“The Secret Sauce for Effective Leadership”

*Blog based on an interview on LiveTalk with Dwayne Moore with Scot Longyear, Pastor of Maryland Community Church in Maryland, IN

Dwayne Moore:
Thanks, Scot, for being here! Your church has officially been ranked as one of the fastest-growing congregations in the United States. I realize you’re not going to take the credit for that. Rightfully, it’s God doing it. But there’s some things as a leader you’ve obviously being strategic about over the years. I hope you can mention a few of those.

This is a challenging culture we’re now in with COVID. How do you forge ahead in the midst of that and still see a growing congregation?

Scot Longyear:
Hey! Thanks, Dwayne. Always a pleasure to talk to you.

Well, I think on one hand, we’re figuring that out on a new frontier. I think one of the big markers that we’re going to look back on and say, “pre-COVID, post-COVID.” I think it’s a little bit different culture that we’re playing in now. I think it’s changed more than we thought.

But as I look back, we’ve obviously got a strong history since, officially 1925. There have been years that have been phenomenal, and there have been years that have been not. We’ve been up and down. Now, we have been fortunate enough in the past several years to be on a good growth curve. Sometimes, we’re like, “Man, if you’re not growing, then something’s terribly wrong. You’re not successful.”

When I look back on the first church that I served after college and came in, it was a church of about 80 to 100 people, and it may have been the closest church to the Book of Acts that I’ve ever seen. I knew it was never going to be a giant church, but they had a great family atmosphere. They took care of each other. I wasn’t there long-term, but I was there long enough that I didn’t notice the backbiting and all this kind of stuff.

So, now, down the road, a couple few decades later, I’m like, “Wow, there’s probably something to that. I wonder if there were just millions and millions of churches like that, what that would do for the kingdom.” Sometimes, we get knocked a little bit because people are like, “It’s all about numbers, it’s all about numbers.” For us, we say, “You know what? It is about numbers because Jesus counted. He counted the sheep that were lost. He counted the sheep that were found. Every number represents a soul.” So, I will never want to be in a place where I apologize for our size or growth or anything like that.

I think as a leader sometimes you take more credit than you should. This was several years ago, but I turned the corner into our brand-new facility. I was coming into work one day, saw the cross up in front of one of our great facilities. As I did, my mind flashed back to all the years, all the hard work, and I thought, “You know what? I’ve done some hard work for a lot of years. I mean, I did a lot of stuff that a lot of people don’t know, and I made great sacrifices, and I did this.” I just looked and took it all in and was like, “Man, I’ve done good.” Just like that, Dwayne, the Holy Spirit was like, “Oh, is that right? So, if you think this is all about you, if you think your hand brought all this change, then I’m going to start withdrawing mine.”

I was quick to repent, say, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know. I know it is you.”

Dwayne Moore:

Secret Sauce = Relationships

Scot Longyear:
So, the short answer is it is the Lord. But, Dwayne, as I look back on where we’ve been and where we are, I do think that there’s a little bit of a secret sauce, and it’s this. It’s relationship. I feel like it’s relationship in three areas.

Relationship #1: With Jesus Christ

Number one, let me speak to leadership because I believe everything rises and falls on leadership. If you find a great organization, they’ve got great leadership. If you find a struggling organization, they’ve got struggling leadership. So, in terms of leadership, whether it’s worship leadership, children’s, elders, seniors, whatever it is, I think it’s relationship, and I think it’s in three different areas. The first is the area of people’s relationship with Jesus, that it has to be an authentic, genuine, passionate, real relationship that people have with Jesus. Not people that play church. Not people that say the right things, but people who, when you bump into them, they spill out Jesus. That’s the kind of people we’re looking for on our staff. That’s the kind of people we’re looking for in leadership.

“… people who, when you bump into them, they spill out Jesus. That’s the kind of people we’re looking for on our staff. That’s the kind of people we’re looking for in leadership.”

I know we all go through seasons, and you and I, if we shared enough time together, we’d talk about the seasons in our life where we were just struggling with that and pretending a little bit. Saturday night looked a whole lot different than Sunday did. But when you’ve got a group of people who have a genuine relationship with Jesus, it’s how the church, I think, is supposed to work. So, primarily, we look for people that have a personal relationship with Jesus.

Relationship #2: With Each Other

The second relationship is the relationship with each other. Scripture says in the Old Testament that where there’s unity, that the Lord will bless that. He’s going to bless unity. So, we talk among our staff and leadership a ton about unity, and we talk about having relationship with each other. We use phrases like, “keep short accounts with each other.” So, if I’m twisted up with you, Dwayne, you’re on my staff or you’re part of my church, I’m not going to talk to somebody else about you and I’m not going to share a prayer, “Please help me because Dwayne’s driving me crazy. He wouldn’t even…” I’m going to go and I’m going to talk to you. That’s the biblical way to do it, to say, “Hey, man, I think there’s something that’s going on.” Sometimes, we have hard conversations with each other. We’ve got a lot of people on our staff that are thoroughbreds. We bump into each other, and when we do some sparks fly. But here’s what we know, is at the end of the day we genuinely love each other, we genuinely care about each other, and we want to foster relationship.

That doesn’t mean that our staff and our leaders are like, “Can we just go on vacation with everybody? You’re going to be my best friend.” But there’s a relationship that has to happen there. We talk about not writing the narrative of someone, not making false assumptions. We talk about praying with each other, so that’s number two.

Relationship #3: With the Cause

So, number one being a personal relationship with Jesus. Number two being a personal relationship with each other. And number three is this – this is a little bit different – but I think one thing that works and has worked for us is that we have people who have a personal relationship with the cause. Personal relationship with the cause or with the mission. They’re not about personal advancement. They’re not about their name. They are about the cause. So, we define that really well. We’ve got core values and mission statements. For us, our cause is we want to help people take one step closer to Christ. I’m not looking for people who are like, “Well, the church is about helping people take a step closer to Christ, so that’s why I do what I do.” I want people who have a personal relationship with that cause, who say, “This is what I’m about. I’m about helping people take a step closer to Christ.”

So, if those three relationships are intact, I think there’s a whole lot that can be solved because hard things come up. In our congregation – I’m in my 50s now and that’s not the target that we’re going after – there’s stuff around our church that I look at and I’m like, “Man, that’s not my preference. That’s not my style.” But because I have a personal relationship with the cause and I want to see other people take a step closer to Christ, I’m like, “Well, let’s go.” If something else gets out of whack with one of the people that’s around me and on my team, then we’ll talk about that because we have relationships with each other. Then I’m making sure that my quiet time with the Lord’s good, my personal relationship with the Lord is good. So, if there is a secret sauce, I don’t know that that’s all the ingredients, but that might be some of them.

Dwayne Moore:
That is so rich. I’m just digesting that, just thinking, imagining working with a team that really exemplifies all three of those. Not that you wouldn’t have issues, not that you wouldn’t have the hard conversations, but, man, it’d make those conversations… I wouldn’t dread them quite as much if I knew the guy sitting on the other side of the table from me is a friend in a genuine way, even if he’s talking to me. Man, I’ve had some pastors have to have conversations with me about maybe the way I… I remember one time, it’s just something I did on the platform and the pastor said, “Well, you probably don’t need to do that again.” But the way he approached it… and he was right, I didn’t. But he was a friend first, and I appreciated him coming to me as a pastor, as the leader of the same organization getting the same place I’m trying to go. But also, I knew that in his heart he was helping both the organization and me.

Scot Longyear:
Right. It’ll solve a lot of problems.

People will rise to the level of expectation that you have on them. I tell our worship leaders as we’re talking to them, “Don’t complain when your band’s not showing up on time. You got to set the expectation. “This is what we expect.”

Dwayne Moore:
So how does one build a culture like that in a church? Because this church that you’re in now has been there since the 1920s, was it that way from the beginning? Has it always been that way, or is that something you saw build over time?

Scot Longyear:
I would say it wasn’t always. I mean, I think probably in some forms… in some form or another, it was and maybe it ebbed and flowed a little bit. I was privileged to do a succession plan with our previous senior pastor that I served on staff with for several years, and he just did a really great job, led us into some phenomenal places. So, he built this great, great base. I think it’s not something you can change overnight if you’re in a place where it’s like, “Wow, I’ve got this dysfunction, we don’t really have this relationship.” So, a lot of it is expectations. People will rise to the level of expectation that you have on them. I tell our worship leaders as we’re talking to them, “Don’t complain when your band’s not showing up on time. You got to set the expectation. “This is what we expect.” There has to be some accountability with that. We’re very intentional and very open about what we do. For example, we say, “Relationship with each other and unity with each other is paramount,” and if we step out of line on that, then we’re going to talk about that. That means that sometimes there has to be some hard conversations, but they happen in the context of that.

This really is a bigger conversation with culture because you’re setting the culture with your leadership and it has to be intentional. So you have a culture right now at your church, whether you set it or somebody else set it or it was just pushed out like a boat pushed out in the water – which is the most dangerous thing to do – because a culture is going to be set. You as a leader, you’ve got to decide, “Okay, I’m going to set this culture.”

So, one thing we do when we hire on our new staff – and I can say this with staff, we encourage leaders – but I can demand it of staff when I say to them, “You will have a quiet time every morning that you’re on the clock.” It’s not a recommendation. I guess you could say it’s a demand, but it’s part of your job. I tell our people, “Look, I don’t want to be a people that struggle with our quiet time. So, you have the best job in the world because you get paid to spend time with Jesus.”

Dwayne Moore:

Scot Longyear:
What that does then as a leader is when something spins up I can go and say, “Tell me about your quiet time with the Lord.” “Oh, man, I’ve really been missing that.” “Well, okay, two things. One, that’s why we’re having these problems right now. It’s because you’re not as connected to the Lord. And, number two, what you’re telling me is that you’re not doing your job, so maybe you shouldn’t get a paycheck if you’re not doing it.”

We set that. So, I get pretty excited when I walk around our office and there’ll be a door that’s closed, some of them will do it in their offices. One of our staff has a note on her door that says, “I’m having my quiet time with Jesus right now. Feel free to interrupt if you think you’re more important.” So it’s an expectation that we have with each other. I think we explain these to people, but we hold each other accountable and model them.

I also want to be looking at people and see, “How’s your life?” This is not, “Write down the five people that you’ve shared Jesus with.” I’m listening as a leader what’s popping out of people’s mouth because our heart is connected to our mouth, and what’s in our hearts we can spill out and be able to say, “Hey, I want this.” “Is this really your personal mission, or is this just a job? Because if you’re just here for a paycheck, man, it’s not going to be worth it. Ministry is hard, and you’re not in it for a paycheck. I want you to be in it because you’re called to be in it.” So, one thing that we’ve done is we say to people, “We want you to get the music out. We want you to get the music out.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, I think it was, said that the great tragedy of men is that many of them die with the music still in them. So, when I say to our people, “I want you to get the music out,” that means if you’re doing youth ministry and you’re like, “Man, I think I’m coming to the end of my anointing in youth ministry, but I really have this great desire in worship or I really have this great desire here,” we’re going to be like, “Yes, we want to help you get there now.” There may be a place within our organization to do that, or it may be that we’re going to transition you out and you’re going to transition out to another church or another ministry. We’re going to bless you in that because we’re very kingdom-minded, but we want you to have a personal relationship and just be totally fired up with the cause. So, it’s just a continual talking about that and navigating that as we just bump our way through it.

Dwayne Moore:
So, I want to highlight something you said that I think is very important in building culture, is that you continually bring these things up in conversations, you’re listening to what people are saying. But, in some way, it sounds like you’re reminding your team about what the values are. I mean, it’s one thing to hang them on a wall, it’s another thing to model them but also to repeat them, right, and to communicate them over and over. Is that intentional on your part, or does it just kind of happen anyway?

Importance of Core Values

Scot Longyear:
Well, no, we’ve had to get real intentional. It was probably five or six years ago, we felt like we needed to do a little bit of restructuring just in terms of the church overall. So, we took our senior leaders away, and we spent the better part of two and a half days asking, “What’s important to us?” We were coming up with core values. “What is it we really value?” You could list 100 things. We brought a consultant friend in, and he was like, “Okay, you need six,” and we’re like, “That’s impossible,” so we just spent a lot of time wrestling all of those down. Then we lived with those for about five years, and interestingly enough, post-COVID, we came back in and felt like we needed to look at those core values again to see how we’re doing on them and see if we’re missing some or we need to redirect some of it. We did a staff survey, which told us where we were. Facts are your friends, although sometimes the facts didn’t feel like my friends because I was like, “I thought we were doing better in this year.”

We’re very intentional. We have a set of core values and we lay things against those core values. For example, one of our core values is effectiveness, we value results over activity. Our clear mission is to help people take a step closer to Christ. Everything we do, we ask, “Is it effective? Is it helping people take a step closer to Christ?”

There was one point in time that we staffed one of the largest gatherings in our city. I think it was around 15,000 people came into the center of our city for a blues festival. We took all the gates, so you couldn’t get into this blues festival unless you came through one of our team. We would take their money and give them tickets. We didn’t make any money, we just volunteered, and we would just pray for people as they came in. They didn’t know it. We were quiet about it, but we’re praying for people as they came in.

Dwayne Moore:

Scot Longyear:
We did it for about a decade. Everybody who was in there were prayed for, and then they just got completely hammered drunk, but they were prayed for. It was very easy to recruit for. People were like, “We love doing this. This is amazing.” It was a big event that we did. But we finally asked, “Is this effective?” We looked back over a decade, Dwayne, and we were like, “We can tell zero stories of anybody coming to Christ. We can tell zero stories about anybody even taking a step closer to Christ, and so we’re going to not do it because we want to be effective and it’s not effective.” Some people were like, “But it was fun.” It was fun, but fun is not effective. We want to invest everything we do in a place that is going to give us great results.

If they just hang on the wall, if your values only hang on the wall, they’re not really your values.

They’re just a nice poster that you’re hanging up. You’ve got to continually come back to them. You have to explain them. You have to lay everything that you do against them. Then you know it’s part of your culture when you hear your staff ask, “Is that effective?”

Excellence is another one for us. “Is that really excellent? Is that the best that we can do?” As a leader, you’re like, “How am I going to talk about this again?” You have to talk about them because I’m sure as you’ve taught, Dwayne, vision leaks. People forget. We have to continue. About the time that you’re so sick of it, it’s like, “If I talk about this one more time,” it’s about the time that they’re just starting to get it.

Dwayne Moore:
Just starting to get it, yeah.

Scot Longyear:
So you have to continue to come back to it.

Dwayne Moore:
We had the opportunity when I worked with Scott Dawson Association a few years ago of going to Disney but not going out to Disney. We didn’t do anything but play putt-putt golf one day. I thought Scott was a very cruel leader for doing that to us. I’m kidding. But we sat in this conference room, a hotel, and met with Dr. John Corts, who at the time was the COO of Billy Graham Association, and he was for 20 years. He took us through a process of evaluation and vision-casting, not casting as much as vision-determining, and some of the very things you’re saying sounds familiar to me from what he was saying about some of those very things. So, there’s a great value to having values but also identifying them, honing them down, and then walking through those with the staff so they begin to see those and understand those and hopefully model those.

So, guys, if you’re listening, don’t be overwhelmed. If you’ve got a church of 50 or you’ve got a church of 5000, it’s not about the number in the church. The point is God has brought you or maybe someone around you as the leader and you’re holding up their arms, so to speak, like they did with Moses, you’re praying for them, but that leader and that group of leaders maybe have a lot of responsibility, and so we need to pray for them. Amen. We need to pray for God’s direction, and we need to model the things we say are valuable. That’s what I hear Scot saying today, and I’m getting encouraged. Thank you.

Scot is the Lead Pastor of Maryland Community Church (consistently named by Outreach Magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in the US). Scot is co-co-lead of the WLP Coaching Network, co-host of the Worship Leader Probs Podcast, speaker, author, radio host, and Exec Director for the Experience Conference. Scot and his wife Stephanie live in Indiana.