personal productivitypodcast

Mark Lesher on Creating Healthy Work Environments for Church Teams


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According to Tim Peters, 1,700 Pastors leave the ministry for good every month! [ref] A large contributor to that fact is that we’ve structured our work environments to unhealthy and counter productive. In today’s podcast Mark Lesher talks about what he’s been doing at Christ Journey to reverse that trend and is doing to make it a healthy environment for his team. Tune in as he gives us practical advice on making your church a healthy place for people to serve.

Mark Lesher // [Christ Journey Church] [twitter]

Interview Highlights

01:23 // History of Christ Journey Church

01:34 // A few of the changes this church transitioned through

03:07 // Mark’s pre-work priorities

04:15 // The motivating factor in making wellness a priority for Mark’s staff

04:40 // Christ Journey Church’s desire for staff wellness

05:20 // Ideas for bringing wellness issues into staff community time.

06:30 // Focus on preventable issues to keep insurance costs down

07:15 // Encouraging life balance in staff through weekend scheduling

08:00 // “Generous Work Leave Policy”

09:18 // Transitioning to canceling services one Sunday a year

09:55 // Remove the temptation at staff gatherings…see ya later donuts

10:54 // Marks final tip for promoting staff wellness

Lightning Round Highlights

Helpful Online Resource // Tim Steven’s blog, unSeminary, Right Now Media

Books That are Having an Impact // ‘Just Lead‘ (Jenni Catron and Sherry Surratt), ‘Multipliers‘ (Liz Wiseman )

Inspiring Ministries // North Point Community Church, Life Church, Christ Fellowship in Palm Beach Gardens

Inspiring Leader // Jeff Henderson

What does he do for fun? // Surf with his family, Paddle boarding with his wife


PASTORAL MARGINS // finding balance in ministry and in life [download .PDF]

This PDF is a helpful discussion starter to use with your staff team about the boundaries they set in their own ministry to ensure they serve for the long haul.


Interview Transcript //

Rich – We’ve Got Mark Lesher from Christ Journey Church in Miami, Florida today.  How are things in Miami today?

Mark – Miami is great!  It’s kind of warm down here. And we are just kind of keeping an eye on the tropics right now because this is the season where we kind of expect some of the storms.  But everything is going great in Miami.

Rich – Hurricane season.  Mark tell us a little bit about your church, your back ground. Just a little bit about yourself.

Mark – Sure, well Christ Journey Church is a multi-site church with three campuses and we are located here in Coral Gables, very close in proximity to the University of Miami.  In 2005 we made a lot of radical changes around here.  We really kind of changed the way we did church, we went from Sunday school to groups.  We are one of those churches that actually transitioned.  Then of course last year we changed our name.  We were formally University Baptist Church.  We became Christ Journey Church after a very long vetting process.  So we are actually literally one of those church you could say ‘Did you transition?’.  Yes we did. So that’s been a great thing for us.  We are anticipating very soon the possibility  of another campus that we hope we would build.  Just for myself, I have been here 16 years.  I came back, I left the Navy, I was a Navy Seal.  I came here and this was a church that really fostered my spiritual growth.

Rich – Cool. Well one of the things I appreciate about you Mark, I follow you on Twitter and you know, kind of track with you and the church there.  One of the things I appreciate about you is, well maybe it’s not appreciate, I sometimes feel guilty, because I wake up in the morning, and you probably know where this is going, I wake up in the morning and I’ve had one of those mornings where I’m just not going to the gym today.  It’s just not happening today.  And I get this tweet and it’s like 2 o’clock in the morning, well not that, and you’ve already been up, you’ve been up, you’ve already had your word, your workout.  Tell me about the kind of life balance issues when it comes to work in ministry.  We have a lot of listeners who would say, wow, it’s like really busy being a pastor.  So how do you manage all that?  Tell me your routines on that front.

Mark – Well my routine is pretty simple.  You know, we teach our staff here to manage priorities.  I don’t think you can manage time, you can’t turn 6 minutes into 7 minutes.  You’ve got to manage priorities.  And so my priority, my first priority everyday is I’ll get up and spend approximately an hour in the Word, then I’ll do some professional reading and at 6 am our student ministry pastors join me and we work out for an hour, hour and a half.  Then I’ll cook breakfast for my family and then hopefully off we go to work.  So that’s a very general routine for me.  John Ortberg says there are two types of people: morning people and those who hate morning people.  I just happen to be a morning person.  I think you have to find the time that’s going to work for you.  But you’ve got to ask yourself, am I going to make my wellness, my health a priority or not? And so that’s kind of my simple routine 6 days a week.

Rich – Nice.  Now a part of what I understand is that you’ve kind of moved it beyond your own personal regiment to really a staff value.  Talk about how you have done that.  How has it really become a staff value?

Mark – Ya, about two and a half years, maybe three years ago,  we were facing what every church in America faces: increasing health insurance costs.  So we were thinking about that and just looking at the statistics, we though why are we going to pay money for things that could be preventable.  Plus, at the same time, you know, we want to get the best return on investment from our staff.  We want productive staff.  So we sat down with our care ministers and said, let’s begin a journey.  Let’s begin a journey to focus on staff wellness.  So we initially began to focus on that monthly in our staff community times.  And then we began to teach our staff about wellness and encourage it.  We’ve had some groups join together and say we are going to lose a certain amount of weight.  Now we are at the point where we are looking at rewarding it.  And so every year for any staff member that get’s their physical, they get a gift certificate.  And now we’ve been looking at least a way, to increase incentives.

Rich – Huh!  That’s really cool.  Give me a sense, in those monthly staff community times, what would be typical event where you are talking about wellness issues.

Mark – Well sometimes it can kind of be fun.  Sometimes care ministers make games.  We always put out healthy food.  We talk about food choices, we talk about physical health, emotional health. So it’s typically something that’s done very creatively.  It’s a lot of fun.  It’s a challenge.  And we like to think that all our staff respond as wise people and make course corrections, but they don’t.  And so honestly, we are evaluating, if we can’t treat them like wise people, to understand the benefit of a well self, then we may have to look at the possibility of one day we might not pay a portion of their medical insurance.

Rich – Wow.  Do you have a sense of the practical side?  You’re savings in insurance percentage-wise.  Do you have a sense, how has that side of this worked.

Mark – We don’t yet but we do know this. Right now we have Humana insurance is what we are using and Humana has a wellness program and if all of our employees do go our and fill out the information than that can cause some savings.  The big thing is we are trying to save on those big things that drive health insurance cost up that could have been prevented.  That’s the big thing.  We can’t prevent every illness, but if we can get a healthier staff, and at the same time, it’s less sick days, it’s more productivity while they are working when you feel better.

Rich – That’s really good. I appreciate that.  I think that’s a great insight particularly as senior pastors, executive pastors, as we try to structure a staff culture.  How is it, what do we do on this side of the equation.  What else, when you talk about your normal yearly routine with your staff, what are you doing to try and encourage life balance?

Mark – Well one of the things we just did, and I know for some churches you are going to think you have lost your mind, we were doing Saturday night and Sunday experiences.  We just shifted everything to Sunday.  And said if we can get every Campus eventually to run 5 on Sunday we will take it. And we were just realizing that the turn around was just too demanding.  I myself would be looking at my watch at 12 o’clock, oh, I gotta go back to church.  So we wanted to full days off for our staff.  And then if our staff work effectively, work efficiently, hey, you’re done Thursday whatever time, get out of here.  Take that day off.  So we are very, very intentional about making sure our employees are taking their time off.  We have a very, very, I guess you would probably call it a generous vacation and leave policy.

Rich – Well what is that?  Now everyone is going to want to work there?  You’re going to have lots of applications. Tell me about your generous work leave policy.

Mark – Well, typically, when we start an employee, obviously we start an employee off with a week vacation, sometimes we might add more if they have ministry experience.  But we have, they can also have 12 sick days a year.  Three of those can be used for any personal reason.  And personal means personal.  So a new employee may start with a week vacation, 3 sick days and then our personnel committee, our HR committee now, allows us a week from December 25th to January 2nd.  We’re off. As a matter of fact what we did last year, we cut down our weekend experiences the weekend after Christmas and we do it via church online and we do it right here at Christ Journey.  Then our staff can stay home.  And then of course we have 8 paid vacation days including the day after Easter we give our staff off.  So any starting staff member is basically getting 3 weeks off.

Rich – That’s very cool.  Now tell me about the change to have, because we haven’t had services on the last week of the year for our entire history.  But what was it like to go from having had that service and then cutting it out.

Mark – Well from our staff’s perspective it was great!  And honestly we didn’t have a lot of push back, as a matter of fact our weekend attendance went up.  And so church online was kind of new, and it was kind of fun. We pre-shot it.  All staff gather, we pre-shot the worship experience the whole message.  It was a lot of fun.  I was actually in Guam visiting my son.  He’s a captain in the Air Force.  I got to join in from Guam.

Rich – That’s fantastic.  Now anything else when you think about the staff balance issues.  How you create a culture where your staff are living a balanced life?

Mark – I think the other thing is remove the temptation.  Just visit any church in America. Look at the food they put out.  And just make a swap, with the worship / arts committee, wherever that is, say, Hey guys, when we put our food out for our volunteers let’s swap out. Let’s go to 75% healthy, 25% whatever that other stuff is but start to make a swap.  Small things like that will communicate the message and cascade the message down throughout the organization.

Rich – Now Mark, you’re not advocating getting rid of donuts at church are you?

Mark – We don’t have any donuts where I’m at.  There are some.  I think Youth Ministry has some, I don’t know.

Rich – I don’t know if I am going to be able to broadcast this.  People are going to be like that’s heresy.  You can’t get rid of donuts.

Mark – I think we have like whole wheat donuts.

Rich – That’s a real practical tip.

Mark – It’s really small things.  Other things you can do:  you can bring exercise onto your campus.  You know, some of you might have the benefit of large rooms, large buildings, and I say in the future, if you can invest and put a gym in or put something right there, whether it’s treadmills, whether it’s elliptical.  Where your staff during lunch hour can go over and do 30 minutes of cardio, that’s going to make a lot of difference.  But, at least 70%, at least I understand the studies I’ve studied, at least 70% of weight loss is going to be diet.  So that’s more training your staff how to eat well. So whenever we put out a meal here for staff training, it’s always very healthy.


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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.