Mike Glenn is the senior pastor at Brentwood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., and a contributing editor of Preaching. His church has established church plants and created a network to revitalize existing churches. Jay Strother is the campus pastor of the Church at Station Hill, part of the multi-site ministry of Brentwood Baptist. They were interviewed by Executive Editor Michael Duduit.
Preaching: Brentwood Baptist has moved into a multi-site strategy. Jay, yours was the first campus, but there are now others. Rather than use a video venue as many multi-sites do, you have placed campus pastors at each location, and they preach in those. I know you have a process of planning together, but tell me about that process.
Glenn: We decided early on that it was important for the way that we wanted to do it, that we have a live preacher. There are times when we do the all-state, as we call it—the state of the church vision—[a time when] we want everybody to hear the same message. Once, maybe twice a year, we do that. The other times, we all preach from the same text, we preach the same message, we have the same rocks. We call it the big rocks; everybody gets that. From there, the pastors are free to contextualize that message.
We have watched others who do the video approach. If you’re doing video and you are on a video campus, if something has happened, then the person on the video can’t reference that event and can’t help you understand how this text applies to what you’re [experiencing]. Early in Jay’s congregation, he had three or four major pastoral situations. There was a 30-something guy who was diagnosed with cancer one week, and he died the next week—something startling. There were two or three very ill children, the economy dropped, and several of the young men there who were on the fast track [suddenly] had no track. All of that hurt is sitting out there; not to mention that, not to speak to that point of pain is ministerial malpractice.
So…we feel called to develop preachers. You grew up as I did, with a pastor who would have his boys—there were young guys who served with him in some capacity—and that is how you learned to pastor. I was blessed in my early ministry to be adopted by several older pastors, which is how we learn. They are who taught me.
Strother: Our launch team identified that they preferred a teaching-pastor approach. I really appreciate that Mike was open to that from day one, whereas a lot of senior pastors wouldn’t be. I think he recognized the opportunity to contextualize. He can continue to invest in a new generation of pastors; we get to work with him and be mentored by him on a weekly basis.
We understand why people do video, and we aren’t against it per se. As Mike said, we use it a couple times a year, but there are unintended consequences of that model, to have it solely dependent on one communicator. You only learn to preach by preaching. So there’s three days in every week: There’s the day before Sunday, there’s Sunday, and there’s the day after. So with that, it gives us the opportunity—there are things I didn’t learn until I had to do it in season and out of season. Sick kids, three funerals in a week…Those are things you just learn through experience. This system gives us the opportunity to learn that way.
Preaching: Jay, from your perspective as a campus pastor, how does that sermon process work for you?
Strother: For one thing, it helps me as a campus pastor. When you launch a work, there are a tremendous number of things that have to be done. You have to go back to being a generalist. Having a plan already in place is a blessing.
Mike and the preaching team work a year in advance. We begin to pray and think about themes, books we want to preach, theological foundations we haven’t covered in a while; and we put those big rocks in the jar. We use that metaphor often. By the time the year rolls around, we have our annual sermon plan in place. As Mike says, “As long as you have a plan, you’re good. You always can deviate from the plan, but you need to know the direction where you’re pointed.” So, my preparation, the books I’m reading, and the things I am praying about all get me ready for this future series.
The other advantage is that I am able to maximize our resources. We all have access now to the same resources. Especially for me launching a new campus, having access to those kinds of resources was really a blessing. So, you still have to do the hard work of working through the text, but it also sets you on a weekly rhythm. In addition to the annual plan, we have a weekly rhythm by which we get the sermon brief about a week and a half in advance; then on Monday, after we all get together and the preaching team…
Glenn: Now, understand who’s in the room. We have Jay at Station Hill. We have Aaron Bryant, who is at Avenue South. We have Matt Pearson, who is at West Franklin. We just added Doug Jones at the Woodbine Campus. He’s returning after 20 years in Mexico, planting churches in the middle of the cartels. We have Yunhan Gwo, who is a pastor of the Chinese congregation; and Aric Randolph, who is pastor of the deaf congregation. Roger Severino is the discipleship minister, and a couple of the interns are there to give us the Millennial view.
So, by the time you put [us together], you have a Chinese guy look at it and a deaf guy tell us [his perspective], and you’ve put this Scripture through a real strong lens of how it will apply to a variety of people. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t share a story that ends up being preached on all the campuses.
Preaching: If we were to sit in on one of those meetings, how would it look? How would [the meeting] be run?
Glenn: Usually, Ron Pemms, the researcher, will begin. He prepares a study document on the text each week. He will say, “OK, we all have read the thing. Is there anything you want to make sure we see? Is there anything that struck your fancy?” Then we will open it up to how our campuses will hear this. I want to hear from Jay, Aaron and Matt—to go sit in their pews so to speak. Tell me how your people are going to hear this.
We know there are certain trigger words for the Millennial generation. For example, a lot of Millennials didn’t grow up with dads. So, to do the Lord’s Prayer and pray, “Our Father…” we had to stop and contextualize that word.
Strother: The first year we launched Station Hill, Mike was great about asking, “What are you learning?” and engaging with a new community and the way we do church. I was able to tell him, “We have assumed too much. We have assumed too much.” I found myself saying, “Hey, you all know the story of Jonah.” If I were in Brentwood, people would be honest and come up to me and say, “‘I don’t know the story of Jonah. Who is this guy?’” So, that approach really helps us not assume too much. Aric Randolph with the deaf congregation, and Dr. Gwo with an Eastern perspective, versus a Western worldview—it becomes really fun and intriguing.
Glenn: The interesting thing is that with Aric Randolph being deaf, there is no subtlety in sign language; so, his application has to be very concrete. When Jay, Roger and I get esoteric and up here in ideas, he’s always pounding his fist, saying, “I need this to be concrete. How is this going to work in real life?” He’s the one who keeps us honest about that.
Preaching: We have talked a little about contextualization. [Tell me] about the profile of your church as compared to the home campus.
Strother: My campus is young families: The largest demographic is 20-22 and then babies in diapers. These are the people who are looking at the Brentwood campus, saying, ‘That’s who I want to be when I grow up”; so, it’s very interesting to engage those folks. Also, they are mostly transplants because of the rapid growth of our community. These are people who have moved for family, better jobs, those kinds of things; but because of that, there is tremendous stress on their marriage and finances. When they lose the job, they don’t have a lot of margin. So, our community is full of those kinds of people.
In a similar way—I mention we don’t assume—we really have to help them understand that this is a way of life. A lot of them have grown up knowing about church or going to church occasionally; helping them understand how the gospel shapes every part of their lives is important. One thing I had to learn in the first couple years is that I preach longer than Mike does at this campus. I had to deconstruct a prevailing worldview and reconstruct a biblical one in the same sermon, because I had them. They might not be here next week. They are busy young families with kids, and that is a process I had to go through.
Glenn: The other thing about the demographics of Station Hill is that he has very young families with very young children and senior adults—grandparents who have retired from Detroit, Denver, Cincinnati—and have moved down there to be near grandkids. That’s where they have ended up for the affordability of the houses.
Strother: We are finding out that intergenerational worship is very important to my generation. If they had parents, they weren’t spiritual a lot of times; their parents didn’t disciple them, so they are looking for mentors, people (to speak into) their marriages. We run a very healthy marriage mentoring ministry. Very informal, but a lot of people come to our church; and they say, “We have been to these other very young church plants, and they are fine, but we want a church that has wisdom, that has senior adults.” So, we intentionally do intergenerational services. In worship, we do hymns and contemporary stuff, and people love that. That’s become a really key facet of our congregation and contributed to its health.
Preaching: Are there ever times in your setting that you have to say to Mike, “We have to deal with something here that doesn’t really impact the other campuses. I need to preach something different this Sunday.”
Strother: Yes, we are seven weeks away from moving into a new campus. So, we do build some margin between series. Also in the summer, we do a “Things your pastor wants you to know,” and I asked to extend this a few more weeks. So, we are teaching through Nehemiah because we are about to move into a new building, and I want our people to understand what Nehemiah teaches—that it’s about God building His people. They need to understand the spiritual principles of that book. So, yes, we have the freedom to bring it to the team, and say, “Yes, I really need to address this issue.”
Glenn: Yeah, he comes to the team, and says, “Here’s what’s on my heart.” It is vetted with other pastors who are aware of the situation and all that, and these guys speak into that. So, there is real strong support.
You know, when the U.S. Supreme Courts came back with the same-sex marriage ruling, we were able to say, “Here are the big rocks that I will be hitting,” and everyone was able to do that quickly. There is a real strong trust level here. We all genuinely love each other. I am so proud of Jay, Aaron and Matt. I hear the stories coming back and the difference they are making. Honestly, I’m more proud of that sometimes than I am what is happening here.
Preaching: Well, most of us hit a point in life when the mentoring gene kicks in, and you get a great deal of satisfaction from helping someone else move along.
Glenn: I tell them, I’m going to have to listen to one of you guys someday! I’m going to be the old guy coming up there!
Preaching: Mike, I know originally you have long done your own annual plan. Now, do you do that as a team? Talk about that process of developing the annual plan.
Glenn: I had that discipline in my own life for several years. At first, I would come and say, “OK, here’s what we are preaching,” and we did that while they were working on the other skill set, the new campuses and all that. I try to be mindful not just to throw them into the deep end of the pool. We try to let them wade out gradually; but as they became more comfortable with routines and process, we assigned the annual plan to one of them to learn how do to that.
Now this past year, the four of us went off, and we agreed on the big rocks; we took different sections and planned that ahead. The bad thing about planning is that you get excited about what’s ahead, and you want to go ahead and preach it! Matt had the idea of preaching Ephesians backward. We were going to start with the armor and battle and then back up to how this is supported by the rest. I’m so pumped I want to do that now! [However], that’s the creativity. What if we preach if backward?
Preaching: You just gave thousands of pastors an idea. There will be a bunch of backward Ephesians series this year! As you’re dealing with these young adults—not assuming—are there other things you are learning? What counsel can you offer to pastors on ways to engage young adults?
Glenn: We do Kairos here, a mid-week, young-adult worship experience. Of all the gifts God has given me, that’s one I cherish most. We have found that these young adults are incredibly courageous and strong, because if [I] were walking with the hurt and pain they have, I would be in the fetal position. So, when you understand most of them (given their circumstances) are doing the best they can, I think it inspires you to want to work with them and love them all that much more.
They don’t know the Bible. They have been around the Bible, but they don’t know it. So, you can’t assume anything—that they know where the book is. You can’t assume they have a Bible. The first thing I would tell you is to have cases of Bibles in your church, and tell them: If you need one, take one. You need to go much slower in your preaching. You can’t assume they know the stories, and Jay’s the one who keeps us honest about connecting everything to the metanarrative, to the big worldview story.
Strother: The postmodern prevailing philosophy that they have grown up on is, “I’m out here on my own; I can’t trust adults; I couldn’t trust my parents. So, I’m trying to figure it out by myself.” You come alongside them, as Mike said, and meet them where they are at that point of pain and needing help. You’ve been into the gospel, take them by their hands, show them what that means, and help them construct a biblical worldview. That changes them dramatically.
The authenticity that they look for in you as a pastor—How has this been real in your own life? How does this work out in your own family and your marriage?—and Mike would say in Kairos this has been the most powerful moment when he honors his wife on her birthday. The place just goes crazy because they need to see how that looks. We always have talked about it, and as much as any time, you are preaching the sermon all week long as you live it out with our people. On Sunday, it gives you the validity to say, “OK, now this is God’s Word, and how we stand on it.”
Preaching: Some pastors really struggle with this, not recognizing this generation of young adults has had a different background than many of us. They don’t have the same foundation.
Glenn: It’s a very incarnational approach to ministry. We want Jay in that community. One of the good things is how connected he is to the city administrators and the power structure, and that greases the skids for an easy process.
Strother: One benefit of the approach is that by having multiple campuses, I don’t have to deal with central support. We have a business office and a communication department, so I am not running the bulletin. I am able to be in the coffee shop listening to a testimony, and I’m able to be with the hurting couple, you know, because I don’t have to carry that load.
Preaching: What’s something you have learned about multi-site ministry now that you wish had known going into ministry?
Glenn: You never can start too early. One thing we are beginning to see now is, “Listen, there is somebody in the city, county or state who knows what’s going on, and you need to [find] that person. We were five years late in getting to some of these areas. We should have been there faster. Some of the other communities seem to have grown up overnight. No, they haven’t. Someone knew that was happening.
The future of the church is smaller congregations. We want to see the people we see at school, at the grocery store; we want to be a community together. The megachurch might get together for one or two things, missions or something [similar], but more worshipping communities will be smaller, community-based.
Preaching: We understand planting new churches, but a lot of senior pastors maybe have not thought of this idea that you are doing, of stepping in and repurposing existing churches. Can you briefly say what you do in that process?
Glenn: You have an existing church, where the community is in transition—white flight or [some different ethnicity] moves in—some kind of transition. Now, the makeup of the membership no longer matches the community. So, we come in and take the facility, which already had passed [building] codes, [so there is] none of those community issues. We bring a staff in that matches the demographics and begin outreach.
Doug, his heart language now is Spanish. What we found out about Hispanics is there are subgroups: Mexican, Guatemalan, and those are very different groups. If you have a Mexican pastor, the Guatemalans don’t like him; but because Doug is Anglo, who served in Mexico under cartel pressure, he has street cred across the board. That’s just the Lord saying, “Do the first thing, and I’ll show you the second.”
Preaching: Jay, you’ve been fortunate to have Mike as a mentor. What is something you have learned from him that you wish all other young pastors knew?
Strother: From day one, he has had a great understanding of his strengths and weaknesses. Watching that and the way he talks about the Lord impressing on him to let the church be who she is supposed to be—and you be who God is creating you to be—and that he was willing to let go, to delegate. He didn’t have to be in those meetings making those decisions. His strengths are praying, casting vision and preaching. That was the most important thing for me, which has enabled me to be in the position I am.
Also, what you model is as important what you preach. It’s caught more than taught. If more pastors would be willing to allow a new generation to walk with them and to catch the things God has filled them with, it spills over and that’s so cool. That’s the kind of thing that spills out of Mike onto us—a deep hunger and passion of the Word and the priority of time with our families—those kinds of things. We have caught those things; and by his willingness to share the journey with him and his humility, you know, those are the things that are the most valuable.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t find myself saying, “Mike said,” or, “Mike showed me this.” As I’m living it out in a whole new community, God is using him to touch the community through what he poured into me.
Glenn: It was interesting when Station Hill was being established and the deacons were forming, they came to me and said, “We want to protect Jay the way deacons protect you.” You had that whole DNA that they had seen work here.
Strother: The DNA is important. You are like your parents in a lot of ways, and you are unique and different; as a [type of] father, you celebrate that. There are a lot of ways he’s like you and a lot of ways he’s different, too. That has enabled each campus to develop its own identity; yet, we are under this bigger identity, and we have a lot of loyalty to that. I’d say trust is vital; any way you slice it, to have great trust and spiritual maturity to trust one another is really important.