Long-Term Vision, Lasting Impact: Curt Seaburg on Strategic Vision in Church Leadership

Thanks for joining the unSeminary podcast. We’re talking with Curt Seaburg, the lead pastor of Victory Church in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

While it’s important for church leaders to learn from each other, when it comes to vision, it’s critical to know yourself and the God-given calling for your church within its unique community. Listen to this episode where Curt shares wisdom about setting the direction of your church, creating longevity in ministry, and orienting your life around the natural rhythms of your church.

  • Start with vision. // If you don’t know where you’re going as a church, nothing else matters. Figure out what you bring to the church as a leader. Don’t just grab onto the vision of other churches and what they are doing. Rather, learn from other church leaders, but know what will work for you and the community where your church is located. What are you going to do? What are you going to be about? Then, what’s the strategy?
  • A strategy for your community. // It’s very important to know what’s going on in your community. The church that meets the needs of the community will be the church of the community. If you are a multisite church, your strategy can be different at each location so each campus is tailored to the individual community’s needs. Don’t be afraid to take risks and be open to new ideas.
  • Be a long-haul leader. // Curt has had the privilege of leading Victory Church for about 20 years and has been blessed to see it become one of the fastest growing churches in the country. When the church and community see a pastor leading through life’s ups and downs and the challenges that come up in ministry, you gain a lot of respect. Plus leaders with longevity have the opportunity to connect with families in the church on a deeper level, walking with them through the seasons of life.
  • Pastor your family too. // Part of the blessing of being at Victory for as long as he has includes Curt seeing his children love the local church. As you pastor in your church and minister to the people around you, remember to also pastor your family. When your kids are young, let them know that they too are in ministry. Curt and his wife have tried to communicate to their children that being a pastor at a church isn’t just about “going to work” but ministry is about loving people. That mindset has helped them leave a legacy and made all the difference when ministry has demanding seasons.
  • Take sabbaticals to rest. // When church leaders have been in ministry a long time, they can get weighed down and lose momentum. God gave Curt a picture of this, comparing it to a boat loaded down with barnacles. So Curt worked with his team to create a policy for taking a sabbatical. Victory Church offers a 90-day sabbatical every seven years, and their team of pastors are now on a rotation for those sabbaticals. Offering sabbaticals is Victory’s way of taking care of their team and allowing them to rest and take care of themselves and their families.
  • Let the church know why sabbaticals are important. // When implementing sabbaticals, Curt brought it before the church and talked with the congregation about its importance and why it would be good for the pastors and the church. He encouraged the congregation to keep attending, giving and being involved in the church while a pastor they enjoyed wasn’t there during a sabbatical.
  • Dial back the workload. // When Curt took his first sabbatical, it led to him implementing a day of rest consistently into his weekly schedule. During a sabbatical it’s easier to see what parts of the church you don’t need to be so deeply involved in. That will allow you to dial back your workload moving forward, and give you time to make space for seeking clarity and direction. Lastly, rather than trying to find balance in ministry, seek to orient your life around the rhythms of the church. When things slow down over the summer, ride that wave until things begin to pick up again in the fall.

You can learn more about Victory Church at www.victorychurch.org.

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Well, hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in. You know, every week we bring you a leader who we know will both inspire and equip you. And I’m super excited for today’s conversation, Curt Seaburg. He is the lead pastor at a church called Victory Church, which was founded in 2000 by this incredible couple, Glenn and Linda. And they named the church Victory because they wanted people to experience victory in their lives through relationship with Jesus. Well Pastor Curt came to the church in 2004 was that began as the lead pastor in 2006. And and since then they’ve really been on a tear. Man, lots of good things have happened. They’ve launched new campuses. They’ve been expanding. And they really, you know, continue to have a real drive around mission and vision. And they’ve expanded a bunch of locations all around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. And they’re one of the fastest growing churches in the country. So I’m just so honored that you’re on the show today, Curt. Welcome – we’re so glad you’re here.

Curt Seaburg — Thank you. What an honor to be with you today, Rich. Man, I’m pumped.

Rich Birch — Yeah. This is so good. I, you know, there’s all kinds of jokes you can make about Lancaster, and I’m not going to make them, you know, I’m just going to let it just lay there. You know, you’ve got a computer, you don’t drive a buggy. You know all of those things. Well, just leave all those jokes there.

Curt Seaburg — That’s right. They’re all around us. But yeah, we’re good.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about Victory? Kind of fill in the picture there. What did I miss?

Curt Seaburg — Yeah. So Victory, like you said, it started in 2000. And started out just in just in Glenn and Linda’s home, and just kind of grew quietly and slowly. But they brought on on the first lead pastor was about two… I think it was 2002 they brought him on. And he was a good friend of ours. And so he had reached out to us a lot. We were on staff together at one point. And we were youth pastors because we’ve been youth pastors for 17 years up to this point.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Curt Seaburg — We were full time youth pastors just living the dream. And we were living down in Lakeland, Florida at the time in a great church with Wayne Blackburn of Victory Church. And we just he just kept after us and after us to come on up and help him get this work going and things like that. And so in 2003, we said, Yeah, let’s do this.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Curt Seaburg — And so we moved up there in 2004 and came alongside. We were there for about a little over a year and a half. And then he had stepped away and they asked us to step in and take the lead of the church. And it’s just been it’s been amazing ever since then.

Rich Birch — So cool. That must be a work of God that you moved from Lakeland, Florida, to Pennsylvania. You know, they typically the trend is going the opposite direction. People are moving, you know, from Pennsylvania to Florida.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah, exactly. Hey, but the reality is, man, you know, my wife and I are both from the northeast and we just missed the seasons. You know, I mean, when you’re Florida…

Rich Birch — Yeah, yes, yeah.

Curt Seaburg — It is always it’s either hot or hotter all the time.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Curt Seaburg — And so, yeah, we missed this. We did miss the snow, miss the fall time and things like that.

Rich Birch — Yeah, so good.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah, it’s gorgeous around here. So that was it.

Rich Birch — Yeah. It’s a beautiful, yeah, beautiful. We were talking about this before we went on air. It really is a beautiful part of… it’s one of those parts of the country where I’m like, this might be what heaven’s like.

Curt Seaburg — That’s right.

Rich Birch — It’s quite nice. It’s beautiful.

Curt Seaburg — It’s the garden spot of Pennsylvania.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Love it. All right, so, you know, you’ve led for for a long time. You know, been been in the driver’s seat since 2006, and there’s clearly been changes, growth. You know, you’ve added multi-site, you’ve done a bunch of those different things.

Curt Seaburg — Right.

Rich Birch — I wonder if we could take a step back, help me understand kind of how do you think about setting direction and setting strategy? What is what does that look like for you? How is that kind of evolved over the years?

Curt Seaburg — Well, that is like that’s critical. That really is mission critical. If you don’t know where you’re going, you know, there’s everything else. Nothing else matters at that point.

Rich Birch — Right. Yeah.

Curt Seaburg — You got to have a direction. And so for us, it really took us some time to really figure out, okay, what Lord, what do you have for us? Because it’s not only for us as a church, but you also have to take into account what are your strengths and what are your weaknesses as a leader as well, because that’s going to play into it as also.

Curt Seaburg — You have there are some folks that you’ll just grab what somebody else is doing. You try to copy paste that and it might work for a little while, but after you go for a couple of years and it doesn’t work, and the reason why it doesn’t work is because it’s not you, you know? And so it’s great to learn from other people. And I am always learning. I got a best buddy of mine, Blaine, Blaine Martel, he’ll say, If I got eyes, I played your eyes. You know what I’m saying? But he’s just like, there’s always things to learn from other people. And so you always have to kind of keep your eye on the horizon, what’s going on. But you have to be true to who you are as well, and really leave those things for the Lord. And so vision very, very important. What are you going to do? What are you going to be about? And then what’s the strategy? How do you go about that point of the vision?

Curt Seaburg — And so for us, some of these things like took a little while for them to really develop, even though we we got what we thought was a really clear scripture verse in March of 2006 and Isaiah 54 about enlarge the place of your your meeting. And did not understand what all that meant. And so there was a continual I think we were probably into that for maybe maybe 2 or 3 years to really try to figure out, Lord, what do you have for us that’s going to be very unique for us? And we didn’t want to be unique just for the sake of, Hey, look at us, be unique. But we just wanted to be true to who we were. And so that’s what once we had that clear vision and that clear mission, man, it was just it was gangbusters after that. At that point, it was then figuring out the strategy, how do we come about and accomplish that vision and mission?

Rich Birch — I love that. Well, I think that I love this. I think you’re hitting on something that I think we often don’t think about, or maybe we miss a nuance there. It’s really this connection between, you know, ourselves and what God’s calling our church to be. It’s like you look around and you’re trying to assess what is the needs in our community.

Curt Seaburg — Right.

Rich Birch — You kind of where do we believe God is moving? But then that has to fit in context of, Hey, he’s also called you to lead. So when you say it took a while, help us understand that a little bit. Was that you was that you trying to self explore, understand yourself a bit more, or understand, you know, the mission a bit more? Maybe help us kind of pull that apart.

Curt Seaburg — Oh man.

Rich Birch — I’m intrigued by this, this idea of the connection between you as a as a leader and the mission or the vision.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah. What a what a great question that is. Because, you know, for me, it was, like I said, you know, we were youth pastors, you know? And so there was a thing that we did and there was a way that we did youth ministry, and it was and the Lord was really blessing it. To step into what it was like to be a lead pastor. And it was it was a small work at the time. There was only a couple hundred of us at that time trying to figure all that out.

Curt Seaburg — So you’re exactly right, Rich. I mean, it took a while for me to figure out me, but it took a while for me to figure out our church as well. And not only the church, but the scripture verse in Isaiah 54 that talks about enlarging your house and building an addition. We know that for us, that really was our multi-site, that had to do with multi-site, which would come a couple of years later. And so all of those things interplay is really what took it for…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Curt Seaburg — …as long as it did really to help to develop that. And you wanting to bring the people along with you at the same time. We wanted them to own it as well. And so there’s a lot of, when I say they, it was more of a leadership team to own the direction that we were going in the buy-in as well…

Rich Birch — Love it. Yeah.

Curt Seaburg — …because it was different than really a lot of things that anybody else was doing.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that. So a part of this process is obviously knowing your community, knowing where you’re kind of the both your church community and the church are trying to serve…

Curt Seaburg — Right

Rich Birch — …or the community you’re trying to serve. Talk to us about how do we do that? How do we how do we try to get to know, how do we how do we learn about them? How do we what is that or what’s that what has that look like for you over the years? Because obviously your community has shifted and changed even since 2006. Right?

Curt Seaburg — Oh big time.

Rich Birch — Things have changed in Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania. What does that look like for you?

Curt Seaburg — In some ways, it’s changed. In a lot of ways it’s still very much the same. In our area, we are in Lancaster County, Lancaster County is a unique kind of a place. Because if you’re living in the county, the communities are very much all about the communities. So if you’re from Lititz, you’re from Lititz.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Curt Seaburg — If you’re from Manheim, you’re from Manheim, you know? You can only be a couple of miles apart, but you are in those communities. If you are in Ephrata, you live in Ephrata. But if you see some people, like in Florida, and they’re from Pennsylvania and they’re from one of those communities that I just listed, it would be like, Hey, I’m from Lancaster County, you’re from Lancaster County too?

Curt Seaburg — And so like, we own the county when we’re away, but when we’re in the county…

Rich Birch — That’s a good nuance.

Curt Seaburg — …it really is very nuanced, but it’s really played to our advantage. Because our sites that we have—there’s six of them that we have right now—they’re all in these communities. And they’re they’re not that far apart where I have, you know, I got a lot of friends, you know, their sites are maybe 30 miles apart or 40 miles apart. You know, our sites are like eight miles apart, ten miles apart. But they are incredibly distinct, meeting the needs of the people in that community in and of itself. And so it has really played to our advantage to be able to focus just on the communities that are close by.

Rich Birch — Okay. I’m going to push you on this a little bit, because I know you’re a smart leader and you’ve thought about this. So one of the things that in from a multi-site point of view I’ve always kind of struggled with is this balance of kind of we have a unified vision. We have one thing we’re pushing towards, and we have like a unified culture. Like there is by definition, you know, you go to a Victory Church in Ephrata or in Manheim, like there’s obviously some common things. That’s why you’re multi-site as opposed to just church planting.

Curt Seaburg — Right.

Rich Birch — And balancing what you’re saying, which is, okay, we’ve got local realities that we want to kind of nuance to. It should, it should feel like it’s in Manheim when it’s in Manheim or wherever we are.

Curt Seaburg — Right.

Rich Birch — How do you balance those two out? How do we make sure, because in some ways they feel like they’re maybe at odds, like the kind of common approach, you know, Victory Church is Victory Church. And then, oh, we’re also trying to figure out how to be very much in our communities. What’s that look like?

Curt Seaburg — Yeah, the in our community. That’s a great question. You’re smart, Rich. There’s it’s very, very important that you know what’s going on in your community.


Curt Seaburg — So that you can meet the needs of the community. The church that meets the needs of the community will be the church of the community.

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

Curt Seaburg — That’s that is a big, big deal for us. The way that we do outreach, the way that we do groups, how we’re meeting the needs of, the individual needs in that community is very intentional in the way that we go about things. But when you pull back, people still want to be a part of something that is big and growing and overall it’s healthy and successful. And so that’s where our vision and our mission sits and our strategy sits. So everything else underneath that is very distinct to that area. The groups, now we do all we all do the group same way, you know, but it’s very distinct to that community that we’re in. Does that make sense?

Rich Birch — Yeah. Can you give me some examples of what that how, you know, some of those distinctives how that would kind of work itself out? I get the idea, like the overall strategy point of view is common, but then how, how do you allow some or have some nuance, not really allow, but have some nuance, you know, at a local level?

Curt Seaburg — Yeah, it’s the way that we’re meeting needs in that area.

Rich Birch — Okay, okay.

Curt Seaburg — So it would be like one of our locations is, is in Colombia. Colombia has typically been the poorest community in all of Lincoln County. So there’s things that we’re doing in Columbia, maybe that some other churches have started and we’ve come alongside and been a part of it. You know, Hands Across the Street. We’ll do things in helping to meet the needs there that we won’t do in a more affluent area, and something like a like a Lititz. So if we’re in Lititz, we’re really focusing in on on finding out, okay, when they gather together and when we have celebrations, or whenever we have parades or stuff going on, there’s this big park. So we’re engaged there, making sure that people are seeing us, that they know that there is a church in the community. We’re also very involved there in the school system, which because that’s a big deal for that community…

Rich Birch — Right.

Curt Seaburg — …the people in that community are very involved in the schools. And so that’s so that’s a little bit different. So they’ll push that at our Lititz campus where our Columbia campus, they’ll do more of feeding, taking care of of of actual physical needs that people have. So those those locations actually take on the feel of that community.

Rich Birch — I love it. So one of the things for a leader like yourself that has been serving, you know, for more than five years, let’s say. So there’s some there’s some line in the sand where we have to keep reinventing ourselves. We have to keep growing. We have to keep you know, if we get stuck in stagnant, then like shocker, the church we lead or the organizations we lead will become stuck and stagnant. And I, no doubt you’ve led over all these years, you know, going on almost 20 years in the same church. You know, there’s lots of people that that haven’t been able to continue to do that. How do you do that? How do you keep growing? How do you keep learning as a leader, about these things are just in general, what’s that look like?

Curt Seaburg — Yeah. You know, we’re not afraid to take risks. And I think some of that is the youth pastor in you, too.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Curt Seaburg — You know, you’re always looking to do the next awesome thing. You know, what’s something that’s really going to be that’s going to be impactful for people. And so we’re not afraid to do things. So one of the big things that we do is we had never done it before, but we did a biker blessing.

Rich Birch — Okay, that’s cool.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah, that’s a couple of years ago. And so, I mean, that thing just like took off. And we were so pumped, so excited about that. And then we’re like, well, what are some other things that we can do? And so our kids pastor at the time, he’s like, What if we did just like this huge splash day, invited all of our communities to do this huge water slide. And there were thousands of people that were showing up for that on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoon. And so always looking, listening to the people who are around, some of the ideas that they’ve got, some of the things that you’re hearing about going around in the nation, you know that things are doing, the people are doing. I think it’s not getting so just tunnel visioned into your own thing, but always being open to to new ideas and relationships, conversations, to kind of keep things fresh. There is something absolutely beautiful about being in the place, though, for as long as we have.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Curt Seaburg — You know, there’s there’s a lot of beauty in the long haul, you know?

Rich Birch — Well, yeah, yeah. That’s one of I was I’d love you to talk more about that, because one of the things we see, we’ve done a lot of work on studying growing churches, fast growing churches. And one of the common traits you see is they are pastors, like yourself, that have been there for a decade plus there.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — And that’s one of those answers that people don’t like. It’s like, how do you have a growing church? Well, first, spend ten years there. Next, you know, and talk to us about that. What do you think some of the advantages of being a long haul leader, you know, in a location, you know, what are some of the advantages? What does that look like?

Curt Seaburg — Oh, you get, the respect that you really do gain…

Rich Birch — Right.

Curt Seaburg — …from the people that you’re leading because they’re seeing you through all the ups and downs. And a lot of people are here for a couple of years. You know what that’s like. And we’ll spend three years in one place. They come to a difficult situation, they’ll move and spend three years in another place. And they say they got six years of ministry experience. No, they don’t. They got three years in two places is what they got.

Rich Birch — Yes. Yes. Yes.

Curt Seaburg — You know, and so I think being around people that see you going through the ebbs and flows and the ups and the downs, weathering the different storms and being a part of of of dedicating the child to Lord, and then you’re marrying that child off later on.

Rich Birch — Wow, wow. Yes.

Curt Seaburg — You know there is…

Rich Birch — A privilege.

Curt Seaburg — Oh, it is. There’s such a connection, you know, that really happens there as well, because they know at the end of the day, because they’re living life, you know, 24/7. But at the end of the day, if they’re going through difficulties, they know that there’s some stability and they look to their pastor for that stability. And that’s been earned over time to be able to have that. And so, yeah, I think it’s one of the joys that my wife and I have had is to be able to be here as long as we have.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so good. I love that. What a great that’s a great word for people. You know, as we’re thinking about, you know, how do we how do we lead? You know, a part of this is, hey, we should be hunkering down. And so we’re going to be here for a while. And so and I know that there’s so many friends of mine who have led in real, thriving churches that they’re like, they’re not going anywhere.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — It’s like it’s, you know, we just keep plugging away. That’s that’s so good. You kind of relate…

Curt Seaburg — [inaudible] to Rich. I’m sorry. Our kids are really involved also. And so we’ve got four of them. They’re adults. They’re all married right now. We’re not saying they’re married, period. But we got most of them have kids right now.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Curt Seaburg — We’ve got our daughter and her husband, or hopefully now we’re believing God for that. But we got grandkids. And so they’re all a part, too.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Curt Seaburg — And they’re really anchored into their faith, or anchored after all these years., they still love their mom and dad, you know, who have been in their entire life. They love the local church. And that speaks a lot [inaudible].

Rich Birch — That’s huge.

Curt Seaburg — Well, and so not only pastoring your church and loving and caring and leading, but making sure, number one, that you’re pastoring your family…

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Curt Seaburg — …and you’re loving and you’re caring and you’re doing that with your wife. And so that has helped us too, I think, in the longevity is because we want to leave a legacy, not only for us, but now our kids and our grandkids to be able to follow after.

Rich Birch — Yeah, we weren’t planning on talking about this, but you went there, so I’d love to hear more. So my my own kids, we’re like, we’re one or two phases before your kids. So my daughter just graduated from university. My son’s in university, in college. And they both love the Lord, they love the church. And like I always say, by God’s grace, like it’s amazing, you know.

Curt Seaburg — Yup.

Rich Birch — You know, but what would your coaching, what would your advice—we’ve got a lot of young pastors that are listening in—what would, you know—and unfortunately, the stereotype is there’s a lot of kids that end up our age who have been kind of the pastor’s kid thing. What would be your coaching and advice, you know, to parents as who happen to also work in a church?

Curt Seaburg — Yeah. You know I think a couple of things that, looking back, that we did, and I’m really thankful for we stumbled on, is our kids, we always told our kids, you know, you’re you’re in ministry until you’re 18. You know, God chose for you to be born to this mom…

Rich Birch — To this family.

Curt Seaburg — …to this dad.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Curt Seaburg — And and you and we’re in ministry. We’re called the ministry. And so that means you are to. When you’re 18, you can make your own decision. But until then, we’re going to church, you know, and you’re going to be at youth group. And so and we made that we didn’t make that rule when they were 14 or 15. You know, when you’re going to have to struggle, it’s going to be a struggle at that point. We led them there early on.

Curt Seaburg — And I think another beautiful thing, too, is that, you know, you put a lot of hours in when you’re a pastor. And there were oftentimes, you know, where the kids would cry and say, oh, daddy, can’t you just stay home? And things like that. We would always tell our kids, my wife was really, really good with this. And Pam would say, Well, Daddy’s going to love people. He’ll be back in a little while. It wasn’t, Daddy has to go to work. Daddy has to go to church. You know, Daddy’s going to love on people. And when he’s done loving on people, then he’ll be back. That was a constant that we said to our kids early on. And I think that really helped our kids to love people as well.

Rich Birch — Right.

Curt Seaburg — And to realize the church wasn’t taking dad away, the church and the people there he’s going to love on those those folks. And that’s a good thing. And so those are just, you know, a couple, oh, boy, we could talk about, we could have a whole podcast and [inaudible] my wife on it…

Rich Birch — That’s a whole conversation. Yeah, yeah.

Curt Seaburg — And and she could write off all kinds of things that we had done. And we didn’t do everything right, obviously.

Rich Birch — No, no.

Curt Seaburg — But those were some things that we did early on that really did help to set up our family to be able to succeed.

Rich Birch — Okay. Kind of in a related area, did you ever do a sabbatical ever during that…

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …you know, that 20 years, or is it coming up? I feel like there’s a lot of guys who are like, it’s coming up, year 42…

Curt Seaburg — Oh my goodness.

Rich Birch — …but what does that look like?

Curt Seaburg — Yeah, we actually did. So our first sabbatical, and the only sabbatical we ever took, was in 2017.

Rich Birch — Okay.

Curt Seaburg — So we had been in the ministry, at that point we were it was 30 years that we and we had never taken a sabbatical or anything like that. And so I had talked to our our leadership team at that point and just said, Hey, I know that we’ve never done anything like this, but I’d really like for you guys to consider me going on a sabbatical.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Curt Seaburg — And so I wrote a whole sabbatical policy and gave it to them. And I’ll tell you, the thing that really just spurred me on toward this was this word picture that the Lord had given to me. And it was this picture of a boat that was gliding across the water in this endless ocean. And sometimes the waters were calm and sometimes the waters were rough. But the boat just continued just to keep moving, and keep motoring along. Along with the driver of the boat was enjoying the ride, loving the view, enjoyed the passengers that were in the boat, and they all loved to be together and they loved the scenery. Most often the throttle was wide open, but sometimes the boat actually would stop along the lake and rest for a bit. But then to be back up to speed again.

Curt Seaburg — And this boat had been traveling on this endless ocean for years. And unknown to the driver, the boat had slowed down a little bit. And this is the whole picture that the Lord was given to me. The driver doesn’t even notice it because he’s still making great progress. He’s still loving the view. He’s still loving the people that he’s with. He takes care of the engine, continues to to work hard, but the throttle is wide open. Yet the boat seems to be bogging down a little bit. And when the driver finally takes the boat to the Marina, they pull the boat, they dry dock the boat, and immediately they notice what the problem is. They notice that though everything looked great from the waterline up, below the waterline, all these barnacles had attached themselves…

Rich Birch — Oh, that’s good. That’s powerful.

Curt Seaburg — …to the boat, slowing it down from what it was intended to be used for. And so the Lord told me at that point that, and it’s just as clear as day, Rich, was just pastors collect expectations like boats collect barnacles.

Rich Birch — Oh wow.

Curt Seaburg — And you never know until you pull yourself out of the water.

Rich Birch — Wow.

Curt Seaburg — And when I shared that with our lead team, I mean, there was like, you mean everybody in the room is just, like, crying?

Rich Birch — Yeah. Yes, absolutely.

Curt Seaburg — I mean, it was a powerful moment.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, for sure.

Curt Seaburg — So we instituted a sabbatical policy at that point. And so every seven years, yep, our team goes away. And I can remember the first, I sat down with a buddy of mine at LCBC, Pastor Dave Ashcraft used to be the lead pastor out there. And and I share with him my whole what I’m going to be doing over these next 90 days of my sabbatical. And he’s looking at everything I’m going to accomplish. And he’s like, Curt, I think you’re missing the point of a sabbatical.

Rich Birch — [laughs]

Curt Seaburg — And he really, and he really helped coach…

Rich Birch — Crank it up.

Curt Seaburg — …you need to rest is what you need to do. And so, yeah, so we put all that stuff together and our team now is on a rotation to where we have different pastors that are going at different times now to make sure that they get a sabbatical. And it’s all tiered, you know, to where you sit on the leadership team, or the strategic team or whatever. But we really want to take care of our team by giving them sabbaticals.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s that’s a great word. I love there the encouragement. And maybe you could speak a little bit more to this. Like one of the difficulties of being the first pastor that’s been there for ten years…

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …you know, at a church like yours, is like you are probably going to have to, which is what you did, have to raise your hand and say, hey, this is an issue that I think we need to talk about. And you did the, what an amazing gift you’ve given to generations that have come after you at Victory. But talk to us about maybe there’s a leader who hears that and is like, oh, man, that’s totally me. But I, I, you know, pastors are by definition, like they’re caring for other people. They’ve oriented their lives around other people, and that might feel really selfish.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — So help them, help us understand how do you flag that? How do you even kind of open that conversation up?

Curt Seaburg — Man, I am German Swiss. And so all of those feelings were coming out big time.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Curt Seaburg — You know, I’m in Pennsylvania Dutch country, for Pete’s sake.

Rich Birch — Yes. That’s hilarious.

Curt Seaburg — I’m not worried these guys are working 80 hours a week…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Curt Seaburg — …[inaudible] horrible. So what I did is I took a risk and I talked about it on a Sunday morning.

Rich Birch — Oh interesting.

Curt Seaburg — And I shared with our church where things were at as far as just just workloads and what that’s like, and why this is not this extended vacation or anything like that, and why I think I’m so deserving of all this time. But the importance of it and and the benefits that it’s going to bring to our church afterwards. And I had asked them during that time, I said, you know, as we’re getting ready to go, I’m encouraging not to don’t stop attending. We need you to be here and each to support; don’t stop giving.

Curt Seaburg — And so there were things I was asking them to do as well during that time. And when it came back, the first Sunday back, actually, Pam and I sat down and we just gave a whole report of things that we learned and things that we were walking through. And it was absolutely beautiful and it was seamless. Most of that, it wasn’t self-imposed in my own head. Like people are going to feel this way, but they’re really not. Oh yeah, they’re really going to feel that way. You know that why are you taking this extended vacation?

Rich Birch — Sure.

Curt Seaburg — So I think that’s why it’s important that you get out in front of it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Curt Seaburg — And you share…

Rich Birch — Call it out.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah, you got to call it out because that’s what a leader does. The leader gets out front.

Curt Seaburg — And so, yeah, that was a real, looking back now, that was such a smart thing. And now when our team comes up for sabbatical, yeah, our church knows what we do for health.

Rich Birch — It just becomes a part of it.

Curt Seaburg — Health and longevity.

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love that. Yeah, I love that. I think, and yeah, I totally get that’s a fun, you know, the Pennsylvania Dutch work ethic, you know, if you can do it there in that in that culture, man, lots of places in the country that would be fine. And I think, to be honest, I think most pastors underestimate, whoever they’re like, whatever they’re like the people they report to their board, their overseers, whatever that looks like…

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …they underestimate how much those people care for them…

Curt Seaburg — Yes, yes.

Rich Birch — …and you know that they understand like, hey, okay, that makes sense. Like, and it is like a there’s a Johari window there you have to open for them to be like, Hey, this is something that, you know, would love for us to think about. And I love that. What a great – that’s a great coaching.

Curt Seaburg — That is that is so true. And I didn’t realize too, how much I needed it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Curt Seaburg — It took me, no lie, I was going back and look over my notes. It took me five weeks…

Rich Birch — Sure, wow. Yeah.

Curt Seaburg — …until I finally was able to feel like, okay, now I’m relaxed, now at this point. So you need it more than you think you do.

Rich Birch — Yeah, totally. I have a good friend of mine is on sabbatical right now and he, I was cheering for him. I was texting him. Hey, man, good, good, like, I’m so glad. And he he’s a he’s a really hard worker and his, you know, his ethnic background is Korean and, like, very similar. And it was his reflection. He was like, it feels very odd to be taking it. But he said, you know, Rich, I’ve and so he’s 50. He’s like, I have never taken more than one week off…

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …one consecutive week, even between roles, has never done that for his entire career. And I think, even now I think coming post-COVID like we are post post-COVID now, friends…

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …there are people who are tired, and there’s they got a lot of barnacles on their boat that they need to knock off, get knocked off in the in the dry dock. I just love that. That’s good.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — How is that how did that impact your rhythm kind of beyond that? So you came back to that. Did anything change on how you structured your life and all that?

Curt Seaburg — Yes. Sat down with my executive assistant. I said, okay, let’s talk about my calendar. And she’s like, I already have a bunch of ideas for you. So we sat down and we really begin to map out, okay, what does the ideal week now look like for me in this new seat that I’m in. We worked really hard to try to set things up to where it ran really well, even while we weren’t there. And it did. But so there were a lot of things that I recognized during that time. A lot of weeds I didn’t have to dive down into that I could actually stay up out of. And so I wouldn’t have known that had we not taken the sabbatical and realized, Hey, all I need to do is just just need to be touch points. I don’t need to be in these things. That helped a lot in my calendaring and it really helped me to, to, to dial into the fact that I’m going to take a full day off. And so Friday is my full day off. And we would be sporadic about that, you know, to be very honest with you. For years, you kind of do what you had to do. Sometimes you’d have to, you know, work on that day or with…

Rich Birch — [inaudible] yourself, it’s not work.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah. Yeah. Right. And so, yeah, so we take, ever since then, there’s been a true sabbatical…

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Curt Seaburg — …I cannot think of very many weeks when we would have missed a true Friday off together that we took. And so, yeah, that’s really, for my health and for, um, just direction, for clarity in my mind. I mean, I’m in great health, but just for clarity in my mind, it has really helped to be able to do that, to see things differently. And to project what do I want this next half of my life to look like?

Rich Birch — So like that that connects that kind of is full circle back to, you know, clarity around direction and vision and all that and our we’re a part of that. How God’s called he hasn’t called just, you’re not a random widget that he’s called to lead this church. You’re an individual person.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — And so a part of that is you’ve got to process all this stuff and work through it and and ask the Lord and and you know that a lot of that happens when in the in the slowdown, the silence, the when things aren’t quite so go go go all the time.

Curt Seaburg — Yep.

Rich Birch — So just love that; that’s that’s so good. What a great this has been a great conversation. Anything else you want to share just as we wrap up today’s conversation?

Curt Seaburg — You know, I think one thing that that we’ve learned, too, along the way that has really helped us a whole lot is just understanding how to do this whole balance thing. You know, we’ve heard we’ve had so many we have so many conversations with a lot of people, a lot of pastors, just about life balance. And what does it look like to balance your marriage, and ministry, and family, and your ministry, and and just all the ebbs and flows. For years, I would would just I would fight to try to find balance you know, in everything.

Curt Seaburg — And one thing that I had learned learned from a guy by the name of Bruce Miller, he wrote a great book. And and we were together at a pastors’ network probably about 8 years ago, 7 or 8 years ago. And he talked about rhythms, and the importance of not trying to find balance in things, but to ride the rhythms of your church. Know know what your church, the rhythms of your church and ride that. When you got to work hard, work hard. When your church is not in a busy time, don’t try to make it busy.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Curt Seaburg — Take that. Hang around down there, because it’s going to get busy again. There are natural rhythms. And so we have even our church, we diagnose this. And so the first five months of the year, they are like high, fast speed for us. The next three months are the lowest.

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Curt Seaburg — Four months after that, it’s kind of like it’s right in the middle, you know?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Curt Seaburg — So the first five are high. Next three are the low, and then the next four are in the middle. And so we have kind of oriented our life around that rhythm and around that…

Rich Birch — Oh that’s good.

Curt Seaburg — …flow of our church rather than just trying to fight it all the time. Because you’re trying to fight culture as well. And so it’s smart just to just ride those rhythms. Don’t try to find balance and all that stuff.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good. You know, I think that’s one of the things that we’ve lost as kind of our entire well, and maybe not so much in your part of the country, but as the general culture has shifted away from being anything agrarian that has this idea of there are seasons when you plant, there are seasons when you water, and then there are even seasons when you harvest.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah.

Rich Birch — And those all have different work paces to them, right? They’re all it’s not the same all the time.

Curt Seaburg — Exactly.

Rich Birch — And so, you know, we’ve kind of slipped into this like just keep working all the time rhythm, which is not really a rhythm at all. That’s interesting.

Curt Seaburg — Yeach, you’re exactly right. Because when you talk about that kind of terminology and you give those kind of illustrations in this agrarian culture that I live in, yeah, they dial into that really quick. So I guess I’m at a little bit of an advantage, maybe in some of that stuff…

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good.

Curt Seaburg — …but hopefully our listeners can listen to this and they can they can dial in, and take some of that stuff away. You know, how can I, how can I use that in my church and in my life as well?

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so good. This has been a great conversation, Curt. I really appreciate your time today and thanks so much for leaning in and helping us. If people want to track with you or with the church, where do we want to send them online?

Curt Seaburg — Yeah, so we got everything right at our church – just victorychurch.org.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Curt Seaburg — So everything’s there. I’m horrible on on Twitter.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Love it.

Curt Seaburg — You know, I’m I’m really not on social media.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s fine.

Curt Seaburg — You know, a whole lot, it’s funny some of our, you know, some church people like, man, is everything okay? You didn’t respond back to me. You know, I sent you a message on Facebook three months ago. I’m like, I’m not even on Facebook. I don’t even think about it anymore or anything like that.

Rich Birch — Yes. Love it.

Curt Seaburg — But uh, just going really everything’s right at that at the church.

Rich Birch — Love it. That’s great.

Curt Seaburg — Yeah, so that’s the best place to do it.

Rich Birch — Well, thanks so much for being here today. I really appreciate you. Really appreciate you being on the episode. Thank you.

Curt Seaburg — I’m so grateful for you, Rich. Thanks for everything you do for the community of faith at large. And so you’re blessing for sure.

Rich Birch — Well, thanks, brother. Take care, man.

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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.