Rich Villodas on Spiritual Disciplines for Real World Ministry Leadership
Ministry life is demanding and hectic. In fact, one of the occupational hazards of church leadership is it can erode your soul. In today’s episode we talk with Pastor Rich Villodas who is the lead pastor of New Life Church in Queens, NYC. Rich leads a growing, multiethnic church in one of the busiest cities in the world. In the middle of that hectic lifestyle Rich’s leadership is pushing towards finding sustainable rhythms of rest and solitude to restore spiritual health to his team and church. This episode offers practical advice for church leaders looking to find healthy spiritual disciplines in the midst of building a ministry.
00:30 // Rich Villodas spoke at Rich Birch’s church
00:57 // A bit about New Life Church in Queens, NYC
01:07 // Rich V and his former senior pastor transitioned over 4 years
03:20 // We need strategies for how to build a sustainable inner life
04:15 // Rich V explains the use of ‘The Rule of Life’
04:50 // Rich B recalls his time learning from Ruth Haley Barton….leaders are ‘dangerously tired’
05:24 // Ruth Haley Barton’s definition of Spiritual Formation
05:50 // Rule’ comes from the Greek word ‘trellis’, a framework
06:50 // Rule of Life: How can everything I do come under the lordship and leadership of Jesus?
08:00 // Rich V’s rule has 4 Quadrants
08:18 // Prayer Quadrant
09:25 // Rest Quadrant
10:10 // Relationship Quadrant
10:38 // Work Quadrant
11:40 // When you craft the Rule you ask ‘What gives me joy / life?’
12:10 // Rich V reviews his Rule a couple times a month on the sabbath
13:55 // Rule is not a list of To Do’s
Lightning Round Highlights
Inspiring Ministries // Intervarsity Christian Fellowship
Inspiring Leader // Pope Francis
What does he do for fun? // Play and Watch Mets, Jets, Nicks, Play basketball, hang out with the family, read
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Well welcome to the unSeminary Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in. Happy Thursday to you. Glad that you have decided to spend some time with us today. Today we have Rich Villodas on the line. Rich is the Senior Pastor now a New Life Fellowship Church. We had Rich come and speak at our church about a year ago and it had a real impact on our community. Just even last week we are continuing to wrestle through some of the stuff that he was talking about. So glad to have Rich on the podcast today. Thanks for joining us!
Rich V – Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it Rich.
Rich – Why don’t you tell me a little about your ministry. Tell us about the church you are at. Just give us a bit of your context.
Rich V – Ya, New Life is in Queens, New York City. It is a church that has been in existence for 26 years. Pete Scazzero is the Senior Pastor, founding pastor. And pastored the church for 26 years. Over the past years we’ve been on a transition process. In October of 2013 I became the lead pastor after a 4 year process so I find myself in that role right now. new Life is a wonderful church. It’s a church with about 1400-1500 people from over 75 nations. We are in one of the most diverse areas in the world, Queens. The local hospital has about 110 languages that are spoken there. So we get the beauty of diversity, as well as the complexity of diversity in our community. And so it’s an urban environment. It’s one of the poorer areas in central Queens and so we have a real heart for our community and serving the poor and marginalized and immigrants and stuff like that. But it’s a wonderful, wonderful, beautiful church that I really have the privilege of leading. It’s a great place!
Rich – Rich I really appreciate that. There’s a lot we could talk about. I feel like you are one of those ministries leaders that there’s a lot of different pieces we could go down. I think the transition that you and Pete have been through over the last years is amazing. A lot of churches struggle. I think the diversity that you celebrate at your church, I think a lot of churches can, I know our church can learn from that. But particularly today we want to focus in on, it feels like the ministry life is just very hairy. Listening in on this podcast are senior pastors, executive pastors, senior leaders, hundreds of them from churches across the country. Everyone who listens to this thing, they are all saying they don’t have enough time. I want to hear more about how you deal with that as a senior leader at a growing church with a lot of needs. What does that look like for you?
Rich V – Well you know, in my time here at New Life and prior to my time here, I meet great leaders who are accomplishing fantastic things for the Kingdom of God. And in the process of accomplishing these wonderful things, their souls are weary, hairy, they’re hurried, they lack a really sustainable pace for the long term. One of the things I have seen is we typically have strategies for how to grow a church, we have a strategy for how to reach more people, but we don’t have an intentional comprehensive strategy for what does it mean to build a sustainable inner life that can withstand the pressures of leadership. So from my context, and our context at New Life, one of the things that we have wrestled with has been what does it look like to build a sustainable, intentional. comprehensive framework to follow Jesus, to have a life that is anchored in his love, out of which I lead, we lead in our respective areas. And so the word that we use, or the tool that we use is called the ‘The Rule of Life’. The Rule of Life has been an incredible helpful mechanism, not only for our leaders but for our chichi also. We lead Rule of Life courses and classes to really give a comprehensive approach. I can talk about that some more, but that’s the thrust that has been able to sustain me in our church, and other leaders here in our context in Queens.
Rich – I was just at a retreat earlier this year, right at the beginning of this year with Ruth Haley Barton. She’s a fantastic writer, speaker and one of the things that she said that really resonated with me is that so many leaders, or people in general are ‘dangerously tired”. We have just come to this place where we have run to the end. I would love for you to pull apart, when you say ‘Rule of LIfe’, what does that mean?
Rich V – And to piggy back off, I love Ruth Haley Barton’s material and I love her definition of spiritual formation which is, ‘spiritual formation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ for the glory of God for the abundance of ourselves and the sake of others.’ And there’s really that’s the paradigm from which we see spiritual formation. It’s the glory of God for the abundance of ourselves and for the sake of others. And so the Rule of Life, typically when we hear the word rule in our culture we don’t like it. It’s an authority term which we don’t love, it’s about limits, regulations, it’s about what we can’t do. But that’s not what we mean when we talk about rule. The rule we mean is comes from the Greek word trellis. A framework to help a grape vine to grow upward and to grow outward. It’s a structure, its a framework. It’s a great image for the spiritual life in that we need a framework to bear fruit upwards towards God and outward towards others. So that’s what the rule means, it’s essentially a trellis, a framework. I love what Ken Shigematsu who also said and has written a fantastic book called ‘God in my Everything”. Which is really a fantastic book and Ken is a friend of New Life, and he said that a rule is a rhythm of practices that empowers us to live well and be more like Jesus and experience God in everything. At the core the Rule of Life is not about compartmentalization. It’s not that my work life is over here and my home life is over there. The Rule of Life is essentially this: how can every aspect of my life come under the leadership and lordship of Jesus. And how can we be intentional about that. And so for me , the rule is not just my spiritual life so to speak, it’s every aspect of my life being intentionally oriented towards God and so very practically, what that looks like for me…earlier this year I was very surprised. I put out on Facebook and on Instagram and on Twitter what my revised rule was for 2014. And I was really blown away by how many pastor friends of mine emailed and texted me saying ‘How can I get my hand on that? I need to do that.’ Typically at the beginning of the year we have lots of resolutions, that’s not what a rule is. A rule is not a list of resolutions. A rule is a sustainable framework to really submit everything under Jesus, his leadership and his lordship.
Rich V – My rule is basically broken up into 4 specific areas.: It’s prayer, rest, relationships, it’s work. Every aspect of my rule is geared towards how can I bring this under the leadership of Jesus. For example, the prayer component of it is really how am I anchoring my life in contemplative practices of prayer, silence, solitude, of a particular way of reading scripture not just for information but for transformation. And so I really crafted that quadrant if you will, if you look at it in 4 different boxes, that quadrant is about anchoring my life in prayer. And that’s my intentional rule. And for me my rule is, I need silence in my life. I need solitude in my life. I need to pause typically 3 times a day whether it’s for 5 minutes or for 20 minutes to be with God because I know that the pressures and the pull of leadership can get me de-centered very quickly. I have many stories of be becoming de-centered very quickly. So I need to come back to God on a regular basis throughout the course of the day. And sometimes I get it right and sometimes I don’t but that’s how my heart is oriented towards being anchored in God. That’s prayer.
Rich V – The rest component…what am I doing is really what am I doing for my own sense of self care? How am I creating a rhythm in place so that I am replenished. And so we are talking about recreation, for me sports. We are talking about intentional, well planned vacations with my wife, Rosie. We are looking at all those components, what does rest mean. A sabbath, I take a weekly sabbath from Friday night at 6pm to Saturday night at 6pm where I do nothing but stopping, resting, delighting and contemplating. It’s not a time for work , it’s a time for recreating and for restoration. And so that’s the rest quadrant if you will.
Rich V – The relationships quadrant…how do I lead my family and how do I take care of and be intentional about my marriage and parenting my 4 year old daughter Charis? From date nights to being intentional about how we are growing in our marriage…all of that is there I think. That’s the relationships quadrant. Being in a small group with friends. That’s under the lordship of Jesus.
Rich V – And then the work component…what do I do as a lead pastor in my role? What do I do in terms of unpaid work in my home. The goal of the Rule of Life is not compartmentalization. The goal of the Rule of Life is to see that God in interested in every aspect of our life. How are we being intentional with particular practices that orient our hearts to that end? That’s the rule essentially in a nutshell.
Rich – Now how does that… just to push to the practical side…so you obviously take some time out to really craft and be intentionally in those 4 areas. That’s obviously super critical. And then how often do you come back and review that? Is this the kind of thing that you have written out and is on a board somewhere? How are you reminding yourself, reentering yourself on the Rule of Life?
Rich V – When I start the Rule, I typically need a couple of hours of just time before God. And the first thing I want to give attention to is, what gives me joy? What gives me life? What are the areas of life that replenish me and refresh me, in those 4 quadrants? I jot some ideas down and whatever season that I am in there are some adjustments that take place in that. But I want to figure out, where is there life? And towards that end, I jot some things down. In terms of coming back to it, when I am doing it really well, I’m coming back to it usually a couple times a month, on my sabbath. I have it on my refrigerator door and I am able to look at it on a regular basis as I am going to get some Hagan Das ice-cream…I haven’t been practicing silence recently so let me practice silence with some ice-cream. And so I keep it before me visibly, in the kitchen, on my laptop. It’s something I come back to at least monthly. Just to say, Lord is there an area in my Rule that you want me to place closer attention to in the season over the next month. So that’s typically how I go about keeping it before me. It’s very easy to put it in a document and file it away and say that was fun and not do anything about it. “That was great!’ It’s about building an ongoing rhythm throughout the course of the year.
Rich – You know I am, I appreciate that so much. I think there can be a danger in writing out a document like that because I think it almost gives us an emotional release as if we did something. I wrote that I should take a sabbath every week and then I feel better because that’s my intention. This has been a great introduction. Obviously there is a huge conversation we could have on this area. Is there anything else that you would like to reinforce for the leaders listening in today?
Rich V – Well you know specifically with the Rule, I think my prayer is that folks would really begin to wrestle with this…the Rule is not a list of to do’s. Under every quadrant I have a list of things. It’s not like, did I get everything done this week? That can easily morph into a legalism. It can easily morph into an OK, I did that. Quality of doing it is not taken into consideration. That’s not the goal of it. The goal of it is to view every aspect of our lives, under the leadership of Jesus. Really it’s discerning ‘Lord in the season of my life, what are you asking me to pay closer attention to?’ And so it might be that there are many things on my Rule that aren’t getting done. That’s not the goal. The goal is ‘What are the one or two things, in this season of my life that you are calling me to engage it?’ It can be very depressing if you put the whole Rule up and say ‘oh man, I’m only doing 2/20 things. I suck as a leader or a follower of Jesus.’ That’s not the goal. The goal is really figuring out, in this season of my life, what is God calling me to pay attention to?