moment.
  • Balance grace and truth. // To deal with situations before they become crises, pastors need to create a culture of honesty where staff can come forward if they need help. Talk about your own therapy, sin issues, and problems. Practice what you preach when it comes to seeking help through counseling. But also be intentional about having hard conversations with your staff.
  • Look for red flags. // When it comes to protecting your staff against moral failure, there are safeguards you can put in place but ultimately people are going to make their own decisions. Look for red flags with your staff members – for example, do they have any friends on staff or within the church? Do they have any hobbies? If ministry is their only world they can get burned out quickly and make bad decisions.
  • Getting help with Rusty’s course. // In Rusty’s course, Leading Through Crisis, he takes an honest look at the crises Real Life Church faced, what they did right, what they did wrong, and what they would do differently if they had to do it again. A must-have for church leaders, the course walks leaders through crises such as dealing with issues on staff, moral failures, suicide, school shootings, grief in the community, handling the press, and more.

To get 50% off Rusty’s course, Leading Through Crisis, use the code unseminary during checkout through April 30, 2023. Learn more about Real Life Church at

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Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: Chemistry Staffing

One of the things that they never teach you in seminary is when to move on from your current church. Over the last couple of years, we have been having a TON of conversations about this with pastors all over the United States. Of all the ministry decisions you make, leaving your position will be the toughest.

Download this two-in-one resource that walks you through the decision-making process.

Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well, hey friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. Super excited for today’s interview. We have a repeat guest and friends, you know, we don’t do a lot of repeat guests here at unSeminary. But, uh, this guest is one of those people I said, listen, anytime you want to come on, you let me know cause I would love to have you on. So we’ve got Rusty George – he is the lead pastor of Real Life Church, multisite church in Southern California. He is a global speaker, a leader, and teacher focusing on making real life simple. He’s a author of, uh, several books, he has a weekly podcast called Leading Simple with Rusty George. So I knew he is, his sound would at least be great. I know that. And he’s just recently actually released a, an online course, which is a part of why I wanted to have him on to really wrestle this through. Uh, but Rusty, welcome to the show. So glad you’re here.

Rusty George — Boy, it’s an honor to be back. Thank you so much. I’m a a big fan of the show and uh, it’s great to be on again.

Rich Birch — No, it’s so great to, to connect. Why don’t you fill out the picture there a little bit. What did I miss? What was, uh, you know what, yeah, what didn’t I talk about? How, fill out the picture a little bit.

Rusty George — Yeah. So I, I did not grow up in California. Everybody wants to know if that’s where I’m from, but I’m not. Uh, California was always a place you’d visit, not a place you’d live, from where I’ve come from.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Rusty George — Uh, so I’m from Kansas and grew up there and, uh, worked in Kentucky for a few years. That’s where a little bit of my accent comes from, as the people out here to like, to tell me. Moved out to California, took over a church, uh, that Kyle Idleman started, uh, and did just an incredible job, and felt like he did what he was called to do, and he left. I came out and it was almost three years old, meeting in a movie theater, and had great momentum already. And, uh, we were just, were able to, to have some really fun years of life in movie theaters, and then high schools, and building a building and moving in.

Rusty George — And I remember having a conversation with a guy who’s a, uh, seasoned veteran as a pastor, probably been leading for 40 years at the time. And I was all excited cuz we just moved in a new building. And so, you know, everything was up and to the right, and everybody was happy and…

Rich Birch — Sure.

Rusty George — Uh, it was great. And he looked at me and he said, man, you’re gonna see some things. And I said, what do you mean? He said, anytime you take a beachhead against the enemy, the enemy notices.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Rusty George — And you, you just need to prepare yourself. You’re gonna see some things. And over the next 10 years we did. We just saw our share of, of wins, of highs, but also deep lows. And, uh, seminary did not prepare me for that.

Rich Birch — No, no.

Rusty George — That’s why I love your podcast. Um, but it, it left me, you know, kind of wrestling with, you know, my own calling. You know, you ask a lot of deep questions like, is this my fault? Um, you always second guess yourself – should I have done something differently? And you just learn a lot through that. So we had a, a lot of difficult times, a lot of great times too, but it’s been 20 years now at the church and, uh, we still believe our best days are ahead.

Rich Birch — I love it. I, I’d love to actually talk a little bit more about that and get, dig in a little bit, if that’s okay, around some of that, you know, that more negative stuff. I think this is one of those things we often, you know, we love to celebrate when things go well. We love to look at a, you know, a church like Real Life, which is, you know, has had huge impact, continues to have huge impact. Uh, but there’s the, you know, there’s the, you pull up the rock and look underneath and there’s like, Ooh, there’s some stuff under there that’s not so pretty. Fill out that picture a little bit. Talk us through those things.

Rusty George —Yeah. I remember in my early days of ministry, I love to quiz pastors about, hey, tell me how’d you grow? You know, h how’d you win? How’d you succeed? And we all look for those stories, right, cuz we think there’s some kind of silver bullet out there that’s gonna make everything great. But now that I’m older, I like to ask guys, tell me how you failed, uh, how I can learn from that. And so, I’m pretty open about sharing anything that we’ve done wrong, or we’ve experienced that was difficult.

Rusty George — Um, I, I think, you know, we had a variety of things happen. We had, uh, a couple of moral failures that happened on staff that had never happened up until that point. We prided ourself on this will never happen here. Uh, we’re such a spiritual group of people and, uh, you know, we love the Lord. But the reality is no matter how many, uh, things you put in the staff handbook, how many Billy Graham rules you have, it only works for people that really wanna stay faithful in their marriages. So people would put themselves in compromising positions and they’d make bad decisions. Uh, and unfortunately in a couple of those situations that ended in two separate suicides that we had to walk through as a church. And so, uh, that brought with it a lot of negative press about our church, and what’s really going on there. And I told you they weren’t really teaching the Bible. They’re not very spiritual. You know, so you have internal discord, you have, you have grief on staff, and then you have, uh, you know, these, this, uh, uh, the, the communities lashing out at you as to, I thought you guys had it all together.

Rusty George — And so it became a great opportunity for us to talk about, no, we do not have it all together.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — And we are broken people and we’re all trying to figure this out. And so let’s lean into the mental health side of things and see if we can help people who are struggling with suicide ideation. And, and we were able to do that. We’ve had, um, some staff drama of, uh, you know, a couple of staff members get arrested for various things.

Rich Birch — Oh my goodness.

Rusty George — Whether it’s, uh, you know, somebody, uh… and, and this is the thing about growing churches is when you go after reaching unchurched people and you start to reach them…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rusty George — …then you want to hire them.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Rusty George — And oftentimes they’re, they’re past, even though it’s forgiven by God, it’s not over with in, uh, you know, our day and age and it catches up to them. Uh, and that’s such a unique dynamic…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rusty George — …when people from your church come on staff and, you know, you’ve seen this, and suddenly your, your, your boss is, or your pastor is now your boss.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — Suddenly your place of worship is your place of work, it just gets weird and whatever’s in you comes out of you, it kind of squeezes out. And and we just saw that, that some of that just happened. And we had to kind of pick up the pieces of that.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — Uh, we had rapid growth and thus, um, a a lot of, we had to hire a lot of new staff, and there became kind of this civil war on staff between the people that were there before the building and the people after the building.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — And how do you bridge that gap? And so those are just a few of the low lights…

Rich Birch — Amazing.

Rusty George — …so to speak, and, uh, you know, things we had to deal with.

Rich Birch — Well, it is interesting, you know, one of the in other contexts I’ve talked about a similar dynamic where as the church grows, at the senior level, it’s not like you deal with less people issues. It’s, you have just as many people issues. But, and, and like pastoral crisis kind of situations in people’s lives. But what ends up, at least my experience of it has been, as the church grows, you end up obviously building systems and have people that handle, you know, the normal stuff, that handle kind of normal crisis in people’s lives. But then the most complex stuff still continues to bubble up to, you know, the senior leaders in, in the church. And you don’t ever get away, at least my experience is you just never get away from that. That is, that’s a normal piece of the puzzle.

Rusty George — That you’re exactly right. I remember hearing from a seasoned pastor, a guy by the name of Bob Russell tell me, hey, everything at our church was amazing. And I would say, I think he said, 80% of everything at Southeast was incredible. And 15% was bad, and 5% was awful. And he said…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rusty George — What do you think I spent most of my time thinking about?

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rusty George — And I said…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rusty George — The 5%. It’s kind of like, uh, I think it was President Obama said, when stuff lands on your desk, you realize nobody else could handle it.

Rich Birch — Right, Yeah, yeah. Absolutely.

Rusty George — So…

Rich Birch — It’s true.

Rusty George — …when it gets to the senior pastor’s desk, you’re like, oh my goodness. And, and really it’s the executive pastor that gets it first. And, you know, we had a great XP through all of that, that, that shouldered a lot of that. Um, and then, you know, he would call me in when, when only I needed to deal with it or needed to know. But what I failed to recognize was even though I was dealing with my own kind of internal pain and crisis and all that, he was dealing with even more. Because he was carrying weight of protecting me, but also protecting the staff. And that eventually led the burnout for him. And we got him help, and he’s fine now. But you have to remember that, that your staff takes, uh, it takes a toll on them as well.

Rich Birch — Yeah. I love, um, one of the things you say in your, in your online course, I probably don’t love this, that’s the wrong way to say it, but I, it resonates to be true in my life. You’re either, uh, in a crisis or heading towards one. And, and I think post-pandemic, this has become true for all of us. Like we, we can see this, right? Like we were, it was not that long ago, uh, that, you know, we had the Silicon Valley Bank, you know, you know, failure. And it was fascinating. That was an interesting little crisis that was an external, not a little crisis, a crisis that was external. Uh, I remember reading about this thinking, oh, that’s kind of interesting. And then literally within about 48 hours, I heard of multiple people who are pretty close to me, who that was having an impact on them.

Rich Birch — It wasn’t like, it wasn’t just like this, like theoretical something you read in the paper. It’s like, that thing rippled out. And it was like, well, uh, all of our, you know, you know, I knew this one church where their, like, their payroll company had their money in SVP was, and so they were using them as the clearing. And like, you know, it’s, it’s interesting how these crisis, they come, you know, to us. And we’ve all seen this for sure, you know, post pandemic.

Rich Birch — But let’s talk about that around how do, how do we manage it as, you know, as ourselves? What would be some of the, how, how do we as the leader in the midst of all this… um, you know, it’s kind of like doing your kids’ diapers. I remember people would say like, oh, it’s different when it’s your kids. And I was like, no, it’s not any different. They’re just, no one else is going to do it. Like no one, no one else is gonna change their diapers, so you have to change them. The same is, there’s some similar dynamics with crisis. Like, it’s not that it’s… you’re the person that happens to be the executive pastor, the lead pastor, and so it’s your job. How do I manage the crisis uh, if I’m in the middle of it, how do I manage the impact on myself?

Rusty George — Yeah. And this is one of the things we cover in the course is you have to think about it from a variety of concentric circles. The first one is, who’s the closest to the blast zone? Like in the case of, of, of a suicide, it was a family involved in that. Uh, this one individual had taken his life and now, you know, his wife had found him. His kids are coming home from school in a few hours.

Rich Birch — Oh my goodness.

Rusty George — We’re over there on site trying to help out, okay, what does this family need first? Okay. So that’s the, that’s the biggest thing. How can we help them? But then there’s a second tier of, okay, what about our staff? Because they’re gonna need to know about this. And so how do we assemble, uh, the staff together, uh, without just, you know, sending out a text to everybody…

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — …but get ’em in a room and how do we, you know, and, and then there’s that delicate balance of what’s our story to tell? What do we tell, what do we not tell? Because the wife has what’s, you know, what she needs to say. And, and all of that. Everything in me wanted to, to deal with the neighbors who were calling and the people that were coming outta their houses. And, you know, but they, they weren’t on my radar just yet. So then it goes from staff into the church. What does the church need to know? And then from the church out to the community, what does the community need to know? And there’s different checkpoints along the way.

Rusty George — And I, I think, uh, you know, for myself and for our executive pastor, we just decided, okay, we are locked in on these concentric circles. And we’ll just put kind of a date on the calendar about three weeks out when we’ll get back to our grief. I’ll, I’ll, I’ll give you an example. We had another crisis we went through, we had a school shooting in our community, which, uh, took the life of one of the kids from our church, um, and, and injured another. And so it, it was a huge issue, obviously, in our community, but it really devastated our church. And, and truthfully for me, I happened to be in the hospital room when they broke the news to the mom that her daughter had died. And I, I, I will never forget that sound. And, but I had to put a pin in it. I had to kind of put it aside and say, I’ll deal with this in about three weeks.

Rusty George — And this is something we talk about in the video as well, and I got this from some other high level leader. He said, the, the life cycle of a crisis in a church for people of the church or the community is only two weeks. Because they’re so selfish, they gotta get back to their own crisis.

Rich Birch — Okay. Okay.

Rusty George — Which…

Rich Birch — There’s probably some truth to that.

Rusty George — …there’s a lot of truth to that. And we would often…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rusty George — …joke about long before these horrible crises that put, you know, put a, a mark on the calendar, two weeks from now, this will no longer be that big of an issue, because there’s other stuff that comes up. And to be able to say, I’m in full crisis management mode now, but in two weeks I gotta deal with this myself. Which I went to grief counseling over it, went to, you know, know kind of the PTSD stuff. What did that do to me and my psyche? And how do I heal up from this? Taking some time off for some of your senior staff leaders that were kind of in on this, that helped us kind of process, all right, where’s our energy gonna go? Because you only get so much, you only get so many hours of the day. How are we gonna work these concentric circles to benefit as many people as possible?

Rich Birch — Okay. I, yeah, I love that. Uh, I think that’s really good. You know, even as we’re thinking about our people, like, hey, we, let’s put a pin in it and then let’s loop back on this two, three weeks from now. We need to deal with this situation, what’s immediately here, and then let’s come back to it.

Rich Birch — Can we talk about moral failures? You mentioned this…

Rusty George — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …and, you know, you had this un unfortunately, this is one of those things that has gone through so many of our churches, and we’ve, you know, we’ve, we’ve dealt with this in so many ways. One of the, one of my concerns, I would say, uh, having watched this in, even some of the churches I’ve worked with, it’s, you know, it has racked the, the church is, you know, there’s this spectrum here where leaders make, um, you know, you start with like, maybe silly decisions, and then it’s like unwise, and then foolish. And then eventually you trip over the line of sin. Like, it goes from being like, okay, these were, this was a stupid idea. Like, I shouldn’t have, I shouldn’t have texted her that extra time, or I shouldn’t have, you know, I said, I was like a weird joke. And then eventually you step over the line to sin, and then on the other end of the spectrum, it’s like evil. Like you do terrible, terrible things, you know, to you now avoid, you know, you’re layering sin upon sin to try to avoid detection and all that.

Rich Birch — One of the things that I’ve found interesting is as moral failure comes out—and there is a question here, it’s not me just making statements—as moral failure comes out, there’s so much cancel culture that goes on now. Right? There’s so much like, we’re gonna flush these people out. And I, I think responsibility is important. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t, people shouldn’t take responsibility. I have a high value on that as a person that’s in the church. But my, I think what happens every time that happens when we, we kind of, these people get flushed away is people who have made silly, unwise, foolish decisions, it gets stuffed down deep. They’re like, I’m not talking to anybody about this. I’m not, I am not. And, and then ironically, it actually, I think can propagate even more.

Rich Birch — So, talk me through moral failure. What should we be thinking about as maybe something’s on our doorstep? There is actually, you know, a a a leader’s come to you and said, I listen, I stepped on somewhere I shouldn’t have. Um, or it’s maybe even, you know, you just sense like there’s something awry with a team member, that kind of thing. Uh, talk us through some of your experience on that front.

Rusty George — Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great question. And you know, as one of my counselors told me after our, our second suicide from an individual—it was one of our campus pastors—we, we uncovered, uh, a bunch of stuff that we did not know about. Anyway, my counselor says to me, you can influence the heart of man, but you cannot control it. At some point, they’re gonna do what they wanna do. And I remember in a couple, couple of these instances that we began to notice some strange kind of interaction between two people on staff. We immediately removed them from working with each other. Um, we, we, uh, we sat down with one individual and it was a bit of an intervention. He asked us for help. We granted help, we provided counseling. We separated that job out. Nothing had had come up that was fireable yet.

Rusty George — So you don’t wanna just start, you know, uh, firing at everybody, because sometimes they’re, they didn’t even know that they were being, you know, groomed or whatever. So you begin to, to try to, to mitigate that a little bit. Anyway, but at the end of the day, they, they make the decisions they make. And so I think the next question becomes then how much do you share? Because everybody in your church wants to know every bit of the details, because we do live in a culture where it’s, it’s all accessible. Right? And so I, I think in the situation of, of one of those suicides, what we unearthed later, I did not know ahead of time. And I became accused of you’re hiding stuff. I didn’t hide anything. I didn’t know anything.

Rich Birch — Mm-hmm.

Rusty George — And so, but it, you know, I think from stage, instead of coming out and airing all the dirty laundry, because there’s families involved, there’s kids involved. There’s, you know, uh, people watching from their hometown, you know, during this time. You have to kind of say, listen, we don’t know all the facts. We’re learning as we go.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — But here’s what we do know. And you just need to know I’m not gonna tell you everything, but I’m gonna tell you what you need to know. And you need to know that we’re gonna do this with integrity, and we’re gonna find out what we need to find out, and we’re gonna help the people involved. Larry Osborne gave me some great advice many years ago. He said, have the conversation now with your eldership. What are we gonna do in the moment of a moral failure? Because it’s gonna happen.

Rich Birch — Oh, that’s good.

Rusty George — And if you have the conversation before it happens, then you don’t have people picking sides. Cuz what will happen is…

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — …half of your people want grace. The other half want justice. So go ahead and come up with a plan: this is what we’re gonna do. Another thing we offer on the course, so you can look through, all right, in this moment, this person gets counseling, this person gets to stay, this person loses their job. Uh, all those kind of things. But at the end of the day, you can only do as much as you can do because they make their own decisions.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Talk us through that a little bit. Cuz I do feel like that to me is like at the nub of the issue, which is like how… I, I guess I assumed when I started in ministry, I, early on, I, I was coached by some great leaders who said, listen, once you decide to be in ministry, your private life is a public consequence that, you know, you, you pick to do this. And so if, uh, you know, what you do with your private time is actually, uh, is relevant to your ministry. And so how do we, and I get that, that’s like…

Rusty George — Sure.

Rich Birch — …I think an interesting principle for me to live by, but I also understand on the other side, we want to guard people. And we want to provide a certain amount, and we’re trying to balance off that grace and truth. Uh, help me kind of divide out the lines there for me a little bit. Help me understand that.

Rusty George — Well, if I had a good answer for that, I’d market that. I, I , I think that it’s different for everybody. It’s a bell shaped curve. You have people on each end…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rusty George — …that want to know nothing. And those that want to know everything and somewhere in the middle is a, a healthy balance.

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — You know, I think I, I would start with your, you know, telling your staff, let’s, let’s watch what we post on social media.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rusty George — I’m glad that you’re out with your friends and having a good time, but it may not need to be a picture of all of you holding beer bottles, just because we have so many people recovering in our church.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rusty George — I don’t care if you drink. That that’s, you know, that’s every church makes their own decision on that. But let’s, let’s keep in mind what the, uh, the larger scope actually sees. And let’s just, let’s just have a, a core value of we’re going to be honest about things. And this is so much better now than it was 30 years ago.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rich Birch — Because pastors are so more likely to talk about their own therapy, their own sin issues, their own problems. And so now it becomes a, I think I can lean in, I think I can trust, um, I, I think in these situations, uh, people, they don’t need to know you’re perfect. They, they like to know you’re real. They just know that they, they wanna know that you’re acknowledging your stuff and moving ahead. So I think in these situations, you know, with your staff and, and with your church, you’re constantly educating them that, no, we’re not perfect. We don’t have it all together. Um, we’re learning as we go. Uh, little things like I always tell, you know, lead pastors: don’t tell people to be in a small group if you’re not in one. And don’t lead it…

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Rusty George — …you know, be in one; be subject to one.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Rusty George — Uh, don’t tell people to go to counseling if you don’t go…

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — …because you need someone to talk to and, you know, and, and talk about that from time to time. So it’s just modeling it, I think goes a long ways. And that prepares you for when there might be a problem to say, uh, yeah, we had a, we had an incident, and this is what we’re doing. Now, granted, there are gonna be people that say, I can’t believe you fired him for that offense.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Rusty George — But…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rusty George — …that’s church policy. That’s just what we do.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rusty George — Uh, in that particular case, now you need to know we’re taking care of them and we’re, we’re helping the family along the way. Uh, and I’ll, I’ll be with them through that process. But that’s like the complicated thing of being a pastor. You wear so many hats.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rusty George — Sometimes you’re CEO, sometimes your pastor, sometimes your therapist.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Rusty George —Uh, but it just, it’s different every time.

Rich Birch — Yeah. And I, I love that advice. I think that’s so, so smart around like, hey, we need to have, it’s like we have the co have to con we have to have the conversation before we have to have the conversation. Like, let’s define a bit of what the boundaries are here. Let’s talk that through and agree on that before we get to the point where, like, where is that crisis manual again? Can I pull that off the shelf? Like, now is the time to talk about that. I think that’s so good. I remember years ago there was a, there was a, um, two people on our staff who, um, you know, we were way at this retreat and it was like, um, I just was like, okay, they’re, you’re a little too cozy.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Rusty George — You’re just a little too cozy. And so these were both people that I deeply respected, people that worked for me.

Rich Birch — And, um, you know, on Monday I pulled him into my office and I said, hey guys, like I, I, I’m not accusing you of anything, but I just want to tell you the things I saw. And here are the three or four different things that I saw that were, that, that just rang bells inside of me. Like I, I don’t know that you are being, the language I use was, I don’t know that you are sending the message necessarily that, that you want to send. Um, and again, I’m not accusing you of anything, but this is where that’s at. That took, man, I was like, and I was deep into my career when I did that. This was not like first five years thing. It was years in. It was a, that was a hard conversation. But, you know, it was interesting. Like, I, um, the one person was super pissed, like, I can’t believe, like you’re, you know, you’re accusing me of everything.

Rusty George — Yeah.

Rich Birch — And I’m like, no, I’m not, I’m not accusing you of anything. This is, I’m telling you what I saw. And the other person was really quiet and then looped back around a couple days later and said, you know, Rich, I really appreciate you flagging that. I said, you know, you read it exactly right. I, you know, things were, not, nothing has happened, but like I, this was a sobering moment for me. And I appreciated that.

Rusty George — Right.

Rich Birch — I was like, oh, good. Like that’s, you know, hey, you know, that’s heading in the right direction. Um, but having those hard conversations are really, really tough. I think the moral issue thing is so hard.

Rusty George — What a valuable thing for them to be able to do that. Because first of all, you’re safeguarding the church. We have to always think about that.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Rusty George — But, but you’re also maybe preventing them from going down a road that they think, oh, I’ve gone down too far now and now I’m stuck. A couple of indicators I look for in people now.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rusty George — I mean, obviously those situations are red flags, but there’s a couple of others that I’ve just noticed. One is, does, do they have any other friends? Um, you know, I I, I often think about the people we let go on staff are often the people that didn’t fit, and they don’t have any other friends on staff, or maybe they don’t even have any other friends in the church of the same sex – that they’re, you know, they, they just have a, a buddy relationship with somebody in their life that can call ’em on something.

Rusty George — And the second one is, do they have any hobbies? I know that sounds like an outlier, but you know, if ministries are only a world, they’re gonna get burned out really quick. And then they start making stupid decisions. And, uh, we, we all know from the host of podcasts that are out there chronicling the failures of people in ministry that, um, you know, it often is a result of a lack of friendship and a lack of hobbies. There’s no…

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — …there’s no value to life other than their work. And then they end up resenting their work along the way.

Rich Birch — Yeah. That’s so good. I remember years ago, similarly another kind of flag that I’ve, that has stuck with me. I was talking with, uh, an individual who coaches a lot of people or councils, really a lot of people who have been through this kind of, um, you know, this kind of experience, a moral fail failure. And I said, well, what, what are your things that, you know, what’s your coaching to us as leaders? What’s the kind of thing we should be looking for without, you know, looking for evil around every corner? Like, let’s not get paranoid about it. And they said, you know, it’s interesting if you just listen to enough stories, you hear a lot of these relationships, if they go sideways with some sort of moral failure, it happens at conferences, away at a camp, away at like, there’s some sort of, like, we’re, and so they were like, listen, just be aware on those kinds of things. Just be, which is interesting cuz that aligned with my other, that my other kind of own personal experience where I was like, okay, that is interesting. Right? And they’re like, it’s just, that’s just how life works. I thought that’s kind of interesting.

Rusty George — It’s true.

Rich Birch — Well this is just one of the kinds of, uh, you know, potential crisis fun thing that churches get to, you know, to deal with. There’s a a lot in this course that I, I really do think… I listen friends, I think this is one of those courses that you should be taking. Um, it should be the kind of thing that you are, you know, you’re, at least from my perspective, you shouldn’t wait till you’re in a crisis to go through this kind of thing. This is kind of good, you know, let’s get ahead with our senior leaders. There’s lots of stuff listed in here. So you talk about dealing with suicide, you talked about moral failure. Um, you talked about, um, you know, this, the tragedy of dealing with the school shooting, which unfortunately, like, it’s just sad that that has to be in a course, like, but it’s it’s unfortunately way too common as you know, it should be. There’s this whole I issue of what do we deal with, you know, the press in these scenarios. Man, there’s a lot in this course. Talk to me a little bit about why you put this course together.

Rusty George — Well, I just saw that, man, we had lived through so much, and a lot of people were asking us about it. I had people will call up and say, hey, what, we’ve got this suicide. What, what do we do with? Or we’ve got, uh, a school shooting, or… I remember after our school shooting, uh, one of the ministers from Sandy Hook called me and said, how you doing? And man, that meant so much to me. Because he’d been through it. Um, and, you know, we were able to reach out to Nashville just, uh, uh, not long ago after their school shooting and, and provide some assistance. So just, I, I think it, it provides some, some healing when you get to share your pain. So we deal with that. Uh, we deal with what do you do when people are leaving your church and it just wrecks your, your soul, which we’ve all been through that. Uh being out here in California, you know, with the death of Kobe Bryant, even though he did not attend our church, uh, the loss of Kobe in the LA area was a huge thing. And he’s, you know, what do you do when somebody dies that’s not always that honorable, but yet your people want you to honor them. Uh you know, how, how do you walk through that? Um, and just staff stuff. I mean, everybody deals with just crazy staff stuff. If you’ve got a staff of two or 200…

Rich Birch — Right.

Rusty George — …uh, people, people bring themselves to the workplace. So how do you manage that? And we deal a lot with internal stuff too, in the counseling that we dealt with.

Rich Birch — Hmm. Yeah. It’s fascinating. Well, if people want to get this course, where do we want to send them online uh, you know, to pick this up?

Rusty George — Yeah. They can just go to my website, and for your listeners, Rich…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Rusty George — …if they use the code word unseminary…

Rich Birch — Love it!

Rusty George — …they get 50% off. So…

Rich Birch — What!? That’s amazing!

Rusty George — 50%, baby. That’s right. So, uh…

Rich Birch — That’s incredible.

Rusty George — …just for you.

Rich Birch — That’s amazing. Thank you so much for that. What a gift.

Rusty George — Absolutely. Yeah. And we’re having people buy it not just for themselves, but they watch it with, with their teams or, they’ll gift it to another pastor, which you can do that as well and say, hey, I, I just wanna make sure that you’re taken care of should you go through something like this. Or maybe they are going through something like this.

Rich Birch — Well it’s interesting you say that, cuz actually, as we were talking about this, I was like, man, if I was in a denomination, if I was a part of a network, if I was, uh, you know, if I was in, if I had some leadership responsibility over a number of churches, I would gift this to all those people. I’d use that code and gift it to all of those people and say, hey, here is a great training resource that you can use. Um, you know, it is, uh, it’s super helpful; I’ve had a chance to look through it – it’s super helpful. Um, and, and, you know, put together in a winsome manner that’s not all like paranoid, paranoid, paranoid. It’s like actually helpful. It’s not, it’s, this isn’t hype; it’s help. Um, it’s not fear driven, it’s faith driven. You know, it’s, it’s, uh, but full of lots of helpful resources. So I would highly recommend that people do that. Drop by, use that code, which is super gracious of you to, you know, to pick that up. Have you heard any, you know, kind of response back from church leaders as they’ve started using it? Anything that’s kind of stuck, stuck out to them or anything that, you know, has kind of, has kind of resonated as they’ve, as they’ve been going through it?

Rusty George — Yeah, I mean, obviously you hear from some people that say, oh yeah, that’s great. I’ll keep that as a bookmark for when I go through crisis. Uh, but then the people that watch it say, oh, I’m so glad I saw that because now I see a few things that are coming, uh, that I can hopefully prevent or avoid. And, and we deal with the things that we did right. And the things we wish we would’ve done differently, uh, to be able to, to help some people, uh, navigate some of those pitfalls that we didn’t see coming.

Rich Birch — Yeah. I love it. And, you know, and there are in exa these kinds of situations, when they come up with our church, they demand a ton of us. Uh, so taking time now ahead of time to actually dig into them and think about them, man, it’s, that’s the way you want to do that. Even just that one little bit. The one piece around moral failure, Hey, let’s talk about this with our team before we get there. All of these things and a similar kind of category. I was in, uh, an organization where it wasn’t a church, but where we ran into a crisis situation where we literally had to get the crisis manual down off the shelf and look at it and go check by check, okay, when do we call the cops? When do, you know, all of that kind of stuff. And man, if I hadn’t looked at that stuff ahead of time, if I hadn’t thought about that ahead of time, um, that would’ve been a terrifying moment.

Rusty George — Right.

Rich Birch — So this is a perfect course for that kind of thing to, because you might not have, we, you know, I just blew past that. You might not have a, a crisis response, you know, kind of thought about as a church, and this could help you think through this ahead of time. So I would strongly encourage people to drop by, uh,, pick up this, uh, today. Anything else you wanna say just as we wrap up today’s episode?

Rusty George — Uh, just that I would, uh, love to help out as many people as possible, not make the mistakes that I made, not deal with the grief that I dealt with, so that we can hopefully, uh, keep some guys in the game a lot longer. Uh, because our, our world is in need of so many more churches, and not just churches that keep the doors open, but healthy, uh, thriving churches, which is why I’m such a fan of unSeminary. So thanks for what you do, Rich.

Rich Birch — Thanks Rusty, appreciate what you do, and thanks for being on the show today.

Rusty George — Thank you.

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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.