7 Questions with James Kozina

Name: James Kozina

Current title: Church Engagement Manager

Current organisation: Open Doors Australia

James Kozina is a Church Engagement Manager for Open Doors, and found a passion for the persecuted church after serving as a worship pastor for over ten years. He has recently returned from the Middle East and shares stories of faith amidst intense suffering by Christian refugees fleeing the terror of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

.

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

I’ve always had a deep struggle with approval addiction - people-pleasing, and so the balance of leading friends, maintaining relationships while achieving outcomes has always been very difficult for me. I will always want to preserve the relationship over the job at hand, which isn’t necessarily what’s best for the organisation. It’s always very complex!

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

Ever since I was a teenager I found myself in leadership positions in church. I don’t say that out of any pride, because it’s actually something that came with massive amounts of personal insecurity as well. I remember being asked to run our local church worship team when I was 16 years old with most of the team at least a generation older than me.

I accepted my first position on staff at King’s Church on the Gold Coast when I was 20 years old and was there for ten years before moving to Sydney to work for Open Doors. I’ve always been a “local church” guy, and just wholeheartedly believe Jesus has chosen His church as the primary means of showing His love for people.

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

Like everyone, Covid has upended most of my life, but has also made things much, much simpler. I would love to over-spiritualise it, but first order of call is always a latte from my local (Bear Boy) before kindy dropoff with my youngest. From there I’m back at home early for personal devotions before the work day starts with our staff devotions at 8.30.

My role is quite diverse and so the bulk of my day varies depending on whether I’m filming content for churches, meeting with pastors, editing podcasts or making phone calls. Then the family pile in the door after school - I like to have a meal on the table for them early as soon as they arrive (weird, I know), then we can have some family time before we’re usually all in bed by 8pm. It’s pretty crazy how dad life sets in fast!

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?

I remember the visceral effect Drawing Near by John Piper had on my personal walk with Jesus. It wasn’t necessarily a “leadership” impact, but I think the most important aspect of our walk is to make sure that relationship is healthy and everything else seems to fall into place.

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

The last four years of my life with Open Doors has given me a window into a church that is almost entirely upside-down to the way we live here in Australia. We serve the church where it is illegal or very dangerous to be a Christian, so faith is nearly always accompanied with poverty, oppression, violence and even death. It’s shown me that our concept of “blessing” seems very different to the teachings of Jesus who often reminded us that persecution will closely follow the Gospel.

I’ve learned a lot about what it means to truly weigh up the cost of following Jesus and also realising how much I can take for granted here in Australia with regards to our freedoms.

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

This is something we were always trying to get right at King’s, and I would say that a focus on discipleship first is so important, rather than the individual’s “role” in church life. This again is something we see in the persecuted church, who often don’t have the luxury of large corporate gatherings - they are dependent on a rich, deep network of leaders who firstly know Jesus, and then are willing to do whatever it takes to see His kingdom established in their neighbourhoods.

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 will never forget my first trip with Open Doors to Vietnam. We met a young man, 31 at the time, who was the first convert to Christianity in his village of only 100 people. He began to tell us story after story of the incredible trauma he endured at the hands of those who were previously his friends, his family. His crops were destroyed, animals killed, home torn down - even his newborn child almost died in an attack. We asked him, “why do you follow Jesus?” and the simplicity of his answer is unforgettable. Because I know him. It made me ask some serious questions about the depth of my relationship with Jesus - do I really know Him enough that I would endure such suffering. We offered to move this man to another village due to his safety, but he said, “if I go, who will share the Gospel with them?”