Bill Tucker, Concordia Lutheran Church, San Antonio, TXCE Interview, LEADERSHIP Saturday, November 1st, 2008
It’s not that Bill Tucker leads Concordia Lutheran Church in San Antonio, TX, like a football quarterback or a naval officer — and he’s been both — but he’s gained many leadership qualities that he finds transferable to pastoring a 6,000-member congregation, for the past eight years. “I was always involved in team sports,” he says. “I enjoyed having the opportunity to be in a leadership role within those sports and the camaraderie of a team.”
He served as a Marine Corps chaplain in the U.S. Naval Reserve, attaining the rank of Lieutenant. His military service taught him about the team environment, a clear mission focus, and understanding what leadership is about. “The most significant aspect of the military team experience was understanding what it meant to serve on a staff, how to go about the business of completing staff work, and being accountable through a chain of command,” he says.
He was a quarterback in high school football, but after a shoulder injury, he became a running back in college. In talking about football, he plays — almost unknowingly — off the metaphors of “coach” and “mission” to the church’s Christ and Great Commission:
Share what the metaphor means to you between the role of a quarterback and leadership in the church.
The role of the quarterback is really to take the instruction, the mission of the coach, on the offense side of the ball, and provide direction and initiate execution of that mission on individual plays, make adjustments, read different situations and respond to them.
So in many of the same respects, we have the mission that God has given us. When I talk with other pastors, I suggest to them they don’t need to spend a lot of time redrafting a mission statement. Jesus gave us our mission: to go and make disciples, to reach the lost and to disciple the found.
He also gave us a vision statement, the statement in Matthew 16 where he tells us very clearly, speaking to Peter, I’m the rock of his confession, that Jesus Christ, the son of the living God, on which he is going to build his church. And what’s the church going to do? It’s going to batter down the gates of Hell. It’s going to reach the lost. So we have a mission statement and a vision statement that God gave us and, frankly, those work for me. My job is to take those statements and then execute on them.
Your leadership interests and abilities played out too in a denominational unit called Pastoral Leadership Institute or PLI. What is that about?
PLI brought its first class participants together in 1999 and I was part of that first class [while at his previous church assignment in Mount Prospect, IL]. We actually came to Concordia for that first conference, where I now serve.
Half way through my four years of PLI I was called to serve here at Concordia as senior pastor and a year of so later we became a mentoring congregation again [following the pastoral transition].
We also serve as a host site for PLI and next April it will be the first year where all four of the classes gather in one place. Normally there are a couple different conferences, but next year we’re going to be blessed to have all four classes in one place here, which should be extraordinary.
You’ve been a mentor yourself and will be presenting to the fourth year students on Apostolic Missional Leadership. What does that mean to you?
Well, really doing the Great Commission. I guess in my mind, the idea of an apostle is someone who is sent with the mission that Jesus gave us. And so the missional part of it is literally reaching the lost and discipling the found, that we go out with that charge of Christ that he has given to us to execute the mission of the church.
Concordia is second largest in the LCMS in baptized membership. Does the Missouri Synod have the same problems that most mainline churches have of declining membership?
Well I think that that’s true; we struggle with declining membership. My focus is more clearly Concordia and San Antonio than it is the overall church body. Then again there are a lot of places where the LCMS is growing, and Concordia is one of them.
You know our great strength is that this is a Christ-centered, Bible-centered denomination. So we hold dearly to the Bible as God’s inerrant and infallible Word.
There’s a tie between the church plant that you did years ago in Illinois and Concordia; that both were very oriented to outreach and being welcoming?
The church plant that I was privileged to be part of was in LaSalle-Peru and as my wife Julie and I were serving Trinity Lutheran Church in Marseilles, IL. We were invited by the district to plant this mission church about 30 miles further west of this sister city, LaSalle and Peru, two cities that adjoin one another.
One of the things that we cherish about that was just the close knit, clear focus of the congregation, with the view that everybody has a role, everybody’s important to the success of the mission, and in this case, to establishing the church.
One of the really neat things about Concordia is that while it is a large congregation, that feeling is very much a part of who we are. That goes back to founding pastor Guido Merkens. He went door-to-door in 1951, talking to the community and finding out what their needs were. He called the congregation together and he and those people really established as part of the DNA of this congregation, to this very day, a passion to reach the lost and to continue sharing the message, growing in discipleship, and being warm and friendly, because our focus is the Great Commission.
There are a number of churches whose mission ought to be the Great Commission but they’re doing other things. Evangelism and outreach are often missing in many churches today?
I don’t want to in any way be critical or judgmental of churches that aren’t growing. All I really know is that we believe wholeheartedly that our mission is two-fold: To reach out to the lost and continue growing them in the faith as disciples.
So for us its part of who we are, it’s part of what we do; we recast that vision every single week over and over again.
We conclude every worship service after the benediction with “Now go into the world and know that as you live out your Christian life, whatever the theme for the day is, you will shine like stars in the universe as you hold up the Word of life.”
Even to that extent, we continue casting the idea that it’s not just about us being filled up or encouraged or whatever else, it’s about then living in our world, because our world is the mission field, whatever our context.
Are you doing anything to keep up the momentum of outreach, like teaching Contagious Christianity or Evangelism Explosion?
We’ve talked about the idea of casting this vision, that members need to be sharing their faith, they need to be passing on the Good News, and they need to be living with that disciple mentality. We have a radio ministry, we do a lot of radio ads, but the radio ads themselves are not designed to be the primary outreach, they really serve as that backstop for our members.
We have lots and lots of different events. There’s the teacher blessing where we have our folks invite any educators who they know and ask them to come because we’re going to have a gift for each educator, we’re going to recognize them, and pray a blessing over them.
We do a big program for Memorial Day. We recognize police officers and firefighters. We try to find as many reasons and excuses to celebrate people as we possibly can.
So a member may invite the principal of their elementary school to come to this special service. The most natural thing in the world is they either identify the church or the person says, “Well, where do you go to church?” and our member will say, “We go to Concordia.”
And the person says, “Ah, wait a minute, I think I heard your pastor on the radio,” because the ads are intended to spur a thought. Now with our giant cross that towers 123 feet up there, that’s really become a landmark in this community. And so that kind of emboldens our members to say, yea, it is a great place, why don’t you come and join us? Because that’s what really moves people from that place of ambivalence to say okay, maybe I will come and try it. It’s that enthusiastic witness of a member who says this place is meaningful to me. This place is exciting, I love to be there.
The 123-foot cross is a part of your new sanctuary being completed this December?
It’s a white concrete cross, but set into each of the faces of the cross on all four sides are LED lights. It looks like a long LED panel down each of the faces that make the cross that can be lit in any of 160,000 colors.
You maintain some ties to the business community too?
I’ve been blessed to be able to take over for Pastor Merkens in doing a monthly bible study at Valero Energy Corporation and we also began the USAA/110 Corridor Bible study that serves whoever would like to come. It’s a tremendous blessing to be able to meet with those folks and interact with them. I get to go and share God’s word, but then I also get to have lunch with them or sit around in conversation and be mentored by them and hear about leadership in the business world.
Being on the receiving end of mentoring?
One of the great blessings in my life is to have had terrific parents, teachers, coaches, and commanding officers, and then as a pastor to have in the congregations where I’ve served amazing people of faith who are also very successful and very skilled leaders.
To be able to learn from them and ask questions and be mentored by them has been one of the amazing blessings for me. It’s one thing to read about leadership in a book, and I’ve done plenty of reading, but then to be able to talk about those things and to talk through situations and to hear how pastors or business leaders or coaches deal with it in real life just makes it so much more meaningful.
When you came to Concordia how did you go about building your team and giving vision?
When I came I really had a team. Most of the staff at the director level remained. Probably the most significant thing that happened was as we started out we formed a call committee to look for an associate pastor and just kept running into a dead end. After we were unsuccessful on several tries we went back and asked why isn’t this happening?
We came to the conclusion that’s it wasn’t happening because what we needed was not another theologian, what we needed was someone who had business expertise. For a pastor in our denomination, running a congregation of this size is a pretty big undertaking. We’re not trained for this in the seminary. Running a congregation of this size for someone who’s coming from the business world or from the military world is not a big deal.
We ultimately found one of our elders who left the military after 15 years, finishing his retirement as a reservist. Greg Styles is our executive director and has been an incredible blessing to our ministry [see sidebar].
In my mind even smaller congregations, who believe they’ve reached the point of adding a second pastor to the staff, really ought to think about multiplying the ministry of their current pastor and bringing on an executive director. This role can free up the pastor from all the things that pastors aren’t normally trained for and often times aren’t equipped to do well. The executive director executes the operation of the business of the church so that the pastor can be free to do the pastoral ministry.
Someone has said that Concordia’s growth pattern and effectiveness in reaching the unchurched indicates that it behaves more like a young church or mission start than an older, larger church.
If that means that we’re energetic, passionate, enthusiastic and welcoming, I think it’s a true statement. I know that traditionally churches who have been around for a long time have a tendency to stop growing, and we continue to grow very rapidly.
The congregation has a pre-K through 8th grade school on campus. It was a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in the 2000-2001 year. What is the value of the school to the church?
It is just a tremendous benefit. Our school has 450 students and is filled up primarily by members and by other folks who are Christian people and from time to time there is an unchurched family or a family that’s not from a Christian background that comes. We love the opportunity to share our faith and to see people come to faith in Christ through the school.
But really for us the ministry of our day school is like every other program that we have, and that is we see this as an opportunity for Christian people to send their children here and have them learning the basic academics that they need to learn in an excellent context, but in a Christ-centered context so that they’re being equipped to be missionaries in their world.
What learning experiences did you gain in planting the mission church in Illinois?
I think the thing I took away was a sense of passion in the church, not just for me but that the congregation and I shared a passion for reaching people and sharing the Gospel message and helping people grow in faith. That’s one of the tremendous blessings here at Concordia. They really do share that, that feel of the mission congregation is here.
People like yourself are often pulled into national church service. The pastor of my youth was the same, but he resisted, saying “The work was never finished at home.”
Well, that’s my answer as well. I don’t have any desire to serve elsewhere. My heart’s desire is to be a parish pastor and to serve a congregation.
Leadership institute sees results in baptisms
By Stephen Wagner
Wouldn’t you know it would happen in our building’s elevator. The question: “What do you do for a living?”
“I’m the executive leader for the Pastoral Leadership Institute. We are a post-graduate, continuing education organization for pastors and their spouses that specializes in leadership training.”
Elevator door opens. Inquirer exists. My dilemma: Exactly what did I just tell that person? I am much better at the conversation now.
What I do and what makes the Pastoral Leadership Institute unique as a learning experience: We multiply missional leadership.
From the beginning of PLI in 1999 through today, about 10 percent of pastors serving congregations in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod have completed or are participating in the PLI four-year learning experience. Conference themes as Visionary Leadership for Mission, Nurturing Positive Missional Change, Missional Teaming, and Aligning for the Mission, direct the learning.
Cohort learning groups of six to eight pastors visit congregations with exemplary missional ministries. Spiritual growth retreats for pastors and their spouses are part of the annual experience. Finally, there are learning opportunities at multi-ethnic urban sites as well as short term international mission experiences.
Concordia Lutheran Church in San Antonio, TX, will host the next PLI conference April 21-26, 2009.
How might you measure an indicator of effectiveness in missional leadership training? One leading indicator is the number of adults baptized or confirmed by PLI pastors serving in congregations. To date, that cumulative number exceeds 40,000.
To learn more about the Pastoral Leadership Institute, visit our Web site plinstitute.org.
XD function: Building the team in the ‘foxhole’
Concordia’s Senior Pastor Bill Tucker strongly supports the executive director/executive pastor role in growing churches, and XD Greg Styles ranks high as the energy behind the growth and progress at Concordia:
I take the vision from the senior pastor and translate it into a language that all areas of the ministry understand. I facilitate the execution of that vision and follow up to evaluate the overall success of our labor.
My focus is the day to day operations of the church, school, and daycare and their 180 employees. In a broader sense, I ensure that each area of ministry is operating within the overall budget, and most importantly, that everyone is moving in the same direction. Unity of staff and congregation is of utmost importance.
Nowhere is unity more important than the relationship that the executive director has with the senior pastor. The passion, loyalty and integrity in the relationship must grow into an unbreakable bond. Over the years, Bill Tucker and I have become one vision, one plan, and one voice — his! It is my job to know him so well that I can speak for him in many cases. I know his views and tendencies on issues, and I know his preferences on how he wants to execute the plans that are developed.
Most importantly, however, is the ability to bond with the senior pastor and form a partnership that moves the ministry in a unified singular direction. I have a military background and was serving as a Battalion Executive Officer when I took this position. Certain tangible military models have served me well in this role.
I think it is important to develop a good plan for everything that we do, execute the plan as it was laid out, and then evaluate the plan so that you can improve on it for next time.
In finding good folks for our staff, we look for people who we would want in our foxhole with us — people we can trust and count on when things get tough.
You can learn more on the “second chair” role at the new blog secondchair.blogspot.com of Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson, authors of Leading from the Second Chair. Also go to David Fletcher’s XPastor.org site for details on the Feb. 3-5, 2009 XP-Seminar in Dallas on “Growing a Great Ministry Staff.”
Photo credit: Photography by Lloyd Wright.