A Chemistry Conversation with Lo Norris
Matt Steen, Co-Founder of Chemistry Staffing, and Lo Norris have a candid conversation about the pressures of leading in a stressed out, polarized, and ever-changing Church culture after a global pandemic.
In this Chemistry Conversation, Lo Norris takes the lessons he’s learned working and Shepherding Pastors in the “trenches” and gives us practical and free guidance through Standing Stone Ministries to help us make better decisions, bring clarity, and see more breakthroughs.
About Lo Norris:
Lo Norris has served for two decades in the Local Church. As a result, Lo, has gained valuable insights working with Churches of all sizes. He has learned firsthand, about the unique challenges that each church faces and the importance of having empathy for leaders working in church ministries, and the struggles that exist in their roles.
He currently is the Training Director at Standing Stone Ministries, which provides Pastors and ministry leaders with anonymous free coaching through a network of experienced ministry practitioners that love to provide encouragement and guidance.
As always, we are here for you, and we're praying for churches and teams all over the United States!
Read the Full Transcript
Lo Norris: My pleasure. Glad to be here.
Matt Steen: So just so we’re clear, Standing Stone, you guys are a bunch of pastors who have realized that you need to work more with other pastors than necessarily the local congregation these days. So part of what you guys do is coming alongside pastors, pastoring and shepherding them, being a safe place to talk, maybe doing some pastoral counseling work, that kind of thing. What am I missing there?
Lo Norris: Not much. I’ll elaborate. The common denominator is we’ve walked a mile in those shoes and we know that there are, even in the best church scenarios, there are just challenges that are kind of above our skillset and training. So for us, there’s about 180 of us shepherds that are across the United States. We all feel called to take the learnings, the bumps, the bruises, the path that took its toll on us and bring that to individuals that we know are experiencing something along those lines and just be a safe place off the record. Free, confidential care for pastors and ministry leaders so that they can walk out the calling that God has on their life and minimize the burnout rate in our ministry coast to coast and even around the globe in some cases.
Matt Steen: That’s awesome. And just to be clear, y’all aren’t consultants. You’re not another guy that’s going to give people a binder. You guys are really doing spiritual care and really walking with pastors, not necessarily pushing a program or something like that. It’s, “hey, let’s get you healthier, let’s keep you healthy” is more of what you guys are trying to do.
Lo Norris: Yeah, 100% behind the scenes and anonymous. We don’t have any ties to denominations, to board members, to spouses. All behind closed doors. And that trust is huge. Trust is what artifact this is built on.
Matt Steen: That’s so awesome. So you’re working with guys all over the country, both within your team and you said you’ve got about 3 million people that are on your team. I probably exaggerated a little bit on that. But you’re also talking to pastors that are in the day to day. What are you learning about the church these days?
Lo Norris: Oh my gosh, it’s fascinating. The church “these days,” I’ll define “these days” as let’s just say the last 18 months.
Matt Steen: Okay.
Lo Norris: As pastors have faced an unprecedented scenario. The first thing, Matt, when you posted this question to me, I’m like, “Man, what am I learning today?” I’m learning that the church is much smaller than I thought it was. Here in the continental US. The church attendance is down across the board, which for the average guy and gal is discouraging when you start talking about, “Where are all my people?“ But with that being said, I’m also realizing that smaller as it may be, it’s strong. The church is strong. The primary indicator that I use for that is that the people that are there at the church, they are there and they’re ready to go. They are the few. And interesting enough, a majority - I won’t say all, but a majority of the churches that I work with, which is between 25 and 30 between my Nashville area where I am now and Southern California where I transplanted from, their giving is not down.
Matt Steen: Wow, yeah.
Lo Norris: The people who are still there have always been there and their commitment to the church both in time, talents, and treasure are still in place. So it’s an interesting thing to reconcile for the leaders that I’m working with. But very fascinating.
Matt Steen: Oh yeah. So as you’re working with guys, I’m sure you’re hearing any number of different stories of churches that are thriving and churches that are feeling a little beat up. As you’re working with your team, working with the guys that you’re working alongside and at the same time kind of taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, what are you seeing on the horizon? What do we need to be aware of?
Lo Norris: I’ll dovetail that with the first question. I’m also learning that the average pastor of a church hasn’t done a lot of work recently on defining what their church is going to be about. What they are to be in this particular season. There are so many polarizing effects that are happening within our culture, and even within certain denominations, where pastors are being forced to deal with issues that they never signed up for. Not that it’s outside their view of responsibilities, but there’s not seminary classes necessarily on racial divide.
Matt Steen: [sarcastically] What?
Lo Norris: There’s no class on are you blue, red, or purple. And even within denominations, are you going to be part of the conservative wing or part of the advancement wing. So a lot of guys are firm in their faith, but I don’t know if they’re firm in their expression of what leading their congregation is going to look like and what they can stand on with absolute resolve. I feel like a lot of pastors are going to be put in a situation if they haven’t already to where they need to stand up and receive ridicule. I told a lot of guys in the last year, Satan’s going to stab you in the chest or he’s going to stab you in the back. I would rather him stab me in the chest as I’m taking ground. I think a lot of pastors have realized that and whatever stance they’ve made - let’s just take the closing down of churches last summer. Whatever stance they made, they lost people. I had a brilliant man one time say, “You’re always going to offend somebody. Make sure you offend the right people.” The pastors have done a lot of leg work within their boards and within their own circle of advisors to figure out, what am I going to stand on. And rather than wait for this to come to me, I’m going to start preparing and bring that statement to the forefront so they can actually guide their church from a position of leadership proactively, rather than responding to everything that gets thrown at them. That’s a hard thing to do, especially for pastors like myself who do not want to ruffle the feathers. They do not want to cause conflict. They do not want to cause controversy. But they need to realize that controversy and conflict is coming to their doorstep and be prepared for it and stand firm.
Matt Steen: There’s a bunch of guys that are watching this that are just nodding their head and saying, “Oh yeah, conflict has come to my door.” They’ve lived this. We’ve said a lot around here, every decision a pastor has made during the last 18 months has been wrong, you know? It’s just how it’s been. People have been pretty clear and very kind to let us know that. How do you counsel some of these guys that you’re talking to? Because people are going to be angry. We all like to say, “I’m not a people pleaser. I’m just going to stand firm.” You and I both know that every single one of us in ministry has some people-pleaser tendencies, whether we could admit it or not. We may be solid on the outside, but we’re internalizing that. How do you walk with guys through that? How are you coaching them to maintain their health while they’re getting stabbed in the chest, to use your word.
Lo Norris: They need to be super honest with their spouses about what they are experiencing. They don’t need to drop names. I’m not a big fan of bringing names home because it creates awkwardness for the spouse. Your spouse is going to protect you. So even if, “I don’t know, board member so-and-so,” immediately they’re going to probably decide with you. But you need to have a real clear line with your spouse as far as this is who we are about. Because of what comes next. What comes next is you’re going to potentially alienate people and alienate yourself, and you need to be ready for whatever the consequences look like. I have a saying that, Jesus is either Lord of All or He’s not Lord at all. The tendency to cling onto the things that - the pastors that I’m talking to are clinging onto things that they don’t even realize have become driving forced in their life. “Well, I can’t afford to lose this job.” How big is your God? You’re carrying out what He’s calling you to do. And if you’re assuming the posture that He’s calling you to do, then the results are 100% His responsibility. It’s His responsibility to move you out of the church, but it’s also His responsibility to care for you if that’s the direction He goes for you. So we feel like we want to follow Jesus in certain areas, but we’re clinging onto these because “I can’t afford to not have a paycheck next month.” So having stronger resolve. Understand lordship. That if this doesn’t go the way that you think it’s going to go and you lose your job, it’s okay because the Lord might be doing this for you, not to you. And that’s a hard concept for us to get our minds around, especially when it’s disruptive, and if you and your spouse aren’t on the same page, you’re going to not only alienate people in your congregation, but your house is going to be a place where people are alienated and you can’t afford to go that route. So those are two big things. And I also advise pastors to make sure that they’re walking to wise counselors so that they are not making this decision in a vacuum. They need to have sounding boards and allow the people that they respect to weigh in on it because the people they respect, especially if they’re in leadership in the church, they also have a divine mandate to care and to shepherd the flock. And shepherds like us as pastors desperately need to have more triangulation. How this affects this group, and how would this affect the community that you have. So wisdom comes in a multitude of wise counselors. That’s a big, big part of it. And it protects against isolation. That would be the general stuff that I think applies to anybody that I’m talking to, and then it gets more nuanced based on their personal situations.
Matt Steen: I like what you’re saying about making sure that you and your spouse are on the same page. Really like the idea that don’t necessarily need to be sharing names. At the same time, you’re spouse is watching and that’s the hardest job in the entire church is being a pastor spouse. Let’s just be honest. They gets to see all the inroads that you take, but they don’t necessarily get to do anything to change it. How are you advising guys to care for their spouse through this season? Yes, be on the same page. Yeah, protect them from names. Any other things that you’re saying as far as how we care for our spouses in this.
Lo Norris: I’m not a real smart guy. I’m really not. I would say I plagiarize almost everything I’ve got. The best stuff I plagiarize is from scripture. Shameless plug though, we are not just a ministry to pastors. We also have a spouse, or ministry wives, that also cares for the female clergy. Just know, gentlemen, ladies out there, we have care for your spouses. So it really just comes back to basics. He’s either the Lord of All or not Lord at all. Where are you giving the lion share of your time? I think a lot of it is we can’t put our spouses through a challenging decision in the church and expect them to roll with it if they’re not operating from a base of feeling full and prioritized by us as ministers. We all need to proactively make investments in your spouse, your wife, your kids. Don’t try to manage the conflict when it’s already there. We need to be proactively filling and making deposits into that relationship so that when a tough season comes, either on a national level or isolated within the church, that they land softer. So it’s basics. Make investments. It’s date night. Leaving your work in the office. My mentor back in California when I was coming up as an intern said that when he drove home, he got to the stop sign right before his block and he paused and took an extra second and visually took his work briefcase and imagined him placing it right there at the stop sign so that he left it before he even got into the home. And then when he pulled out, he stopped, took a deep breath, and took the proverbial briefcase and went back to the office. I thought that was just a brilliant illustration of it’s impossible for us to separate our job as a pastor and a father and a parent and a husband and a wife, so we have to go to great lengths to make our homes sacred spaces. So what is going on in our loved ones’ lives are our absolute priority.
Matt Steen: That’s great. That’s a good word, man. Thank you for that. So as you’re looking to the future, as you’re looking 18 months, 24 months, 5 years down the road, what encouragement do you have to pastors for the season ahead.
Lo Norris: Uh.
Matt Steen: Uh on.
Lo Norris: I don’t know if encouragement’s the word. I got a chance to visit Ephesus back in the day, but what dawned on me was, the church died here. There’s no church here. And realizing that what we know as church and what we lead as our church doesn’t last forever. So to feel as though somehow that’s the mandate, that we make this thing work come hell or high water. Literally. It a misnomer and it forces us, again, to lead from a place of too much constriction. So I think as encouragement, realizing that’s been the model since the get. There’s no church that withstands every season. And as a country, we’re going through some interesting times, but we’re fairly young as countries go. I’ve heard many pastors preach on empires. And empires fall, empires rise. So that’s not the encouragement. I think that’s just the gut check. The encouragement is - we’re going through Nehemiah right now as a church. Our pastor’s walking us through that. And getting to where, I think it’s Nehemiah chapter 8, when the people reopen the text and there is this huge emotional swing of weeping and sadness because they realize how far they’ve drifted. And then I think within the same chapter, the Levites bring about like, no, we need to celebrate because we’ve heard the word of God. Who cares how much we’ve missed. Let’s focus on what we now know and revisiting the holiness component of church, revisiting that pursuit of righteousness within the church. We are not called to make board members happy. We’re not called to get a 10% growth in our congregational attendance every year. We’re called to make disciples. We’re called to challenge people to a higher standard and welcome them into an intimate relationship with the Lord. And in doing that, to watch the transformation of what happens when we simply surrender to the word and the quality of life increases. Jeremiah 29:11, it’s the coffee cup verse of all coffee cup verses. It’s like, “For I know the plans I have for you. It’s going to be good.” That promise wasn’t realized by the people it was given to. The people it was given to were stuck in Babylon. That promise was for their kids and their kids’ kids. We need to keep that generational mindset in the forefront of saying God has just called us to submit to him, to trust him, to read his word, and to seek his heart, and to respond to His Spirit as all those things reinforce one another. And when that happens, it doesn’t matter if we’re in a World War II moment or whether we’re in a Babylon exile. That’s when we’re going to see God’s favor. So the encouragement is just back to basics. Back to basics and pursuit for following the road that He’s laid out to us in scripture and that personal relationship. I know that doesn’t come off as encouragement. I just feel like we’re scraping the barrel for little nuggets of, “Please just encourage me.” It’s like, no, the encouragement comes from just doing what men and women of God have done for the last couple, if not several, a millennium of just see God’s face and submit to Him and humble ourselves to Him. And that’s where I think He restores us in the same way that He restored Israel in the story of Nehemiah and rebuilding the temple. He’s still working. He’s either Lord of All, or He’s not Lord at all. That should be an encouragement, I think, for all of us.
Matt Steen: That’s awesome. I keep telling people, God’s not surprised that we’re in the middle of an apocalypse. Right? He’s well aware of what’s going on. He hasn’t forsaken us yet.
Lo Norris: Right. And I’ll add this. This is more for the audience, typically, since you didn’t ask. There is a silent majority in your congregation, in your Twitter feed, in your YouTube videos who are not going to squawk and bock and everything you say. But the more that you stand up and show healthy, God-inspired leadership, you’re going to see a silent movement of people that go, “Finally someone that has the courage and the confidence to lean into this.” So make sure - I think we all need to have a gut check as to where we’re getting our positive reinforcement from. Negative reinforcement is so pervasive right now. But where are we getting our positive reinforcement? And just know that there are people wondering, what are you going to be about? Are you the type of person that I want to follow? And that’s where the divine spark happens. Because the Lord knows the hearts of all those silent observers. But just trust that leadership that He’s put inside of you and know that people are looking for a better alternative than what they’re getting right now.
Matt Steen: That’s awesome. Lo, thank you for this. Thank you for the time that you’re sharing with us. Seriously, man, thank you for the work that you guys are doing. If y’all haven’t checked out, if you don’t know about Standing Stone Ministry, you need to go to standingstoneministry.org and just devour their entire website. Because I really do, I love the work that they’re up to. I love the way that you guys are caring for pastors and their families and walking with them in hard seasons, and even sometimes not-so-hard seasons. Grateful for y’all’s work. Thanks for doing this, man.
Lo Norris: Absolutely. My pleasure, and look forward to talk to anyone out there that’s looking to talk to someone off the record. I’ll be more than happy to help you find someone in your area or talk to you myself.