Interview with Lloyd Shadrach, Bill Wellons & Rob Sweet

Switching from a Head Pastor to a Team Teaching style isn’t always easy, but this technique is beneficial to a congregation in numerous ways. On the podcast, my fellow pastors and I discuss team leadership and the ways multiple voices can improve a message.

About Lloyd, Bill, Rob, Michael & the Fellowship Team Teaching

Lloyd, Bill, Rob and Michael are the pastoral Teaching Team at Fellowship Bible Church in Nashville, TN.

The New Testament church was led by teams; there were no “Lone Rangers.” The teaching approach to leadership follows this same model. There is no “senior” pastor at Fellowship. The congregation is served by a pastoral team of individuals who function in specific roles based upon gifting and calling. In the weekend services, the teaching pastors share the responsibility of teaching the Scriptures. In various ministries, “teams” comprised of pastoral staff and lay leadership give direction and oversight.

Click to read Transcript

EASLEY: Taken from Chapter 4:11, He gave us some as apostles and some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors, and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ. Maybe you even have that in sconce somewhere in your church, in your church history. Ephesians 4:11,12.

In studio today, it’s just a lot of fun to have Lloyd Shadrach, Bill Wellons and Rob Sweet. We comprise the teaching team of the Fellowship National Churches and I wanted to bring this interview to you all so you could understand who we are, what we do, and maybe even glean some ideas on how you might consider, or reconsider ministry as it is today. One of the unique hallmarks at Fellowship is that we do expositional teaching, expository preaching as opposed to thematic or topical which we might do some topics but it’s still going to built around exposition. What we mean by that is that we take a book of the Bible and teach what the text says, not to be driven by how to’s or a current trend of some kind.

So welcome guys. It’s great to have you here!

WELLONS/SHADRACH/Sweet: Thank you.

E: Lloyd, when you started Fellowship Bible Church in Nashville, Tennessee, you had been in Little Rock, Arkansas for how long?

SHADRACH: I’d been there for about thirteen years.

E: On staff with?

SHADRACH: Family Life.

E: What were you doing on staff?

SHADRACH: I was working on Family Life in the area of communications, some administration, in the background role, more often helping people put on conferences,  radio programs. Everything there is related to, as we used to say, effectively building Godly homes.

E: When you were with Campus Crusade for Christ at Family Life, you were always dreaming of planting a church?

SHADRACH: Never! (Laughter) in a million years.

E: So what happened?

SHADRACH: Well I would say I’m a reluctant pastor. In my heart of hearts I look back and I think about my own Christian journey and when I first began really growing in my relationship with the Lord, and in my heart of hearts, I wanted people to know Christ and I wanted to help them grow in that relationship. Truly, Campus Crusade at the time was instrumental in my own growth and so Family Life became an extension of that. The step from that to the local church was a total surprise, but not in terms of my heart. I really wanted people to know Christ. I wanted to help them know Him.

E: You graduated from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, with a Bachelors in Science in Business Administration. I didn’t know that.

SHADRACH: I don’t remember anything about it.

E: (Laughter)

SHADRACH: That’s the truth.

E: Were you involved with Crusade on the Campus at Knoxville?

SHADRACH: Yes.

E: You then went to Dallas Seminary where you earned your MABS. In 96, you and Lisa along with some others, moved to Nashville. What was that like coming here?

SHADRACH: It was an adventure in faith, honestly. We are doing a series right now on Abraham and it’s talking about trusting God makes sense even when it doesn’t. There was so much about that, that didn’t make sense. I’d never planned on leaving. Again, I’ll go back to something that happened to me in college and that was when the gospel got a hold of me. I really wanted to help people know that gospel and how to walk in that gospel and so moving here became an extension of that. Family Life was the first one and the second one was planting a local church.

E: So you started the church here and you meet in your living room?

SHADRACH: We do. We started a Bible study in my living room with about five couples that are sitting around the table and honestly, what we were doing then was family related. We were talking about, what I’d been doing. We were talking about how to build a Godly marriage, a Godly family, and at the same time talking to those people about what would it look like to be a part of a community of faith that took the gospel seriously and made a difference in this community and the world.

E: What ingredients did you bring Fellowship, from Little Rock?  Or the idea of a church plant that was going to involve a team approach?

SHADRACH: Honestly, I saw it modeled at a church in Little Rock at Fellowship Bible, where there was a team in ministry, which I had never seen before. Not one lone leader, but a team of leaders who were all different. They seemed to love working together and the church itself didn’t revolve around one person; it revolved around that team and so it was just very attractive. I can say for me personally I knew I didn’t have all the gifts. I knew I couldn’t on my own lead in that capacity and so it was very natural for me to lean on others and lean on a teammate and a team.

E: So nineteen years ago now is when you made that move?

SHADRACH: Yes!

E: There was a young man named Bill Wellons Jr. who was involved at the church at Little Rock, who had also gone on to UT.

W: TCU

E: TCU, forgive me. You went to TCU. That’s right. We had to go by and see your campus.

W: That’s right. I gave you the big tour.

E: (Laughter) We went to TCU and you were in an entrepreneurial role, thinking about going out and making millions; thinking of being a businessman, going that route. Something pulled your attention to come to Nashville, TN.

W: Yes, I got out of college and worked in Fort Worth for about five years in publishing; in magazine publishing. I enjoyed it and yet had this stirring in me, particularly over the last fifteen or sixteen months of my stint there. It just felt like an invitation to something more or to something different. As I read back over my journals, (I’m a journaler) I write often most days, and as I read back over those journals I realized this itch, this gap, this deeper desire, kept showing up in my writing and decided to start exploring opportunities to get around, particularly some men who had a better balance between their work, professional life, family life, or marriage and their spiritual life and how they were engaging it in an environment.  Like most young guys, they were very heavy on the marketplace, earned the dollar, take the next step, grow the business and I would say that the marriage priority in their relationship along with Christ priority was a little bit less than in terms of balance or margin. I wanted to grow as a man and that was my interest in doing something different.

E: So you went from TCU, a Bachelor of Science and Political Science degrees, you were thinking politics?

W: I wanted to get a good liberal arts education. (Laughter) I wanted to read, write and think. Yes, I had some consideration for law.

E: So that’s where he gets all this politics stuff, Lloyd. Who knew? So what year was it that you came to Nashville?

W: I came in the summer of 99.

E: ‘99, and you are still meeting in the Franklin high school at that time and you tasked this young Bill Wellons to do a land deal and find a place to meet.

SHADRACH: Exactly.

E: It takes about how long?

SHADRACH: Bill you could answer that one.

W: It took probably a better part of that year to find and land and negotiate a contract on a permanent location.

E: Which is a gorgeous pastoral, not in the ministry segment, but in the horse farm segment. This is a pastoral property we enjoy today. Bill, when you came what was your idea, vision of team at that time?

W: I grew up at Fellowship Little Rock Church that Lloyd mentioned just a few moments ago.

E: Your Dad is one of the three lead pastors?

W: That’s right.  He was a part of that teaching team and leadership team in Little Rock and so I saw it modeled. He had good relationships with those families and it was really all that I knew in terms of church life and actually had a good experience on a team with the guys that I worked with in the marketplace in Fort Worth as well. It was very collegial. I wanted to be a part of a team, who I did ministry with, which mattered as much or more to me as what we did in a ministry. I had a great affinity for the church but I wanted to do it with some guys that I enjoyed doing it with.

E: Philosophically when a team of any kind is leading together, it is compelling to people that are on the outside watching. They’re thinking, “Now how do these guys do that? They get along so well, they have humor at each others expense, they know how to play each others strengths and you just don’t see that very often.”

W: I’ve always wondered about what you’ve just described, that people take solace in a team. Why is it that they have a sense of security or a sense of wellness when they know they are being lead by a team, and not by one individual?

E: Rob Sweet has joined us at the table. Rob, you’ve been on staff now at Fellowship for…(Didn’t finish sentence).

SWEET: Little under a year.

E: You are an executive with Chick Fil A, that little company you’ve probably heard about. Rob has an interesting history because he started out playing a trumpet going to the University of Georgia to play the trumpet. How’s your umbersure today?

SWEET: I’ll have to warm it up a little bit and let you know later, Michael.

E: How was your transition from the corporate world to ministry? That’s a real….(unfinished thought). Bill was in it for five years, but you were in it for quite a while.

SWEET: Well I was in it for sevenish, so just a little bit more than Bill. I have a similar story to Bill, I took the advice, late high school early college, and I was trying to figure out what I want to do with my life and I heard the old saying, “If you can do anything else than vocational Christian ministry do it.”

E: Do it.

SWEET: To this day, I’m not sure whether that’s great advice or not, but I took it. I thought if there’s ever a company that I would love working for, and can get some passion around it, it would be Chick Fil A. They match my values, they do it right, they just have a commitment to excellence in all that they do and I had a wonderful time there and I wasn’t content. I mean I was, and I wasn’t. I enjoyed my job; things were going well; loved the company. I love the company to this day, but the only way I can describe it, Michael, is there was this growing sense that I wanted to be in the local church. I wanted to teach; I wanted to lead in the local church; I wanted to be able to see lives transformed by the gospel, as what I give my life to in a full time vocational basis. That’s why I made the transition.

E: Now you went from Chick Fil A to a church in Fort Worth?

SWEET: Yes, I went to Dallas Seminary and then as I was wrapping up seminary I became the Young Adult Pastor at a Bible Church in Fort Worth. I was there for three or four years and then became a Teaching Pastor at a church in East Tennessee, where I was most recently before coming to Fellowship.

E: Let’s talk about team guys, because we all get this individually. For example, how do you preach through a book as a team approach? Lloyd explain to a person….(unfinished thought) If I come to visit your church and you’re going to teach one Sunday, or Bills going to teach, or Rob’s going to teach, maybe Michael teaches, how does that work?

SHADRACH: Well first thing I’d say is it works. People may not be used to it at first but I think in time they begin to resonate with different voices, but from a very practical standpoint, just to be pointblank, you divide up the passages; you assign the passages, and each guy teaches. That’s the nuts and bolts of it. The part I think that we experience around this table is, there’s a lot more to it. We care about each other; we know each other; we spend time with each other. We don’t spend the exact amount of time with each other but enough time that we know each other. We do keep up with who’s taught before and who’s teaching next, we keep up where the other guy left off. I’ve often said to people, “We don’t all like the same radio station; we don’t all like the same music; we all like music.” It’s the same for the four of us and our congregations will hear the four of us and some connect more with one of us than the other. It doesn’t diminish the message; it doesn’t diminish the truth, and I think it comes in stereophonic when you’ve got different voices that are teaching that same message.

E: When you walk the arcade, (We call it the arcade at our church, the lobby, the Narthex.) we all have our fans, we all have our groupies and they say, “Oh Lloyd, I see you’re teaching today.” What do you tell them?

SHADRACH: I say, “I’m sorry.”

E: (Laughter) Bill, what do you say?

W: The exact same thing, “I’m so sorry.” (Continued laughter).

E: I always say, “It’s a statement of faith.” What do you say Rob?

SWEET: I had a guy ask me just this past weekend, “Hey, do you all publish the schedule so we can just see who’s up when? I said, “No, we don’t and here’s the reason why we don’t do it. We don’t want to create the kind of culture in our congregations that’s consumeristic or celebrity driven. So that’s part of it and they can take a guess based on who preached the week before, they may be right, they may be wrong. I love the fact that we’re intentional about discouraging that type of celebrity culture.

E: We do get the phone call at the church, “Who’s teaching this week?”  People vote with their feet. But the plus side, I was out eight weeks with a back surgery and the church keeps on going. Bill, you’re taking a break this summer and it’ll keep on going.

W: I would say the vast majority are not near as concerned about who’s preaching next as they are about the different gifts and the different voices on the team. I would say I hear ten to one, “I so appreciate Michael because he’s different than you,” and “I so appreciate Lloyd because his voice is different” and “I so appreciate you.” I heard this just last week, “There are times that each of you including Rob Sweet have spoken uniquely into my life in a way that I wasn’t expecting it. So then I am hoping that the guy who just spoke in my life is going to be up again speaking again and it’s someone different and God uses that guy in my life and that’s been powerful.

E: I’ve heard that, “Oh, Lloyds teaching, but I got something out of it after all.

W: Yeah, right.

E: When you think about your own preparation and how different we are and you guys are very good about listening too, “Ok, Rob taught last week,” or Lloyd or Bill or Michael. Listen to the message, watch it.” How does that affect the way you study a passage and then exposit it or does it?

W: It impacts it pretty dramatically for me and the reason it does is because I value the consistency of the voice in terms of the tenor and direction, you know the tone, the style, our energies, and our passions and all those things are always different, but in terms of the big picture message of the book of Genesis, like we’re in right now or the book of Jonah, I want that message to carry through. Everybody has their uniqueness, and unique applications, and unique illustrations, but that that message would build week to week matters a lot to me so if I wasn’t listening to the guy before thinking about what’s coming next. I spend a good bit of time on that front end and back end trying to connect dots.

E: One thing I would say is..(middle of thought) I came six years ago Rob, you can speak to this as well. I’m always encouraged and kind of flabbergasted that they actually listen to the message and will make a comment. Michael said last week ….(unfinished thought). Have you found that?

SWEET: Yes absolutely. As the new guy coming in, I found that to be one of the hallmarks of this team is virtually every week without fail, these guys are connecting the dots. I’ve done that, not because I’ve been told to, but because this is how we do it and I want to and I’d answer your earlier question this way, Michael, when I’m listening to you, or Lloyd, or Bill teach knowing that I’m teaching next a lot of the ethos of my sermon is being formed as I’m listening because I want to connect the dots from Lloyd’s voice or your voice to where the passage is going next week. I try to think of it almost as a continual stream rather than individual messages.

E: 99.8 percent of the churches in America have one primary teaching head and maybe they have an assistant who teaches five times a year when he’s on vacation or a guest, can they change to a model of team teaching.

W: Silent.

E: This is when you need video right now.

W: I think it really depends on the leadership and the why, and by why I mean, “Why  do they want to do that? Where are they going? What’s the vision or the mission that drives that particular application? I would say in almost every one of those circumstances it would be pretty difficult if the church has been there for any length of time.

E: To change. So if people are listening to this, maybe some young guys  and saying, “Hey, we’re going to plant a church” or “We’re going to have a sister church.” How would you encourage them to think about team, primarily in the teaching arena?

SHADRACH: It might be helpful along those lines,and I’d love to hear your guys thoughts on this because while we all love it, are grateful to it, are committed to it, but, Michael, you may know where I’m going here in a minute, but there’s some downsides to it and I think about those, so if I was talking to someone I would want them to weigh the pluses and the minuses. Just from a very global perspective I personally have not known anything else. I can just say the discipline and the work, teaching as a team, is really hard. There’s nothing easy perse about it. I think it takes a bit more energy. Michael, you’ve often said one of the reasons it works is because everyone can put their ego aside. Sometimes I can’t. I have got to wrestle that down. So it can bring out the worst in me at times.

E: I didn’t know that. Did you know that Bill?

SHADRACH: It’s true.

W: I’ve never seen it.

SHADRACH: That’s why I keep it hidden. ( All Laughing).

SHADRACH: I never listen to ya’lls messages before I teach. I don’t care. (More laughter)

W: That’s why you say, “I’m sure Michael said this.” It was the right thing to say.

E: Lisa took notes and told them, “This is what Michael said. So quote him next week.”

SHADRACH: Just even going back to team, Michael, I think it’s such a great discussion. I know Bill and I’ve been in team for a while and now the four of us of course, even beyond teaching  but team is really hard. I think in some ways it’s harder than one guy going at it. You plan your messages; you got control of the messages, it really doesn’t matter what the guy said last week because you taught last week so you’re teaching this week and so there are definitely some challenges to it. None of us would be doing it if we didn’t think the benefits far outweigh the difficulties and the challenges to do it the way we’re doing it. I guess that’s one thing I’d tell someone if they’re thinking about it is: talk to someone who’s done it and talk to them about how hard it was, and why it was hard and how you move through it.

SWEET: I would add to that. I almost think you have to be wired for it. I discovered early on that I was. When I was in seminary I actually requested of a professor, “I want to do an independent study on team ministry at the pastoral level.” I researched some churches that were doing it in that way. I talked to them and asked, “What do you like about it?” I learned about myself that this is what I want. There aren’t that many churches that are doing it. That’s a big reason as to why I came to Fellowship. I’m not saying that if you’re wired that way, you’re Godlier than someone who’s not, well maybe I’m saying that. Not intentionally. I do think it is partly personality driven, but I think the benefits of it for me are enormous.

E: There’s a synergy when I first came here I remember asking one of our staff, I think he was the first full time staff the church ever hired and he and his wife went out with Cindy and I. I said, “How does this work? I’ve listened to Bill teach and Lloyd teach, I’m nothing like these guys.” This guy and his wife said, “That’s why we love Fellowship is because there’s a bigger voice than one typical senior pastor, CEO.” Not to denigrate that model, but you either like it or you don’t. We do have our groupies, but I would also say our church is probably a little more mature and willing to hear more than one voice. Case and point, how well they have received Rob over the past ten months, they love hearing this new guy teach, saying, “Man, that guy can do it.”

W: I had someone say that to me this weekend, “I just can’t believe how quickly I’ve connected with Rob.” I was thinking this is going to be difficult, it’s going to be a new voice, it’s going to take some time. Part of the reason that Rob can come in and teach and our people not skip too much of a beat is because they don’t hear one voice. They already hear multiple voices so another one just becomes a part of the team and that’s really fun for us.  We can envision the future a little bit differently than replacing the senior pastor; we can bring younger guys on and along with us. I grew up in front of fifteen hundred people instead of fifty people which is difficult which in some ways is great because I’ve got these senior leaders around me that are helping me grow in that teaching gift and now I’m turning around and able to do the same with the next guy. That part is very fruitful.

E: I would also say from each of our voices because we have a constituency let’s call it, people are going to gravitate towards Rob, or Bill, or Lloyd, or me and there’s a ministry there that I can have to a group of people that you couldn’t as a solo pastor. There’s no way you could do it on your own. It spreads the wealth a little bit so I can spend time with our marriage mentor groups, you know time with your young leaders and so forth so that’s another aspect of it.

Let’s talk a little bit about decision making in leadership because team in that level is very different than just planning sermons and having a revolving pulpit. How does it work Bill? How does it work when you’re leading an elder board as our organizational leader and it’s pastoral team, you’re leading a staff internally and yet we call it a team.

W:This is what Lloyd was describing. This is where it can be both difficult and very advantageous. The difficult part is that it is less efficient. If one of you guys were a one man show in the market place or ministry, or non-profit, the decisions, the efficiency of those decisions, the conversations are shorter, quicker, sweeter, and you can move down the road more quickly. In this case, because we defer to one another and really want influence, impact, feedback, advice from each other, related to leadership decisions and based on our unique contributions it just takes more time. It does as Lloyd said, “Take some level of humility to really defer to other gifts in the room,” to understand your own wiring, and it takes more time. We spent six hours today, did we not? This morning talking about leadership issues coming into our new fiscal year. Now, Rob Sweet, could have taken that list, made all of those decisions in about an hour, communicated over email, and moved it down the road, but I would say that because of your input and mine into that process, our decisions were stronger. People came at it from different perspectives and the although efficiency may be lacking a bit, it was only bolstered by the leadership capacity among four people than it would be among one.

E: Arguably, the inefficiency might be arguing that it’s more efficient because it’s not a mandate; it’s not a dictatorial, and then you’re standing flanked by four, six, eleven elders saying, “Hey, we’re in on this.” It’s not just that we voted all unanimously, but we all churn through this process and it might have taken three meetings where maybe we could do it in one. If you did it in one, you’d have so much pushback in other places.

W: Right. Like this morning for me as an organizational leader bringing the agenda, there were two places where I genuinely did not know what to do. I don’t know what decision to make here and to be able to just offer that on the table, and let the rest of the team wrestle with that with me gave me such great confidence, one that I’m not alone, but two we make a better decision together.

SHADRACH: One of the things, Michael, and it relates back to the teaching, and it relates to decision making as a team, and this is something I’m continuing to grow in, but I definitely have made some shifts over the years to a healthier place. Early on, I would often think in team, I wanted to teach more like you or I need to bring more what Michael is bringing. I need to do that a little more because I don’t do that or I need to teach more like Bill or I need to bring what Rob brings, etc. It’s honestly been in the last four to five years that I’ve probably gotten more comfortable and understood more, and that the more I just bring me, that the more I’m Lloyd in my teaching, the better for all. The whole team lifts when we all just bring who we are, not trying to adapt or be someone else. At the team decision level, I really believe it’s part of even this morning, that the decisions are best when every person brings all that they are. We defer and we do listen and we do seek input from everyone else, the more we bring fully our own convictions, our own perspectives, it creates some friction, but the decisions do get better.

E: One sentence. Team is (unfinished sentence).

SWEET: I would say Team is hard, but better.

WELLONS: Team is choosing the whole over your individual part.

SHADRACH: Team is lifegiving.

E: I would say team is collegial and checking your ego at the door. Thanks for listening to the broadcast. You can find more information at MichaelinContext.com. Thanks for joining us.This is Michael Easley inContext.

Share This