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7 Questions with Andrew Butterworth
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Jonno White
7 Questions with Andrew Butterworth

Name: Andrew Butterworth

Current title: Lead Pastor

Current organisation: Godfirst Church East Rand

I trained as a medical doctor in the UK and worked in various hospitals in the Greater Manchester region. I came out to South Africa to intern at GodFirst Church 12 years ago. During that time I met my wife Michelle and we got married and had two children: Josiah James (8) and Pippa Kate (6). GodFirst grew to 2500 people and then multiplied into seven churches. I lead the one on the east side of Johannesburg.

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1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?

I started leading GodFirst East Rand in January this year and moved my family across the city. Two months in, Covid hit and we went into lockdown. South Africa had one of the harshest lockdowns in the world and only six weeks ago could we properly restart live services. Obviously, it's difficult to get to know a new congregation if it is all done virtually. But we are getting there. It's been made easier by a wonderful community of people that really loves God and are servant-hearted.

2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I worked initially as a hospital doctor, specialising partway into Paediatrics. But always since university, I had been leading small groups and had been given opportunities to preach. The movement our church is part of is called Advance and they have a great theology programme. I did a number of theology courses with various churches over the years which prepared me for the theoretical side of ministry. However, I also got trained in prayer ministry which taught me a great deal in how to untangle people from addictions, unforgiveness, anger etc. - anything that holds people back from knowing God. After coming out to South Africa I was taken on as an intern while studying a master's degree in Public Health Medicine. I felt called to stay and did some HIV prevention work while working for GodFirst part-time. I then was asked to come on full time and I helped start a couple of congregations and wrote a pastoral care strategy. For seven years I joined another church in the city in a mixture of full-time and part-time roles as an elder (associate pastor). Then in January, I moved across to the east of the city to lead GodFirst East Rand.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I had a four-year stint working for an IT company. Initially in marketing but then in project management and finally sales. The project management role was a very structured role and it didn't suit my personality. When I moved to sales, I was given more freedom to structure my day around achieving outcomes and that suited me much better. Learning to manage energy and my emotional state towards the tasks I needed to achieve helped me become more productive. I have taken this approach into full-time ministry. On a Monday, we have an altogether staff meeting where we review the weekend and plan the week ahead. What needs to be achieved that week is noted down in a to do list and then each day I review this and see what tasks I will do from it. Currently, we are preaching through the book of Revelation so that has required a lot of extra prep work. However, there are always ad hoc pastoring that comes up in the week so I leave space to meet with people, do prayer ministry and/or refer on to our various ministry leaders. Coming from a medical background, being a lead pastor feels a bit like being a GP - assessing people's situation and either treating the problem yourself or referring on to specialists. It's difficult to outline a typical day because each varies quite a bit. On Wednesday mornings we have an elders prayer meeting at 6am-7am so I am at the office a lot earlier than other days. I tend to enjoy the night-time when the kids have gone to bed to pray. My neighbours will often see me pacing in the garden under the stars. I find it far more effective to pray while moving about and in nature.

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 difficult to know what contributions books play because a good non-fiction book will give you insight that you then absorb into your life and it becomes part of you. But to name one book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster taught me a great deal about the inner Christian life. Church leaders rise and fall on the basis of the health of their inner life. In the book, Richard Foster runs a master class on twelve classical spiritual disciplines illustrating with anecdotes across church history. He looks at prayer, meditation (Christian!), fasting, celebration, simplicity, study, solitude, etc. Alongside other books and experiences, it taught me how spiritually nourish myself. I highly recommend it.

5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

It's the lead pastor's job to create momentum. It's unlikely to come from anywhere else but once you have got momentum it half the victory. It's easier to turn a moving ship than a stationary one. People don't always notice momentum developing but they feel it. You start to see the way they describe the church change once you are making progress. Momentum needs to be guarded by the lead pastor because without it, you aren't going anywhere.

6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?

It doesn't just happen. Leaders are made. Because leadership is present as much outside the church as in, the way to have a healthy leadership pipeline is not just concentrate on teaching the skill of leadership but also to focus on the character of a leader. The requirements for eldership in the church (the highest leader level in a local church) are mostly around character not actual leadership skill. So, at GodFirst East Rand, we take people through a theology course but also ensure people are in Christian community and we then invite them to pray with us. Praying together is a great way to get an insight into a person's character. Finally, we let people do the role before we give them the title. This is what we see in Scripture and this helps ensure people have a servant-heart not a heart that enjoys titles. In order for all this to work, there needs to be momentum and growth and your future leaders needs to see there will be space for them to grow into.

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?

I used to feel guilty that I wasn't doing enough to help those more vulnerable than myself. But then I saw in the parable of the Good Samaritan that the Good Samaritan did a little bit and then moved on. He picked up the wounded person and then took him to an Inn, paid for his upkeep and then carried on his journey. Jesus commended him for this. It was quite freeing for me to see this.

Just before lockdown there was a guy sleeping rough under our stairwell at our church offices. I greeted him a few times and some of our guys helped him with food. Then one day he asked me if he could get baptised. I was a little surprised but I arranged to meet him the next day and hear his story and said we could baptise him. I met him the next day and he told me that he had been thrown out of his family home because he had got into the wrong crowd and got hooked on drugs. His family couldn't take him stealing from them to feed his habit so he had been living rough. Then one day, he was about to take some drugs with other rough sleepers and he said he felt Jesus speak to him and tell him not to. He left the crowd he was with and spent time saying he was sorry for all the selfish acts he had committed.

After praying that prayer he said he felt genuinely changed inside. He'd been able to get away from the crowd of rough sleepers who were taking drugs and found his was to our church. I'd met a lot of homeless people over the years but there was a real genuiness to his story. He said he hadn't touch drugs since that day and that it had been a few months since then. He said he doesn't need anything from me but his dream would be to get baptised. So, we got in my car and I drove him to our home which had a small pool in the garden. It was a beautiful moment baptising him. We gave him a bath and then some food. As we listened his story some more I had an idea that I should ring his parents. It took a few attempts to get through. His brother answered the phone first and wasn't keen to hear from him but I spoke with his mother and she said she had been praying for him and was cautiously optimistic that real change had happened.

I knew that when trust had been broken like that it wasn't realistic to expect them to take him back so I asked if they would come through and meet with him and hear his story for themselves. His mother and sister drove through the next day and were convinced that he had changed and decided to take him home. It says in the Bible that God puts the lonely in families. This was great because he was reunited with his actual family again. Instead of living on the streets he was going to live again in the family home. I felt that I did my little part in using the resources I had to help. It was one less person on the street, and that was a start.