7 Questions with Susan Elsmore
Name: Susan Elsmore
Current title: Associate Pastor
Current organisation: Gateway Baptist Church
Susan is married to Jason (Senior Pastor at Gateway), and has 4 adult children, one son-in-law and a beautiful granddaughter. She oversees the multi campus Thrive Women’s ministries at Gateway.
She is passionate about creating authentic communities where women can find a place to belong, grow and thrive in their relationships with each other and with God. Her gift of empowering others and raising up leaders to be the change in their families and in their communities has seen whole families redeemed and more people become courageous followers of Jesus.
Both Susan and Jason have a deep affection for the local church and work collaboratively with other local church leaders to grow the Kingdom of God.
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
The most challenging and most rewarding at the same time is leading volunteers. I have a passion to see people discover their gifts and create opportunities for them to use them, but when all of your teams consist of volunteers, it is an ongoing challenge. I am very aware of the need to keep them passionate and motivated towards a shared vision and engaged in the ministry work they are doing for the long term, all without any pay check coming their way.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I have been passionate about serving in the local church from a very young age, and when my husband went into full time ministry this passion only grew and we considered ourselves in ministry together. As my kids got older and my responsibilities in the home got less, I felt God calling me out of my career as a primary school teacher and into a more official ministry role alongside my husband.
This stirring took place over a couple of year period, as I love teaching, but it was something I needed to know was a definite call and leading from God. It is such a privilege and a responsibility that I don’t take for granted and I am loving the role I get to play in growing the church. My teaching experience has certainly been beneficial to my ministry role, and I went on to do a Masters at Bible College which has enhanced my gifts and helped me become a registered Pastor.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My husband brings me a coffee first thing in the morning (he’s well trained!) and I sit in bed reading my bible and journaling. This time has become so valuable to me! Then I get ready and head to the office for a day at work, which can involve just about anything from meetings, to emails, ministry gatherings, content creation and phone calls! While I have an “ideal” weekly calendar structure, I hold most plans for my days loosely as inevitably people spontaneously drop into my office, which I love!
Being available for people is a privilege and a priority for me, and God is always faithful to bring everything I need in the other areas of ministry. Thursday’s is the day that doesn’t get a lot of compromise as it is dedicated to my role in women’s ministry and the women’s group that I run. Once I get home it’s usually straight to making dinner, which is a valuable time to engage with my adult children and find out about their day. We still try to eat together, depending on who is home, and the dinner time conversations are still some of the best engagement moments with my family. After dinner I usually watch a bit of TV or read (because there is never anything good on!) and then head to bed, anywhere from 9:30-10:30.
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 actually very hard to choose, but years ago I read “Courageous Leadership” by Bill Hybels and it had a significant impact on me and empowered my leadership. It helped me to realise that my gifts didn’t have to look the same as others and I didn’t have to engage with God in the same way as everyone else. How I lead and how I engaged was not wrong! It was unique to me and just as important and valid as someone who led differently and engaged with God differently than me. It gave me confidence in how God had wired me and who He had called ME to be.
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I lead best from a place of constant surrender before God. When challenges come and I’m not sure what to do, the natural instinct is to keep pushing because I am able/gifted to keep doing things in my own strength, all the while carrying far too much worry and anxiety. It’s not sustainable and ultimately not the best way.
God keeps reminding me of Exodus 14:14 – “I will fight for you, you need only be still.” I have plenty of Red Sea moments, and it goes against every natural instinct in me to stop, to be still in the midst of challenges and allow God to fight for me. But I am learning that the best battles are fought and the greatest victories won from a place of complete surrender before God. As I learn to surrender all my worries, my hopes and dreams to Him, He really does do immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine!
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
This is always a challenge, especially in working with volunteers, so if anyone has any great ideas I’d welcome them! As a church we are in the process of building a leadership pipeline that will help our leaders to grow and mature in their faith and in their leadership. It’s a long process in a big organisation to create the best framework and resources to ensure our leaders keep growing.
In my own corner of the ministry world I recognise that I cannot do everything, so I love to create opportunities for people to discover and use their gifts by growing teams and empowering the people I lead to have significant influence and responsibility. It gives me great joy to see people flourish and excel, more often than not surpassing me in their abilities!
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?
Some years ago I had a woman who I didn’t know too well come into my office and share some really difficult circumstances that her daughters had gone through with a close family friend. Her and her family were fairly new Christians and they were really struggling to know how to handle the situation. I walked a very close journey with her and the rest of the family over a number of years – we had many moments in my office with lots of tears, anger, questions and ultimately lots of prayers.
Through that journey I have had the joy of seeing this mother grow in her faith and the whole family not only flourish, but each with a deep relationship with God and serving in the church. This mother had faithfully served alongside me in women’s ministry in the church for more than 4 years and is leading a significant part of that ministry. Just this year she has come on staff in a different role and is really thriving. What a privilege and joy it has been to be a part of their journey to healing, and all it took was for me to be available and love on them.