Podcast Episode 36, 43 min
Why Proximity and Longevity Matter in Pastoral Ministry, with Alan Briggs (Ep 36)
Karl interviews Alan Briggs, a pastor, the author of Staying is the New Going, the host of the Right Side Up Leadership podcast and StayForth.com.

Karl Vaters: Hi, I'm Karl Vaters and I'm a small church pastor, and welcome to Can This Work in the Small Church. My guest is Alan Briggs. Alan is a pastor in Colorado Springs. He's the author of “Staying Is the New Going.” He's the host of the Right Side Up Leadership Podcast and has tons of resources available stayforth.com. In this conversation, Alan and I talk about why geography matters in church leadership. Especially in an increasingly mobile and increasingly electronic world, staying planted where God put you is more important than ever for effective incarnational ministry.

And don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question: Can this work in a small church.

Well, Alan, it’s good to have you with us today. Welcome to the podcast.

Alan Briggs: Great to be here. Love what you're up to, Karl.

Karl Vaters: Thanks, and you as well. I got your book, “Staying is the New Going,” and you know how every pastor has that stack of books that they're gonna get to one day and after a while you don't even remember where you got the book.

Alan Briggs: Yep. You've actually had it since 2017 and you just never got around to it until last week.

Karl Vaters: It's been around a while and I probably did get it as soon as it came out, and I don't even know if it was given to me at a conference or if I saw it online and thought, that's cool, and I bought it myself. Doesn't matter.

Alan Briggs: Here we are right now.

Karl Vaters: But just a few months ago, yeah, I was going through that stack as I do every once in a while and go, Okay, I need to get to that one because it's been staring at me for a while, and I'm glad that I did because there's so much in it that's so important. And as I've been talking with pastors over the last few years especially, the whole idea of the value of staying, the value of the long term pastorate has become a real theme that I keep coming back to and that I see the importance of. So let's start with that, the whole idea of staying is the new going.

What got you interested in this subject matter? Cuz you’ve gotta really have a passion for something in order to actually put in the time to write a book about it. So where did that come?

Alan Briggs: All right, let me let you into my world. Like right now, this moment, I've been with a pastor who has come into my context, has spent three days with me. Kind of a coaching intensive, but it's in my city and it feels really different, Karl, than when it's somewhere else. Because he's meeting my friends, he's in the topography of my life. I have to leave for four hours to pick up kids, to get dinner ready, to do all the things we have to do at home, and that's my life. And he comes into my life and it's a completely different texture on that. And we get to tell the story of, for the last dozen years, we've made a commitment with about a dozen leaders to be able to make this shift. So now we have fruit that we didn't even have when I was writing that book. We had a story and now we've seen things really mature and it's like we've said, Hey, you saw little blossoms, then they were apples, and now here's the cider. How cool is this that we get to taste and see what God has done over this time? And so I can honestly say that a lot of those stories have matured. Since then we've buried people, and since then I've done funerals. We've waved to people on the curb, sadly, as they cashed out on their homes and moved to the Midwest. No harm, no foul, but just the loss of that, the pain, the sting, and then of course the joy, the maturity in that. Some of the people I write about in that, we've deepened friendship, we've become deeper ministry partners since then. And really what got me into it was conviction, and was a moment with God standing on top of my city, looking over a very divided city.

I live in Colorado Springs and it's beautiful. The reality is we had a lot of ugly underpinnings underneath it. And to say both of those God knows about, both of those are here and are true and are realities, and we just saw a grave difference in the people that were coming for vacation and the people that truly were pilgrims versus tourists. To become a pilgrim is to say, I'm not enamored maybe anymore by this, I don't have a vacation relationship with the city. It isn't perfect, but it's beautiful, t's worth investing in, and I had to see it as the relationship with the city, instead of thinking about where we were gonna head off next, where the wheels were already spinning someplace that's cooler, someplace that seems, I don't know, better for our family or whatever the thing is. We had to say, maybe just maybe God wants to do it right underneath the surface, right here, right now. And man, it's been beautiful.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. Geography really does matter, doesn't it?

Alan Briggs: Huge.

Karl Vaters: ‘Cause we're in an era now, obviously, You and I aren't physically close to each other, we're doing this on the internet and I'm grateful for all of that. But I think because we can now do this without being geographically close, I think we need to be more purposeful about ministering to those who are geographically close to us because it's so easy to forget about the geography, isn’t it?

Alan Briggs: Yes. I think it became more important during COVID. So it's interesting. There was a resurgence of this book during COVID, and I thought it was incredibly timeless and timely, and then it became more timely during COVID as we're literally in proximity, and I'm wondering if some of my neighbors had died. Like, are they alive? No one is coming in and out of this home, like, how are they getting groceries. And then they come out, it's like, Oh, they're still alive. Our proximity became more important to us. We had to go in on foot, at least for seasons of quarantine and whatnot. Over the last two years, Karl - I'm actually in downtown, we have a hub space. I'm in proximity with the business community in this season, proximity with the non-profit community, and we gather, things here in our city. We needed a hub in our city at Stay Forth. But in that season, I needed a hide, out where I literally needed sort of a Zoom portal to the world. It was one mile away from my house and I began to view my neighborhood differently as I would walk each day and see some of the same patterns and go, Man, the outside of their house is a mess, what's going on in their family below that.

Actually, as we're talking about small churches, really cool story unfolding right now. In our city there's a church that actually moved across town to an underserved part of town versus this is the place where everybody goes and if you wanna grow a church you go up here, moved into an existing church building. Smaller church. And that pastor actually moved into my neighborhood. And so we are co-missionaries in the neighborhood and they have moved into the neighborhood because proximity matters to them that much and they've made a choice. Not that it's proximity or growth, but literally proximity to the pain points of needs, the cracks in the city that they feel drawn to, even if they don't grow. And that is a beautiful choice to actually inhabit this part of the city. Of course, it's my part of the city, so I'm really excited that they're moving here as well.

Karl Vaters: Oh, I love that. I want to narrow in on something because you introduce your book with you sitting in a conference and listening to a fellow pastor from Australia who said something quite frankly rude about us Americans, but not inaccurate. He said, No one is more transient than American pastors, like rocks with no moss. Our audience is international, but we're predominantly an American audience cuz we are American so that tends to be who we're talking to. What is it about the American experience that first of all, I believe it's true. What makes that true and where do you think that comes from, and how do we as Americans need to be especially careful about this idea of staying rather than just simply being like rocks skipping across the surface of the water.

Alan Briggs: It's in our bloodstream. We're an entrepreneurial nation, we celebrate the startup. The new, the bigger, the better. We literally… A long time ago, people left another place and didn't stay, to start a new place with better, newer - everything from government - and we celebrate that. And what gets celebrated gets done. And the narrative of Steve Jobs gets celebrated. But you know who we don't celebrate is a small business owner that made payroll last month and paid their people more than they could have, took less profits than they could have. That right there is a local hero, and yet we don’t celebrate that. What gets celebrated gets done. And so actually we have to change the narrative and we have to change the heroes before we can change the storyline.

Karl Vaters: That's huge. Even take a look at American history. The pioneer, even the word pioneer is a fully positive term, but settler is like, eh.

Alan Briggs: Yeah. They settle. Don't settle. Don't settle. Come on, Karl, stop settling.

Karl Vaters: But the point of pioneering is to arrive somewhere, I thought, I guess, right? But you're right, it is a part of our history, part of our psyche, and to a certain degree, understandably so. Innovation is important, getting up there and exploring is important. But I think we’ve swung the pendulum way over to one side, haven't we?

I love another point that you make. Again, fairly early in the book you say, You can't control whether or not you're a native, but you can control whether or not you're a local. I love the phrasing of that and the principle behind that. Walk that through with us for a little bit. What does that mean?

Alan Briggs: The phrase I use is, I got here as fast as I could, to Colorado. And I'm like, Okay, if you're a native, cool, there's like four of you, that's awesome, you're amazing. You have the bumper sticker on your car. But the difference is not whether you were born here, it's actually whether you understand our cultural rhythms or not. There's some mistakes that people make. Even, do you understand what the cultural idols are, if we're gonna go biblical on this. What are the cultural idols of that place, and I believe each region has them. And for us it's experiences. But if you were to, as the pastor, get up in the pulpit and say, Stop going to the mountains for camping, why in the world would you do that. Well, don't be jealous, pastor, that you can't be up in the mountains right now, just go on Friday and Saturday, and then you go, Hey, how amazing is it that we get to be camping in the mountains and that we get to be so close to creation? The example of living into those cultural rhythms or not. It's the, Oh, when the Broncos games are on and the game starts at 11, expect more people in your earlier service, versus I've heard people, like, chastise, like, Here we go, your new idol of the Broncos, which they're not doing well this year, it's not like it's gonna get you much advantage on that. But I think it's living into the rhythms and understanding it, and then you can actually have heart to heart conversations of when a good thing like camping becomes a God thing, i.e. an idol, in our lives. And so I think that's what people are looking for is leading into the rhythms that 90% of the people live here because it's beautiful and we're right next to the mountains, and we love those things. And the people that don't live into those, Karl, I've watched, have exited our city and gone to other places that were probably more kind of agnostic and open places, not biblically, but open maybe to the rhythms or the experiences of a different place. And the more unique the place, the more I think we need to be tuned in to be learners. Every leader is a learner, and I think especially a kingdom leader needs to be.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, and this idea of understanding and living in the cultural rhythms, I think is especially applicable for those of us who are in a small church environment because a big church kind of creates their own culture. They're like a massive planet with their own gravitational pull and they create their own rhythm, they create their own culture, and there are parts of that are good, but there's a whole bunch of that that really isn't because it is disconnected from its community. Even physically where the building… You’ve gotta go through a mile of parking lot to get to the building, nobody's gonna just wander by the front door on a Sunday morning as people are exiting. There's a physical disconnect there. But in a small church, you've really got to understand and connect to the cultural rhythms of a community if you're gonna have any hope of having an impact either in your church or in your community.

In fact, when I talk to small church pastors this is one of the things that I talk to them about. Because from a big church perspective - and it’s not wrong, it's just simply a different size perspective - they create their own culture. But in a small church, What I tell them is that you’ve gotta do three steps. One, you've gotta understand the culture around you. Secondly, you've got to show them what you appreciate about the culture, which is your understand and live within the cultural rhythms. And only then will they give you, and here's the phrase I use, only then will they give you limited permission to participate with them in moving the culture forward. But it's gotta be a dance with the culture and an understanding of it, rather than simply in a disconnected way offering an alternative. Obviously, in the kingdom of God, we offer an alternative culture, but it can't be so ignorantly disconnected from the current culture or it won't have an impact. So what you're talking about is especially applicable to the small church pastors who are listening in to this, because that's gotta be a big part of what we do. We aren't big enough to create our own separate culture and we shouldn't want to.

Alan Briggs: That's right. And a lot of the book, Karl, is actually just our family on mission, and our family saying, You know what, if I'm gonna talk about these things, if I'm gonna preach about these things, if I'm gonna now - most of who I coach are pastors - then I'd really better be living these things out. It wasn't even just a piece of conviction, it moved from conviction to joy and celebration, to say the water's great, come on in. Like I want you to figure this thing out, but you can't cheat off of our paper.

We did Free Coffee Friday, I talk about it in the book. But we also live across from an elementary school, so that means there's a lot of tired parents of young kids, bus drivers who need to stay caffeinated, maybe need to stay safe. They've started early in the morning, many of them at 4:45 or 5. There's sirens going off in the background. We're in the middle of the city of that. So for good or for ill, here we are in the middle of this. That was in our context for Free Coffee Friday there. And we had older neighbors that would then wander out and sort of accidentally mentor, and we had this intergenerational thing going on. But if you just cheat off that paper and say, We're gonna do Free Coffee Friday here, we've already made a mistake. It's based on our neighborhood, what are the gaps, what are the cracks. And for me it was loneliness, for me it was passing people and waving or doing the American head nod, but not actually knowing who they are. They may have deep pain in their lives, they may be an investment banker with a hundred million dollars to give away this next year. I have no idea who they are in reality, but they park in front of my house every single day. And so I think the danger is take this and replant it somewhere else. A palm tree in Colorado, I hate to tell you, it ain't gonna do great. But you know what, they took 'em from California and they sure have worked well in the Phoenix area in the middle of the desert. And so every context is different.

Karl Vaters: We really do have to be students of our context, otherwise we don't have a chance of really reaching it. You use the term faithful presence when you're referring to that, and you break it down in three different ways; you say there are three key aspects to being a faithful presence. Walk us through those cuz I think they were very important the way you laid them out in the book.

Alan Briggs: My mind has radically shifted in the last 15 years of mission on these, Karl. And when we got to the idea of a present, even just that phrase, I'll just say this: The American up into the right side of me doesn't even like that phrase. And yet I use it out loud because I need it. Because I want to say what is right, what is fresh, what is successful, what is working. But even just that phrase is like resistance to our culture. And I think without resistance to our transplanting culture, to even now, houses are expensive and so expensive in Colorado that people are like, You know what, I could cash out and move to the Midwest. And you can, and there's nothing wrong with that, no shame, no guilt, no shade on those folks. But the reality is that we have valuable work to do here, and we would pull these roots out of the ground and our family would have to start over somewhere else. Faithful presence. And so honestly I wrestled to even put that in the book many times because I thought, Man I sort of am held accountable to this.

I had a guy actually call me after the book was published and said jokingly, So you're staying there forever, good luck with that. And it was like, Yeah, that's kind of part of the point is to hold myself accountable that I've written it, that it would be awkward enough that I'd have to explain the story, Why'd you leave? That'd be a bit of a joke, right? This dang guy, why are you guys leaving? And so faithful to me, it's Father, what do you have for us here, hands open. Open my eyes, you find what you're looking for, and I think that's part of faithfulness and just the idea of presence, being fully present.

And even today, I'm holding up my phone and looking at this. I could be around in proximity and not be present. And we do it all the time. We see a room of teenagers especially doing it. And actually frankly, more and more adults, at a restaurant where you look around. They are proximate, but they are not present. And so maybe the opposite would be successful proximity, and in resistance to that would actually be faithful presence. So even the phrase, I just can't get over it, it still challenges me. Some days I wish there would just be an easy switch on that.

I want to turn the question back on you though before I talk into those. Was there one of the three that you felt like was more helpful in those three phases or more disruptive?

Karl Vaters: They're all important. Let me lay out specifically what they are. It's incarnation - that is, being physically there. Secondly, longevity, sticking around for a long time. And then thirdly, trying to find a ground level connection. So I think all three of those are important.

For me, the longevity has become huge recently. We are 30 years and counting in our current church. And as I travel, I've been with a couple denominations recently - and I won't say which ones they are cuz I don't wanna bag on them. But I've been with churches in a couple denominations recently that their ministerial philosophy is to move their pastors around every couple of years. And even when I ask the pastors who have been a part of this denomination their entire lives, been moved around on average every three to five years, when I ask them, Why is that the policy, they shrug their shoulders and shake their heads and go, We don't know why that's the policy. Because pastoral transition is the biggest, regularly occurring threat to the long term health of a congregation. Pastoral transitions are typically either caused by a problem or create a problem. You can point to very few - and I'm blessed to be in a place where that does exist, where five years ago I transitioned out of lead pastor and my youth pastor transitioned into being my lead pastor, and it didn't happen because of a problem and it didn't cause any problems. But that's like one out of a thousand. I've been able to pull off probably the hardest thing I will ever do in pastoral ministry, I have now done. I have handed off a strong church to another person without it creating a problem.

Alan Briggs: Congrats. That's a big deal. We need more of those stories.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. But we do that on a regular basis. So this whole idea of avoiding the constant pastoral transition, which typically keeps churches at a state of uncertainty, and imaturity. So that's the big one for me. What do we gain when we stay? What do we as pastors, and what do the churches, and what do the communities around those churches gain when we stay, and what do we lose when we're constantly on that rotating wheel?

Alan Briggs: And longevity. Longevity is huge. We tend to think about it like, dutifully, I should stay because this is the healthy thing. But reciprocity, I think is there. Like literally, deep in the human psyche is to know and be known, to love and be loved. And people love the image of a pastor, the idea of a pastor, maybe the role of a pastor even. But when we continue to move around or a denomination is sort of setting that person up to not be loved, setting them up to be a character in a play or a caricature, not even a human, that's a problem. How can we give love if we cannot receive it? How can we receive love if we are not there long enough to be known, warts and all? And so unfortunately, I think that model sets people up as the caricature. Even just the informal model of, Yeah, about every five years you're gonna sort of up your game to the next church, the bigger church, the whatever church.

One of the reasons that we're called Stay Forth and our coaching organization, we host experiences, is because those problems, they jump in your suitcase, Karl, and they travel really well with you. I started to see the leaders that would leave every three years and then I'm here and I couldn't even keep up with where they are. And on Facebook they're like, Oh no, now we're here, 12 moves later. I'm exaggerating. But three moves, four moves later, I look and I go, They're still wrestling with the same thing we talked about over coffee, that they refused and thought, No, if I go to the next place, it'll be better, and I'll be better. But go to the next place and it's like, nope, if we can just deal right here with a level of humility in community, then man, we can actually receive that reciprocity from people. So that would be one of the things that I don't want us to forget about.

Karl Vaters: And now a short break to talk about something else. If you like the content you're hearing, here are two things you can do for us: First, forward this podcast to a friend. Second, consider becoming a financial supporter through Patreon, Venmo, or PayPal. Just go to Karlvaters.com/support. For as little as $3 a month, you can help us put these resources into the hands of the ministries that need them the most. Our support link is in the show notes.

It reminds me - I just searched for it and found it here, from your book. This is one of those when I - Oh no, he didn't - when I read it, moments. Page 11 of your book, you said, The draw away from place is largely rooted in consumption and illusion. We consume places and relationships as long as they are good for us, giving us a fuzzy feeling, making us happy, helping us live our dreams. So this idea that we're just jumping from place to place, talk about those two terms. It's rooted in consumption and illusion.

Alan Briggs: Yeah, when I go on vacation, I want it to not rain, I want it to be perfect each day. I want every store to be open, and I want it to be good for me, emphasis on me. I want the best dang four days that I can have in that place, and then I go home and leave a couple bucks behind. But the pilgrim there has to each day wake up and make that a beautiful place. I don't see the work that they went into that, millions of dollars that went into neighborhood restoration, and I am staying in that Airbnb. I just want a cool place that I just clicked on the Airbnb and paid 20 bucks more cuz it looked cooler over here. And again, that's in our bloodstream and is consumerism to pick the best of. And luckily, at no doing of my own, Karl, we were in a place of weakness and we ended up in our neighborhood through a gift of a friend that said, You guys can rent our place for under market value. And we moved into this sort of, I call it the donut. It's not cool enough to be our sort of urban core downtown. It's not nice enough to be way out in the suburbs. It's just kind of 1960s, it just kind of is. And now I absolutely love it and wouldn't really wanna live any other place right now in our life phase than this neighborhood. And yet God chose it for us. And so it was the opposite of consumption. We can have whatever we want. Limitation breeds innovation, and our limits were high and so we had to think differently about our place. And so in the kindness of God, I could not consume the place that we were to live. But if we had unlimited cash, moved into our place, I can tell you we wouldn't have moved into the neighborhood that we had. And in God's kindness, we had many limits on our life. And I think if we could view ourselves in a self-imposed limit, I think that ground level connectedness for us is actually a response to need and a response to, I don't just wanna live in a home, I actually just don't wanna live in a transient place, I wanna live among real people. So that when it hits the fan in my life, we're theirs, we support and we get supported. There's a lot there, but I think that to me is the opposite of consumerist. Now, here's the cool thing, that does make a good place to visit, that does make a beautiful city. But if you just set out to create a beautiful city without the ingredients of love, sacrifice, care, and ultimately living the gospel in place, slowly. St. Teresa of Avila said, Above all, trust the slow work of God.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. I love that.

Alan Briggs: I hate that, but I’ve learned to receive it.

Karl Vaters: Oh, I know, yeah. I love it as a concept, and we've gotta learn to love it as a reality. Absolutely. You use the term that we need to have self-imposed limits, which I really love. So kind of with that idea, for those who are listening right now and who are thinking, You know what, I get it, I understand the value of staying long term, and maybe I've tried to stay long term, but for whatever reason, I haven't been able to. And I'm not talking about those who are required denominationally to leave, that's a separate issue to deal with. But for those who have found themselves being more transient than they want to, do you have any thoughts for those who are looking at it and going, Okay, how do I stay long term, what do I need to do in order to set myself up for success in staying and being incarnational where I am and being a faithful presence where I am. Do you have any pieces of advice for them to start working on to be able to make a success of that?

Alan Briggs: Yeah, Leadership Coach Allen has to come out right now. Values, bottom line. We have to name our values. And if we have these sort of underlying warring values, then they will come out in the midst of light. They'll be squeezed out, right? When life squeezes you like toothpaste, you see what comes out. If we name our values to say - for example, education, I think we have an idolatry of perfection for our kids. They’ve gotta be the best soccer player in the best soccer league, and this thing or that thing. And it's like, my kids are not in the best schools in my city, Karl, not even close. However, if we're talking about education, I will sacrifice education for people education. Diversity and ethnicity is incredibly important to us. Also, socioeconomically, we're on the edge of two different parts of town. That to me is stuff money can't buy. Money can actually buy you the private school up there, and nothing wrong with private schools, or money could buy you a spot in that district over here. But willingly we say that value wins over this value. Is good education bad? Of course not, right?

Another example would be this: Whether it's across town or across somewhere else, what is the good life for us. And defining the good life, naming the good life. For us it’s like we're actually living it now. My kids walk to school, I know my neighbors, we’re living intergenerationally. I've done funerals, memorial services, and I got one coming when every $2 bill from the book passes away. That's a special thing that has taken years to cultivate. And so there's actually a really beautiful spot in our city, next to Wilderness Preserve. And there was about a year or two, Karl, we were dreaming about even looking at homes in that area. It did something to my heart. And the moment that we took it off the table and said, No, what did we do? We painted our house, we started investing where we're at, my yard’s looking a little bit better. Because my heart was divided just 20-25%. And that seed in the back of when we have a little bit more money, then we'll move to this part of town, and just to eliminate it. And so I'd say name your values. Talk about that question with your spouse, what is the good life for us, and actually lay out a plan for that. And then I would say just cut off those areas that are distracting you from actually being fully present or even faithfully present there. Those have been three big ones for us.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. Oh, that's huge, I love that. Before we go into the lightning round, I do wanna talk for a moment about something that I know is important to you and is becoming more and more important in the ministry that we're doing as well. At Stay Forth, you talk a lot about the importance of sabbaticals and you do sabbatical coaching. Why do sabbaticals matter and why is it if and when we do one that we do so in a purposeful way, and what does that look like?

Alan Briggs: In short, it is one of the most disorienting and life-changing decisions that a leader can make, is to do proactively and responsibly walk into a sabbatical. We don't even use the word, take sabbatical, but receive sabbatical. It's one of God's greatest gifts. I personally had a C minus sabbatical and then a C plus sabbatical. Reality is, I did the best I could on my own, I just didn't have a sabbatical coach. I didn't know there was the thing. And so just to say there is a thing called a sabbatical coach, there are people, like a mountain guy that can help lead you up Kilimanjaro, or like a world class peak. You still climb the thing, but there are people going with you, showing you the route, going alongside of you. It is incredibly disorienting in the best of ways, and without a coach, it can be incredibly disorienting in the worst of ways, to simply pull out of doing too much, to suddenly not having any direction for where we're going. It could be a nightmare for you and your church, and it's not leaving, by the way, to go write a book. I've written books; you've written books. That's work, it's just a different kind of work. It's not an academic sabbatical. We're talking about a biblical sabbatical based on this gift that is rest. And it doesn't just mean sitting around in your sweatpants the whole time, but it is truly about rediscovering the rest of God in the rhythms down the line. I'm incredibly passionate about it and I'm watching it change lives as we go. So I think just when responsibly done, planned proactively, walked through with wisdom, we actually find disorientation that leads to a beautiful reorientation for that leader, for their family, and ultimately it's a gift to the church. And elders, staff thank us later.

Karl Vaters: And especially if you're gonna stay long term, you've got to have the ability to run the marathon. You've gotta take those breaks. If we're going from one sprint to the next, that's a totally different thing. But if you're stay for the marathon…

Alan Briggs: The longevity piece. it's huge. To connect sabbatical to longevity, it's a chance to fall in love with your city again. It's just like, my wife and I are going for an anniversary getaway, and each time we get away, we’re like, Yeah, we love each other. Like we actually love each other as husband and wife and friends, not just as cohabitating and leading this family together and bus drivers. We actually love each other and that's what I'm reminded as I have time. I'm like, man, vacation to my own city, and I'm not like doing anything huge. I'm just walking down the block to the coffee shop. Like, I love this place. So I think it's a great point is that if we want to truly have longevity, not just hanging on, but truly replenished, I don't know another way. There's one silver bullet for this in scripture I see, and it's called Sabbath, and it's sustained the Jewish people for thousands of years. We're not paying attention to it, and our mental health is going down the drain because of it.

Karl Vaters: Fully agreed. It is an important part of what you do. It is going to become a huge important part of the next segment of our ministry. So we will revisit this with you at another time and partner with you in this and trying to help people get whatever help they can to do sabbatical, first of all, and secondly, to do it purposefully, which I think is extremely important. But let's get to the lightning round.

Alan Briggs: I'm terrified, man.

Karl Vaters: This first one as you…

Alan Briggs: I’m shaking in my boots, Karl.

Karl Vaters: All right. 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 to it?

Alan Briggs: The rise of coaching due to COVID. We adapted, honestly because we had to. It wasn't this proactive adaptation, it just… Life got complex, leadership got complex, ministry got complex, and we had to grow our team because of this. You really didn't see much coaching outside of the executive field, and in the ministry field leadership coaching was not really seen as a thing. And so we tried to scale that by adding more faithful and effective coaches, and at times pushing people to other networks.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, it's been huge lately and the need for it, I think is more than it ever was. I think back in the day, when I was a kid at least, like geography was automatic relationships were fairly automatic as well, and now neither geographical presence nor relationships are automatic, so we have to be more intentional about it, which means books like “Staying is the New Going” and intentionally having a coach to do what, quite frankly, generations ago was kind of built into the fabric of the way people live our lives. In fact, that's one of the things that I often hear from people my generation or older, is, Eh, everybody gotta have a coach now, we didn't have coach back in the day. You had a coach back in the day, it just wasn’t…

Alan Briggs: He lived next door to you, or he was your uncle, or he was your dad's friend that you called in to help. We've lost community, therefore we've lost mentorship and sages, and so weirdly we have to go and find other sages in other ways. That's a great point, Karl.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. It's what we've always done, but now we gotta be more intentional about it. Love it. Secondly, what free resource, like an app or website, has helped you lately that you would recommend for small church ministry?

Alan Briggs: I'm a huge fan of Calendly, even the free version. Basically, you can send somebody link for scheduling. I think for the small church pastor to hold a boundary to say, Here's when you can schedule a meeting with me, here's when I'm not available, how I'm available, and here's how I'm not available in terms of the methods is a huge boundary setter, big fan of it.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. One of the things that's fascinating to me about it is when somebody sends me a Calendly link, I don't feel that they have been limiting to me, I feel like they've given me choices and options and I appreciate it..

Alan Briggs: Yes. I used to have to exchange six emails with you and, Hey, what about this, what about that, through a friend here or an assistant, Lemme check with my team. And I, a,t the beginning thought, Oh, I'm a prima donna, Karl's gonna hate me because he's like, Oh, what kind of guy has his schedule. And people are like, Thank you for giving me options, my schedule's weird too. So it's like it's actually been the opposite. But for a boundary, the reality is like holding a kid's boundary, cuz no one's gonna pick my kid up from school. They're actually gonna be, like, stuck waiting for dad to not show up, and that ensures that somebody isn't overscheduling my calendar.

Karl Vaters: That’s how we put together our appointment today. We sent you a Calendly link. We use it as well. I love it.

All right, number three, What's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?

Alan Briggs: Early in ministry, somebody said, Get three blocks of your day, morning, afternoon, evening, and don't work all three, and when you do, just be aware of that. I’m telling you, I've been blocking my schedule like that ever since. I don't actually remember who it was that told me, but thank you, Sage, if you're listening, for telling me that. It changed the way I schedule, it changed the way I did teaching prep, it changed the way I said no to people. And ultimately I've been able to give way more because I'm imagining those two blocks and invest way more in my family because of that one little sentence.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, this is something that I had not heard until somebody else mentioned it recently, and I'm glad it's coming up again. So just to walk through, for those who haven't heard it, we're talking about organizing your day in three pieces. For instance, eight to noon, noon to four, four to eight, or whatever. And then at least one of those has to be complete down time. And it can be any one of the three, and obviously somebody else might have a different three, but so that we're not just simply constantly on the clock. You're being proactive about your down time.

Alan Briggs: Yes. All right, give me two minutes here. I know it's lightning round. For me, that has changed in the season. I used to love to sleep in, and before having kids, that was actually a great time. I was like, Oh, that's awesome. A slow morning where you can come in at 11 or 12, and the whole day, I was more relaxed because of that. Now I'm a morning person, I'm coaching people in all three time zones, and so mornings are awesome for me But I finish work at 2:30. And you're like, What in the world? I just moved my day a couple hours earlier. It's awesome. But the most valuable part of my day is literally 3:00 to 7:00 PM. That is when my kids need me the most, they're most available. That's when I can serve my family the most, I get dinner started, all those things, I help with homework. And just in shifting, same philosophy, Karl, different block, I've been able to be more effective in what I do, and I'm able to practically love my family way better than I could before. But it's the same thing at work, we're just moving some Legos around in my schedule.

Karl Vaters: Yeah. Very practical. I love that.

All right, last lightning round question. What's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?

Alan Briggs: Funniest or weirdest thing I've ever seen in church? Oh man, I've seen some weird and awkward stuff, some of them are probably not appropriate. All right, so one thing happened to me, and we'll just say this, and it was awkward on my behalf. I got in the baptismal tub, which was a hot tub, and the governor on the heat was broken. And I swear to you it must have been at like 120. I can handle like 108. And I looked down, it was like burning my leg, like red mark on my leg. Lights come to me. I tried to introduce what this communion thing was… What this baptism thing was, could not even talk. I had to get out of it and I realized we're not gonna scald these people. There's a line of people waiting and I'm like, And back to you, we'll hit this after the sermon. Commence people coming in with the ice and all that. So that was one of those experiences. I think I tried to play it off. I think it did decently actually, but we still laugh about it. And we got the hot tub fixed on that.

The other thing that I just think every time, if you baptize people in waders, like just as a fisherman, first of all, I just think that's one of the funniest things that I might as well put a fly vest on. Secondly, isn't that like cheating? Talk about incarnational ministry. Hey, I'm not even gonna get wet, you're gonna get wet, but I got waders on over here. So sorry if anybody here baptizes in waders, I just have some baggage. It's me; it's not you.

Karl Vaters: Yeah, I mean to me the waiters is even weirder than like we use the horse water tank.

Alan Briggs: Oh, the horse troughs are awesome.

Karl Vaters: The horse trough because it's size and facility and portability and all that. And so you're not in the horse trough with them, but it doesn't feel like you're… The waders feel really weirdly intentional., like I'm not even gonna get this drop on me. I gotta be in there with you, but I'm not really gonna be in there with you.

Alan Briggs: I feel like if we're truly gonna baptize somebody, then hot water, scalding water, cold water, I'm gonna be wet with you. And if I don't walk up to the pulpit with - I don't have hair - but with a little bit of water in my beard, like the job has not fully been done. So I don't know how incarnational that is, but.

Karl Vaters: If you don't feel like a lobster when it's done, you haven't done it right.

Alan Briggs: Amen. Amen.

Karl Vaters: Hey, Alan, how can people find you online if they'd like to follow up on anything we've talked about?

Alan Briggs: Yeah. Stay forth. So don't go forth, stay forth. S-T-A-Y F-O-R-T-H. Instagram and Stayforth.com. And honestly, we have a team of almost 20 coaches and we are here to serve. The cool thing too is we actually have a scholarship fund, we have some generous donors. So the first time people say, We're a small church, we can't afford this or that. We don't start with that, we start with the need. We're here to help, we're here to serve. So would absolutely love to serve leaders. Also, Right Side Up Leadership Podcast. We're talking all about leadership health over there. It's leadership health for people who aren't monastic and aren't the best at just waking up and everyday refreshing your soul. And I just know that it's a struggle for me. I live in the real world, and so we're having real interviews over there, and love to do collaboration as well, between us. We love, love, love small church leaders and just wanna remind you guys, we love you, keep going. You're doing a really hard thing and what you do really, really matters. So please hear that posture from us at Stay Forth. We love you.

Karl Vaters: Thank you, Alan. Very much appreciate your heart on that, and we will plan to be working with you, especially on the rest and sabbatical part of it as we move forward and start collecting as many ideas and resources and people and partners as we possibly can to pull all this together to help as many small church pastors as we can. Love your heart, love what you do, and appreciate your time.

Alan Briggs: Thanks for what you do, Karl. Thanks for being a voice for this.

Karl Vaters: Thank you, Alan. I appreciate it very much.

Karl Vaters: So is staying the new going? Is God more likely calling us to plant ourselves in ministry for the long term rather than jumping from place to place? Yeah, there's no question about it. So much of what we talked about, what Alan is living and writing about, resonates with what I've experienced, both in my own pastorate and in so many conversations I've been having with fellow pastors. So some important takeaways for me include the especially transient nature of American pastors. It's causing more problems than we realize and we need to address this. Secondly, we can choose to be a local even if we aren't a native. In other words, you can't choose where you're born, but you can choose where you stay, and that's so important. I also picked up that the simplicity of being a faithful presence in a community is an often overlooked value. And most of us are overdue for a sabbatical. These sabbaticals matter, but when we finally do one, we need to have a plan.

So can this work in a small church? Can we stay long-term for more effective ministry, if our denominational policies don't require us to move, that is, and the answer, of course, is a huge yes. As we addressed in the interview, long-term pastoral ministry may be even more important for small church ministry effectiveness than it is for our big church friends. People need to know you're genuinely engaged in their lives and in the life of the church and in the life of the community if you're going to have the kind of impact God is calling you to have in a smaller congregation. Especially for small churches, it's essential to understand and live within what Alan called the cultural rhythms of our church and its community. If you'd like to support this ministry with a one-time gift or monthly donation and help put these resources into the hands of ministries that need them the most, check out our support link in the show notes.

Would you like a transcript of this episode? It will be available within a few days of the podcast airdate at christianitytoday.com/Karlvaters. You can find the link in the show notes.

This episode was produced by Veronica Beaver, edited by Phil Vaters. Original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins of jackwilkinsmusic.com. And me, I'm Karl Vaters, and I'm a small church pastor.

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