Staff Leadership — A Legacy of Growth and Integrity

By May 19, 2022

Over the past 18 ½ years, we’ve already learned that a large part of Dr. Tim Bruster’s leadership role as senior pastor has been devoted to enabling, encouraging, and empowering his staff to find and follow their passion in ministry — with some stellar results for the church as a whole. While there are certainly more examples of this leadership that resulted in personal growth that amplified service to our church than could be captured in a single article, here are just a few stories to illustrate this particular and somewhat more personal facet of Tim’s First Church legacy.

Transitions to Foster Growth

In recent articles we’ve learned how a gifted composer and musician with a heart for children’s ministry can be supported in using all those gifts into a unique and dynamic ministry that has earned our church the reputation as The Church for Children. We’ve learned how a gifted youth pastor with a heart for discipling can be nurtured into that new role to lead a true culture shift in our faith community toward more purposeful and balanced spiritual lives. There are many other stories such as these, of course, on a variety of scales, tales of great personal growth and “finding one’s own spot” as has occurred in the career evolutions of Rev. Phyllis Barren from children’s ministry to Director of Congregational Care, and Elaine Johnson from Children’s Ministries assistant to Worship Coordinator.

Under Tim’s leadership we added other key positions to the staff including a Director of Stewardship (first Roger Partridge and now Nancy Fisher), a Director of Welcoming Ministries (Lisa Helm, who moved from her original role as Communications Coordinator to follow her passion for meeting and engaging visitors and new members), and tapped into thought leadership on youth ministries by engaging a firm called Youth Ministry Architects that brought to First Church a legacy of thoughtful and purpose-driven succession planning in the key area of Youth Ministries. Through YMA we were fortunate to add not only Casey Langley Orr, but also Martin Leathers, Andrew Mochrie, Kat Bair, and Matt Britt to our staff. With this visionary thinking and action, we as a church now have a structure in place that assures parents of teens of continuity, consistency, and deep care for our young adults as they navigate their teen years and learn what it means to “go out and be God’s people in the world.”

All these transitions have come with the thoughtful support of a leader who considers encouraging each member of the First Church staff to continuously consider and plumb their own gifts and graces where, paraphrasing theologian Fred Buechner, their heart’s deep gladness meets our church’s greatest need, among the highest of managerial priorities.

Growing in Place

In many other instances, Tim merely encouraged, enabled, and empowered people to “bloom where they were planted.”  Nurtured in an atmosphere of mutual respect, humility, humor, and fierce dedication to the tenets of ministry and faithful discipleship that have always defined Tim’s ministry, these are the relationships that also made their mark, even though they remained in their role as originally hired.

One of these is Pam Erlandson, who served as Tim’s executive assistant from his arrival until her retirement at the end of 2015. Pam says that when Tim first arrived on the scene, it was following a time of turmoil in the church, and on top of that he suddenly had a staff of 30, including about 11 clergy, to manage. She says she remembers thinking, well, he’s going to have to grow into this job. This thought was followed shortly after that with her advice to her new boss, “now don’t think you have to say yes to everything the conference office wants you to do in terms of sitting on boards and committees and organizations.” She was concerned that he would be overwhelmed with these requests — and he was — and then just as surely, she watched him indeed grow into his First Church role with a style of leadership that drew the respect and admiration from staff, clergy, colleagues, and community. “Not only did he grow into his job,” she recollects, “he excelled at it — and far beyond!”

Pam adds that part of Tim’s being able to juggle so many responsibilities within the church and in the conference and across the community created a need for a new understanding between them (some might call this a “come to Jesus” understanding) regarding her role as manager of his calendar, his time, and his commitments. “When you give out your cell number it takes me out of the loop and I can’t help you,” she remembers telling him. She adds that eventually and reluctantly, Tim began to let her do that job of filling his appointment calendar, blocking off and fiercely protecting the time he needed for study, sermon prep, and family time. This evolved into a sixth sense of when rescue intervention was required (“you have 10 minutes until your next appointment”) and a system for staying on top of who needed to be contacted in the congregation. “As I learned his preferences and habits and priorities, I was able to develop and evolve in my own role, working in the background to help him stay focused on what was important to him and not to feel too pressed or cluttered by things I could take care of,” Pam adds.

“Like so many staff members, I feel so grateful that Tim helped me see my job as a ministry and always encouraged me and so many others to be flexible and use our talents and interests to do so many things outside the confines of our specific job to express our ministries. That was a true gift and a big part of his legacy as our leader.”

Legacy of Leading by Example 

Larry Ammerman, who served our church as Business Administrator/Director of Finance for most of Tim’s tenure, was among the first to join the staff after Tim’s arrival. From the very start, theirs was a partnership of mutual respect and deep trust and bilateral admiration for each other’s grasp and attention to the details of the business end of running a church. “I was always impressed with Tim’s review and understanding of Financial Statements, construction and other contracts and other documents that are typically outside the roles of pastors,” Larry comments. “He always understood and could recall what he was shown months later.”

Larry says that in addition to Tim’s calm and thoughtful leadership with the staff and congregation, he was especially impressed by how Tim allowed the lay people on committees to express their opinions and vote even though sometimes the result would not have been Tim’s choice. “He truly believed in the role of the lay person and using them to lead the church instead of the Senior Pastor pressing his choices onto those committees,” Larry relates.  “If the issue needed his view, he would express it but allow the committee to do its work. Especially with SPRC, he encouraged committee members to do their work with the result of their work and choices often leading to wonderful staff hires.”

Concurring that Tim’s strength of leadership with the staff was evident in his ability to let people do their job without interference, Larry adds, “I always felt I was allowed to do my job without critical oversight by Tim, and then if lay people questioned a decision I had made, Tim always supported me and deflected the criticism and allowed for a different resolution if it was needed.”

As anyone familiar with the inner workings of running a large church knows, conflict and the ability to resolve conflict — and the ability to support others in conflict —is the hallmark of solid leadership. Larry echoes the common thread of amazement at how Tim was able to maintain a calm, steady, and firm hand on the reins when dealing with people involved in conflict. “Tim had an amazing ability to withhold his own expressions of frustration in front of people in a conflict,” Larry relates. “He always kept his voice calm in those situations and would work hard to negotiate an appropriate solution. He also was willing to meet with people who had opposing opinions to his, even when the meeting was going to be difficult.”

“One of the things I can tell you for sure about Tim Bruster,” Pam reflects, “is that his integrity is on a scale higher than anyone I have ever known. That is what absolutely stands out about him and endears him to family, friends, staff, colleagues, and church members. From my vantage point I could see how everyone recognized that — it shines above and through everything else. He is absolutely a man of honor. He absolutely does not compromise on the truth, even for the sake of convenience, and he has this amazing gift of being able to bring people in conflict to places where they could see the other side’s point of view, even when they couldn’t agree with it.” She pauses. “It was really something to observe,” she adds. “He trusts people and allows them to find their own solutions. He seemed to have a sense that things were going to work out, and he allowed conflict to ebb and flow — quite the opposite of a micromanager — and so many people grew in their own faith because of it.”

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