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Karl Vaters: Let us begin. So Gary, welcome back to the podcast. Let's take a look at what we're going to do. Last time we talked, we talked about longevity. We talked about your longevity at the church, my longevity at the church. And first of all, whenever anybody hears about how long you've been there as youth pastor, that's always a stunner.
Well, first of all, when they hear I've been at any church, as long as I've been there, that's like, oh, that's great. Then the youth pastor has been there how long? Whoa. And then the two of us together, it's like, okay, that's crazy. And now what we want to do is talk about something that's even more unusual and an even bigger wow for people when they hear about it.
Which is that after 25 years of working together with me as your lead pastor, we made a transition in the church. Where you became the lead pastor and I stayed on as your teaching pastor. So I was your boss and now you're my boss and that's always the big, oh boy, how in the world did that happen, and how's it working out?
So there are some things that are just unique to us. But there are some lessons I think that are fair that I think can be fairly universal that I want to reach out to. So we're going to go over this in three different ways. We'll talk, first of all, talk about how did this idea for the change come about. Secondly, how did we actually walk through it? And then thirdly, how's it been going since with both of us on the same staff, but in different positions and in different relationships to each other.
So let's start out with the why you, for 25 years, had been a youth pastor. And I can't remember how many times you walked past me after a tough board meeting or a difficult decision. I went, that's why I'm never going to be a pastor, but at some point, that changed. So when did you start getting a sense of, Hey, maybe I'm called to be a lead pastor? And what brought that about?
Gary Garcia: I think it probably happened for Amy faster than it happened for me. She was feeling just change and knew, some change, some sort of change was coming. Neither of us knew what? Cause we didn't necessarily feel like it was changed. Like we were going to leave and go somewhere else. We didn't feel any release from what we were doing or where we were at. And so it just kind of started with her, talking to me about that, and then me getting that same sense of something's happening. I'm not sure what it is.
And, and the more we thought about it, the more we loved our community, we loved our church. I just kinda thought, okay, it's, it's something I'm feeling something I should at least talk to you about and then see where we're at. And in my mind, I thought maybe he's feeling something and, and doesn't know it hasn't talked to me about it.
And so I just thought I'd throw it out there and see where we're at. What are your plans? What's the future look like? Cause I think, I don't even know that if you would've said no, I'm sticking around that we would have even gone anywhere. I felt called to lead Cornerstone.
And so I didn't know what that looked like and how that would even come together because I'll be honest, like, and I said this to our congregation. When I, when I took the position my calling still to reach young people for Jesus, like that has not changed them. I'm all about it. And teenagers and youth pastors, but there is a real clearing that I felt God's call to lead Cornerstone specifically.
And I wanted to answer God's call even though I didn't agree with it. And, and still, you know, even now struggle with just honoring, not, I don't wanna say struggle, but honoring God in that, that him really leading me to do that.
KV: That's an interesting statement. I wanted to honor God's call, even though I didn't, I didn't agree with it. Because I've often heard people who are cynical or skeptical about Christianity say, isn't it amazing how everything you believe happens to be everything God believes. But when you actually are walking with the Lord and you actually do mature in your faith, there are times when God does stuff and you just go, no, that's not me. I don't want to do that. This is not just me wanting to do something and figuring out a way to make sure God approves of it. It was really counter to where you wanted to go.
GG: Even still, in some ways like there's, there's moments for sure when Amy's like she looks at me and she goes, you hate this, don't you? I do like it, I love it and hate it. But again, it's really clear. Like for me, there's no doubt, not only in my own walk and spiritual life but even in talking with others that I'm, I'm right where God has placed me in, wants me in, has chosen for me to be. Again, it's not where I would specifically say as just me with my personality and my calling and that I thought I would be here or at times even want to be here.
But I just know like I'm honoring God and what he wants. And, and again, not to say I don't love it. There's definitely times I love it. But there's also parts about lead pastor that are so frustrating. And coming from the world of youth ministry, I just understand it better and I get it better. And there's less politics in youth ministry than in being a lead pastor, especially when it comes to just dealing with adults.
KV: Yeah. And we're in a church that we don't have a lot of politics to deal with. I want to state that very, very clearly. We're not talking about a troubled church at all. There just simply has aspects to dealing with adults. That is, it is just a different vibe, which is what I've known all my life, that I was never a youth pastor. And I've never felt the call to shift over as you did. So I think that would be an even harder shift for me.
And all I can pray is Lord don't ever, of course, I'm in my sixties. Now that call is not coming at this point. So I've never asked you about this before. Part of this, this interview is going to be, we're going to talk about things that we've never actually verbalized with each other before, which I think is fun for both of us too.
How were you feeling when you actually approached me and came and basically said, I want your job.
GG: It's probably one of the only times I've come to you, where I feel like scared is the right word. Mostly because I didn't want to wreck anything that we'd built. And I thought, man, what, how would I feel if someone was coming to me in this situation saying, "Hey, I know you've been a youth pastor for over 24 years or 25 years I really think I need to be the youth pastor now." And I'd be like, you get out. You're done. You know, like how would I even? And so I really thought like, God, this has to be you for this to work the way I, in my head. I think it can. And will.
For me, it was just that moment that was going to confirm everything. If I really was on God's path and, and answering God's call. For me, in some ways, literally going into Nineveh and, and, you know place I didn't want to go, but really felt God pushing me there. And so it was really kind of a real defining moment, but a scary moment too. Because it either meant that I was right on track or it meant I did not hear God right. Or it meant, you know, that that's going to be weird between you and me from then on that.
KV: Yeah. You know, you and I, over 29 years now have had a lot of, you know, big moments, big meetings together, but we've had two really, really big ones. In the last podcast, we talked about the first one, which is that, that lunch where we sat down and, and you were terrified. Didn't know if you'd be able to keep the job. And I was just trying to figure out who this kid was that I was probably going to be stuck with.
That was a big meeting. And then this one was equally as big. So I think in our lives, the two of us we've had the these are two like major milestone moments where it was just you and me in the room and we had to sort something out and the Lord was doing something big.
And I remember when you said you felt scared. I remember that. I remember thinking, okay, something's wrong. He's going to leave or something. Cause he, this is not usual. He's like, he's not. You were, you were trying to get the question out, at least that's how I remember it. And it was just, I think, I think maybe at one point I went just out with it. What's going on here? Tell me.
And then you find the, basically, you just blurted out I feel called to be a lead pastor. Which initially I thought, oh man, that means I'm going to lose him. And then the next, next sentence was, but I don't feel the lead to leave Cornerstone. Oh, okay. And then I, that it was like, and I don't want you not to be my pastor. And I don't know what all of this means.
And then, so my recollection of it was okay. That's interesting. Let's figure this out together. And I, I think what I said in that meeting was let's meet at this time here every week, or as often as we can every week, because between our schedules and my traveling and everything else. Until we can figure this thing out.
And I think it was about four months. And meeting maybe upon average about every two weeks, probably that we sat down. And sometimes it was like five minutes looking at each other. And when you got anything, I got nothing. No. And then other times, what about this? I think it was about four months that we've finally come up with this idea of, you know what? Yeah.
Because, well, first of all, when you proposed it, it had not been on my radar I had not been looking to leave the church. I had not been looking to transition. I had been looking to figure out how to make my ministry there sustainable because this ministry to small churches was growing at a rate nobody saw coming, especially me.
And I knew I was called to do that. But I was not, I did not feel called to be released from Cornerstone. And so, as I'd been doing that, obviously more that leadership has been falling to you anyway. So, so I think it was all the Lord kind of preparing me to, to step away from that, preparing you to step into it.
So we thought and prayed about it and talked about it for four months. And then we decided yeah we're going to do this. Originally, we were thinking maybe in a year or less, it'll take us some time. We knew it would be a few months to make the transition and that all kinds of things happen.
From us having a grandkid, to other family things. A ton of things basically happened on my end family stuff that were huge life things for the family that just kept delaying it and delaying it. And it was about two years, I think from the first meeting until the transition itself actually happened. If I'm remembering correctly, is that about?
Cause both of us were like, we want to do it right. Rather than do it fast. Neither one of us is going anywhere anyway. So let's, if we're not sure let's not do it yet until we're sure that was kind of the approach I think we took, right? So that's the first part of the, you know, why did this transition take place?
Because you felt called to be a lead pastor, but not to go to another church to do it. I absolutely felt called to continue to do this ministry for small churches, but to do it as an extension of Cornerstone and not as a separation from Cornerstone. And yet I was at an unsustainable pace. I knew something was going to have to cut back somewhere.
And as we looked at it, we realized, hey, this allows you to step into gifting. And I think at a time for Cornerstone. But here's how I perceive the transition to have gone kind of on a philosophical basis. For 25 years, we were building a church. Lord was helping us to build into the congregation a church that was a good biblical teaching church.
That also reached out to the community and built teams. Because that's my strength and I'm stronger on teaching and not as strong on discipleship and team building and evangelism. Your strengths are more team building, disciple-making, and evangelism. So now we've got a church that is led by the idea of team-building, disciple-making, and evangelism. That is built on and continues to maintain a strong teaching foundation, but they're all important, but the teaching used to take the lead, and now the team building, discipleship, and evangelism takes the lead.
Does that feel accurate to you about that?
GG: Yeah. Yeah, it really does. Yeah.
KV: And it felt like that was the season for that to take place. We, okay. The foundation is built. It's strong. It's steady. Now, let's put action into it and have the action lead because we've got a say foundation under us that you and Amy and, and me and the team have continued to build on.
So, okay. So let's talk about the process then have to transition. So we had that initial meeting, which took us a while both to understand, yes, this is the Lord, and now let's feel our way through this and see what the Lord, how the Lord takes us there. So I think it was about, was it about a year out? I think that we had, obviously, both of our wives were in this from the very beginning of the part of this conversation. Amy and Shelley both. But I think of it as about a year out that we brought the church board in, well, actually the first thing I did was here's what we did. I got, remember this now what I wanted to do was I said, let's do this.
Let's continue to raise your profile. As, not just a youth leader, but as a congregational leader, by having you preach more. By having you attend board meetings. By having you do things that situate you very obviously as a leader of adults, in addition to a leader of youth.
My hope was that by the time it happened, you and I would be close together. And you would have demonstrated your calling and skills in leading adults. So obviously that, by the time that transition happened, my hope was that the congregation would go, oh, duh he's practically doing that already? Isn't he? That was my hope. I wanted it and, again, to take the time to do it so that we could do it properly.
So you started attending board meetings, which you hadn't done, although you'd always been able to do so. You started being more on the decision-making for staffing and for programs and for even sermon prep. And so on, you started being more obvious on Sunday mornings, rather, which you always were, but even more so.
And then I think about a year out, we brought the board in and said, "Okay, here's why Gary's been stepping up a little bit." They were a thumbs up. I mean, I don't think there was even a second of delay or wonder or concern in that room about it. I think it was in fact they were, they were really happy because this was the first test that we had. Where is this actually a good idea? Just beyond the two of us was their response and it was 100%, very, very, very, very strong. Right.
And then I think it was about six months out that we brought the staff in. And I made them aware of what was happening. And again, it was greenlight all over the place. Everybody was very, very happy with that. I mean, some questions from the staff because they were working with us on a daily basis. So they had more questions about the practical, how how's this actually going to work out. But nobody with any worry over it. Not that I remember at all. And then we were going to transition about 18 months into it.
And then we looked at the calendar and realize we're about three or four months away from Shelley's and my 25th anniversary as pastors of the church. And we thought doing the transition and then having that anniversary about two months afterward would just be weird. So we thought let's clear the boards of that.
And then as I realized, wait a minute, after we have that, that's actually a good point because that's a great vision casting point at a 25-year pastor. What do we do next? And then I told the congregation, we're going to have the anniversary. And then the next Sunday, we're going to talk about vision and where we're going to go for the next 25 years.
And I told them, if you can't make both, don't miss the what's coming next one. Miss my anniversary one, because where we're going is more important than where we've been. I wanted to demonstrate what we've always said to be true. I wanted it to actually be true for us. So we did the anniversary. Which you and the team led beautifully and felt very, very, very special to us.
And then the next week we got up and you and I got on stage together. And we sat down and I've actually printed up the notes from that day. We've actually both got them in front of us. First time. We've looked at them now in almost four years. And I talked about how things are strong at Cornerstone. Things are good at Cornerstone.
The Lord has blessed us for years now with a really strong team. And here's what the kind of extension of Cornerstone what I'm doing and where I'm going. And then I said, so what are we going to do in the next 25 years? And I presented to them, here's this idea. Gary wants to be the pastor. I believe that is he's called to do that.
And that he has called me to step aside, but to stay on as the teaching pastor. And my recollection of that moment was that there was a sense of relief and joy in the room over that. And a bunch of surprises for people who knew you well enough to know he's never going to be a lead pastor. So there was surprise but it was then followed immediately by both relief and joy. What do you remember about that moment when we made that announcement to the congregation?
GG: Oh gosh. I don't remember a ton. I remember certain people coming up and just saying they're excited for what's to come. And so it was kind of a lot of confirmation and excitement at the same time. Cause I'd hoped that people would be excited for this, but it's not like we went out and did a, Hey, what do you guys think? Type of thing other than the church board. So it was good to hear people were on the same page.
KV: Since our meeting of you presenting that to us, I think this was the next, this was the next test moment of, like you said, the board, the staff, those were important, but we didn't have a big concern because we have a congregational church. They have to vote on this. We can't just tell them this is happening. They have to actually vote on it. So their response to it was going to make or break it. It was either going to happen or not happen based on that, based on their approval of it. So, yeah, that was my sense of it because they could see the ministry that I was done growing.
In fact, I had people come to me afterwards and said, "We thought, you're just going to announce that you're leaving because this other thing is getting so big. And if you leave and Gary has always said, he'll never be a lead pastor. How does the guy who worked under one pastor for 25 years stay on after that lead pastor leaves under another guy?"
Like that's almost impossible to do. So when they discovered we get to keep both of them and we get to do this amazing transition while keeping the team in place. There was a real sense of excitement about that. I think of a forward motion. So I want to walk through this a little bit because we put together a practical plan for a four-week plan for this, that some of which will help others.
Some of it is not going to apply it in most other places, because unless you've been together with a, you know, an, a team for 25 years so there was some things that are obviously very unique to us. But I think some of the standard things are one, we decided we were going to do it well. Even if it took a little bit longer. So neither one of us were impatient. Secondly, we brought it in with key leaders first and got their sense of things. Thirdly, we helped people to anticipate there was a big announcement coming.
And then when we announced it, actually, when they walked out that day, we actually gave them a Q&A sheet. We anticipated some of the questions they might ask. So this is something, if you're in a church that's considering transition, there are going to be some questions that everybody's going to ask. So we put out a frequently asked question before anybody had a question to ask them frequently. So here's some of the Q&A. So as they walked out, we told them, if they have a question, check the sheet first, we may have anticipated it already.
So we answered questions like, what are we planning to do? Why are we changing lead pastors? Whose idea was this? I could that's going to be as Gary just pushing him out, right? Will Pastor Karl be staying or leaving? If Pastor Karl is staying why's this position changing? Who will lead the youth? Does this require a vote? Are we being asked to choose between Pastor Karl and Pastor Gary?
I think this was one of the decisions we made that was really important. We regularly reiterated you are not being asked to choose whether Pastor Karl or Pastor Gary should lead this. I, Karl, am leaving this position. I will not be the lead pastor anymore. You are voting to confirm Gary as the lead pastor. You're not choosing between us. We made that really, really clear. And I had several people tell me that was really helpful to them because they didn't want to feel like they had divided loyalties. And then we laid out what it was. So we did it in four pieces.
Again, for people who are looking at a transition, here's how we did it. So the first week you and I announced, here's what we want to do. Then the following Sunday, you and Amy got up and you cast your vision for moving forward. So here's what we want to do. Here's why we feel called to this. Here's where we want to go.
The following week I got up and Shelley did a little bit of that with me. And I confirmed your vision. I affirmed where God was taking the church. I affirmed that what you had stated with Amy the week before I was fully behind. So people could hear that.
Then the third week, the two of us got up and we spent some time in prayer. We answered questions that came in. We told them if they have questions, we will answer them in this.
And then the fourth week, we got all together for one service, we had a vote and it just so happened that three hours after the vote, as I was on a plane to Northern Ireland for a speaking engagement. So that was our process.
What do you remember of that process of how it went for you?
GG: I remember definitely giving the vision Sunday that Amy and I had for the kind of casting what we're looking at, what we're doing. And so much of it was built on community and discipleship.
And so I think it's one of those things for a church that has been around for so long. When you do something, a huge difference, it can either be a failure or it can bring so much excitement to the church. And I think, in this case, it just brought a lot of new excitement and passion. You know, not to say we didn't have that before, but when you've been in church for, you know, 40, 50 years, you just kind of, you're just a church.
You become who you are and you, so this is one of those kinds of redefining moments. And I think people get excited about that. Some people hate change, but I think the majority would get excited about something like that. So I remember giving our vision Sunday. And going through all the stuff with you and then the vote.
I remember the vote really clear, cause I didn't know for sure then I'd hoped, you know, but, but yeah, it was a big, big Sunday.
KV: I mean, while we're on that, just slightly aside from this, but I think it's an important aspect of it is the week we are recording this, it happens to be the week that we're also celebrating our church's 60th anniversary.
And a part of what we did in the four weeks transition was we talked about the foundation of the church where we'd been. What the goal of the church was and how this was going to lead us into the future. And it was fascinating to me to watch right after a weekend, which we celebrated looking back 25 years to Shelly's and my tenure here that immediately, the next week we cast a really, really big vision for coming up and that it was absolutely overwhelmingly accepted.
I always give this picture when I'm teaching at conferences, there's a reason why your rearview mirror in your car is eight inches wide and your windshield is six feet wide. Because that's about the percentage that we should be looking forward and looking backward. So even this week, we're going to be looking in the rearview for a little bit to celebrate the past, because it's important to do that as part of honor, that to do that you are especially adept at doing that.
Always with the idea that it's a quick glance because we got stuff ahead of us to do. You, you, and I have both heard it. We've been in churches or in conferences where people, oh, the best days are ahead and we're sitting in the audience going. I'm not seeing any evidence of that. They're just saying the words. But we are, that is in fact what happened then and what's happening now.
What do you think I'm going to throw this out as a little additional thing. What are some of the contributing factors you think that has allowed us at the 60th year and after 25 years, after 29 years now, you, you, and I working together to continue to have this forward-looking thing? While still honoring the past, but that we're all about where we're going next.
GG: Yeah, I think it's kind of just always been my way of doing things. In youth ministry, you know, we would reevaluate our youth ministry every year. And we would at times probably every few years, just relaunch as an entirely new youth ministry. With new ways of doing things, new ideas, new teams, and, and just kind of get that excitement level.
One, it just got everyone excited. Two, it kind of forced us not to just stay in the same place, same thing, type of mentality. And, and I've taken that for sure, into what we're doing in Cornerstone is I just really feel like there's going to be these moments where we're kind of going to go to the next level. And I don't mean just numerical growth.
I think some of that could happen, but I'm more so just in the spiritual growth of what we're trying to do and how we're trying to do it. You know, taking a lot of chances when it comes to staff and building a bigger staff than our church has ever had before. I think in the history of the church is the biggest staff we've had.
You know, some of the majority of them were part-timers. A lot of them are young. But just feeling like, okay, there's something more to this and it's going to take more of us to do it. In almost the prepare the nets mentality. And so I think a lot of it is just wanting to constantly see what God has next for us and not get comfortable.
Cause it's easy, you know. Any of us in ministry, you know, it's easy to get comfortable and get to a place where like our, you know, money is good. Numbers are good. Let's just coast. And, and I guess that's just never been my mentality. As always wanting to, to push forward and see what else God has and, and not just be stuck in the same place as far as what we're doing, you know?
And I think it's kind of helped me, with being in one place for so long. Cause I just said, you know, I don't want to stay in the same place for so long. I've been in the same place for so long was because I've had the opportunity, both in youth and in the church, to push forward and, and not be stuck in, in a certain way. But try new things and, and bring in new people and do things differently than maybe even other youth ministries. And I think that's really helped.
KV: Yeah. I mean, the podcasts we're doing this month are about both extended stays and transitions. And how important they are to tie them together. I think people see them as two different things, but in fact, each supports the other, if they're doing well. We have been able to think creatively. We have been able to make this unheard-of transition. Because of the stability of the team and the extended time we've been there.
So it gives us a foundation to build on. We can experiment with stuff because, with our extended stay, there's a trust built-in with people. It was, I almost forgot about this because when we presented it to the board and then the staff and then the congregation, everybody was great with it. But the moment we put it out into the world, I wrote a couple of articles about it, put it on Facebook. Anybody who didn't know either of us, their instant response was, oh no, this is a disaster. Don't do this. This is terrible. I've seen this before. It's a train wreck waiting to happen. But anybody who knew either of us and especially anybody who knew both of us and knew Cornerstone was like, yeah, no problem.
Because cause the Lord has helped us to be able to build this, this thing where we were able to do it. But so, no, it's not for everybody. If you haven't built the one relational foundation or two, the structure around it, this is really a difficult thing to do. It wasn't it took a lot of work for us, but it wasn't difficult. There was no point where it's like, oh, this is so hard. I don't know if we can pull it off. It's a lot of work. Yeah. We got to figure it out, but it was, there was always a sense of forward motion. There was never a sense of, we're not going to be able to do this. We just had to put in the work to get it done because we'd spent so many years laying a proper foundation, relationally and structurally for it. I think so. Okay.
So that gives us the transition. The transition has taken place and now. How has it been working since let's talk about, for both of us, what it's like to have the switch of roles like this, where I was the guy in charge and you worked for me and now you're the guy in charge and I work for you. How has that transition felt to you? And then we'll bounce back and forth how it feels to me as well?
GG: Yeah, I think it was one of those things at first it was just really feeling it out and, you know, kind of trying to discover it and understand it and not push necessarily. But the longer we got into it, the more comfortable it became. The more comfortable you and Shelley both made it for us to be able to lead.
And I always felt like, I know, I felt like instantly you kind of came in and just kind of supported me in the sense of, just kind of stepped into your new role. And I never felt like I had to like there was a battle to fight or you were, you know, kind of going behind me. I mean, none of those things ever even existed in this transition, it was just a lot of support and getting there.
So I think why I wanted to still honor you and, and there's been that, you know, for 25 years there's been this lead pastor role in my life. So still seeing you as one of my pastors, but then also being able to, to lead and, and not be afraid to lead. And so it didn't take long before I got real comfortable real quick. But so much of that was because of how you and Shelley handled the entire transition.
KV: Yes. And some of it was we, we immediately, I mean, we got out of the country that just happened to be our travel schedule. But even if it hadn't been, we'd have, our plan was to just simply not physically be around for a few months. So that there wasn't going to even be a temptation of somebody to come in and go, Hey, how are you doing this? Or how are you happy with this? Or I'm not sure about this.
It was yours. It was just yours for a few months. And then even when we came back, even in staff meetings, I was just, I was not going to say anything unless asked, because I didn't want in any way to appear, like I was trying to jump into correct things. Or even by simply offering my opinion. Even when we go around the table and praise the staff, I don't even offer the prayer because I want this to happen with the new staff. I want to be there to support, to do whatever needs to take place. And then COVID.
So you were just, you were just both of us. I think we're both just beginning to feel like, okay, we understand how this feels. It's good. And then everything got locked down. You know, you've got the handoff zone in a relay race, right? Where your hand off the baton, which we physically handed the Baton off to you guys. I think it happened about as early in the transition zone as it could possibly be. Like it wasn't mid, late. It was like really? Already? And oh yeah, I guess it does work now, but we're barely over the line, which I think is best because then you've got the whole transition on the zone to figure that out.
So we made the transition. It wasn't as hard for me because I'm busy. I got, I'm writing. I'm traveling. I'm speaking. I got all this other stuff. So a lot of people in my position, once they're not the lead pastor anymore, they don't have any outlet for all their ministry stuff too.
I've got still an outlet here. I'm still overseeing the preschool and still overseeing the seniors and the men and teaching occasionally and so on. Plus, I've got all this other stuff. I'm plenty busy. So that's part of the transition that made it easier for me.
So I'm getting used to that. And I've got this pattern of I'm gone a third sometimes to half of the time. I'm there for the other time. When I come back, I don't have the whole weight of all of the lead pastor stuff on me, which was really made coming home easier for me, because I could come in, I could walk up to you and go, Hey, what do I need to do? Do you know? And I'm assisting. When the pandemic hit and all of a sudden I wasn't traveling. And I was at home entirely for 18 months.
The first six to nine months just simply being locked down was a challenge. Anyway, we all went through. But that actually emotionally was unquestionably the hardest time for me since the transition, because I wasn't as busy anymore. I didn't have all these other places to go. I was there every single Sunday, not in that position anymore.
And so I didn't regret it at all. I never felt a need to push back on it at all. It just simply was. Week after week after week of being more passive and more an observer and a participant than the leader, that that was when it hit me. So for most pastors who make the transition, if they stick around to be a teaching pastor, that's going to hit them like week one after the transition, I at least had a year and a half or more of keeping busy before that hit.
But that was a real challenge for me. And let's go into this. There was a point when you made a decision in the middle of a pandemic. And we won't even go over what it is because it's not about the, it's not about the thing. And I disagreed with you and I came to you and said, I can't do that. And you were gracious about it and do you do this instead. But after I did it, I came to you and said, I was still figuring it out. And you and I walked through it, we were fine with it.
And then I came to you and I said, you know what? I was wrong. I should not have disagreed with you on that. My head was in a different headspace. I wasn't doing it to push back at you. I'm just getting used to being in this new position. What I discovered through that was this; you, and I aren't big on using language like the anointing or whatever. We don't disagree with it. It's just not the kind of language we use. So because of that, I didn't really take seriously the idea that when you are in that position and you are called to be in the position that I was in, and now you are in, there was an anointing that comes along with the calling for lack of a better term.
And I have now noticed in the last year and a half, what it's like to be around and watch someone who now has that anointing that goes with that calling. And not having that anointing anymore. I've watched you make decisions because one, you've got more information than I do now because it all flows through you and it doesn't flow through me. And secondly, you are called by God to do it. And thirdly, you are anointed and equipped by God to do it.
And there are times you've made decisions and I haven't disagreed with them just the one time. I haven't disagreed with them, but I've got, I don't get it. And Shelley will even go why is he doing that? And I go, I don't know. And I'm not mad. I just don't know. It's ignorance. It's not disagreement. And then I watch it play out and I go, oh, this is the Lord doing that. And he's using Gary to do it just like before. I would make a decision many times where you'd go, I don't get why, but he's the pastor. So I'm going to do it.
I had the one glitch where, where I, I couldn't, I couldn't make the shift in my gear. Would you never, you never had that glitch with me. You are always whatever the pastor says goes, and maybe that's because you had never been in the lead. And so you weren't making a shift. It was your lane already. And it was, I, it was a lane shift for me that I had to make. So I, I don't even know how to lead into a question with that necessarily but have you sensed maybe something like, yeah, the Lord is speaking to me in a way now about this, that he never spoke to me before, because now I'm in the position.
GG: Yeah, definitely. In the last year and a half in the pandemic, I felt like God had given me a pretty clear vision along the way of what to do. And, and when to toe the line and when to push back on when it came to the lockdown and, and some of those things. And it wasn't easy decisions. Cause there were times when I was going against, I knew people within our congregation and that would not agree with me, but it ultimately fell down to, I really did feel like it was a God thing, not a Gary thing, you know?
Cause I'm a rule follower by nature. I really am. So to get to a place where I'm going to go anti against anything was a big decision. And so it was one of those things where I really felt like, God, I need you to lead the way and make this clear. And, and even if no one wants to follow me, Lord, I pray that if it's really you, that people will get behind me, even if they don't understand it.
And so for me, that was a lot, there was a lot of that in the last year and a half, and even still through some of it. Of just, almost getting to a place where I just need everyone to trust me. You know, we've got this far and I haven't steered us wrong. So just trust me that God is talking to me.
KV: Yeah. It's interesting, you said I'm a rule follower, which I, I agree with you are, but we also talked in the last podcast about how you're very creative. And it's interesting because I think a lot of people in their heads have the idea that if you're going to be creative, that means you're a rule-breaker and you're a Maverick.
No, you can have an understanding of theological orthodoxy and understand that laws are there for a reason. And that there's an order to authority that makes sense, and be still be creative within that. It's not a box that has to restrict you. If you don't allow it to, you can follow the rules. You can be godly. You can follow the chain of authority and still within that be creative. And I think that's an important distinction for a lot of because a lot of people don't see that both of those things can take place at the same time. And in fact, enhance each other.
GG: Yeah. No, definitely. I mean, it's, it's something that can really work if you do it right. And if you let the Lord lead, you know, you're not doing something just to do it or just to make a statement or just to stand out from the crowd, but there's a legitimate, holy spirit lead me.
KV: Yeah. All right. Before we wrap up in a moment here, what would you say? Do you have any thoughts about how you would maybe encourage or caution other pastoral teams who may be hearing this and thinking, I wonder if a switch like this could be made within our context? In most contexts, it's not going to be someone who's been there 25 years taking over like this, but maybe somebody else on the team who's an executive pastor or youth pastor or kid's minister, worship leader, whatever it is been on the team while.
Or you're looking to transition and you wanted to bring somebody in. I think one of the big advantages of what we've done is. Sticking around for me, even if I had been retirement age, especially I'm not, so I haven't retired, I've just transitioned. But if I had been retirement age, I look around and I see a lot of people who hit retirement age as pastors, and they hang on longer than they should simply because there was only one model of transition presented to them.
And that is you leave, you leave the lead pastorate, you leave the church. And if they've been around for a while, like we've been around, not only do they leave their job, but they leave their, their entire spiritual structure. They leave all of their friends. They leave all of these interrelationships that they developed all of these years. They leave the place that they pour all of their heart and passion to.
And now, because you're not the lead pastor anymore, you got to get out of Dodge and you've got to re rebuild all of that stuff. And it's really an unfair thing to demand of every lead pastor. In many situations, maybe most situations, that's required. But it's not the only model. We've proven it's not the only model. There is another model that's better. So any encouragement or cautions at teams that are considering making a transition where they're learning something from how we've done this?
GG: So much of it comes to your personality and your attitude. To me, this is the best model. It makes way more sense than just a pastor leaving, being gone and, you know, the, the herd having to just get used to a whole new Shepard. And not have any relationship or knowledge or, and especially within our denomination, you know, for so long, it was just if a lead pastor quit, everybody resigned. And to me, what a backwards way of doing it.
You know, that was, and I'm not wanting to bash on the past, but that is just crazy to me that that was the norm when you have pastors, you know. And I think that's the one thing is that lead pastors have to realize, like, I look at my staff of, of, you know, from youth to creative, to teaching, to junior high and they're their pastoral, their pastors where I'm concerned. And, and, you know, are you building pastors in your church? Are you building, do you have an exit strategy, you know, and when it comes to it to, to protect what you've built and to honor what you've built, but also to give it away. In a way that is going to continue to have life.
I mean, how many lead pastors do we know that leave in the churches falls apart because it was built around them. You always allow the church to be built around our team and, and, you know, we had input. We could give ideas. We're a part of things. You know, I preached on Sunday mornings, even as a young youth pastor, you would do me because it really built that up.
And so I think a lead pastor for one has to have an exit strategy. They should have someone behind them that they're building up, that that could take their position and, and lead their position. Especially if they want to be able to stick around, then you do it in a way that you can. And, and so it takes the lead pastor having that willingness to find someone and to train them and build them up and then pass it off and not try to keep your hands in everything.
And it takes a, a, someone who is desiring that to have the personality and have the confidence, I should say, to, to the, where the former lead pastor can still be around. And you can, you can handle that and deal with that and honor that and respect that. And not be afraid to say, "Hey, what would you do in this situation?"
And not live in like, I have to be the guy. I have to be, you know, I prefer to preach twice a month and then have other people on the pulpit from the, for the other two, because I don't need to be the man. I'm comfortable in my own skin. So, you know, it's not an easy thing. Not everybody could do it. I would say more, more would not be able to do it. But if it is something you're looking to do, man, it takes a lot of just being again, comfortable in your own skin, confidence in each other, having a friendship and a willingness to step back and, and a willingness to step up.
KV: Yeah, and I think for people who are in my position and we're looking at stepping aside and wanting to stay one of the keys to it is you have to be not just willing to, but be a champion of the change that happens. There have been very, very few of people coming to me and going, why is Pastor Gary doing it this way. But there've been a couple of times, just very minor. I don't understand this and they come to me. And my, my response is why. Well, basically they're coming to me, kind of protecting me. He's changing it so much from the way you did it.
My response was always, well, why would we have changed pastors if we weren't going to change things? That's the point of this. I'm not upset by the change. This is the reason we made the change so that things could be done differently. If we were going to keep doing it the same. Then we wouldn't have needed to go through all of this hassle of a pastoral transition. Change is the point here. And to watch it happen. And especially in this last year and a half to watch you and Amy step into situations that nobody could have planned for thought about prepared for understood and to watch you do.
I, I, this is the term I use with others. You've done a masterful job of this. You and Amy, both and the team. And to see how it's happened and to continually be in prayer for you as you bear the burden that I no longer have to bear in this. I hope, you know, bear it along with you. But it's not my primary burden to bear anymore.
To watch you not just bear it well, but to walk a congregation through a very scary time, that's still not over. And to do it in a way where at this point, I think by every measurable thing and immeasurable thing, our church is stronger and better now than it was 18 months ago before the pandemic hit.
I don't see an area where we are not. Where we aren't stronger, let alone, not let alone, not seeing an area where we're weaker. I don't see an area where we're the same and where we haven't grown and gotten better and stronger. The Lord's really used that. So as a huge thing, I hope those of you who are listening can, can learn something from that. Take some of that from it. Obviously, some of it is very specific to us and our situation and our personalities, and we acknowledge that, but hopefully there are universal principles you can take from that as well.
And now the lightning round. Four questions, let's see how you do with these ones that everybody else has had to deal with as well. First of all, what are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years? And how have you adapted?
GG: I think for me and both in youth ministry and in just ministry in general, is this real turning back-to-back to theology really. You know, I think in youth ministry, especially in the nineties and even the early two-thousands, it was way hype. And I think we've finally figured out it's gotta be depth over hype. And, and we're seeing that I think within our churches too. Because for a long time, churches were all about the new set or the new lighting or the, and I'm not saying them, that's all, that's great, but it can't take, can't be bigger and more important than depth.
And so everything that we try to do, and I'm trying to look at right now is I still want all those things. I still want things to look good and lighting to be well, but it's gotta be depth over hype. I mean, I'm not getting rid of hype. It's just depth's got to be over it.
KV: In looking at it myself, cause you know, we went through seasons where we based stuff on the latest movie and whatever else. Well, I look away and I cringe about some of that now because that's not how we do it at all, both of us. But I think what happened was it's like when a new tool comes out, it's like [inaudible]. When all the new tools there's like, you want to use it? I was like, when, like when computers first came out and you'd put out a flyer and you'd have seven different fonts on it because you could write and then you realize, wait a minute, two corresponding fonts are way better than seven fonts on it.
Right? You tend to go kind of a little extreme with the tool. So when video screens came in and all of a sudden we can show a movie clip well dude we're going to run with that every single week. Right? And, and so I think what happened for a little while the technology and the tools kind of pushed us to an extreme. And then we realized, but now everybody looks at it and goes, there's nobody going.
Ooh, wow. They were able to show a video, clip, and service. Nobody cares anymore. So I think now we can come back to a better balance of let's just get back to scripture. And if using a video clip helps with that. Great. Let's use it, but that we're not going to let the technology lead anymore. I think we've come back into a better balance on that.
Yeah. Secondly, what free resource, like an app or a website, have you used lately that you'd recommend for small church ministry?
GG: I will continue to, to highlight, download youth ministries as far as things that can give you free stuff. And there's some stuff you can buy, but there's some stuff you can get for free on there that will help you and train you and teach you.
Really kind of guide you through some of the, just, you know, especially for churches that are smaller churches that maybe have a volunteer running youth ministry. Or you know, the lead pastor is doing both and it can set you up in a way that you don't have to work as hard.
KV: Okay. We'll put that in the show notes for you. What's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?
GG: Probably someone said to me once that the shepherd should have the smell of a sheep all over him. And for me, that was a constant reminder of just being with the people. Never being a pastor that's just leading leaders, but he's leading his sheep.
KV: Yeah, I love it.
And then the last one, what's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?
GG: For me, it's still the whole cell phone thing and old people. I love it. Like when they answer their phone, I'll never forget a Christmas Eve service that you were leading. You were leading the Christmas Eve service. And there was a lady in the service that literally answered her phone and said, "Hold on, I'm in church." And had a full-on conversation as she's standing up.
And me and Travis Martin were dying the entire time. We were actually trying to film it because it was so funny and unbelievable to us that people would just answer their phone in the middle of the service.
KV: And me continuing to try to talk like it wasn't happening. And I, I don't know if at some point cause she was walking out. So it was just like a matter of, I got to wait until this is. It was done. I had forgotten about that one. I think I had I intentionally put that out of my memory bank. Thanks for driving that back in again. Alrighty. If anybody wants to get ahold of you, you use particularly still do a lot of advisory stuff. You speak at youth camps and you do a lot of helping and teaching other youth pastors. What's the best way for people to get ahold of you if they want anything?
GG: Probably my Instagram, which is Gary.Daniel.Garcia. And that's the best way to message me. Get ahold of me.
KV: All right. We'll put that in the show notes as well.
Thanks very much.
GG: Thank you.
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