7 Questions with Paul Mergard
Name: Paul Mergard
Current title: Executive Manager Partnerships
Current organisation: Destiny Rescue
Paul is the Executive Manager Partnerships at Destiny Rescue, whose mission is to rescue children from red light districts, brothels and sexually abusive situations. Prior to this, Paul worked for leading International Not-For-Profits Compassion and The Salvation Army.
He has campaigned tirelessly on the issue of Human Trafficking to bring awareness and effect change in the lives of thousands of children. Paul felt called to advocate for children who had been sold into the sex trade in the early 2000's, and after a number of trips to one of the largest red light districts in SE Asia, he knew he had to do more than just pay lip service for the freedom of children.
After hearing a child trapped in bonded labour say, "I do have dreams, but my dreams will never come true, so don't let me dream at all" Paul committed himself to enabling children the opportunity to dream big dreams. It's the right of every child.
Paul and his wife Kirsten are also the Service Leaders of Hillsong Church Sunshine Coast South.
Paul has also played key roles with Red Frogs since 2001, including being the operations manager for Schoolies on the Gold Coast and pioneered and led Red Frogs in Bali for 5 years.
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
Knowing when to innovate and take ground and when it’s time to pause and wait on God to give new direction. I love pioneering new initiatives and advancing what we are doing, but I’ve also had to learn when to be patient and wait for the right timing and right season. This isn’t always easy to discern, and I’ve often come across roadblocks and had to pause, but in the long run I’ve often found that it was just the timing that was out - not necessarily the idea or initiative.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
It’s not one thing that made me a church leader but many leadership giants who have inputted into my life and leadership journey over the years. As a kid, I always wanted to be leading something, and I was so blessed to have other older leaders mentor me and give me opportunities to lead between the ages of 15 and 25. They were the men and women who took a chance on me and ‘gave me a go’ and then kept pushing me to continue to grow in my leadership and development.
I did a year out with The Salvation Army in London when I was 25 which really grew me as a person and a leader and then just kept taking on new challenges and opportunities as I grew and developed.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I’m naturally fairly unstructured, so every day can be a bit different, and COVID has certainly changed what I do.
However I spend the first hour or so of my day working on my US business, mainly because of the time zone. 6am in Brisbane is 4pm in New York so I need to make the most of the overlap in business hours.
I will then do family stuff - getting our boys ready for school and most days I do school dropoff.
If I can spend some time in the word of a morning I will do that otherwise I’ll find time later in the day or evening - really depends on what day it is.
Thursday always has a great start to it as I attend a Business Connect Group at Hillsong which includes people from all over the world dialling in to share, pray and be encouraged. And once a month on a Tuesday we have another Business Connect Group on the Sunny Coast - thankfully we are back to doing it face to face.
I’m then into work - which will vary day by day. In the middle of the day, I try to get out and walk for half an hour which I’m loving because it gives me a chance to pray, reflect and process when I’m not distracted by a screen. Most of my day revolves around being on Zoom meetings, making phone calls to my team, donors or our Destiny Rescue International team and trying to grow the impact that we can have on kids trapped in the most horrendous situations.
Another highlight in my week which is a good focus is a Friday morning we have a global prayer meeting with the Destiny Rescue International team - video conferencing has made it so easy for us to connect, pray and share in such a powerful way.
Before dinner I’ll try and get to the gym if I can (if it’s open) where again I’ll often work out with worship music on and it’s amazing how many times I actually hear God speak to me during this time. Then it’s either family time, connect group, making calls to our church or just time with my wife.
I’ll often spend some time in the evening on calls to the US or doing other work in relation to my US business - so it’s a full on day by the end of it!
4. What one book had the most profound impact on your church leadership? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
It’s not strictly a leadership book, but it’s impacted my leadership and whole of life really. When I was in my early 20’s, I was given Brother Lawrence’s book ‘The Practice of the Presence of God.” It was written in the 1600’s, but this book absolutely allowed God to transform my life and learn how to ‘practice his presence’ regardless of what I’m doing. So when I’ve been in tough leadership situations - whether it be making decisions, strategy sessions, dealing with conflict or other situations, I often find myself practicing His presence and seeking to hear God’s voice. There’s a pause in my spirit, a turning in of my ear and I wait to have a sense of what the Holy Spirit might want to be saying to me in the situation.
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
It’s a continual lesson I learn but it relates to God’s timing, and his plan and purposes for our lives, and being patient until the right season.
I felt God called me to do something about Human Trafficking back in the mid 2000’s and I dove in and learnt as much as I could - and started campaigning on the issue. I went to a number of countries and personally met victims of human trafficking and sexual abuse. I knew God had called me to speak up on this issue, and I thought my ministry roles would allow me to do this effectively, but it wasn’t the case. It actually hurt when I couldn’t fully live out that part of my calling in the roles that I was in, and I felt like I had to lay down the calling God had put on my life.
So last year when I began discussions with Destiny Rescue about heading up our fundraising team, I actually resisted the call to come back into the space because of the pain that I faced when I felt I had to lay it down. But I ended up diving in, taking up the challenge and I have come to see how God’s timing is more than perfect and in due season, his plans are yes and amen.
The journey in the middle often felt like a desert experience - it was tough with many disappointments - but I look back now and I’m thankful for the journey that God has had me on, for the resilience he’s built in me, leadership lessons that have been learnt and opportunities that now lay ahead. His timing is always perfect.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
I believe we need to take chances on people. Give them a leg up, speak hope, faith and life into their lives, and let people know you believe in them. I look back on my life and there have been people who just took a chance on this young punk who really had no idea - but they were there to pat me on the back and cheer me on. I want to be that guy now - to take a chance on people, give them a leg up, let them have a go, be there to pick up the pieces if it doesn’t work out and allow people to flourish in a safe space.
You’ve also got to be prepared to give it away - don’t keep everything for yourselves. Give other people opportunities to thrive and not keep them all for yourselves. It actually enables you to take that next step in your leadership when you give others the opportunities that may come your way.
7. If you had to pick just one story, what would be the most meaningful story from your time as a church leader so far?
It’s simply to ‘push out into deep water’. I remember years ago I was reading Luke 5: 1-11 - it’s the story of when Jesus told Simon to “push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch” Luke 5:4 MSG. Like all of us, my preference is often to play it safe. Keep it to what is known - whether that be with people, in strategy, in new opportunities etc. But all along my journey, I’ve regularly had God whisper to me to push out into deep water. And it’s been there that I’ve seen his power displayed, lives transformed, communities impacted.
One of the very first mission trips I ever led was to a rural community in South Africa back in 2003. I had a team of 8 Aussies with me and we were going to spend 2 weeks in a township in KwaZulu Natal where we were the only white people to have ever stayed in the township overnight. It just wasn’t done back then.
When we drove into the township, there was a huge amount of fear on the team - me included - about what the next 2 weeks were going to be. But I put on a brave face, tried to now let my fear show to the team and ‘pretend’ that this is exactly what I was expecting when we came into this community. (I was so outside of my comfort zone.)
However, as the 2 weeks went by, we saw some incredible things happen in this community. Racial divides came down. We saw people saved and healed. And even amongst the team, their lives were radically transformed because of the experience of those few weeks.
But it was all about pushing out into deep water. Taking up the challenge to do something that was unfamiliar, unknown and untested (at least for me) and seeing how God could really use it to build His Kingdom and transform lives.
The unknown of that week all of a sudden became a familiar path for me to help people grow in their discipleship, love of God and ability to see how God could use them to bring His love and peace to the world.
Churches were planted because of experiences like that, church leaders were raised up and whole communities were impacted because we pushed out into deep water.