Advance Leadership Podcast

Advance Leadership Podcast | George Bullard

December 30, 2021 SCBaptist Convention Season 2
Advance Leadership Podcast
Advance Leadership Podcast | George Bullard
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

The Advance Leadership Podcast is for leaders by leaders.  Advancing church leaders from all over South Carolina chat about insights and lessons they have learned in leadership that have impacted the advancement of the Great Commission in their context.  This episode features insights from George Bullard, Associational Ministry Strategist for the Columbia Metro Baptist Association about church vision and strategy.

This South Carolina Baptist Convention resource is made possible through the Cooperative Program giving of South Carolina Baptist churches. For more information, visit www.scbaptist.org.

Lee Clamp:

Well, thank you for tuning in to another episode of The Advance Leadership Podcast. We are so excited today to have a living legend among us. The doctor, honorable George Bullard, who has served in ministry, get this now, seven different decade periods. Started in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000, 2010, 2000. Listen, George, we're excited about you being here on the podcast.

George Bullard:

Glad to be here. I appreciate the opportunity.

Lee Clamp:

All right. Now, you got started a long time ago. And so, I'm very interested to hear just your pathway of ministry, where you got your start, and then the progression through those decades.

George Bullard:

Well, I got my start because I grew up in a minister's home and a missionary's home. My father was not only a pastor, he was also a volunteer denominational servant. He was serving on boards and agencies, and then became the association director in Philadelphia for Southern Baptist. And we were planting new churches in Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey when I was a teenager. During college, I did music work in churches. And then in seminary, I was an inner city pastor in Louisville, Kentucky, that we revitalized at that point. The pastor before me, it was about to die, and he stabilized and began a growth. And then I came and we were able to pretty well take off over the next three years during the period of time that I was pastor, and became kind of a model in the area, in terms of what was happening.

            Out of that, the old original Home Mission Board, now NAM, invited me to go back to Baltimore, Maryland, where I'd grown up, and consult with churches in racially, ethnically changing communities in Baltimore and Washington. Did that for a while. Worked in an association in North Carolina. And then went on the staff in the Home Mission Board, working primarily in urban areas of a million or more throughout the United States.

            After about four years of getting on an airplane every other Monday morning and flying somewhere around the country. I came here to South Carolina, as state missions director. And we had a lot of fun here, did a lot of different things. Started about 500 churches in a 15 year period of time. We developed the Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis. And I managed that, so much so that other denominations were coming to us saying, how'd you do that? And so, the state executive sponsored me to go out and consult with denominations and congregations throughout North America, in a three-year phase out process. And we did that. And then after about 20 years of that, I decided it was time to settle down and do something in Columbia where I was living. And so, that's when I became the associational director for the Columbia Metro Baptist Association.

Lee Clamp:

Wow. You went full circle over those decades. And currently, you're serving as associational missionary strategist there at the Columbia Metro. And we're just so encouraged to have you right here, local. And this EKG actually went from a state level in South Carolina and it went national. What was the big defining strategy of that, that just drew people to that initiative?

George Bullard:

What we did with EKG was we turned the state convention on its head, is what we basically talked about rather than trying to get churches to serve us, churches to do our programs, ministries, and activities. We said, no it's about churches. And the vision statement for Empowering Kingdom Growth was empowering congregations to fulfill their vision for kingdom growth. And so we focused all of the programs, ministries, and activities of the state convention staff on how we help congregations go to the next level, how we help them to advance towards what they understand to be God's call upon them. So doing that, making the churches the primary client, was different than the typical state convention national agency that simply promotes programs and projects. We measured success by the qualitative or kingdom progress of churches rather than the success of our programs, ministries and activities.

Lee Clamp:

Right. I really appreciate that leadership vision shift because we're still holding on to that, with the South Carolina Baptist Convention. I mean, we're here to help churches fulfill the great commission. And so, churches are at the front of the vision. And if we can't help serve them, come along beside them, then we're not winning. And so, as we think about helping churches though, I'm just intrigued by this because you've been around a lot of leaders. You've been around leaders, not only in our state, but really our entire nation. And you have this unique ability or context that you've been able to work with leaders outside of our denomination. And because of that, I'm just really interested in this thought. We've talked to leaders around our state, asking them, what's the big problem? And one of the things that keeps surfacing to the forefront, the big problem in advancing, is this idea of leadership. That leadership either accelerates or it hinders the advance. Now you've been working with leaders for a long time. So what are one or two of the deficiencies that you've seen in pastoral leadership or in church leadership in general?

George Bullard:

For both pastors and for the vast majority of congregations, they believe that you call a pastor to bring vision to the church, to help them move forward. And that's a fallacy. Vision does not come from the pastor or doesn't even come through the pastor. Vision is of God. The pastor, you hope, is among the first, if not the very first to realize the vision that God has for a particular church in a particular context, because they do have a key role in being the voice of vision. They are the key vision caster, not the key vision originator. The vision, again, comes from God.

            And so the real deficiency is that pastors buy into what the search committee told them, come bring this new vision. And the search committee was honest because they didn't know anything else. But it really is not what works for churches. It is, once churches are captivated by God's vision, under a good leading pastor who is able to cast that vision and to coalesce the leadership around that particular vision that appears apparent from God. And when that happens, then the congregation can make progress. And the pastor really is geometrically a much better leader than if he said, "I've got a vision. And you all need to follow this."

Lee Clamp:

Hmm. That's great. That's great. Unpacking the idea of vision, vision is this picture of a preferred future. And a lot of times, there's only so many ways to reword the great commission. We've got this vision, actually, that comes from from the Lord. And then we make it contextually fit where we are. But then I sense that there's not just a vision problem, but there's also an execution problem on that vision. So, unpack that. From a deficiency from a leader standpoint and leadership and execution, what do you see as being the hangups or deficiencies in that arena?

George Bullard:

Well, two or three things. And first of all, you stated very correctly, something, as you were introducing this question, which is, there's a key difference between mission, which is our ongoing mission, how we're fulfilling the great commission, the spirit of the great commandment, and the specific or unique vision God has for a particular congregation at a particular time, in a particular context. And so what happens is, sometimes churches want to have a strategy planning or long range planning or some committee about the future, whatever. And they come up with these words. What they have to understand is that vision is not a 15 word or less statement that is crafted in the proverbial smoke-filled backroom of a committee. Vision is a movement of God that is memorable, rather than a statement of humankind that is memorized.

            We cast and cast and cast vision until we are captured by it. Vision is not something we catch. Vision is something by which we are captured, again, coming from God. And then the big mistake that churches make in execution, which is your focus question, is they then do not align what they're doing to fulfill the vision. They still try to do the same old things they were doing, but they just do them harder. They do them with more forcefulness. Maybe they do some innovation in it, but what they have to realize is, the things that fit the vision are the things they need to focus on. The things that do not fit the vision are the things that they have to find a way to get rid off.

            And because so many of our churches in a state like South Carolina have been around a long time. The culture of the congregation gets in the way of the church aligning with the vision. I say, it's really a three-word statement, vision plus intentionality. And you can have great vision, and no intentional action that is sustainable, and your church will go nowhere. But with vision plus intentionality, your church can move towards where God is pulling it.

Lee Clamp:

Oh, that's great. You said so much in that, you're going to have to rewind the podcast right now and actually write down some of those one-liners. I love the caught versus captured mindset of vision. That seemed to grip me when you just said that. Unpack that, vision is not caught, but it's captured. Unpack that again for us.

George Bullard:

Well again, because vision comes from God. God's not writing it in the sky, and you're writing down the words or the vision. God is giving you a spiritually inspiring experience. If you're listening to God, if you're hearing his voice, like John 10:27 says, "My sheep hear my voice." God is imparting to you a vision, if you will listen. And then you need to say, "Well, wow, I get it. This makes sense. This fits who we are. This is exciting. This would take us a place that we've never been before, because I've always been anxious about us trying to get there." But if you simply say, okay, we need a nice vision statement because church ABC down the street has a nice vision statement, or they have this three word mission statement, or something like that. That won't work. It has to capture your full heart, soul, mind, and strength. And not just be a promotional plan for one to three years.

Lee Clamp:

Oh, that's good. So good. So, in thinking about vision, that it comes from God. And thinking about this idea that we would be intentional about the vision that God's placed before us, what's holding us back? What are some major barriers that are holding pastors back from being a better leader?

George Bullard:

Pastors are not necessarily continual learners about the systems of a congregation and how they work. Pastors are passionate about the spiritual call God has given them, yes. They are passionate about preaching and teaching and living out God's word, yes. They are passionate about the pastoral care needs of people, yes. But when it comes to the whole area of leadership, number one, the vast majority were not taught leadership skills in seminary or college or anywhere else. Secondly, they were taught one way. They learned one way to lead, but it doesn't work after about three years. And so, they don't know how to move to the second way and how to move to the third way.

            Third, they don't understand that the issue in the church are the cultural barriers of how you come alongside people and understand why they are a part of this church. And for many of them, it is not necessarily because they're on an exciting, deepening, discipleship journey. It is because I've always been a part of a church. And I've been a part of this church for X number of years. And this is the way we've done things. And that is what gives me stability. The vast majority of lay people are not looking for the new thing that God is in the process of doing. And pastors do not understand organizational transition and change that will bring transformation. It's not something they were taught. It's not something they feel comfortable with. They want to be liked. They are not guaranteed a placement, like you would be if you were a Methodist or something like that. And so they're afraid, sometimes, to lead in a way that raises opposition to a significant level.

Lee Clamp:

Hmm. That's good. So this idea of not being a continual learner, this idea of understanding systems within the church, cultural barriers, and this big idea of [inaudible 00:13:37]. What would you talk to, maybe a younger leader right now, who's a pastor, who's consumed right now with sermon prep, but then he's got two emergencies happening. And then he's got a program that popped up. And then a couple of counseling sessions he didn't know he was going to have. And then his young kids are sick. I mean, you can feel it, feel the weight. And then a pandemic shows up. And then you got to get everything online. And so, a lot of pastors right now are running on adrenaline, just simply because they've been so taxed with this season. But this busy-ness is starting to weigh in. How does that relate and correlate to hearing from God, which is, that's the number one from the vision cast? Any pointers you can give to that young guy out there?

George Bullard:

Well, the basic issue is plan to accomplish more for the kingdom of God, by planning to do less. Do a few things with really great quality and spiritual compassion and commitment. And don't do a whole bunch of things that keep you busy, and that basically just reshuffle the chairs on the Titanic in terms of what's going on. And be sure negotiate that as you go in to a pastoral situation as to what you will give your key time and energy focus to. And then, with your leadership group, work on that issue from day one through every day that you're there, because lay leadership will agree with that as you're coming in and say, "Well, that's great. He really understands whatever." But the masses of the congregation still have certain expectations about the pastor being the hired person to handle evangelism, to handle pastoral care, to handle preaching, to handle this, to handle that. We can keep listing and listing and listing.

            And so we have to do something that changes the expectations, which leads to the corollary. The most important period of time in the life and ministry of the congregation is the period of time between pastors. In fact, there's a book coming out in June that I helped a friend write called, Soaring Between Pastors, and what it is that we need to do during that time. I first learned that from an associational director, Lawrence Childs in Charlotte, North Carolina, back in the late 70s. That was his primary emphasis as a pastor. We have one of our directors in our state that does that extremely well too. And that's Johnny Rambo, in the Lexington Baptist Association.

Lee Clamp:

Yeah. It's wild. Every time you have a pastor shift, it always seems that they pick somebody with the strengths of the previous guy's weakness.

George Bullard:

Right.

Lee Clamp:

Which, a lot of times, will have the weaknesses of the previous guy's strengths.

George Bullard:

Right.

Lee Clamp:

And it's just a pendulum swing back and forth instead of focusing in on a vision, where the church wants to go, what they want to look like, and an opportunity, even during that transition to make some tough calls that would set up the next pastor to really move in the midst of that. That's great stuff. Plan to accomplish more for the kingdom of God, by doing less. I remember when I was a young pastor, I had one of our saintly ladies in my church come up to me. And she said, "Now, you can't do everything here. You can't go to all of the funerals. You can't marry all of the people." And she said, "So, you just need to understand that it's okay to say no." And I said, "Well, thank you so much." And then she leaned in and she said, "Unless I ask you."

George Bullard:

There's always that exception. There always is.

Lee Clamp:

It's just the pull. It's the pull. So, how can a pastor sharpen his skills? What thoughts would you give that pastor who says, "Hey, I've got a vision from the Lord. I want to see us move. I feel stuck where I'm currently at. I'm not getting anywhere with the current leadership." Now, granted, this might all be just within the last month or two. But that pastor wants to sharpen his skills. He wants to know, how can I be a better leader? So, what suggestions would you give him?

George Bullard:

There are several things I've seen over the decades that I think have a real impact on the ability of pastors to continue to increase their capacity to minister effectively. And one of them is that, there are several areas of the country where there are what are known as young leader programs. And these are programs for pastors who have been in their first church as a pastor for three to five, at the most, seven years. And they now know the questions to ask. And these processes have been one to three year processes for these pastors. They do it in a cohort group. And it really helps them to accelerate. The person that I saw do it the most is the person, unfortunately, who recently died. And that was Robert Dale, Bob Dale, in Virginia. And he had a phenomenal program going there for many years in Virginia. And they're continuing it now in terms of helping that.

            The second thing is, I urge pastors to look at the pattern of Leviticus 25, 1 through 12. And that's the pattern of six seasons of planting and cultivating, growing and harvesting. And then a seventh year of a sabbatical. And then after seven seven's, the 50th year is a year of Jubilee. I think pastors need to look at their ministry in six to seven year cycles. And to realize that, that seventh year, they really are going, and the church is going, to need for them to rethink how they're doing ministry. And the church is going to need to rethink how to do ministry.

            One of the whole issues of how much emphasis and effort we're having to put into revitalization of churches now, and pastors who are there, many are burning out because of how tough it is, is that we don't teach brand new churches, when we launch them, that seven year pattern. If we would teach churches the pattern of Leviticus 25, 1 through 12, and pastors that pattern, and then seriously empower it or resource it. Then, if you're looking for long-term solutions, as opposed to short-term gains, I got to have gains in the next one to three years, but if you're looking long-term of a generation from now, what will the health of our pastors and churches be? Then that's a pattern that has a lot of value.

Lee Clamp:

That's so good, so rich. That six seasons, and then that seventh year sabbatical could even be carried into the annual rhythm as well, because a lot of times, a pastor will turn around and he's preached 52 times in a row. And in the midst of that, he took three vacations maybe. But it wasn't a vacation because he was thinking about that next Sunday. That idea of maybe even some series where it's six weeks of a series with a Sunday off, because there are some people inside the church that could actually preach. You know what I mean?

            And I remember when our pastor, I was a youth pastor one time, and he went and had surgery and he said, "I should be okay on Sunday." I think he was having his gallbladder removed or something. Or maybe his neck was being operated on. And he said, "I should be okay on Sunday. I'll just need to prop up on a stool." And I just looked at him, as a youth pastor. And I'd earned my stripes. This is like year three. Because if he had had me preach on a year one, it'd have been awful. And it was really bad on year three. But I looked at him and I said, I have to be really bad for you to prop up on medication and give a sermon instead of just resting for a day.

            I've heard some leaders say that year 7 to 15 of a pastors tenure could be the richest years of the entire ministry because he's earned the right to be heard, and he can actually make movement and trust. And I just wonder, sometimes pastors jump ship year six, before they even hit the richest years of their ministry. And so, that's encouraging to think through. So just any final thoughts, leaders out there listening in today, pastors that want to make a difference, they want to advance. Any final thoughts of encouragement or challenge?

George Bullard:

Pastors always say, to understand, and we all need to be reminded of this every day. It's not about us. It's about God. And secondly, we're not even number two. Number two is the people God has called us to serve. And we're not even number three. Number three is really an umbrella over one and two even, it's your family. And number four is, it's how am I fulfilling God's call in my ministry? In other words, you got to start with God. You got to start with the people that you're called to serve. You've got to enfold into it the family that you're responsible for, because you have to be a good illustration. But when you think about the success of yourself as a pastor, or church staff person, that needs to be down the list.

            And I love the thing that Bob Buford, from Leadership Network, that started the whole halftime movement, the Leadership Network Movement, when he was mentored into it by Peter Drucker. Peter Drucker said, "Bob, you've been successful as a cable TV executive. Now you need to be significant in your Christian role and responsibility." And then finally, later on, a spiritual advisor said to him, "Bob, you will arrive when you totally surrender to what God is doing."

            So we need more pastors who have surrendered to what God is doing in and through them, and is taking care of themselves spiritually and culturally and family, relationship and congregation and that kind of thing. But they really are deeply committed to the great commission, the spirit of the great commandment. They are not burning themselves out because they feel like they got to do more to make it happen. They are really taking a look at the few things that make a significant difference in the lives of people and their relationship to God, through Jesus Christ.

Lee Clamp:

That's so good, George, thanks so much for being with us today.

George Bullard:

You're welcome.

Lee Clamp:

Okay. We have exposed the wizard behind the curtain. With so much movement, not only in our state, but also in our country. And I just wanted to thank you for just decades of ministry, for sticking it out, and for not slowing down, for continuing to be a learner. And looking forward to seeing what God will do through you in the future. So until every life is saturated and transformed by the hope of the gospel, accelerate the advance.

 

Start in Ministry
Empowering Kingdom Growth Initiative
Common Deficiencies in Church Leadership
Aligning with God's Vision
Accomplishing More by Planning to Do Less
For the Pastor Who Feels Stuck
Encouragement and Challenge