Following Pete Scazzero at New Life Fellowship, Lessons in Pastoral Succession, and Leading Into the Future
About The Episode
“It wasn’t until maybe four years into me leading the church that I really felt like, ‘Okay, now I have a good sense as to what it means to lead the congregation from here to there from a vision perspective.’” Meet Rich Villodas, lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, a large multiracial church in Elmhurst, Queens. In this episode, Rich shares his own leadership transition story, as he was called to lead New Life at 28 years old, succeeding the great Pete Scazzero. He gives listeners an inside look at the intimate details of his transition—both the things that went well and the areas that were most challenging for him as a young leader. This is an episode packed with wisdom and honesty on the topic of pastoral succession, and you won’t want to miss it.
Welcome to Episode 073 of the Leaders in Living Rooms Podcast with Sean Morgan.
Insights From Rich Villodas
How did you know you were being called to the Lead Pastor role?
- Two styles of leadership: (1) the pioneer and then (2) the leader who builds and waters what’s already there. I realized eventually that my leadership style was the second, not the first.
- Two things:
- I felt that God had equipped me as a preacher and communicator to lead our church.
- I was nervous about casting vision and moving the congregation from here to there. And I knew I would need Pete’s ongoing mentorship.
- There was affirmation from the outgoing leader for change. But the values of the church stayed the same.
- Pete kept saying to me, “Rich, you’re taking us to a new season, a new phase. This is NewLife 2.0. We need you to lead us into the future.”
- A transition season is about 10 years. 3-5 years of planning, and at least 5 years (maybe 7) on the backend to cement change. It’s a decade change.
How did being an “insider” of New Life work to your favor?
- My life had been significantly impacted by the overarching culture and formation of this church.
- Spending time with Pete, seeing the values take shape, I didn’t feel like I had to reinvent the wheel whatsoever. One of the things we did together in the transition was clarify our values. We call them our “5 M’s” now. I wasn’t inheriting someone else’s values, I had already embraced them and been speaking into them.
- The “Honeymoon season” – probably ended maybe 3-4 years into it:
- There were some fundamental disagreements as it relates to values with a couple members of our elder board. We started having 9PM elder meetings on Monday nights to wrestle through the friction.
- We never really had a full time XP leading day to day operations. Within 2-3 years I had too many direct reports asking me about areas I wasn’t gifted in. It was good character formation, but it wasn’t sustainable. We added an XP in 2018.
- In 2017/2018 we brought in a consultant to help us iron out some of our differences. It is worth all the money to get in the right consultant to help us objectively think through some of the tensions, challenges, and stalemates that we found ourselves in.
- From 2018 to now, has been the fruit from that season. Clarity always upsets someone’s apple cart, but it can also bear much fruit.
Advice for Transitions Leaders
- A mentor told me it’s going to take you 4 years minimally to come up to speed in your new role. He gave a name for every year. Just don’t mix up the years.
- Year 1 – Orientation (you’re not there to make wholesale changes. Connect with the pillars of the community, the long-term stakeholders)
- Year 2 – Experimentation (small innovations, let’s try some things)
- Year 3 – Evaluation (what are some of the larger shifts we need to make?)
- Year 4 – Acceleration (greater confidence and competence)
- It felt like night and day between year 1 and 4. I didn’t feel like I had to look over my shoulder.
New Life Heading into 2023
- Two visions that came from my sabbatical in 2019:
- School of formation to develop leaders – how can I develop leaders in the 5 values that I believe God entrusted to New Life and to me?
- A strategy to start 3 new congrations by 2030 – we’ve launched in Long Island, and are looking to launch 2 new congregations in NYC.
- Our primary task as a congregation is to be a good congregation. High quality, living with integrity, taking our values seriously, Loving Jesus and our neighbors well. If we can do that, all the other things will take care of themself.
Personal & Life Giving Rhythms for Leaders
- My primary task is to be a contemplative. To lead out of prayer and reflection. (Psalm 27:4) To be someone who knows God.
- I give a lot of time to prayerful, big picture reflection. I need a lot of time to think through what are my values, what are my priorities, what are the priorities.
- I need to lead out of prudence. Being far sighted, thinking ahead. Non-anxiously reflective.
- Here are a few of my rhythms that haven’t change, but have been instrumental in my growth as a leader:
- Sabbath – 6:00PM Friday to 6:00PM Saturday
- Day Along with God – 3rd Monday of each month for our Pastoral Team
- Annual monastery trip – to be with God and pray
Good and Beautiful and Kind: Becoming Whole in a Fractured World by Rich Villodas
Leading Change by John Kotter
Check out a brand new resource from Sean Morgan and Carey Nieuwhof, the Pastoral Succession Toolkit. The Toolkit is available to pastors for free and includes access to a live workshop on Jan 23/24, a training video, and a few downloadable guides. Get yours today!
Are you in Transition or have one on the horizon? Check out our 2023 cohorts and get connected with us at: https://theascentleader.org/cohorts/
Who Is Rich Villodas?
Rich Villodas is the Brooklyn-born lead pastor of New Life Fellowship, a large multiracial church with more than seventy-five countries represented in Elmhurst, Queens. Rich holds a Master of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary. He enjoys reading widely, preaching and writing on contemplative spirituality, justice-related matters, and the art of preaching. He’s been married to Rosie since 2006 and they have two beautiful children, Karis and Nathan. His first book, The Deeply Formed Life, is now available wherever books are sold.
Sponsors & Partners
Thanks to our sponsor: Food For The Hungry. Combine your church’s heart for the poor and Food for the Hungry’s global experience at fh.org/churches.
Quotes From Episode
“A mentor told me it’s going to take you 4 years minimally to come up to speed in your new role. He gave a name for every year. Just don’t mix up the years.”
“Our primary task as a congregation is to be a good congregation. High quality, living with integrity, taking our values seriously, Loving Jesus and our neighbors well. If we can do that, all the other things will take care of themself.”
“It wasn’t until maybe four years into me leading the church that I really felt like, “Okay, now I have a good sense as to what it means to lead the congregation from here to there from a vision perspective.”
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About the Host
Sean Morgan is a coach and speaker with a national reputation as a catalyst of fresh vision. His passion is to help ministries navigate obstacles and turn them into opportunities.
Throughout his career, Sean has pioneered initiatives impacting thousands of leaders across the country. He started out serving as Executive Pastor and CFO at New Life Church in northern California.
As host, Sean gives you access to amazing conversations, hard-won wisdom, and poignant insights from world-class leaders in intimate “living room” settings.
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