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7 Questions with Craig Rees
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Craig Rees
Name: Craig Rees
Current title: Lead Pastor
Current organisation: Central Wesleyan Church and Water's Edge
Craig is married to Wibke (Vib’ka), they have six children, four biological and two adopted (siblings).
Craig is a Welshman, who married a German, Wibke, whom he met while teaching and leading at Operation Mobilization’s Love Europe Conference. For nearly three decades they’ve served churches in the UK, Germany, and the United States.
For the last seven years they have lived in Holland, Michigan, USA, becoming the Lead Pastor of Central Wesleyan Church in Holland, Michigan and Lead Pastor of Water’s Edge, the multi-church family of churches birthed from that church, and now totaling twelve churches across the globe. Wibke is active in all facets of the ministry but primarily devotes herself to leading a dynamic recovery ministry. Being the adventurous type she is, Wibke loves running including ultra-marathons up to 100 miles!
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
Some seasons of ministry are challenging simply because God needs me to do something that is both unnatural to me and new to the church. Over the last five years, for example, my biggest challenge has been leading our church to steward everything God has blessed us with, including our operational systems and infrastructure. I lead a large church with a very large facility in a relatively small town. As we’ve embraced the challenge of stewarding our infrastructure for the benefit of other churches, we’ve blazed a trail none of us has ever gone before. That is challenging! From being a large local church in one location, God has grown our ministry to a global family of churches that share our resources, systems, and processes. Coming to the realization that the most strategic thing we could do to help churches thrive is re-configure our in-house operational systems and missionize them, has been a challenging but very rewarding journey for us all. Five years down the road it’s a thrill to be able to say, “Even our overheads are missional.”
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was not born into a Christian home and was raised by a single mom. At elementary school my mother and her two sisters were dramatically saved. A few years later a profound encounter with God brought me to Christ and I soon sensed a call to ministry. While reading through the Old Testament as a young teen I came to Ezekiel’s call to ministry (chapters 1 and 2). At that moment I got the distinct sense that I would be serving the Lord in the English language overseas. The call to church leadership was authenticated in many ways, especially by the leaders of my small Welsh church. They gave me opportunities to serve, lead, and teach and since then I’ve led out in ministry in various capacities and in various ministries around the world. I am so grateful that the leaders of my home church looked beyond my age and inexperience and provided opportunities for me to step into church leadership.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
At 7:15 every morning during the school year, my wife and I lead our three still-at-home children in a devotion before they leave for school. That is more difficult in the summer since my children work and the common routine is disturbed.
I am usually in the office by 8 and that’s where I will have my time with the Lord. It’s quiet and the busyness of the office doesn’t usually kick in until 9.
As for the working structure, Proverbs 29:18 guides my work week. While many of us are familiar with the first part of that proverb, without vision people perish, the second is often overlooked, discipline brings blessing. In other words, my fruitfulness is determined by how effectively I balance the inspirational (visionary) and management (discipline) components of my work week. I call these two elements my working ID, where the I = inspiration and the D = discipline. I try to balance my work week with equal elements of inspiration (forward thinking) and discipline (management). Monday is my executive meeting day which usually allows some time for study or vision preparation.
Tuesday is my study day. I protect that day. I don’t speak every Sunday and when I don’t that day involves vision planning of some kind.
Wednesdays and Thursdays are a mix of management and vision meetings, with pastoral meetings mixed in. This involves things like connecting with my four direct reports and catching up with all our campus pastors. If I am speaking that weekend, Thursday involves meetings which run through the weekend service. There are regular series planning meetings and various staff training meetings mixed into the routine of those two days.
Two evenings a week typically involve meetings with boards, campus leadership teams and the like. Wibke is usually out twice too, with one of those nights overlapping with mine. Given the time differences involved in our network family, some of my days end late.
Fridays and Saturdays are days our ministry staff have off. It doesn’t always work out that we get the full two days. The early part of Friday, for example, is often spent catching up on a few things. That allows the rest of Friday to be spent with Wibke, since it’s also her day off. We enjoy the time together and make Saturday a day with the three children we still have at home. Sometimes that involves sports, but when the weather allows, we love taking our jet skis out on Lake Michigan. That’s proven to be something I get to do with my older children as well. We all love the outdoors and living so close to the water allows us to drop them in, even if only for a few hours.
Sunday is church day, and Sunday evening, when there aren’t meetings, involves Wibke and I heading to our small group.
The day usually ends around ten pm.
4. What's one book apart from the Bible that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I am an avid reader and consume a lot of books over the course of a year. That said, there are a few books I frequently return to. One of those is “A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders,” by Reggie McNeal. The reason the book impacted me so deeply was the realization that what was true for Moses, David, Paul, and Jesus was also true for me. There are aspects of my story that don’t fit well with the conservative American evangelical context into which I’ve been thrust. I grew up in government subsidized housing, received free school meals, had my seminary education paid for by the government, my father was married five times, and the woman he was with when he died was not his wife. You get the idea. This is hardly a good foundation for ministry and for a while I struggled to be open with aspects of my story. What the book helped me embrace was the idea that “heart work is the hard work of leadership.” While I would never have signed up to go through much of what I did, God was there shaping me for what He’d created me to do. As I have embraced the idea that God places us to prepare us, I have found peace with my past and become more comfortable sharing it in my present.
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
“Only as I risk going too far, do I discover how far I can go.” That was an axiom I recently shared with our network pastors recounting the journey we’ve been on over the last few years. As I reflected on where God had led us, I recognized the wisdom of us taking an uncertain decision with a higher return over a certain decision with a lower return. Recounting the bold move we made with our first campus, and the return we’ve received from it, I learned the importance of discerning between a gamble, high risk, and low risk decisions. Every leader is guaranteed one chance to innovate, the lesson I learned was when to take the risk, without gambling.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
For me a healthy leadership pipeline begins with my personal commitment to empower the leaders around me to reach their potential, even if that potential leads them out of our ministry. For all the processes we may have to develop leaders, if I do not model empowerment in a way that others see and cost me, I fail at it.
When I entered my current ministry, and as we’ve welcomed people into leadership roles in our ministry, I make a point of asking where these leaders see themselves in five years. Sometimes that path leads them to rise from within, sometimes it leads them away from us, if only because others hold the roles they feel called to enter. The kingdom-first mindset that drives me is built upon the principle that every servant of Jesus belongs to Jesus, not the local church. I make it my goal and motivation to ensure that leaders around me fulfil their divine calling. I personally commit myself to do all I can to see them flourish – wherever that may be. There are times when I feel that I’ve helped quality people leave when it may have been better for our church if they’d have stayed. In moments like that I feel the full weight of living sent.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a church leader so far?
It was late Wednesday afternoon and the new church treasurer had just left my home office. He’d shared his intent to push through changes that would detrimentally impact my family. I was shocked. Worst of all I was heading out of the country to a denominational conference the very next morning. I called two friends and that night we all prayed for wisdom and protection. I distinctly remember my friend saying, “Well, if this was me, I’d quit!”
I boarded the plane the next morning with my mind racing and my heart heavy. This was hardly the right time to leave town, I thought. I was only a few months into my first lead pastor position and the honeymoon period was clearly over. Things were going so well at the church but trouble was brewing from within.
I landed, grabbed my rental car, and headed to the conference. As I was checking in, a man approached me. Without any introduction he asked me whether I was the pastor of (enter the church name). He then asked me whether I knew the treasurer whom I had met with the night before. He proceeded to tell me that God had sent him there to warn us. He handed me a letter for my church leaders (on a 3.5-inch diskette!) warning them of the harm this man would do if allowed to lead. The entire conversation lasted but a few minutes and he left. I had never met the man before and have neither seen him nor heard from him since.
When I face challenges, I think back to that encounter and draw strength and encouragement from it. There have been many times over the twenty years since that conversation that I’ve been tempted to worry about things beyond my control. In such a moment, I remember that encounter and remember that it is God who builds and protects His church.