7 Questions with Geoff Snook

Name: Geoff Snook

Current title: Lead Pastor

Current organisation: The Lakes Church in Cairns, Australia

Geoff and his wife Laura live with their four kids in beautiful Cairns, Far North Queensland. They can often be found running, cycling and competing in an occasional triathlon.

Geoff spent most of his growing up years in Papua New Guinea as the son of missionaries. He moved to the Gold Coast for university and after a couple of years ended up in a youth ministry internship at Southport Church of Christ. During this time he met Laura and they were married in 2006. Geoff & Laura led the youth ministry at Southport Church of Christ together until their first child was born. At this point Laura focussed more on raising their children while Geoff continued in youth and young adult ministry.

In 2012 the family moved to The Lakes Church in Cairns where Geoff took on the role of Generations Pastor. In 2015 he transitioned into the role of Senior Pastor.

Over the last several years God has led The Lakes Church to focus more on being a church for everyone - and particularly for people who have no background in church or faith. Geoff loves preaching and team leadership towards this goal - that everything the church does would help people encounter and follow Jesus.

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

In the last several years I've discovered that Bill George was right when he said, “The hardest person you will ever have to lead is yourself.” I've experienced my doubts, people-pleasing tendencies and stubbornness being the most challenging thing to navigate as a leader. External challenges come and go, but the internal challenges that stop me from being the Christian and the leader that God is calling me to be are always there. Over time I hope that I am becoming more dependent on God, more confident in my own leadership and more healthily connected to others.

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

When I was in year 8 I was mucking up in an English class with some of the other boys. At the end the teacher let everyone else go but asked me to stay. I followed her into her office where she said, "Geoff, in life some people are leaders and some people are followers. You are a leader. You can go." She had planted a seed that took another 8 years before her words began to make sense to me.

For the next 8 years I had very little involvement in church or ministry. I had a personal faith, but I didn't do much with my faith.

When I was at university on the Gold Coast my youth pastor asked me to help at a schools program each Friday. I thought to myself, "If you knew what I was really like and how I spend my time, you wouldn't be asking me!" But instead I just said, "Yes." Getting involved in schools ministry changed my life. My personal faith had an outlet. Faith moved from my head and heart to my hands and feet.

At the end of that year I told my youth pastor that I was interested in getting more involved in the youth ministry (I was thinking I could organise a few more games). He responded that he had been praying for me, because he identified a potential ministry calling. I didn't know what that meant, but I took the next step and began an internship in youth ministry.

Along the way I met Laura, who was also doing an internship, and we were married at the end of 2006. Our marriage also marked the end of our internship and we applied to share the role of Youth Ministry Team Leader. We didn't sense a calling to youth ministry forever, but were confident that God was calling us to take this step.

The next several steps in ministry were like this - they didn't feel like long-term callings, but felt like right and faithful steps in the right direction.

When we moved to Cairns in 2012 it was with the sense from God that the Generations role was 'for now' but that eventually I would lead the church. The Senior Pastor at the time had the same sense, although neither of us knew how or when it would happen. He transitioned out of the role in 2015, and I transitioned in.

Being a Lead Pastor (we changed the title recently) has been the most challenging role I've had, by far. But it has also been the most fulfilling and has been the fullest expression of my calling to ministry. I don't know what's next, but for now I know Cairns is home for our family and I'll continue growing into my role as Lead Pastor.

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

Each morning Laura and I take turns exercising or getting the household ready for the day. I like to run for an hour or two in the morning while listening to podcasts or audiobooks.

On an ideal working day I don't check email until lunchtime. Instead I head to a local cafe and spend the next few hours working on upcoming messages, series or other 'big work'. This routine is life-giving, it feeds my soul and I am way more productive than if I begin with other kinds of work in other locations. I find I can connect with God in this space and do some journalling and reflecting before I get stuck into other things. The rest of the day is then filled with meetings, one-on-ones, emails, admin and anything else that needs doing. I head home around 5pm for dinner with the family. Laura and I enjoy watching a good comedy or drama series in the evenings after the kids are in bed.

Mondays start differently with team meetings. Sundays start differently with church, where I like to arrive prepared for whatever I need to do and ready to help set up and chat with people.

Laura and I have Wednesdays off together and we enjoy hiking, mountain biking or going out for coffee or lunch while the kids are at school.

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?

Edwin Friedman's 'A Failure of Nerve' has been profoundly accurate about the challenges I face in leadership. It is also a largely untapped resource for me, as I feel like I have a long way to go in becoming a consistent 'non-anxious presence' in difficult situations.

In this book Friedman writes about how anxiety affects a system (family, church or community), and how the best leaders combat this anxiety by being a non-anxious presence. I find myself reacting to or mirroring other people's anxiety too often. This book has been really helpful in identifying the problem and providing visionary leadership towards a more healthy and better way of leading.

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

I am not responsible for how other people feel. If someone is feeling something (especially if they are upset or angry), I naturally consider how I might have caused that. This can be helpful as it makes me more empathetic to how other people feel, but it is also debilitating as a leader. It makes me avoid difficult decisions or conversations because I don't want to feel responsible for the other person being upset or disappointed.

A leadership coach helped me figure this out a couple of years ago, and I find myself needing to remember it and practice it over and over, particularly in conflict.

The reality is that although I can affect how other people feel, I'm not responsible for their feelings. I'm only responsible for my actions. I need to work on my own words, actions and intentions, while letting go of my tendency to feel responsible for what happens in someone else's head.

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

I like to take an action-reflection approach. Where people express interest, or where I observe an ability or open-ness in someone, I try to give them opportunities to lead and grow. Then as they take those opportunities, I help them reflect on how it's going and what they're learning.

However, I haven't helped a lot of people come through a healthy leadership pipeline in recent years so I'm looking to learn from others.

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?

A good story can fuel me for a long time. A couple of years ago three people walked into our church for the very first time and their lives were changed forever. They were friends who had separately (and privately) been wondering about the existence of God and whether church could be a place where they find him. One of them had a distant church experience and the other two had no positive church experience. God prompted them to turn up at our church one Sunday morning, against their better judgement and with a fair bit of caution and anxiety.

In the background God had been prompting our church to prepare for people just like these three. We had been convicted about our church being a community where people without any church background could come to encounter and follow Jesus. The way we prepare our people, our music, the way we speak upfront and our systems and next steps were all done to be understandable, accessible and helpful for someone with no faith background.

What those three people experienced that day was a work of God. God was working in their lives long before we met them, God was working in our church long before they turned up and God worked in their hearts during the service.

They and their families have become a core part of our church community, they have each been baptised and their story fills me with hope and purpose.