7 Questions with John McDonald
Name: John McDonald
Current title: Director of Worship Arts
Current organisation: Holy Cross Lutheran, Indianapolis
John serves as a lay minister and Director of Worship Arts at Holy Cross Lutheran in Indianapolis and is the author of two history books about Indiana, “Flameout” and “Lost Indianapolis.” He is also a Managing Entrepreneur at NEXT Studios, the venture studio designed and operated by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs, with entrepreneurs. He has over twenty years of experience as an entrepreneur, most recently as the founder and CEO of ClearObject, a leading Internet of Things company which successfully exited to private equity in 2019, and at IBM, where he led technical sales for their software development tools brand in New York.
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
Volunteer care! When you understand where all of the gifts come from (God), your natural reaction is to want to give those gifts back somehow. So, caring for volunteers, and helping them apply their gifts to the work of the Church, is not just a positive side effect - it's one of the primary objectives! That said, effective management of volunteers is so difficult!
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I have always loved technology and helped out in small ways as a volunteer. I also love music, and when our Church started a contemporary/modern service, I volunteered to help them set up the sound technology to make it work. One morning the band was really struggling with a song, and one of the background vocalists knew that I loved singing, so she invited me half-jokingly to come up on stage and help sing. That was 15 years ago. :)
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I am religious about moving things out of my inbox and into task lists. If I let the inbox fill up I literally get anxiety about it all, and moving it to lists helps me focus on what to do now with the time I have available and the place where I am at.
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?
"Canoeing the Mountains" by Tod Bolsinger. The book uses the metaphor of the explorers Lewis and Clark. They were tasked with finding a water path to the Pacific Ocean and found themselves facing the Rocky Mountains. The writer uses this story to parallel the challenges of today's Church: what we have done in the past simply will no longer work for today's challenges.
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Training and mentoring is the most important thing to focus on. There are many people willing to serve if they are asked, but they cannot succeed unless you can transfer the skills to them.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
It's important to understand that the primary role of the Church's staff is not to DO the work, but to enable the members of the Church to do the work. If staff does all the work the ministries will move only at the speed of that staff member, and we are essentially robbing people of their God-given need to give back their God-given gifts in a way that enhances the success of the ministry.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a church leader so far?
During COVID we decided to move our services outside to our parking lot, while still live-streaming them and broadcasting the audio over FM radio so people could hear the music and speakers even if their car windows were rolled up. I joked that we were essentially producing a live concert each week along with a television and radio simulcast, and that a television network with a truck full of a million dollars of equipment would still struggle with this! There was no shortage of grumbling from volunteers about the heat, the sound issues, the weather uncertainty, all of which threatened to cause the whole thing to break down. In praying about what words to use to encourage, God helped me articulate that we weren't doing all of this for our comfort or our convenience - it was to keep people connected to Him during one of the most challenging times in human history.