Developing a Leadership Pipelinepodcast

Todd Adkins on the Poetry and Plumbing of Leadership Development


todd_adkins_podcastThanks for joining us for this week’s unSeminary podcast. We have a great guest today, Todd Adkins of LifeWay Resources.

Todd is from Kentucky and grew up in small churches where he learned a lot about leadership from his father and uncles who were all pastors. In college Todd studied speech and philosophy and eventually ended up going to seminary and becoming a pastor himself. He served as the Executive Pastor at McLean Bible Church prior to coming to LifeWay, and is with us today to share his passion in helping people understand both the poetry and plumbing of leadership development.

  • Dig in and inspect the things that aren’t working. // Developing a successful church and keeping it going means inspecting the processes and systems in place. Take a good look at everything in your church in an audit and streamline it as much as possible. It’s natural for things to gradually move toward disorganization; your job is to bring it back together. The processes that worked thirty years ago may not be the best method now. The systems in place in your church are the day to day things that make up what the church is and how you can deliver your message to the community. Todd reminds us that just getting on the stage and delivering a message once a week won’t develop and keep those processes that make the church great, you have to dig in and do the work behind the scenes.
  • Leadership placement versus leadership development. // LifeWay Research did a study on 2,000 pastors and they found that 92% say that training is critical to the health and growth of their church, yet only 1 in 4 churches have any plan in place. When you dig in deeper, it’s just onboarding rather than training. In other words, instead of actually training people to do the different jobs within the church, churches lean toward simply having a warm body in that position. How can you drill down to the core competencies that are needed in each position in your ministry, and prepare a framework or map to train people? Chances are about 80% of the qualities you’re seeking are the same across your church. Create a template around that 80% that makes up the core values and ideas of the church, then have each ministry add in the ideas and questions specific to their group. Need help? LifeWay Leadership has resources geared specifically for these challenges.
  • Hold regular meetings among the team leaders. // It’s easy for the campuses within multi-site churches to become disconnected and handle their ministry their own way. This can be natural because of the different communities each site serves and how best to reach the audience there. But there has to also be community among the sites within the church. Todd suggests that there be regular meetings among the pastors and top staff at each campus to keep the core values of the church in place. Then there can also be a strategic meeting among the different teams of the campuses. In this meeting it doesn’t matter what your title is or where you are among the church leadership, but the most strategically minded team members can come together to share ideas about what’s working and what isn’t.

You can connect with Todd on Twitter @ToddAdkins or email [email protected].

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Episode Highlights

00:35 // Rich introduces Todd Adkins and welcomes him to the show.

01:05 // Todd talks about his background and why he decided to go into ministry.

04:35 // Todd talks about working at McLean and working towards going multisite.

08:22 // Todd talks about the challenges of making changes to systems and procedures.

14:37 // Todd talks about leadership development.

16:46 // Todd talks about The Leadership Pipeline.

21:50 // Rich and Todd discuss the importance of systems, processes and leadership development.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Slack and HipChat and Buffer

Ministries Following // Austin Stone and The Summit Church at Raleigh-Durham

Influential Book // Designed to Lead by Eric Geiger and Kevin Peck

Inspiring Leader // Kim Jong-un or Putin

What does he do for fun // Algorithms and building guns

Contact // Twitter is @ToddAdkins or [email protected]

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast, my name’s Rich, the host here and I am so honored that you’ve taken some time out of your busy week. We know that you’ve got a lot going on at your church and we’re honored that you would pop us in your earbuds and listen in to today’s conversation. You’re going to be rewarded for that because we’ve got an incredible guest, this is going to be a great 20 minutes, just jampacked.

We’ve got Todd Adkins with us, he currently with LifeWay Resources in the Leadership Group, does some amazing work over there. Was previously at McLean Bible, an Executive Pastor there. Todd, welcome to the show.

Todd – It’s great to be here.

Rich – So glad that you’ve taken some time out to be with us today. Why don’t you kind of give us the Todd story, give us the two minute, who is Todd Adkins?

Todd – It all started when I was just a twinkle in my father’s eye.

Rich – Nice.

Todd – No, I grew up in the middle of nowhere, Kentucky, literally one stop right in the country, grew up in smaller churches and learned a ton about leadership and everything from my father who’s a pastor, my uncles are pastors, like everybody’s a pastor. It didn’t start out that way but that’s how it ended up. When I was eight my dad became a pastor and then everybody else did, it seemed like in our family.

The interesting thing there is he never went to seminary, he did a little bit of, kind of certificate kind of work but he never went. I ended up going to seminary after college. I was a philosophy and speech major, philosophy in [Inaudible 00:01:49].

Rich – Nice.

Todd – So it was either I become a lawyer or go to seminary. I thought I was going to go on the mission field at the time and ended up at Southern because it was close to my parent’s house and my parents would pay for it.

Rich – Nice.

Todd – So I went there, they had an incredible leadership school and I had two mentors there that completely changed who I am and who I interact with in the world and how I lead. It was Brad Wagner who was the Dean of the leadership school and prior to that was a gentleman named Warren Benson who was a DTS, he was three days older than Moses when he was at Southern, so he was in his 80s and still coming in and teaching.

Rich – That’s amazing.

Todd – But he like Team Talk with Hendricks, when Hendricks was a student, Howard Hendricks.

Rich – That’s amazing.

Todd – The legacy that he has through the books that he edited and the people that he worked with, both in church and on seminary staff was absolutely amazing. So if I learned anything from him it was the power of story and case study and how important those pieces are, both to the poetry and plumbing of leadership development.

I think what our seminaries do a great job is teaching us the poetry part and they miss out on the plumbing and leadership is poetry and plumbing; it’s vision that inspires but it’s also the systems and processes that delivery.

So it’s one thing for us to get up and create a clear conviction for development in our church and then people get into the process, they get into the systems of our church and things don’t add up.

Rich – Right.

Todd – So that is what I’m most passionate about, is seeing some of the old systems that were in place and processes that were in place prior to 30 years ago were some great things and we’ve gone from maps to menus and we’re not better for it, we’re not better for a Netflix mentality of church, because we do need to take people on a journey that is thoughtful, intentional, now more than ever with how much information people are over riddled with.

Sorry that was longer than two minutes. Probably didn’t do a whole…

Rich – No, no, no that’s wonderful.

Todd – I also have a wife and three kids.

Rich – Nice.

Todd – Seven, five and three, well just turned four.

Rich – Nice.

Todd – That’s also very interesting.

Rich – Keeps you busy, keeps you out of trouble.

Todd – And leading in the home as well.

Rich – Nice, very cool. Why don’t you tell us about your time at McLean? Obviously, a great church, you were pinnacle or right at the center of their multisite expansion over the last ten years, ten plus years ago, why don’t you give us a sense of what was going on there?

Todd – What was going on there was it was a church that was really growing in the DC Metro area. We had all kinds of zoning and legal issues all the time. So one of the reasons why we went to multisite was just to continue to grow and to continue to reach DC for Christ. So, we knew we could do a better job of that, coming from Tysons Corner in Northern Virginia over into the city or in different parts of Maryland and around the beltway.

So the vision there was to be sure everybody around the beltway had a bible believing church and at that time there wasn’t that many. Now since then, in the last ten years, holly cow, there are so many church plants that have come in there, there’s so many young, sharp, aggressive leaders, but for a while there were only like four of five of us, in my opinion, that fit that statement.

So you had [Inaudible 00:05:29] and First Pres and a couple of other people. Anyway, a long story short, it was our way of expanding our reach and influence and really getting the gospel into different parts.

We know people are usually open to community before they’re open to conversion, so it’s really getting in there and making those initial connections.

So, in starting campuses, we got to the third one, that’s when the wheels kind of fell off and that’s when the way that you used to do it doesn’t really work anymore.

Rich – It might actually hurt you.

Todd – If you don’t have your governance worked out and especially decision rights, so we had bucket one, bucket two, bucket three, kind of a Lencioni thing from Politics, Silos and Turf Wars where we said bucket one is our core DNA, you cannot change that. Now that is not the way we do children’s ministry unless you’re that big on the way you do children’s ministry, that’s your core values, that’s the main things that make you who you are.

So then bucket two is maybe, so that’s a little bit more, that comes through a strategy team and they decide whether or not that happens.

Then bucket three, man that’s done in a working group where you’ve got all the children’s people together and they’re wrestling through that and there’s different transitions that happen in those different stages of growth. So we ended up with a bunch of campuses before it was all over, but to get there we really had to dig in and address some things that were out of whack; our systems, our structure, our processes all needed to be audited and streamlined to make that happen.

You know, entropy is a natural thing.

Rich – Right.

Todd – So entropy is things fall apart around so it’s a constant course correction of bringing things back and believe it or not your systems speak as much into your culture as the poetry pieces, because that’s the day to day thing where those things are flushed out. Also your values and all of those things, if you want your valued to move from bringing aspirational to actual, you have to address that in your systems, your processes, your training, or that simply will not happen, you can’t just do it from a stage once a week.

Rich – Can you give us some examples of a time where the plumbing was getting in the way of the poetry, maybe identify one of those and then how did you pull that apart to get better alignment so that they were pushing in the same direction?

Todd – Totally, probably the best example is, for those people listening, depending on the size of your church, but the larger the church probably the more misaligned you are and more siloed you are in your different ministries.

So, leadership applications. We did an audit, there were 26 different volunteer leader applications.

Rich – That’s crazy.

Todd – When you come in and you serve at a church, a lot of our people serve in more than one area.

Rich – Right.

Todd – We often say a [Inaudible 00:08:52] principle is that 20% that are serving the other 80%.

Rich – Yeah.

Todd – I would say we can rail on that but in many cases it’s our fault, because when a person gets into that and they move from ministry to ministry, they’re seeing a different application, they’re like, “Why do I have to do this again? Why do I have to do this training again?” In most churches it’s onboarding at best, when they say they do training.

LifeWay Research did research on 2000 pastors and 92% say that training is critical to the health and growth of their church, yet only one in four church have any plan in place.

Rich – Wow.

Todd – When you did in deeper it’s onboarding. It’s not, “Hey, I’m doing ongoing training with my children’s volunteers,” I’m basically putting a warm body in place, I’m practicing leadership placement not leadership development and there’s a big difference there. So I’m already chasing a rabbit.

So going from 26 to one is really painful because everybody thinks that they’re so unique and so special that they have to have their own but again, 80% of the stuff that we need is the same, 80% of the questions that we would ask would be the same. So it’s creating that template and then saying, “Hey children’s ministry, if you want to add an addendum to the back of that, you’re more than welcome, but this is the information we’re gathering and we’re keeping in one database and in one place so we actually know what we’re doing and we don’t look like a bunch of jack wagons to people who are attending our church.”

Rich – That’s great.

Todd – If it’s coming from the business world, it’s like, “I don’t know how this even works. I don’t even know how this place functions.”

Rich – I think that’s a great example and that’s a great takeaway for leaders that are listening in to say, “I wonder how many different applications there are out there.” I would imagine a church, ever a few hundred people, you start to get individual area, they start to think that their stuff is super important and they’ve got to ask in just the right way, that would be a great takeaway to drive in on that.

Were there particular areas that were resistant to that?

Todd – Yes.

Rich – How did you deal with the resistance, don’t name any names, of getting better alignment even on that issue?

Todd – Well there’s traditional areas of the church that happen on Sunday but there’s a lot of church that happens between Sundays, or at least there should be.

Rich – Right.

Todd – But Sunday morning ministries or Monday evening ministries, we have campuses going all through the week but those core ministries have problems because you would have the check-in procedure and diaper policy at a performing arts theater where we only have access to the main lobby and then a rehearsal room where we do children’s in that space versus the mothership which, you know, there’s 100,000 square meters of children space there.

Rich – Yes.

Todd – To help them process again that whole 80/20 thing, you know 80% of the way we do preschool ministry should be the same, 80% of the way we train people and onboard people need to be the same amount. Again, I understand we have to have a different diaper policy because we don’t have a bathroom in every room. We might have different check-in procedures, that’s okay but don’t throw away everything for those things and when that’s your area and that’s your ministry and you own it day in and day out and you’ve got something that is put into place that you feel like is working and you’re like, “My head is barely above water now and you’re asking me to do what?” Those are big things.

The other thing I would say is language is really important, because we would have, in one ministry area you would have a coach and their job description could be very similar to what was a coordinator in another area.

Rich – Yes, yes, very true.

Todd – So again, it’s just aligning those systems and languages. Now, to go ahead and out myself, also we said, “Hey, we want a one page job description for every role in the church, from volunteer…” Of course, the staff members, staff members did have those and a couple of ministry areas of those, but creating that template and where those buckets fall are really important. Creating a core competency of, “Hey, this is what we want all of our universal core competencies, this is what we want all of our leaders to know, this is what we want all of our volunteers to know, our coaches to know, our ministries to know, like if you’re on ministry staff you have to have this level of competency in discipleship and what our vision is.” All of those things.

Rich – And a lot of multisite churches struggle, once you get beyond three or four locations, you struggle with the campus versus central conversation, like how much autonomy, how much… It’s not even autonomy, it’s how much kind of local flavor will each of our campuses have and campus pastors become, understandably so passionate about their part of the city that you’re in and they’re like, “Hey, we want to do things a little bit different,” and obviously, leadership development is one of the ways that a campus pastor can influence the culture of their particular campus. How did you kind of live in that tension, how did you offer common leadership development across all the locations but then also allowed some sort of local nuance, what did that look like for you?

Todd – I would say we had to get to a point where we had a difficult conversation on how we were structured.

Rich – Yeah.

Todd – So at first we were structured, you know, the central person, the person who was over worship was in our executive team meeting for the main campus, he was over worship for the main campus. I’ve got, he has a way he wants to do things and I’ve got the campus pastor in Silver Spring or Arlington or some place that has a lot of young adults, he wants his stuff to be a little different.

Rich – Right.

Todd – So it’s saying, “Okay, who do those people report to? Do they report to that central person who’s over that kind of ministry area, or do they report to the campus pastor?” Well they report to the campus pastor but there was a disconnect between authority and responsibility that was there. So one of the ways that we addressed that was redoing our meeting structure, where we said, “Hey, we’re having a strategic team and at this point we’ll have one meeting for the campus pastors and the core guys, the two people that run all of our facilities and whatever, all the core services elements, they’ve got to be there and the campus pastors have to be there and then we’re going to have a strategy meeting that’s even above that, that it doesn’t matter what your position is, what your title is, it’s just that you are the most strategic person to think about and process some of that stuff.” That helped tremendously in a very short period of time.

Rich – Very cool. Now I want to pivot a little bit and talk about your work at LifeWay Leadership and all the different, you do a lot of different work there to help church leaders wrestle through developing their leadership pipeline. I love that stuff when you said, “Hey, 91% of church leaders say, it’s really important and only one in four actually only do anything about it.” You’re obviously trying to tackle some of that, you’ve got a great podcast, The Five Leadership Questions podcast, you’ve got a conference coming up, can you tell us a little bit about what’s happening on that front?

Todd – Okay, I would say one of the things listeners could do is go to either My Leadership Pipeline or they could go to LifeWay Leadership and quickly find Pipeline. Pipeline, there’s a 20-page kind of breakdown of what it is and somewhat how to implement it, but that’s really the underlying philosophy of what we do. We would say, “Hey, every organization needs a pipeline and every person needs a pathway.” We often forget that Ephesians 289, “Yes it’s by grace that we’ve been saved,” however verse 10 says, “We God’s workmanship and he has things prepared for us to do.” We also forget as pastors, there’s only a couple of placed in the bible where it’s an, “If you do this I guarantee you this will happen.” That’s in Ephesians 4 where church leaders are called to train saints for the work of the ministry, the result of that is they will be built up and measured in the fullness of Christ Jesus.

So a lot of times we forget, we are more doers than developers.

Rich – Right, so true.

Todd – And what this is trying to do is make a shift to allow you to be a developer and not just a doer, because a lot of people want to develop but they don’t have… When we dug in deeper into that research, the top four reasons why people didn’t have a plan in place is because number one, they didn’t think they had time. Number two, they didn’t have a framework for people to walk through. Three was they didn’t know how, they didn’t have that expertise in all the different areas to be able to do that, because you’re talking, most of our churches don’t have a bunch of staff that specialize in ministry, the ones that do, a lot of those people and it’s a great thing, a lot of those people have been developed within the organization, so they haven’t had some of the formal training that they may have needed to. But it’s just like, “Okay, what are the core competencies that everybody in our church knows?”

So we did almost two years of research with a large group of people, everybody from Brad Lomenick who was part of starting Catalyst and Matt Clegg who is a Leadership Pipeline guy, the guy who does HR for Walmart, like who was also an XP. So we’ve got lots of… Jenni Catron who, until recently was the XP at [Inaudible 00:19:22] Church. I mean we’ve got, I’ve got basically anybody that I knew that was really passionate about leadership development in the church and we went from, I asked them all to fill out what people needed at each level and then we consolidated it and all that. It was 286 competencies.

Rich – Wow, that’s amazing.

Todd – But what we ended up, bringing that down to six categories and putting those at different levels and then we brought in people like Will Mancini as the best person to talk about vision that I know of on the planet.

Rich – Absolutely.

Todd – So we got him to come in and do that vision tip to tail [Inaudible 00:19:56], does discipleship tip to tail because whether you’re on this very far right or on this side you’re at least respecting on discipleship.

Rich – Absolutely.

Todd – So we very strategically went through that to create a map, not a menu, a scope and sequence for people to walk through. The pathway piece is, absolutely, your small groups person needs small groups training.

Rich – Right.

Todd – So are they new, are they a learner, are they a leader, are they a multiplier? There are three different tracks in that section to bring people along.

Then again, how does leadership transformation happen, it’s really an overlap of knowledge, experience and coaching. I’m not trying to digitize discipleship; I’m trying to give you mastery of proficiency in something. So when you have knowledge that’s great, and that’s pretty much what we’re doing now, information dumps on people, but when you couple that with experience in coaching, that’s when the magic happens and that’s when you have transformation.

The way you get a driver’s license is first you have to display some knowledge; you have to take your written test.

Rich – Right.

Todd – You ride alongside with somebody and drive and you know you’re getting coaching along the way. So I don’t know why we fail to think that… We’re a video enhanced system, we’re not video driven, it’s not for your entertainment or Netflix for your church, everything we do is in a scope and sequence.

Rich – Yeah, you really should check it out. The thing I love, just to underline what you said, the thing I love that you’re doing is you’re providing a framework, you’re providing, it’s beyond, “Here’s a bunch of random resources, here’s a bunch of different topics,” it’s like, “Hey, how does this all fit together to encourage people along that development path.”

Anything else you want to talk about Pipeline just before I move on with the lightning round?

Todd – Pipeline Conference is sold out. There’s less than a hundred spots left so I don’t know when this will air, if it will air before or after the conference even, but that’s sold out. The coaching day that goes along with sold out early and it’s 420 spots.

Rich – That’s great.

Todd – That’s just us walking people through in a systematic way, helping them understand that most of them have not had a, this is going to sound like [Inaudible 00:22:12], but I learned this from Will Mancini actually, he asked me one day, he was like, “When did you have your second conversion?” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” He was like, “No, when did you convert from being a doer to a developer?” And man that story hit me just like that. I had started young adult ministry, it had a couple of hundred people come in, it was great and I went to another church and I came back six months later and it was decimated.

Rich – Right, because you were the doer.

Todd – And I realized that I’d done it on hustle and personality of asking every friend I had to be there and then when I went away there was not a core conviction for leadership development there and there were no systems and processes in place.

So with that is just give people that opportunity to come in and process that and say, “You can do it. Yes, I know Sunday’s coming,” and most of the time you come somewhere, three weeks later, you get fired up and three weeks later it’s all gone because Sunday’s coming. So what we want people to walk away with is that scope and sequence and real tools to help them along the way. It’s not doing it for you but it’s just giving you a framework and some templates and tools to help you get there and achieve some early wins so that you will be willing to invest.

Rich – I literally, just yesterday, I was in a conversation with a young leader who, I was challenging them to rethink their leadership and to rethink their service and they’re very much caught in that doer/developer paradigm and literally at one point in the conversation the leaders looks as me and he says, because I was asking him to develop his people, “Yeah, but it’s been going well with what I’m doing and it’s working,” and it was like I was challenging him and I said, “Listen, I’m not debating that it’s working, I’m not debating that the energy that’s happening around you is positive, what I’m saying it’s not sustainable long term and it’s not what you want to do. I can’t have you just being a doer, I need you to develop people, I need you to be handing off these pieces of the ministry, and that’s going to be hard, that’s going to be tough, but this is where we need to go, this is your next step.”

It was interesting and I had sympathy for his as I looked back on my own ministry career, a time earlier when I’m like, yeah you do take a certain amount of pride and I’ll just do and I’ll just muscle through, but that doesn’t work long term and that builds weak ministries and it doesn’t build sustainability into what we’re doing.

Todd – It’s not the model that you want to set.

Rich – Absolutely.

Todd – I mean, when you do that you’re setting a very poor model.

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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.