PODCAST | When To Make Your Next Career Move (feat. Tim Stevens)

Tim Stevens Podcast 2023

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In today’s podcast, William Vanderbloemen talks with Tim Stevens. Tim is the CEO and Founder of LeadingSmart, where he partners with churches to help solve their problems. Tim has been coaching, consulting, and writing for more than 20 years, and now is pouring all of his efforts into LeadingSmart to serve churches full-time. Tim is also the Vanderbloemen team’s premium partner for succession planning.

In this episode, Tim shares about his career journey throughout the years and his experience being on staff in different work environments. Tim is passionate about developing healthy team cultures and guiding people through life transitions. He discusses the importance of knowing when it’s time to make your next career move and how to leave your position on good terms.

We hope you enjoy this conversation!

If we can help your organization find their next key staff, contact us to get started.

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To connect with Tim Stevens: https://www.leadingsmart.com

Follow Tim on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/timastevens/


Ivette Naron: Welcome to the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast, where our team talks with top leaders about how to better serve and lead your team. Our goal is for you to gain tangible tips on topics such as culture, leadership, succession, and navigating people problems. We hope you enjoy today's show.

William Vanderbloemen: Well, hey, everybody. Welcome to the Vandercast. I'm so glad you're here. I'm super glad my friend Tim Stevens is here. Tim and I go back. a long way. Not as long as some friendships, but pretty long way. And I wanted to bring him on board so you could hear a little bit of what guy's doing in his life.

And spoiler alert, we're going to get to work together again. So Tim, welcome. Thanks for agreeing to be here. I'd love for you to tell people like a fast version of our time together and then kind of where you've been since like, bring us up to speed because it's a pretty interesting story. I mean, if you want to know, yeah, you want to know somebody really fell followed their call.
It's Tim. 

Tim Stevens: Yeah. Yeah, totally interesting story. And I think we were reminiscing via text just a couple weeks ago. It's coming up on 10 years since we first connected and a little over nine years since we started working together. And so that's a lot of fun. But I remember my first phone call to you or one of the first ones.

This was a few years before that was was this was a conversation about like, Okay, I think I know what you do, but I don't think I believe in what you do, but tell me again, what do you do and it was related to search and I had just not the concept of hiring a consultant to help us searches was just beyond me.

And I thought, why would you just not grow these leaders in house? Like, why would you ever like? And so you, you helped me through that. And then a year or so later, when we were like, We can't find this person in house. You were the one I called and we went to us.

William Vanderbloemen:  So this runs the risk of people saying, okay, Tim's an exec pastor.
He's telling him the cold hard truth. William's going to tell the senior pastor version. But my memory is when we were standing in a green room at Sean Lovejoy's church. And what do you do? And I kind of explained. So you said something like, I'd like to be your friend and your fan. I'm never going to be your client.

Tim Stevens: It sounds familiar. I'd like to, I'd like to think I was nicer than that, but 

William Vanderbloemen: no, it was nice. It was meant well, like, you know, let's just set the table and it was like, I get it. No, it's fine. I understand. No problem. Because you guys did a great job of building up from within at Granger and amazing talent pipeline.

Tim Stevens: Yeah. And knowing you, like I know. Oh, you know, my guess is in that moment, you thought he's going to be my client. And three years later, two years, something like that. I was but then I, then I became kind of a a fan. And I remember talking to you, calling you in early 2014 and just like at a season of transition.
not knowing what was next and not sure if I was supposed to stay where I was at and you just really helped me kind of walk through that. And six months later, then we were working together on staff where I moved my family down to Houston from Granger, Indiana, and started work in fall of 2014 with Vanderbloemen, which was a, which was a fun phase.

And honestly, it was going to be my last phase. We'll tell that more of that story here in a minute, but. But just got to be there for six years and come in, I think, at an integral time in the growth of Vanderbloemen and build out the search team the consulting team which was, which was a hoot.

And it's fun. I still stay connected with a lot of those folks. But it was, you know, I found great fulfillment in serving, you know, the big C church. And told many people, my wife will repeat this often because that I'm not going back to work for a church. I like working for the church. I also said I'm not going to move back to the north.

I'm going to stay south of the snow belt line. Well, that was, you know, early 2020 when you mentioned earlier, you know, a call. That's probably the only time in my life I've ever followed a call. The others were like, logical, made sense. You know, the right move for myself, my family, but, but when Willow was going through a season and you and I had worked with them on the senior pastor search and the new senior pastor, you know, said, Hey, Tim, would you come help rebuild this with me?

And that was a true sense of a call because I was not wanting to leave. I did not want to move back to the Midwest. I did not want to go back to a church that was nowhere in, in the cards. And, but it was an undeniable, really fast call because if you remember, we were under the. Early weeks of COVID. And so for multiple reasons, it's like, we got to make this decision fast if we're going to do it, because we're doing a lot of rebuilt stuff at Vanderbloemen
and so it was, it was a it was the right call, the right decision, but man, I was jumping into the fire. 

William Vanderbloemen: Now I was looking, scrolling for people wondering for your text to me when you were about to make your most recent transition, it was something like, Hey, man, have you got a few minutes to talk? And I thought.
What's the old baseball saying? This is deja vu all over again because same text, same text that I've gotten from you years before. I'm like, I think I know what this is, but, but I got to tell you who are listening. Tim's not being like melodramatic about since a call. We were working at search together and I came home from one of the meetings and we, Dave Dummett wasn't even named as the pastor yet, you know, and I looked at one of our other colleagues on the lead team and I said, we're gonna lose Tim.

And he said, what are you talking about? I said, we were in that meeting last night and I saw Jesus all over him, messing with him. And I, I think he's going to end up at Willow. And then our colleague said, do not ever say that out loud again. And I think, I don't know, like, he may have gone and, you know, tried to crater it all for you. Sorry, but I, I, 

Tim Stevens: Well, you saw it way before I did. I did not see it. 
William Vanderbloemen: Well, I could just see it's like, oh, oh, boy. And when there's a call. Like if you ever lose a staff person off your church, I lost one of my people. No, you didn't. You know, it's Jesus people. And it's not one church, many locations. It's one kingdom, many locations.

And, you know, you can lose people because Jesus needs them somewhere else. And Tim's departure, while it stung like crazy, I, I feel like I kind of saw it coming. And I totally feel like you made the right move. And not many people go that way. You know, because he didn't walk into a really rosy situation, so walk us through, you know, like I guess we could do clickbait, the inside story of what it was like, you know, but tell me what you kind of, what did y'all face?

Because we do a lot of studying about culture, like you had a big boat to turn around and you couldn't even get together in person, right? 

Tim Stevens: Yeah, it was, you know, there's a lot of things. That didn't surprise me what walking in because, because we walked with the church for nine months prior to that, they had just kind of opened all the books and uncovered all the stones and said, you know, because they wanted the new senior pastor well informed on what he was walking into.

So, so I had that information too. So that I knew I didn't know cobit was gonna last, you know, shut us down for 13 months. I didn't know it would be, you know, I would join a team. It would be months before I'd actually be able to meet people face to face and not have to be through screens. Didn't know the whole world was going to explode with the whole racial uprising with George Floyd's murder in May of 2020, which was just a few days after we got there, really rocked our city and our church in a significant way.

So there are things I didn't know. But what I did know is I was walking into A place that was just deeply wounded, gone through a huge earth shattering leadership trust fail and and then in the two years in between had just like all of the elders had left, had resigned and all of the senior level executive level pastors, except for one had left it.

So just, just hundreds and hundreds of staff. That we're just having to kind of hold this thing up and just get through Sunday to Sunday and take all of the bullets that were happening, I mean, there was news articles and blogs and journalists daily that were just battering on the church and in many, many ways seeming like they were hoping for the church's demise, and they just had to bear up under that.

So when we walked in. I mean, it was like the walking dead. I mean, it wasn't people that were evil necessarily. There were a handful of those, but it was people that were just broken, exhausted. And I remember one guy, we, like, we really wanted him to stay on the team to be, you know, the executive level.
And Dave and I looked at him and kind of just threw, you know, threw it at him. He said, guys, he said, you guys have fresh legs. You're walking, you're coming in here and saying, let's run a marathon together. He said, I just ran three marathons back to back and I cannot possibly run another lap. And it was that kind of thing.

And so we really had to dive into it was the first time, you know, that was my Fourth job, fourth, my fourth employer in 30 some years. And the other three I'd gone into places, including Vanderbloemen and where it's like, you know, this is pretty good culture and let's just make it great. And it was the first time I walked into a place where it was like, this, this is below whatever toxic is where there is no, it's not just, just these people don't trust me because they don't know me.
They don't trust me because I'm a leader because the leaders fail you. They don't trust me because the elders, you know, chose this new leadership team and the elders have failed us. So it was that sense of just having to build from nothing through screens when you can't get in the same, in the same room with people to build trust.

William Vanderbloemen: Wow. So like. You know, the before and after diet commercials, like culture, when you got there, culture, when you left, give me a before and after picture and one or two key things you guys did to get to the after. Cause I think the after is better than the before, if I'm not mistaken. 

Tim Stevens: That is true. It's, you know, I was in a staff chapel yesterday.
I'm, I'm two days from being finishing up at Willow in a full time capacity and I was at my last staff chapel yesterday and you walk into the room and it is electric. And exciting and people are happy and cheering for each other. We do this segment at the beginning of Staff Chapel where we just celebrate wins.
We tell God stories and you can't shut it down anymore. Used to be you couldn't get anyone to say anything. And we, we, or we'd have to plant stories ahead of time. You know, could you please talk about this? But now you can't shut it down. Like, you just can't shut it down because it's people are just excited and celebrating each other.

I've told people like, you know, if there's a negative 10 to positive 10 culture scale, Willow is whatever below negative 10 is. And I feel like, you know, just this last summer, we're probably a four or five or six, like in the positive territory. We're not where we want to be completely at, but my goodness Made a significant change.
And the staff has completely, I mean, shifted over. We probably, there's probably about 350 that were on staff the day I got there that are no longer there. And we brought on about 150. So we've got some people that have some fresh energy and excitement and a lot of long time staff there that are just so valuable because they know the legacy and they're helping piece together the pieces, especially for our members that have been there for a long time.

William Vanderbloemen: That's great. That's great. So you go to work at a church in Granger. It's going great. So you leave. Then you go go to a search firm and you added amazing value and built this. Scalable repeatable system and then you leave and so then you go to a church that is negative Eleventy or whatever on the scale and you got it turned around and now you're gonna leave.

Tim Stevens: Yeah Yeah, that was that was a tough call. So just a few months ago in May We were seeing everything up into the right so baptisms people giving their life to Jesus, people involved in small groups, people volunteering, other things that we've been going after hard, just the diversity of our congregation, diversity of our staff, way up into the right.Trying to grow younger. For 11 years, the church had, had gone older, older, older, older, older in every annual survey. And then last year dropped to where we're growing younger again. So all, all the things that we're like after, except for finances, we were still not quite there on a, on a balanced budget.

And so, and we're trying to figure this out as a lead team. This is three, four months ago, early summer. And so I just was like chewing on this and like, okay, objectively, if I was a consultant for Willow, if I wasn't on staff here, what would I know? What would I see? What would I say? Just looking at spreadsheets and looking at work charts. And that's when it became like. Like really obvious to me that we're too, too heavy at the top. We have three executive pastors and it's what's it's what we've needed in order to in order to turn this thing around. When Dave came on, he brought me on as executive pastor. Then we added to the team, two others to that.

And so I just raised my hand in late May and said, said to Dave, our senior pastor, and said, I, I don't want to leave. I hope you say no, but I think you should say yes. I think you should eliminate my position because we're just too heavy at the top.

And if we're going to get this thing, this last kind of checkmark to get the finances turned around to, we're going to have to do some things or to think about some things differently.

And I think it would simplify if we lose one of these positions at the top and then simplify throughout the rest of the organization. So that was a hard, we took about four weeks for us to all kind of come together and make that decision in mid June. But I think it makes a lot of sense. I think it's the right decision for the church.

William Vanderbloemen: Well, and our listeners are probably way ahead of me on this, but I'm guessing the lag in finance probably had some congruence with the level of the length. That your people have been walking with Jesus because you've got a lot of new converts now The neighborhood is shifted wildly since yeah made us got sold out there 50 years ago or whenever I'm guessing it's it's not a oh people aren't buying in It's just people come and don't know how to tithe yet And maybe don't have the same number things as the people were it's so true.

Tim Stevens:  Almost half of our congregation is new they know Never knew the previous pastor. 39% of the new people don't have previous church experience. And new people that don't have previous church experience. Do not know the word tithe. And so we have to really disciple people and their generosity. So all of those markers are hugely positive for two, three, four years from now. It's just the in between where we have this this gap.

William Vanderbloemen: The younger, you know, people like my daughter, who's one year out of college and is you know, in a management program at the Ritz tithing on her salary is not, not the same as Motorola exec. Right. So that's right.

That's right. Well, so, so fantastic story before and after. And even the best part is I love it when there's a reunion.

And I got that similar call from Tim and I would have told anybody who asked Tim's not going to work for any one thing again. He just got too much in his tool belt. But we're excited that one of the things you did so well for us is our succession practice has just grown and blossomed when we wrote next.
And then we were fortunate to do some things like the willow sort of emergency succession and some planned ones. 
William Vanderbloemen: So tell folks what. We are gonna be doing together and what we're not gonna be doing together so that they don't call you and say, we need you to come do this for us. 

Tim Stevens: Yeah. Yeah. So as I was kind of contemplating what's next, probably for the last five years it's been kinda like, okay, when I'm originally, it was when I'm finished at Vanderbloemen, which I thought I'd be finished when I was 60, but I, I left when I was 52 and then it was when I'm finished at Willow, when I'm 60 I'll probably kind of scale up what I've been doing on the side for.

Almost two decades of leadingsmart. com, which is just helping churches. And then it's like, okay, how do you want to help churches? Well, the things I'm passionate about, succession is a big one. Culture is a big one. Helping, helping boards with just board health is a big one, helping kind of navigate structure and organizational you know, big problems that churches have come along leaders to be able to do that.

So it's like, okay, I kind of want to do that, but who do I want to do it with? One of the things I've valued over my career is team. It's like, okay, if I go hang my own shingle, I'm not going to have a team. I've got to have a team. And so I've got to have partners. And so that's when I picked up the phone and called William and said like.

I think I'll be doing some things in a similar space as you, but I want to do them with you. I don't want to do them separate. And and there's a handful of partners like that, that I'm really excited about joining arms with and seeing what I can do for the next, I'm 56. So for, let's say the next 14 years, what I can do to kind of contribute value to the kingdom.

William Vanderbloemen: That's awesome. Well, if you uh, remember. When Tim left I hired you for a lot of reasons, right? The, the big one was, can you figure out a scalable repeatable way for us to do consulting where we don't have to find superstar cowboys that have to like, can it become a repeatable work? And for those of you who haven't heard the story, Tim, one of the best leaves ever from our company.

And when he left he had his successor trained and ready. who was also named Tim. And so our staff, you know, the culture is pretty good, but sometimes jokes come at the cost of other people. Somewhere during the presidential election, Tim Gocha, Tim Stevens successor, got named to Timothy. And But I have, I have every time I text Tim Gocha now, I, I, I start with first Timothy, and then I say what I want to say.

Tim Stevens: So I have, I've listened to him. 

William Vanderbloemen: Yes, we're welcoming Tim back, but we're welcoming is him as second Timothy and Yeah. And, and the cool thing about Second Timothy is, if you remember, that's the call to take what you've learned and pass it on to a few reliable people. And it's the succession verse. So here you are.

Tim Stevens: See, count on a pastor to just take it right back to scripture. I love that. But I'm, I'm honestly, yeah, I would agree. I'm I'm looking forward to like this partnership and it's kind of, I think it's, Different than what Vanderbloemen done in the past. And what I've obviously different than what I've done in the past, but to be able to become a partner of Vanderbloemen and to be able to support you guys in some of your succession consulting, you had asked earlier, what, why not?
We're not going to be doing searches. I'd be glad to talk to anyone about that and I'll, I'll connect you with someone else at Vanderbilt women to help you on that.

But the succession pieces is the piece that I'm really passionate. I love, I remember one of the last ones I did at. That Vanderbloemen before I left was this this dear old pastor, 74 years old. He'd been in his he'd been at his church for 46 years, a senior pastor started it.

And, you know, just like he had no other identity outside of that. And just, he knew he couldn't stay there forever, but he wanted to stay there forever and just be able to navigate that sacred moment with a pastor. With a board and with a staff and a lot of times with the congregation because it's a difficult transition and most people blow it up So looking forward to walking with churches through that and they all look different they do There's no cookie cutter system for them

William Vanderbloemen: If you meet someone who has a cookie cutter for succession if you run into that person run away from them They're all different Yeah, I mean You could have a great big church that has a pastor on a four year rotation, because that's what they do, is every four years we get a new pastor, and all of a sudden that church says, you know what, let's try a one year pastor instead, and all of a sudden Notre Dame has a new quarterback.

Tim Stevens: That's right. From Wake Forest, thank you very much. 

William Vanderbloemen: We trained him up good and now we've deployed him. And but, but it's a different kind of succession. Well, what if we could get a guy for a year? Let's adapt and change. So it's, it's a nuanced thing. It's not a cookie cutter and we look forward to your artwork coming back to help the church in that way.

So thanks, Tim, for making the time for us. It's great to have you coming back around and Hey, if you know anyone who. Says I don't need succession. You might remind them every pastor is an interim pastor and sooner or later, sooner or later, you'll need to start thinking about when you're making your next move.

So Tim, thanks so much listeners. Thanks so much. And we'll be sure and send show notes out to leading smart and all the links you'll want to know to learn more about Tim. Thanks. 

Ivette Naron: Thanks for listening to the Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast. At vanderbloemen, we help organizations build their best teams through hiring succession, culture, compensation, and diversity solutions. Visit our website, vanderbloemen.com to learn more and subscribe to our Vanderbloemen Leadership Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts, to keep up with our latest episodes.

Thanks for listening.