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7 Questions with Frederic Gray
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7 Questions with Frederic Gray
Name: Frederic Gray
Current title: Sr. Executive Pastor
Current organisation: Real Life church
Fred Gray, Sr. Executive Pastor, Real Life Church, Valencia CA. A UCLA Bruin with a passion for growing healthy organizations with a constant eye on change management for future success. Lover of Jesus, blessed husband, father, grandfather and fortunate friend to a few lucky souls. instagram.com/fred_gray77
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
The church is a living, breathing entity with more moving parts than any organization I have ever managed. It confounds strategies, structures and processes and yet it requires them in order to grow and to be healthy.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I volunteered to serve at the lowest levels and found myself in progressively more accelerated, "I see in you" conversations, as my leadership skills became evident to staff and other church leaders. It took several years but eventually I became a board member and supposed that would be the final level of leadership. Then our Executive Pastor announced a 'long goodbye' that should have taken two years as he wanted to transition out of the church world after 7 years with our church. He then suddenly decided to leave us. As I was heading to a client meeting driving in my car (at that time I was a Managing Director for a national CPA firm based in So California) I received his email announcement of his intention to step down as XP. I suddenly believe that I almost heard God tell me that I should take the job of XP. I didn't want to, in fact I had no desire to leave the corporate world. I loved my job, though I was not a CPA or accountant, I was a high level strategist sales person to Fortune 500 companies with a large expense account and lots of golf outings! So I called my wife to tell her the news...her words to me without discussing it..."I think you are suppose to take the job". That was God and my wife telling me the same thing. I listen to those two when they say things. I have been the Executive Pastor of Real Life Church for almost 9 yeas.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
First, the Senior Partner of the firm I worked for before starting at the church was adamant that his Managing Directors all get at least 7-9 hours of sleep daily whenever possible. This is a practice I have maintained for the last 15 years. I am convinced I am healthier and sharper for it. I get up each morning at 5:45 to a short quiet time that includes EITHER...scripture, blogs, music or prayer. Something that promotes contact with God and a clear head. From there a quick review of my calendar and 'to do' list. Then I take an hour for a 3-4 mile hike. I have trails around my house. I do this 3 times a week. I play golf 1-2 early mornings a week as well. I prefer morning meetings so I set coffee meetings for 800-900 am (non golf days-900 am for golf days) and keep as many meeting requests scheduled for the morning hours as possible. I believe in personal rhythms and that each of us have best times for different activities during the day. Mornings are good for me to engage with people. I like afternoons to review, read, strategize, build, assess. Afternoons for me are for projects. If I have meeting requests for the afternoons I prefer that they are interviews or for continuing project discussions. My work days typically end at 5 pm as I love to cook and prepare most of our dinners (75%). This goes from 5-7 Pm which more or less is family time and at 7 Pm I get more work time if I need to catch up on emails or texts/Slack. My wife and I almost religiously watch TV from 9-10 (One episode of whatever we are binge watching...right now its 'GOT') and then its bedtime. Before bed I almost always recheck email and calendars. I don't like surprises and church is a 24/7/365 business so I am happier looking one last time and then shutting it down for my 7-9 hours.
4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
For me to answer this honestly won't thrill most reading this. But give my answer a moment and work with me. About 2 months into my tenure as Executive Pastor our Lead Pastor walked in to my office with 4 books, put them on my small conference table and said, "for your reading enjoyment". To this day I will never forge this moment because it was strange and telling. First, we were good friends. I had served on his board, he had recruited me. Heck, he had chosen me to serve him! We were partners. When I told him I would take the job of XP he nearly wept and said "we were just praying that if its God's will for Jeremy (outgoing XP) to leave the position it should be filled fast and now my friend and perfect replacement is calling within an hour of that prayer!!". I was his guy in the key support role and he always gave me books to read. When he did he always would explain each book and why he thought I should read them. This time he just set a stack down and walked out??? So I walked over and picked them up and started going through them one at time. Sure enough three books down is a book that I have handed out to many new Executive Pastors and other leaders. It's called "Leading from the Second Chair" by Bonem and Patterson. This book gave me several key ideas has been simply life changing for me. So, imagine what it was like working with me...I was a seasoned business executive...Brooks Brothers suits, Tag Watch, big money, big ego. I was going to be God's gift to the local church. I didn't intend to be that guy. I just didn't know my role and my friend and partner couldn't just tell me so this book showed me the way. Helped me understand who I serve, what the mission of my position was and is today and helped me shape my daily response to my calling before my Heavenly Father, allowing me to serve with less ego and frankly less 'me' each day. Its a great book and for anyone that is thinking of ministry and who needs to understand what service to the Kingdom really is about.
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Leading change is something that I have been doing my entire career. I would say that I am good at it. I started as a banker, following in my father and grandfather's footsteps. That industry was in the middle of massive change when I started in the late 80's and continued to change all the way until I exited in 1998. This is my 4th unique industry. Each has imbedded with in, tremendous pressure to change and evolve. Since this seems to be constant I think that its become second nature for me to be willing to lead change and to expect change. But we cannot forget that its still difficult for people to deal with change. As leaders we have to be willing to be challenged to continue to improve our skills at leading change...something I am still working on. We just finished taking our executive team through a book that is not new called, "Managing Transitions" by Bridges. One thing that resonated with me is the question; have I truly studied the changes that I am proposing? Do I really understand the impacts, the implications, who is losing, who is gaining? As a lover of change managing transitions has been a great learning for me.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
We actually brought in a consultant and built a new model for the church using the help of a gentleman by the name of Mac Lake from Auxano. First, we are never afraid to go outside the organization for help when needed. Second, Mac helped us understand the biggest key tenant of leadership scalability and that for me is the law of numbers. You have to sit down with your teams and start with your expectations about what you are trying to build and back into the number of leaders you need to get that done. Our pipeline includes a built out model of levels of leadership from the very top of the organization to the bottom and with every position we have a job description (including volunteers) a reporting contact and clear expectations. From this we have systematized the recruitment and development of leaders and we have developed a complementary residents program to engage up and coming ministry candidates for the pipeline as well.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a church leader so far?
We are a church for the unchurched and dechurched in Southern California. One Christmas a guy is walking into service with a can of beer (Coors light in case it matters to you!). Our services for this campus on this particular Christmas would see 12,000 people so how I saw this guy I will never know, but I walked up and said, "hey bro! Merry Christmas. Love that you are here with us. Would you mind finishing that in the parking lot. You have 10 minutes and looks like you are here with family so they can save you a seat". He looks at me a little shocked, like its just a beer and then says, "uh yeah sure but its full". So 2 minutes later he comes walking back with a Starbucks coffee cup, tips it at me and says "cheers". All I can say at that point is "enjoy the service!". We have a coffee shop downstairs and our auditorium has cup holders on the armrests so a coffee cup with beer in it works I guess! So enjoy the beer bro. Service ends and he comes out and looks for me. Finds me and says..."that was amazing. Is church like that every Sunday...like the music and that guy preaching? I felt like he was talking directly to me. Like he knew I would be here for Christmas." This is the goal of our church. This is the win. AMEN>