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Terry Parkman on Moving Vision to Behavior through Systems

Terry Parkman on Moving Vision to Behavior through Systems



Terry_Parkman_podcastThanks so much for taking the time to be with us today. Across the country, churches are struggling with the task of trying to gain ground in their community and make a lasting impact. On today’s episode, we’re chatting with Terry Parkman of River Valley Church.

We’ve had a few members of River Valley on in the past because it’s such a fantastic church. They have 8 campuses in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, made up of about 6,500 people, as well as 2 international campuses. Terry is the Next Gen Pastor, which means that he oversees the youth groups and the School of Ministry.

Terry talks to us today about leadership and using systems alongside vision to create a movement within our church and community.

  • Make your boxcar the best. // River Valley is a very vision-driven church with a very clear idea of where God is leading them, and they’re able to actually get traction on those ideas. Terry credits River Valley’s lead pastor, Rob Ketterling, who is not only the visionary behind these ideas but also helps strategize ways to accomplish them. It can be overwhelming to look at the overall picture when getting started, but Terry says the best way to get things moving is to think of the whole vision like a train. The train is comprised of individual boxcars. Each group and individual should focus on their “boxcar” at that time and figure out how to make their boxcar the best. Don’t worry about what will happen in other boxcars, just focus on the one you’re riding on and make it stand out. “If we believe the vision is already happening because God gave it to us,” Terry says, “then we just operate from the idea of ‘how do I make this journey better?’”
  • Learn your leadership style and own it. // Finding out where you fit on the train can be a challenge in itself, but Terry believes that you have to know who you are and what your leadership style is, then own it. Once you learn your strengths and weaknesses in leadership, then you can confidently say, “This is my lane! This is where I fit in.” That is where God will bless you the most.
  • Systems and vision go hand-in-hand. // “Systems without vision kills. Systems with vision brings life,” Terry says. “Systems aren’t a period, but are a comma that lead to an outcome.” If you become married to the system you miss the vision and focus too much on the “law”. Your system should always be in line with the overall vision and the two should work as one to keep the heart of the law alive. If you reward bad behavior but still expect the outcome you want, you have a bad system, which will never move you toward the vision you want. Terry tells us to keep this path in mind: Vision –> Systems –> Behavior –> Culture –> Movement. Look at the vision God has given you and ask how to turn that into a system. Then how do you turn that system into behavior? If your behavior doesn’t look like the vision, tweak your system. How does that behavior then grow into culture? If the culture doesn’t look like the vision, examine your behavior and then the systems. From there, your culture can grow into a movement that reflects your vision.

Learn more about River Valley Church at their website or email Terry at

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Episode Highlights

00:51 // Rich introduces Terry Parkman and welcomes him to the show.

01:16 // Terry talks about River Valley Church and explains his role there.

02:32 // Terry talks about implementing Pastor Rob’s vision.

03:51 // Terry highlights the importance of knowing your own leaderships style.

05:01 // Terry gives us an illustration of a good system.

08:33 // Terry gives an example of changing systems to promote the desired behavior.

11:42 // Terry talks about the church’s small groups program, Ignite.

16:19 // Terry explains, knowledge to competency to influence.

Lightning Round

Helpful Tech Tools // Ted Talks

Ministries Following // Jon Brown, Journey Church, Wisconsin

Influential Book // The Artisan Soul by Erwin McManus

What does he do for fun // MMA Coach, Family, Netflix

Contact // @TerryParkman

Episode Transcript

Rich – Well hey everybody, welcome to the unSeminary podcast, my name’s Rich, the host around these parts. So glad that you’ve taken some time to be with us today.

You know, here at unSeminary, the reason why we do all of these resources, blog posts or podcasts, is that 93% of churches in our country are losing ground against the growth of the communities around them. The reality of it is, most churches aren’t really making an impact in their community.

Well today, we’re going to get a chance to look under the hood of a great church. Actually we’ve had a few members of their team on in the past and we’re going to get an opportunity today to talk to Terry Parkman from River Valley Church. This is a fantastic church, I believe they have nine campuses if I’m counting right, if my math counts up right, about 65 hundred people in the Twin Cities in Minnesota.

Terry, welcome to the show. Terry is the NextGen Pastor there, so really oversees a wide swathe in ministry. Why don’t we start by you telling us a little bit, refresh us about River Valley and then give us a sense of your ministry?

Terry – Awesome, well River Valley is a multisite church. We actually have eight domestic campuses and two international campuses.

Rich – Okay, great.

Terry – One in Valencia, Spain, one in Swaziland in Africa and then we have another eight around Minneapolis and the Metro area.

My role is NextGen Pastor and that’s kind of twofold. I’m Lead Youth Pastor, so I’m over all the youth groups and more over the Youth Pastors and developing strategy and systems and I’m also over our School of Ministry, called River Valley Leadership Institute, in charge of developing emerging leaders, as well as a leadership pipeline in our church.

Rich – Very cool, well that’s a huge area to oversee, obviously a lot of moving parts there. One of the things that I appreciate about River Valley, is it really does seem to be a very vision driven church, there seems to be a clear idea of where God is leading your church, there’s not a lot of ambiguity on that.

If you’re looking for a church to kind of track with and get a sense of that, River Valley would be a great church to do that, but there’s another level to that, which is River Valley seems to be able to translate its vision into reality. It seems to be one of those churches that it’s not just kind of pie in the sky ideas, it’s actually making traction on the ground. Is that your sense of it? Give us a sense of, kind of the vision versus the execution stuff that’s going on at River Valley.

Terry – Yeah, so Pastor Rob, our Lead Pastor, is all vision and the wonderful thing about him is that so many times Lead Pastors get the stereotype of being visionaries and then making everybody do the ground work, but the thing with Pastor Rob is, he’ll come up with this big vision and then he’ll say, “And this is how I see it done.” So he’s very much, in right brain, out left and then he’ll systemize it and then he’ll say, “This is the pathway to making it this creative expression.”

So because of that, he kind of, through his own personal leadership style, hits the wide gamut of everybody else’s leadership style. So as we hear it, we’re asking ourselves, “Where do I jump in on it?”

So if you look at his vision like a train, it’s which boxcar do I belong in? And as we do it, it’s already moving forward. So that’s not the question, the question is, what do we do to make our boxcar the best, as it goes on that journey? Looking at it from that perspective helps us to believe in the vision right away.

So many people say, “How do I get onboard to make the vision happen?” Well if we assume the vision is already happening, because if God gave it to us, it’s being implemented already, then we just have to operate from the place of, “How do I make this journey better?”

Rich – Now I think so many people, they would like to do that, they feel like, “I want to plug in on a vision,” but have a hard time figuring out what their piece of the puzzle is, or what they can contribute. What’s that been like for you?

Terry – Well for me, I think one of the biggest things is knowing yourself and knowing your own leadership style and being cool with owning it. So many people don’t want to anchor down, especially with this millennium postmodern generation, to where they’re like, “I want to be a part of something, but I don’t want to commit to something, and it goes back to our own process too, it’s like, “If I say, I’m this, then I’m also saying, I’m not this.”

Rich – Right.

Terry – Very few people are doing that, but once you’re able to own your own leadership style and your strengths and your weaknesses, and celebrate both of them, then you’re able to say, “Well this is my lane and if I learn how to stay in my lane, that’s where God is going to bless me the most, is by owning the lane he gave me,” in essence, biblically carrying the cross he gave me.

So, it’s very important to know yourself and to know your place in the process and secondarily, to place your value on the table, because if you don’t place your value on the table, other people will do it for you and it might night look good.

So that’s why it’s vital to know yourself and then insert that into the entire process.

Rich – Very cool. Well you mentioned systems a little bit earlier, can you help us understand, what is the place that systems… I think sometimes we think, “Systems, oh that’s boring stuff,” how does that relate to vision? How do those two fit together?

Terry – Yeah, it’s so important to understand this because systems without vision kills – systems with vision brings life.

Rich – That’s good.

Terry – Systems aren’t a period in and on themselves, but they’re a comma that lead to an outcome. If at any time we become in love and married to the systems, we’ve missed it, we become Pharisaical, we become very law driven and we want to make sure that we are in line with the vision, the heart of the law.

I heard a story about systems one time and it kind of blew up this whole thing that God gave me and it’s systems are in essence this, they create behavior.

So if I tell my daughter, “I want you to take out the garbage once a week,” and every time she does she gets a $20 allowance, which is ridiculously generous I think, and it’s time to take out the garbage and I say, “Take out the garbage,” “Later dad.” “Take out the garbage,” “I’ll do it when I get around to it,” and I take out the garbage for her, and then when she asks me for allowance, I give her allowance, I don’t have a bad kid, I have a bad system, because I just rewarded that behavior. So she knows, “I can get a reward for bad behavior.” So I don’t have a bad kid, I have a bad system.

Now if I say, “Take out the garbage,” and she says, “Later,” and then I take it out and she comes and asks for allowance and I say, “Oh this $20, this is next week’s. How about you take out the garbage for two more weeks, then you’ll get allowance again?” I guarantee you she’ll take out the garbage, not because she’s a good kid, but because I have a good system.

When I heard that illustration, it just kind of blew up in my mind, how to usher a vision, into making it a movement, into actualizing it. I see it this way, vision, systems, behavior, culture, movement.

Rich – Okay. Let’s go through that, vision, systems, behavior, culture, movement. Kind of in a spectrum there.

Terry – Yes absolutely and I apply this to every area, whether it’s greeters working the door, people working in hospitality, people on stage doing announcements and flow, because there’s no anointing for announcements, so what kind of behavior do I want to create? So I look at the vision God’s given me and I say, “Okay, this is the vision and are all of our people behaving this way?”

So what many people do is they just keep yelling the vision louder and louder, hoping people will eventually behave.

Rich – So true.

Terry – Our job isn’t to yell louder, it’s to systemize the vision so that people behave right. That way, if people aren’t behaving according to the vision, I don’t say, “I miss God,” and throw away the vision. How many pastors are more comfortable saying, “I miss God,” rather than systemizing it? What I say is, “Oh the behavior doesn’t look like the vision, let me tweak my systems,” tweak, tweak, tweak, tweak, “There, now the behavior looks like the systems.”

Then in the next step, “How do I make this behavior a culture?” Instill value. Whenever you speak value into a collective behavior, that collective behavior becomes a culture. We have a worship culture because people collectively value behaving that way and because when you speak value into behavior it becomes a culture.

Now, “Does the culture look like the vision?” “No.” Well I look at the behavior then, I don’t look at the system, I look at the behavior. “No, the behavior looks fine,” so I’m speaking the wrong value.”

Rich – Okay.

Terry – How many times do we change the wrong thing to try to fix the right thing? What this does is it holds us accountable and therefore if the culture then looks like the vision and then God blesses it, it becomes a movement, because you’ve [Inaudible 00:08:12].

Rich – Yes, right.

Terry – So God’s job is the vision and the movement.

Rich – Right.

Terry – The people’s jobs are the behavior and the culture. Our job is the systems.

Rich – Very cool. Now can you give me some kind of practical examples, how you’ve kind of, either had to tweak some of the systems or, give us some practical examples of how you’ve had to see that happen at River Valley?

Terry – Yeah, number one is our worship culture and this comes from previous ministry experience, current ministry experience but if our students, come up front and say, “God gives me a vision,” and say, “We need students out of their comfort zone, out front worshipping.” I see it in my head, so I articulate the vision.

When I first did this, my first year in ministry, my first months, I said, “Alright everybody, make your way to the front, let’s worship.” Here was the system that I had in place. The lights were up, there was no music, I wanted them to mingle, they would have to get up, stand up on their seats, climb over one another and slowly mingle to the front. The worshipping was coming out of the crowd, climbing up on stage, plugging in and clanking around and tossing everything up and I would just yell, over and over, “Come on up front, and I got to a place where I said, “My students don’t love worship. I have a good vision, it’s my students that don’t.”

I realized it was a systematic thing, I changed it. So I said, “Alright, I want to create an atmosphere for the behavior to take place. So I said, “Alright everybody, let’s stand up. Find five people you’ve never met before and tell them what your favorite candy is, or where you’re going on vacation or what you want for Christmas.” The lights would go down, the stage lights would be black, music would come up, students would get up and talk to one another, the worship team would be plugging in, but nobody sees the worship team because they’re busy looking at each other.

Rich – Right.

Terry – When the worship team gives me the thumbs up, I give the thumbs up to the sound booth, they lower the music, raise the lights and I say, “Alright everybody, grab a friend, bring them up front, let’s get ready for worship.”

What it was, is it was a lot easier to move from your location to up front, than to climb over each other and go back to your seats.

Rich – Right.

Terry – So people started behaving a certain way and coming up for worship. After that, it went for about four weeks, I began to speak in value. I said, “The reason we get out of our seats is because God is an up front God and we want to get up front with him and so many times, when I’m in my seat, I’m thinking about something else, but when I’m up front with him, it’s just me and Jesus.”

Pretty soon that became a culture. So many people say, “Well isn’t that manipulation?” Well, when I brought my daughter home from China, I adopted my daughter, her bedroom was amazing, like soft lights, soft music, colorful things, stuffed animals. Did she care? No she was a baby, but as a parent I wanted to provide an atmosphere of security. Is that manipulation or is that just good parenting?

Rich – Very good.

Terry – It’s just good shepherding right?

Rich – Right.

Terry – So that’s kind of one of the examples that I use.

Rich – That’s very good. I think, as leaders our job, another way to say what you’re saying is, our job is to remove the friction in the direction that we’re hoping people will go in. So whatever it is, in your case, whatever behavior you want people to live out, the systems should be removing friction in that direction.

Now the opposite of that is true, we actually want to put friction in the way of people going in the direction we don’t want them to go, or to behave in ways… So the other way to say it is, the main thing should be the plain thing. So the easiest thing or the next step you want people to take needs to be obvious, needs to be strategic, needs to be super clear for sure.

Terry – Yeah.

Rich – Changing direction a little bit, I saw something on your site around a program called Ignite. What is Ignite at River Valley?

Terry – Okay, so Ignite is our discipleship process for youths.

Rich – Okay tell me about that.

Terry – It kind of centralizes our small group, life group format.

Rich – Okay.

Terry – It really came out of my dissatisfaction of what was being produced in small groups and not just at River Valley, this was before I got to River Valley, but I realized that students weren’t taking ownership for their faith and because of that we have the statistic of 85%, whatever percentage, falling away from faith after high school. Why? Because it’s their parent’s faith, it’s their church’s faith, it’s their youth group’s faith.

What I found, especially in this generation, is we have people more in love with the Christian culture than we do the Christ of their culture.

Rich – Oh that’s good.

Terry – So when they leave their atmosphere of their contacts, they’re also leaving a Christian culture and going into a place where there probably isn’t one, even in some Bible Colleges, let’s be honest.

Rich – Right.

Terry – So because there isn’t a Christian culture, they fall away from their faith. So what I want to do is, I want to make them more in love with the Christ of their culture.

So what we did is, we brought them together, it’s a two-hour atmosphere and we call it Discipleship, and let’s call small groups what they are, by and large a relationship.

Rich – Okay.

Terry – Anybody can say, “What are your small groups, what’s your discipleship plan?” They’ll say, “Small groups.”

Rich – Right.

Terry – “Well who’s leading those small groups? Are they deep enough to lead those small groups? Are they willing to have the hard conversations and maybe disenfranchise some people with the word of God in order to bring depth to it?”

Here’s a thing, with a lot of small groups they’re moralistic, therapeutic groups. It’s very like, I want people to feel good about themselves.

Rich – Right.

Terry – I want them to know that they belong here and I want them to come back.

Rich – Right.

Terry – So what am I removing to make that happen? So what I did is I made Ignite, because I believe discipleship flows down, relationship flows out. Jesus didn’t delegate discipleship with his disciples, he did it.

So they show up, let me just give you the format.

Rich – Yes.

Terry – 6 o’clock to 8 o’clock, they show up. We give them food, 6:00 to 6:15. They talk and we have great music going on and we have a coach pit kind of created in the center. So it’s more conversational, they’re not in rows, they’re like in living room settings. Then they grab food and at 6:15 they sit down. We give a few announcements and then we say, “What are some questions that you have that have been gnawing at you about the word of God, or what’s happening in the world today? What do you want to know about anything?” And students ask, any question and every questions.

Rich – Interesting.

Terry – We don’t philosophically or even theologically answer their question, we biblically answer it their question.

Rich – Okay, yeah.

Terry – So what we want to do is not give students the answer but give students the process.

Rich – Okay.

Terry – Because everything in our journey is about process, it’s not about answers. Our answers have never made us make the journey better. Unfortunately they have, “Why did God do this?” Well that answer might not sit well with me, so I have to understand the process behind it. It’s the answer behind, working out your faith, with fear and trembling, with being ready in season, out of season and always something to answer for your faith.

So they ask any and every question and we answer biblically. After that we kind of dive into the topics, a Syrian refugee crisis, a big question that just came up. So we made a whole Ignite about that, and they asked about that and I said, “Well, what about you, what do you think about it?”

It’s very [Inaudible 00:14:39] in that, you ask a question of the question until the answer’s plain.

Rich – Okay, right.

Terry – It’s a process to lead them through a biblical thought process, more than you get them to the place of an answer.

That Q & A, we break down into small groups. Then we have people leading small groups. Now the cool thing about our leaders leading small groups, just watch me answer questions through process, so that they get to do it and we’re teaching them.

“What does the bible say about the Syrian, about refugees?” “To love your neighbor as yourself. When he said that, borders weren’t included in that statement.” “Well what if they are terrorists?” “Well God says that if we are already dead to ourselves and alive in him, then it shouldn’t be about our safety is should be about reaching [Inaudible 00:15:17].”

So we really create tensions now, because a lot of discipleship is creating a tension and letting you work through that tension as opposed to giving you an answer.

After small groups we go into a time of worship, where we have canned worship, stuff’s glowing on the screen, prayers from the word of God and say, “Students, God’s been talking to you about something and it might be something different for all of you. Go on a prayer and worship and let Jesus talk to you.”

After that we grab more food, just to kind of hit reset. Then bring them back for a solid challenge and that challenge would be, “Who’s a refugee in your school? Not just the foreign refugee but the American refugee? The kid that was taken away from his click.”

Rich – Right.

Terry – “You’re called to that person and you willing to dive your reputation to reach that person?”

Rich – Very cool, very cool. That sounds great. It sounds fantastic, obviously you’re really pushing towards… I love the question driven environment. I love like you called it the [Inaudible 00:16:05] style of developing students, I think that’s fantastic. Do you do that at all of your campuses, do you do that at a few of them? I would imagine it would be a fairly weighty challenge for some leaders to lead that kind of environment.

Terry – And that’s the thing. I’ve been doing it for about eight years, so I’m comfortable. I wasn’t great when I started, let’s be honest. It’s very hard to think biblically all the time, without letting your emotion get into it, but it happens at all of our campuses and all of our Youth Pastors do that.

Rich – Wow.

Terry – My goal with my Youth Pastors is not to give them knowledge but competency, because if we’re going to impact the world and advance the kingdom, we can’t advance the kingdom with our knowledge, we only advance the kingdom with our competency. So the journey that these students are going on are from knowledge to competency to influence. We don’t do knowledge to influence, because if that was the case then all of our Christian debates and Christian blogs would bring the world to Jesus.

Rich – Right.

Terry – But when we become competent in love, when we become competent in truth and we become competent in the word, then that’s where we begin to influence people. When you become competent in the law to show the sin and you bring Christ into it, then that’s where influence takes place.

So I took my Youth Pastors on that same journey. They came to watch me. I do Ignite for about a month at each and they started to unfold it in their campus and then I go campus to campus and I just bring little tweaks to the system.



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