Though it is a privilege to serve as a pastor, the role comes with its own unique challenges and many pastors can feel isolated. It is vital that pastors have support, the opportunity to be mentored and are given space to grow in their relationship with the Lord. Geoff Cresswell is working with pastors to provide this and John Funnell interviewed him to explain more.
My own journey with Geoff has been a blessed one. Feeling my own inadequacy in leading a church that had undergone significant changes, Geoff’s leadership programme helped me to question my approach to pastoral ministry biblically. His support, coming from outside the pressures of pastoral ministry, is both practical and personal. It has drawn me closer to Jesus and blessed my family.
Tell us about yourself?
My name is Geoff, and I am a Christian. I was saved in 1974 through an evangelistic Bible study run by the Navigators at Bristol University where I studied physics. I am a husband, father, grandfather and former headteacher. Today I have the honour to serve as an elder at Highfields Church in Cardiff and I run the leadership stream for Wales Leadership Forum.
What are you most passionate about?
I am passionate about applying principles from the Scriptures to church leadership. Pastors can be influenced by the world’s view of leadership and this is a danger. This can happen for a number of reasons. It may be pressure from within the congregation that the pastor ought to be a certain type of leader or it may be personal aspiration. Pastors have been to seminary and have learned all about doctrine, systematic theology, church history and how to exegete Scripture, but they have received less teaching on how to apply these principles to their leadership styles. As we have seen in some high profile cases, this can lead to disaster.
How do you support pastors?
I look to use the ‘with them’ principle. Throughout the gospel accounts we see that Jesus was ‘with them’ (John 17:12). He taught and developed the next generation of leaders in real time and in real situations. Although there are many benefits in attending seminars and conferences it is also good to spend time personally in an open and honest environment, wrestling through the burning issues together. I try to support pastors by following Jesus’ example in this way by being ‘with them’.
How does your work differ to the support a fraternal of pastors may bring?
Like a fraternal, I facilitate accountability groups with pastors and help them to be honest with each other about their struggles. However, I meet each pastor individually. I am very clear in my first session that my interest and chief concern is not with the church that the pastor serves, but with them personally. I am not trying to usurp the work of the elders or the church leadership, but I create a safe space for the pastor to be open in ways that they may not be able to do with one of their peers.
I listen to them and find out what God is doing in their lives (Prov. 18:13). What is on their heart? Why has God put them into this position of leadership? What is their vision? Together we work out the shape of their church – what are the spiritual gifts within the congregation? What is the heart of their people? We listen together to what direction the Holy Spirit is leading the pastor in his service of the church.
The entire process is utterly distinct from ‘self-help’. I simply provide a sounding board for pastors to unknot their situations and help them draw their thinking towards Jesus. I give them the opportunity to ask themselves the question: How did Jesus react in this situation? The answer is always ‘with a servant heart’ (Prov. 20:28).
What does servant leadership look like?
Working with pastors to apply principles from Scripture to their leadership styles creates a counter-cultural structure that moves the church away from worldly leadership models. Through our programme, pastors have accountability and learn to identify themselves beyond the ministry. What ‘success’ looks like is then redefined. I ask pastors how many times Jesus speaks about ‘success’ and how is it measured? This alleviates much of the pressure of expectation that pastors place on themselves.
Success is very much the world’s concept of leadership. It is hard to find it in the New Testament. My understanding of Scripture is that faithfulness in using the gift of leadership given by the Spirit is the critical thing. The results or ‘success’ in using that gift is out of our hands – that is up to God. However, there is still a strong pull towards judging ourselves by worldly measures of success, such as how many come on a Sunday. Jesus was not successful in the world’s view, but he faithfully completed the work God gave him to do, revealing himself to the small number God gave him out of the world.
What advice would you give to anyone leading a ministry?
In my experience there are two things ministry leaders need to acknowledge to avoid burnout. Firstly, the job is impossible from a human point of view and secondly, you can’t meet everyone’s expectations. Once this is acknowledged I try and help ministry leaders consider how they recharge their batteries and how are they prioritising rest.
What encouragements do you see in Wales?
There are some fantastic people coming through in Wales and the opportunities are massive. I am currently working with five young pastors who are genuinely supporting each other through the programme. We can be thankful for them and the freedom which they have to preach the gospel.