YDS Transformational Leadership with Mat Hotho
(soft instrumental music) - Welcome to this YDS video series, "Transformational Leadership in a Turbulent Time". An extension of The Transformational Leadership program in Yale Divinity School. Featuring interviews with leaders in church and society, reflecting on their work during this pandemic with an eye to what will change when life gets back to what we will think of as normal. In this program, Mat Hotho, the Director of Worship Technologies at the Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida, talks with M.Div student, Monica Largess, about how a congregation that was already technologically sophisticated has been changed and transformed during this time of being physically apart.
And share some ideas about what's been learned and what will change in the technological ministry of churches after the pandemic ends. For the next video in the series, the Reverend Tyler Sit who started the New City Church in Minneapolis, talks about church planting among younger adults who haven't spent much time in churches. In his conversation with M.Div student, Jonathan Lee, you'll hear about the strategies during and after the pandemic for building a justice focused and inclusive church. The third video in the series, this spring, features YDS alum, Nicole Perone. Recently appointed as a National Coordinator of the esteem program at the Roman Catholic Leadership Roundtable promoting best practices and accountability into a Catholic Church.
Nicole has quickly become a significant leader in the Catholic Church and a trusted voice who envisions the future. Finally, in the fourth video in this series, you'll meet Pastor Gabby Cudjoe Wilkes. A YDS grad and Founding Leader of "Double Love Experience". A worshiping, thinking, loving justice oriented community in Brooklyn and beyond. You'll hear about that dynamic ministry that's been both an in-person worship gathering and a broadcast worship experience.
That both before the pandemic and throughout the last year has drawn lay folks and plenty of clergy from around the country. You'll wanna see why. Then on Sunday, April 11th, the Leadership in a Time of Crisis Series will feature a live conversation with the Reverend Starsky Wilson.
The New President of the Children's Defense Fund in Washington, DC. He'll be in conversation with the Reverend Joanne Jennings, the Director of the YDS Black Church Studies Program. We hope that you'll follow the whole series and that the ideas exchanged will encourage you in your own leadership during this difficult time. Hopefully, the autumn of 2021 will see the return of a live Transformational Leadership program at YDS. Keep an eye on our website for those details.
(soft instrumental music) (Monica giggling) - Welcome to Yale's series, "Transformational Leadership in a Turbulent Time". I'm Monica Largess and I'm here today with Mat Hotho. He is the Director of Worship Technologies at Hyde Park United Methodist Church in Tampa, Florida where he also has worked as the Director of Small Groups.
He has an M.Div from Candler School of Theology, at Emory University. And in 2020, we worked together on a project where he was the Executive Producer of church's podcast, "The Bible Project 2020". He lives in Clearwater, Florida with his family.
His wife Emily is also a UMC Pastor with three sons, Liam, Evan and Jackson. Welcome. Thank you for coming today, Mat.
- Thanks, Monica. It's good to see you again. - Yeah, it's great.
So can you tell our audience a little bit about who you are and what you do at the church? - Yeah, so you gave a great introduction. That pretty much covers most of what I do with the exception of maybe an occasional a bit of Cross Fitting in there occasionally. (Monica giggling) Less so during the pandemic. But yeah, so my job at Hyde Park, is Director of Worship Technology.
Really pre COVID, it was what you would think a Director of Worship Technology would do. I was teaching people to run sound, run lights, capture live stream video for our online audience. I would set up for outside events that we had. - [Monica] Yeah. - I was teaching people to run cables, set up sound systems, troubleshoot sound systems. It was actually really cool.
I had a volunteer team of about 50 people that I was kind of training and learning and we were trying to move towards new things. And then like many of us on March 15th, that was the first Sunday that we went virtual, and my job completely changed. The first two weeks, I thought, "Hey, we can probably just live stream this thing". And so we had cameras set up. Literally at 9:30, we went live, the pastor was on stage.
There was a single vocalist in the room singing traditional. So we had contemporary at 9:30, traditional at 11. And we did that for two weeks.
And then we quickly realized that, "I think we could do more". This was affording us an opportunity to do something more. And my job fundamentally changed after that day because we started producing our services instead of streaming our services. And that's a subtle distinction, but what it meant is, we were basically recording everything ahead of time. The Pastor's sermon, the musical elements, the hosting elements, the prayers, the scriptures.
All that would be recorded ahead of time and then streamed up to the internet and then broadcast at 9:30 and 11 on Sunday mornings. And that's what we're doing today. That's what my job basically consists of today. It's grown quite a bit because we've changed the way we do it. And so we're improving upon it.
We are continually improving our systems and the quality of the content that we put out. And so, yeah, my job has just been really fluid for the last 9, 10 months. Haven't really had much of a vacation. Haven't really had a break. And maybe we can talk about that more when it comes to leadership.
And one thing is weird. I'm just kind of teeing up a few things about leadership that we might get to later, is that the team that I worked with, that team of 50, I haven't seen many of them in the last 10 months, which is kind of sad. My team's changed quite a bit. I'm starting just now 10 to 11 months in, bringing new volunteers on board because it took a while to get the systems worked out. To get everything kinda tweaked that I felt like I could teach somebody the process. We didn't really have a process for a while.
So it was really me and a couple of other staff members working for the first 10 months. Putting this thing together. - Yeah. - So I lost some of that comradery that I had had with lay people but got more of a comradery with some staff. Yeah. - Yeah, yeah. That's an interesting thing when your job description changes so much through a year and it almost is a mismatch of the original idea. Yeah.
- Yeah. Sometimes I'll throw out these little life pro tips. Life pro tips. LPTs right? Life pro tips.
I always keep a copy of my job description on the desktop of my computer and I'm constantly updating it. - Oh. - Because what's interesting about that is, let's say you wanna go talk to your boss about a raise or another leadership opportunity or maybe the organization is sort of changing a little bit and you can sort of have a sheet of paper there that's ready to kind of say, "Hey, here's what I do. How might this fit into our organization"? Or if you're ready to move on to another job opportunity. Your job description is somewhat a resume.
It kind of helps you think through what you would say on a resume or what you would say in a job interview. So, I don't update it weekly. But I would say every six months to a year, I will open that document and go, "What is my actual job right now"? So in fact, that job description before COVID, didn't say Director of Worship Technologies. It now says a Multi-site Director of Production. Because we had opened a second campus after I started my job.
And really my job is more multi-site. Does that mean that I think of myself as a Multi-site Director of Production? Not necessarily. But I think if our organization were to think through the ways they had me leading before COVID, I think that would be a helpful document to talk about with them. - Yeah. - Yeah - Absolutely. Yeah. Thanks for the pro tip.
- Yeah, no problem. I'll through a few of those out. LPTs. (Monica laughing) - Definitely. Thank you. I have so many questions-- - It does weird out your coworkers though when you share your screen in a meeting and they're like, "Why is your job description on your desktop"? (Monica laughing) - That's fair.
Yeah. - Yeah. - I could see that. Yeah. Well being in an M.Div Program, it seems like there's so many things that I love learning in an M.Div Program
that seemed really different from what you're actually doing. Do you feel like your education has helped you do it well? - That's a great question. So, I think the M.Div Program almost makes you think you know too much. (Monica giggling) I came out of seminary feeling I had a lot of the answers to the theological questions that people would ask.
- Yeah. - But I didn't always know how to leverage that knowledge in leadership. And I don't mean leverage it to take advantage of someone. - Sure. - What I mean is, I heard this quote by Jim Collins earlier this week actually.
It was, "Maturing leaders, try to be the dumbest person in the room". - Mmh. - And if you think about it, I definitely came out of seminary, trying to be the smartest person in the room. Right? But I was also trying to be coy about it. I had worked at a large church in Atlanta and they will always tell you, a lot of people will say, "Oh, don't go into a church and say when I used to work here, when I used to work there". - Yeah.
- So I thought, "Yeah, that's good advice". So I would always say, "Well, I've heard that at some churches, they do this". Or, "Someone I used to know, tried this". I was always trying to be the smartest person in the room. I feel like I had all the answers. And I'm working with a growth edge for me.
And this isn't something that we're taught in an M.Div Program necessarily. The fact that you're doing a video podcast on this or a vodcast where they even call these? - A vlog. - A vlog. Yeah. There you go. (Monica laughing) A vlog on this content is huge.
Because I think as MDivs, we don't get enough of this stuff. - Yeah. - When you get in those conversations, you're gonna be tempted to say, "No, I am". And you might be the smartest person in the room. Y'all went to Yale.
So y'all are pretty smart to get into Yale. - I'm smart. (Monica laughing) - Yeah, exactly. But sometimes it helps to not start with that. So by being the dumbest person in the room, what that means is you're gonna ask questions. You're gonna ask clarifying questions.
"What I hear you saying is this. Can you tell me more about why you think that"? That kinda thing. So to your question about what did I learn in an M.Div Program? I don't feel like I learned that in the M.Div Program. If anything, I was really competitive in my M.Div Program. Right? I wanted to be the smartest person.
I wanted to get that hundred and four on the Hebrew exam. I wanted to impress the TA. I wanted to be the research assistant. I wanted to be doing all these cool things. And that's cool if you wanna work in academia for the rest of your life and wrestle with imposter syndrome for the rest of your life.
- Yeah. - Which let's be honest, we all still do. - Yeah. - But in the local church, sometimes I felt like I needed to read up more on leadership. I needed to be actively seeking to lead myself every day and pour leadership resources into myself so that I could be the best leader I could be once I left the M.Div Program. - Yeah. That's helpful.
Yeah. And I think like you said, doing something like this, or internships can be helpful with that too, education wise. - Mmh. - Yeah. But there's nothing like experience.
(Monica giggling) - Yeah. Right. Right. And evaluated experience. - Yeah. Yeah. - Right? It's one thing to have experience. It's another thing to have experience where you're able to sit down with someone and go, "How'd I do"? "How did that come across"? And maybe you might have somebody in your organization or when you get into an organization, that you might trust enough to have conversations like that.
I was telling you Monica, before we started recording that I had a rough week this past week. I made some poor leadership choices. - Yeah.
- And one thing that was hard about going through that, is I made those poor leadership choices late in the week. And so I didn't wanna call the one person on staff that I would evaluate it with over the weekend. I wanted to give her that space.
I wanted to give myself that space. But I'm really looking forward to this week knowing that there's someone on that staff that I can call and say, "Hey, here's the three things that I really messed up last week". (Monica and Mat giggling) "Can we talk about them"? And she uses language like, "Let's have a coaching moment.
Let's really think through this". And so I'm looking forward to kinda leaning into that relationship this week. - Yeah. Yeah. That's so helpful.
So how would you define a leader? - Yeah. So that's a huge kinda question. I think it's so contextual and it's so experiential. I don't think there's one set definition of a leader. I think there's multiple ways that people lead. I guess I can give you qualities of a leader.
- Okay. - I don't know if I can define what leadership is. And maybe that means that I'm not the right guest for this podcast. (Monica and Mat laughing) But I think I could like give qualities of a leader.
I think leaders are introspective. I think they're self-aware. I think they are driven by values and they know those values. - Mmh. Oh yeah. - I think really healthy leaders have a mission statement for themselves.
Right? - Yeah. - They know why they're doing what they do and what drives them to do that. Think about today's MLK Day, right? - Yeah. - Think about a leader like Martin Luther King, right? He had values. He had a cause.
Now, he was also a prophet and an activist and not all leaders are called to be prophets and activists. Some leaders are called to lead their families. Some leaders are called to just lead organizations.
But I think the things that leaders have are those things that I said earlier. They know themselves really well. They're introspective. They have a self mission statements and values and things that drive them towards what they do. - Yeah. - And anybody can be a leader. I think that's the big thing that it took me a long time to learn.
I always thought, "When am I going to become a leader"? Right? "Oh, when I turned 30, I'm going to be a leader". (Monica giggling) Everybody talks about 33 as your Jesus year. Right? - Oh yeah. - When you get to be a leader. But I had in my head, my Dietrich Bonhoeffer year. Because I think he was 33 or 34 when he was killed by the Nazis.
- Yeah. - Or maybe a little bit older. - Yeah. - But he had obviously done amazing things with his life by his late twenties. And I was like, "Oh man, I haven't done that.
I missed it. All right". - Fail. (Monica laughing) - "There was the leadership window and it closed'. Right? - Yeah.
- And I think some of us who are gifted, who are high achievers, we set ourselves up against these paramount figures. And then when we don't meet that, we automatically think that, "Well, it's not gonna happen for us". I think the encouraging word for a lot of us, who are high achievers, who would be in a master's program, who'd wanna lead in the local church, is that you are already a leader. And if you don't believe that, think about the things you do to lead yourself. Right? The self-discipline that you have for yourself.
And that might be a place for you to start working on your leadership is if your self-discipline isn't that good. A mine kinda ebbs and flows. - I could probably track it over the last three to six months, especially during the pandemic. - Yeah. - "How am I doing it leading myself"? Right? - Yeah. - But even if you're not that head leader, that point leader, you can lead from the middle of an organization.
You can lead as a young person. It just takes that self-awareness and that desire to wanna make things better and helping to have conversations around that. - Yeah, definitely. Considering people have master's degrees in leadership.
I think that's a solid answer. What is a leader? (Monica and Mat laughing) - Yeah. - Yeah. So you've touched on this idea a little as you've aged.
- Sure. - We're both in our thirties so we're not old. But as we've aged, I know it's taken awhile for me to see myself as a leader and to understand that leadership is not necessarily the most charismatic person in the room or the most gregarious. - Yeah. - Yeah. Could you talk a little bit about how you view yourself as a leader now? - Yeah, so right now I view myself as a leader in terms of, I feel like I have a very specific set of skills that I control what happens sort of next with the iterations of our online experience at Hyde Park. - Yeah.
- So when I think about ways that we can make it better, oftentimes people are looking to me for the ideas. For, "Okay, what are the next steps we can do? Are we doing the right things? What is the next thing that we can do"? And that doesn't mean that I now have permission to just make those decisions. It more so means that I'm being invited to lead those conversations. - Yeah. - And to speak into those conversations. - Yeah. - Because I sorta have the broadest sorta knowledge around how we do this.
So when I lead them, it's thinking about how we change our services, how we improve them, how we change, how we offer them. There's so much I could get into about kinda just the technology side of doing online church and doing online ministry. - Yeah. - Which may be beyond the scope of this podcast. But I think the other way that I'm starting to lead right now, is something that I did a ton pre-COVID, I love some people call it replacing yourself, mentoring, that kinda thing. So like last night we were doing a video shoot and it was crazy, I didn't touch a single piece of equipment.
There were three people running cameras and a volunteer doing the soundboard recording. And I wrapped cables. I typically did with the grunt work is of just wrapping cables. (Monica giggling) That's what I did last night at a six hour event.
Everything else was covered because I had been kind of teaching people over the last six months, how to run cameras how to frame shots, how to get things in focus how to make motion happen, how to see through a camera. And then this other volunteer was running sound. He used to do live sound and I'd been teaching him how to do studio sound. Where you're basically capturing tracks to mix down later. And he is gotten that down. Right? So that left me to wrap cables.
That's actually is reminding me of my youth director back in middle school and high school. We'd talk about servant leadership and I didn't understand what that meant. I always thought, "Well, I did understand what it meant". He would always be in the kitchen cleaning up after youth group. Right?
He would always be the one cleaning up but he didn't always think about replacing himself. He was always the one still doing the talks and that kinda thing. But when it came to doing things that were messy, he was always the first one to jump in. That task that nobody wanted to do, he was always wanting to jump in and do it. I think what I'm seeing in myself is that as I do this where more discipleship sort of leading, this mentoring sort of leading, I'm finding myself now, "Well, what's left to do"? The stuff that is the lowest thing on the totem pole that helps everybody else succeed. Right?
- Yeah. - And so I find myself in that position, now checking in with people, making sure they're doing what they do. Being a resource for them to help them get better. But it's a really neat place to be. Because if I were to disappear tomorrow, there's a team of four people that could keep those music videos going.
Or even better, Monica, if I were to take a two week vacation, there's a team of four people who could keep that going. - Yeah. You would put somebody-- - That's selfish.
Yeah, exactly. Sometimes when I think about, "Man, do I wanna take a vacation"? Well, nobody knows how to put together the service yet, that actually gets broadcast on Sunday. The full started the service to the end of the service that I built in Adobe. Nobody else has had to do that yet. So one of my next things is, "I gotta teach somebody to do that so that I can take a vacation". (Mat laughing) Yeah. - Definitely.
Oh, I know anecdotally talking to a lot of my classmates, as we have been maybe working part-time at a church or in different internships, we're digital natives. So we're kind of being expected to know how to do technology more than some people with more church experience. More work experience in a full-time position.
And that has been something that's sort of struck an odd chord sometimes is to be the youngest person in the room. And maybe also the most experienced at something like Adobe. Do you have any thoughts on that? - Yeah. Yeah. I do. I do. So I think it is a rub. It's especially a rub for some leaders, who were taught maybe in an old school form of leadership.
That they need to be experts at everything. And I just don't think that's true. And I struggle with this because I don't wanna overstate this point. But I've heard someone say once that, "Your fully executed strengths are worth more to the organization than you're marginally improved weaknesses". - Mmh. - Now, if you are weak in interpersonal relationships, work on that.
That is not an excuse. You know what I mean? - Yeah. Yeah. - That is something that we all have to have a baseline at. You can't be like, "Oh, I'm really good at editing videos but I'm a jerk".
That doesn't work. Right? (Monica laughing) But if I'm really good at editing videos but I can't sing a note to save my life, the last thing I need to be doing, is going to learn to play the piano. I need to be sitting down figuring out how I can streamline what we offer online, how I can edit it better and how I can teach people what I know.
Because for me to take someone who is a really good singer and teach them to do all that stuff, is a waste of both of our times. - Yeah. - Does that make sense? - Yeah. It's okay to have a bit of a lane and stay in it. - I think it's okay to have a bit of a lane. Now you may find that you're in an organization, later on down the road or maybe right now, where the senior leader doesn't look at things that way.
And sometimes you might have to think a little bit differently about it. But yeah, I think if you have a lane, stay in your lane, be humble, right? Be humble about your lane. Don't be like, "Oh, I'm such a good videographer". - Sure. - And help other people identify their lanes. So one thing I always say to our Senior Pastor is, you have the best content in the Tampa Bay area.
And I really believe that. I really believe that he has some of the best preaching in the Tampa Bay area. Especially when compared to some of the non-denominational churches in the Tampa Bay area.
He's got really good preaching. I said, "You master your content and I will get better at capturing that content". - Yeah. - And so if he gets better at what he's good at and I get better at capturing as content, everybody wins. - Yeah.
- But if he were to spend less time prepping a sermon so that he could record himself, we're not gonna be a better organization for that. - Yeah. - Does that, does that make sense? - Yeah. Yeah. We don't have to try to be a jack of all trades. - Yeah. - Yeah.
And I think a lot of people really will find a niche, something that they enjoy doing that they're good at. And it's great to be part of a team where other people enjoy and are good at other things. - Mmh. - Yeah? It seems like you have a good team. It might be helpful for people to know it's a rather large church, right? - Yeah. It's a church that pre-COVID would worship a thousand weekly with probably 3000 members. - Okay.
- So yeah. - And a couple of sites-- - And a staff. Oh yeah. We've got two campuses. One in downtown Tampa and one kind of in a suburban part of Tampa. The weird thing is, the campuses are only two miles away from each other.
Which is weird in a multi-site sort of thing. - Yeah, it's very close. - Multi-site is usually more regional. Yeah. They're a bit more spread out but actually socioeconomically, they're two very different parts of Tampa. - Okay. Oh, I see.
- Than just that two mile change. And we have a staff of about, 30 full-time people and then 50 once you had part-timers on. Very large staff. - Yeah. Yeah. So you have the opportunity. If somebody is in a smaller church, they may have to get in a few more lanes.
(Monica laughing) - Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. - That makes sense. - The other thing I think about this whole way of thinking about lanes or like a jack of all trades, or that kind of thing is, if you're doing something right now as a leader, if you're doing something right now that you're like, "Okay, this isn't my gifting, but it has to get done". This is where that maybe that job description on your desktop comes in handy because you can write that down but you can also asterisk it and say, "I need to find someone I can hand this off to". - Yeah.
- "I need to find someone who needs to be doing this". - Yeah. - There was a period of time last year before COVID, well two years ago before COVID in 2019, where a Director of Communications left. And I ended up running the communications department for a couple of months. And part of that involved doing social media. And social media sucks my soul.
It sucks the life out of me. Coming up with content to put online and pictures and then tracking likes and engagement. So I was doing social media and it was just sucking my soul and it felt like none of it mattered.
And so one of the things I noted was, "Once we get this under control, I've gotta get social media off my plate". And what that meant is, we ended up part time hiring a marketing company. - Yeah. - They came in and basically handled social media for us. But the expense of getting a marketing company in there, was worth the time and energy it was taking me to do something that wasn't in my wheelhouse. - Yeah. - If that makes sense.
So again, sometimes as a leader, that might mean offloading something that isn't in your wheelhouse as well. - Yeah. I think personally, that's been something took me a long time in leadership to understand.
Is just because I don't thrive in a certain area, doesn't mean it's not important to the organization. And I would mix that value up thinking that if I couldn't do it and do it well, then that must mean, I think it's unimportant. - Ah. Yeah.
- Yeah. And so I can see that struggle definitely in my career as well. Yeah. So through COVID, we're hoping to look to the future at the end of this. But can you just give us a little bit of an idea of where leadership has happened for you and for your organization during COVID and how you responded to it? - Yeah, definitely.
So during COVID, when we pivoted online, we made a couple of really big leadership decisions. I think that we're based out of our mission and our values. - Okay.
- So one of our values, and this is more of a cultural value at our church, it's not one of our values that's on our website. I don't think. It's not one of our values on our website. We really believe in equipping lay people. - Yeah.
- So we believe in equipping people to do ministry. So we have a lot of lay leaders in our church. Lay people run a lot of our executive committees. That kind of stuff.
So when we thought about how to do online worship, we realized that we had an opportunity through the wonders of technology, to invite lay people to record themselves in their own homes reading the scripture and the prayer every week. So every week since April, the first Sunday in April, families have been recording themselves at home doing the scripture or the prayer and then sending that to us and it gets included in the service. We kinda clean it up a little bit. But it's been really fun to see these families welcome us into their homes. - Yeah. - And the joy but then also the the blooper Reels that they'll send us sometimes we've kind of took them.
(Monica laughing) But then we kinda amped that up for Advent because typically at Advent, we'd have families like the Advent wreath in the buildings. Right? - Sure. Yeah. - So I brought the Advent wreath to people's homes.
- Oh, yeah. - And and set the Advent wreath up in people's living room with their tree there, with their church keys. It was like, "This is my home and this is my family celebrating Christmas and welcome". And it was just so cool. But that wouldn't have happened, if we didn't have a value of equipping lay people. - Right.
- So that's a place where we led differently. I haven't seen any other churches that are sorta producing at our level, doing stuff like that. I've seen churches that do that via Zoom, where they have like their church meeting as a Zoom meeting. It's a bit smaller and different people do different things.
But I haven't seen churches that actually integrate lay people from their homes in the service themselves. And I would say another way we've led is, we as the worship staff, decided that the best way to do online worship is blended. Once we realized that, we all looked at each other and thought, "Are we alive? Pinch me. Am I dreaming right now"? Because we would never do a blended service in person. Right? You hear about those. If you've taken a worship class in your M.Div Program,
typically they say, "Probably not in blended. Nobody wins in blended". For some reason it is working online.
We're maintaining our engagement. - Mmh. - We're not having to create two separate services each week. Which would be a logistical nightmare. - Mmh.
- And that was a leadership decision. - Yeah. - That was a decision that was leader saying, "Okay, we cannot do what we've always done. We need to come up with a different option". And out of that need to make a difficult decision, leadership was required and leadership shined.
- Yeah. - And so we ended up with a blended service. Which was a option none of us could have seen before COVID. - Yeah. Yeah. And you usually have those services separate on time and not in location. Right?
- Right. - Right. Yeah. Okay. Great. So the reason I know you, is through-- - Yeah. - The Bible Project 2020.
Can you talk a little bit about how and why you as your church started this podcast? - Yeah, definitely. So in early 2019, our Senior Pastor said, "Hey, me and a couple of their clergy are reading through the Bible this year and here's the Bible we're using. And it's having a really big impact on us. I want the church to read through the Bible in 2020. And we all went gulp. (Monica laughing) And he said, "I wanna align everything around this".
And it was like, "Okay". So children and youth started thinking about what their curriculum would look like. - Yeah. - Adult discipleship started thinking about what small groups would look like. We made devotionals, we made study guides, we purchased a bunch of Bibles. Oh, also one of our core practices, is reading scripture without fear or frustration.
- Okay. - So we want our people to learn to read scripture without fear or frustration. That was also an impetus for the Bible project. So we started doing it. And I guess it was in July of 2019, the Senior Pastor comes to me and says, "Hey".
Also, I'm the only non clergy person on our staff with an M.Div. So I'm not ordained. - Oh, I see. Okay. - I'm not ordained but I'm the only non ordained person who actually has a seminary degree.
- Okay. - All the pastors have seminary degrees but the only non clergy person the seminary degree. And everybody just knows I'm kind of a nerd there or at least I kind of was certainly when I first got on the staff.
I was well known from my nerdiness. And he says, "Do you wanna do Wednesday night lectures, every week of 2020 for the Bible project"? And I said, "No. Because I have a young family and I can't give up Wednesday nights for a year". And I thought, "I can't lecture on everything in the Bible. And I don't think that would be as interesting.
I think we might get 75 people the first night but as this would go on, I could see it dropping to a fateful 15". And at that point in my preparing a 30 minute lecture, for 15 people. Now, that's not good.
That's not a value judgment. It's more of just, "Is there a better way to get this content out there"? And I said, "What if we did a podcast"? I'd never done a podcast before, but I'd listened to them. And I thought, "We can expand our audience if we do this". Well, it took off.
We got together a lay team of six people who would lead small groups but we're also kind of interested in Bible study. - Yeah. - Came up with some parameters.
We wanted our episodes to be 15 to 20 minutes long. They ended up being more like 20 to 30 minutes long. Then we came up with a list of scholars that we wanted to ask. - Yeah. - I dug into my connections from my M.Div at Candler and we just found scholars.
And we started doing podcast episodes. And we did 58 podcast episodes in 2020, going through the entire Bible. - Yeah. - And it was really cool to see these lay people, who had never done podcasts, who had never gone to seminary, talking to scholars whose books they'd read in their classes.
Or PhD students who knew a heck of a lot more than they did, but they were able to all find a common ground and then talk about scripture and make it in ways that were enjoyable to listen to. But also helps the lay people who were reading through scripture, understand it a bit more deeply. Understand the key issues. The key critical issues in the text too. And there was a tension the whole time between this is too nerdy and this is too basic. - Mmh.
- And how do we find that in between? But that was attention I was willing to live in. - Yeah. - That was a tension that I think if we had controlled it too much, I think we would have controlled it too far to the basic level. And I think we would have really muted some of our scholars who wanted to talk about more critical issues in the text. So I think our lay people could rise to that level and have that conversation. - Yeah, definitely. Yeah. - Yeah.
- That's wonderful. The project seemed like it was really successful. Did you get a lot of reception or how people received it? - Yeah, so metrics wise or analytics wise, I would say it was pretty successful. We had over to over 200,000 downloads by the end of the year of individual episodes. So that was averaging anywhere from 3,500 to 4,000 downloads per episode.
Which I like to say, that was a broader reach than a Wednesday night lecture series would have gotten. - Yeah. - And it was just really cool to see people tuning in from all over. So I started with my collection of scholars that I knew from Emory and then was branching out. And it was neat as I started to see the sort of the viral spread of it kinda going as people were finding out about it. There was a big hub in Atlanta, then there was a big hub in Minnesota for a little bit, the Northeast.
It was just kinda cool to see it kind of spread out. - Yeah. - So it was fun. It was a really fun project. - It seems like it.
And that has led us in conversation before to an idea of how will leading, especially technology in a church, look different after COVID. There are a lot of things that still seem unknowable about what life will be like once we're mostly vaccinated. But what do you think the church will look like? How will things be different? - Yeah. So, I wanna tie this back to leadership.
I think leadership is also seeing situations that you're not sure you know the answer to, but entering into them anyways and trying to come up with a future and the best future that you can understand in the moment. Leadership isn't necessarily about having certainty, but about having clarity. So here's some of the clarity that I'm getting about kinda what the future might look like for the local church. I think if we can afford to do it, I think we're gonna be content creators and content curators. I think we're gonna have a large online audience. I think every church, whether they wanted to or not, just created online campuses.
Not just online services. But they've actually got online campuses where people are attending from Ohio because they have a granddaughter that lives in Florida who sent them the service. And now they come to the service every single week.
They're a member of the online campus. Right? And when we put content out on our Facebook page, they're always watching it. - Yeah. - So our reach has broadened. Now that doesn't mean that we need to now all of a sudden have an evangelical mindset where we're gonna go proselytize to the world through the internet necessarily.
Now, if that's your mission, if that's how your church is set up, by all means, go do it. And COVID has given you every excuse. Has taken away all your excuses for doing it. Right? - Yeah - We all know it's possible.
But for our church, I think one of the places where we're trying to lead, is creating really good community in the online space. And for us, we're wrestling with, "How do people consume content in the COVID era and beyond"? And what I mean by that is, right now we offer our online service at 9:30 and 11. 9:30 and 11 on Sunday mornings. But spoiler alert, I've got that thing put together and ready to go by end of day on Friday. So there's a service ready to be distributed by end of day on Friday. Now that doesn't mean that we need to distribute it Saturday.
Sunday can still be the day that people do church. I still think that's people's rhythms. - Yeah. - But what if the service became available on demand at 7:00 AM? But then we had watch parties and hosted viewing experiences at 9:30 and 11.
So there could still be a gathered community watching it together at 9:30 and 11. But that family with three young kids, just trying to just get them up and get them breakfast, would have the ability to put that service on in the background at 7:00 AM. - Yeah. - Right?
So they could still be experiencing it. Be a part of it. And there's some people who would say, "Well, yeah but those people are just consuming it. They're not in community".
Well, they're not maybe not in worship communally. But, there are so many other ways to be in community and the local church. And so one of the things we're talking about, is how do we create pop-up small groups that are 15 to 30 minutes long where people can hop on a Zoom call and discuss the worship from that Sunday and the sermon from that Sunday. And it could be Sunday evenings. Maybe later in the evening, once that family with three kids has now put those kids to bed.
If the husband and the wife wanna talk about the sermon but wanna do it with another group of people, they could hop on a small group call at nine o'clock at night. Sounds late. Or 8:30. But once you've got your young ones in bed, you might find that you wanna have a glass of wine and talk to some people from your church about the sermon that week. And you can have pop-ups small groups that happen on Zoom. And that wouldn't be like, "Oh my gosh, I'm in a small group".
That's just an option for someone to connect. And then they could then get into a small group from there. I liken it to what Netflix has done to our culture in a lot of ways. Right?
We've all seen "The Queen's Gambit" or "Bridgerton" and we can talk about it. And we can have really in-depth conversations about it. And we can actually find affinities through what we liked and didn't like about that show.
The next step is, we can get into community groups. Where we actually talk about the content of that show or another show or something like that. But in the church is a bit broader. We're not talking about just serialized series. We're talking about the word of God. - Yeah.
- But I think the word of God can learn a lot from the way that services like Netflix are kind of getting people together talking about similar content. - Right. Right. - So I see new small groups popping up.
I see churches creating all kinds of content like podcasts. Like midweek live videos from the pastor. Taking parts of your service and sort of breaking them up. So you put your sermon out separately. Maybe there's a great piece of music that the choir did.
You put that out separately. All this kind of content for people to consume and share and-- - Talk about. - Yeah and talk about. Yeah. Connect-- - Definitely. Definitely.
That is how I have grown up doing things. - Mmh. - Yeah. I definitely sent my sister a video and we'll chat about it a bit after.
Even if it's not face to face or over something like Zoom. Yeah. This is a great idea. I see a lot of churches doing that.
And it leaves avenues for different types of expression that I think could get left off of a Sunday morning. Like a podcast or like art even that's-- - Right. - Yeah. - Right. - That's really a great way to deliver content. And like you said, curate. We don't necessarily have to be creating all of it.
- Right. - Yeah. You can definitely shine a spotlight on unimportant issues in a different way. - Yeah? - Yeah. - That's a very encouraging way of thinking about technology and how we can approach the future with some confidence in some hope. - Yeah. - Yeah. Yeah.
Someone else said, I'm so sorry, I think this might be my final thought. - Okay. - Someone else said that, "Chaos is what draws out good leaders. Chaos is where leaders kinda rise to the top". - Yeah. - It's just a defining moment for people.
And so I think, this podcast is about leading in turbulent times. We're finding that these times are requiring people to hone their leadership skills. - Yeah. - Not just to have great ideas but to then lead those great ideas into realization. - Yeah. - So how do you take
what you might see as a good preferred future, for your local church or your organization, and then how do you lead that organization towards that preferred future? I guess. - Yeah. Yeah. So ultimately even though we're leading in turbulent times, ultimately still hopeful. - Oh, for sure. Yeah. - Yeah. That's wonderful. Well, thank you Mat, so much for joining us for this series on turbulent times and our leadership in it.
We appreciate the time you took today. - Thanks Monica. It was real fun. It was nice. Thank you. - Yeah. It was great. Thank you.
And thank you for watching our Yale Divinity School series on Leadership in a Turbulent Time. Thank you. (soft instrumental music)