7 Questions with Jeff Hale
Name: Jeff Hale
Current title: Pastor
Current organisation: Emmanuel Christian Reformed Church
Celebrating 38 years of marriage this year, Jeff and Renée have three adult sons, Nathan, Stephen and Mark. Nathan and Stephen are married, in full-time ministry and account for Jeff and Renée's 6 grandchildren. Mark completed his undergraduate degree in trumpet performance in 2020.
Jeff grew up in a small town in Georgia (USA). Jeff and Renée met while students at the University of Illinois where they completed their master's degrees in music performance. For the first decade of their married life, Jeff and Renée served local churches and their denomination in various roles as church musicians.
For the next 14 years, Jeff and Renee served as missionaries in West Africa. Their work involved working with local churches to encourage the use of indigenous musical forms in worship and planting new churches. By the end of their missionary career, they were giving oversight to church planting teams working over 180 people groups across 8 African nations.
After returning to the USA, Jeff and Renée completed their doctorates in organizational leadership from Regent University. During the next 7 years, Jeff worked in various roles with a Christian non-profit specializing in Bible engagement and church planting, including giving oversight to ministry operations in over 50 countries. Renée founded WellSpirit Consulting Group, Inc.
For the past four years, Jeff has served as pastor of Emmanuel Christian Reformed Church near Chicago, IL. Renée serves as Executive Director of the Paul Carlson Partnership, a Christian non-profit organization focused on economic and medical development in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Jeff and Renee enjoy spending time with family and friends, cooking, traveling, being in nature together, and making music together and with others.
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
The most challenging aspect of pastoral leadership is helping our church family name and live counter to aspects of the contemporary culture that cause us to feel, think, and act contrary to biblical truth. The most fundamental issue is the nature of truth itself. Postmodern thought in which society constructs reality, and which confines truth to local and individual contexts is the air which Christians inhale every day. This pervasive environment can cause even committed Christians to feel, think, and act in ways untethered from the biblical understanding of reality that exists independently from us and Truth that supersedes all philosophical understandings and all cultural norms.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
By God's grace, I was born into a Christian family and raised within the church. From an early age, God spoke to me through music. However, by age 15, I doubted God existed. That year, the Lord used two musicians who did not know each other to bring me to faith in Jesus Christ. When I was 16, I sensed God calling me to full-time Christian ministry. Given my interest and gifts in music, I pursed training and ministry in music. During my sophomore year in university, I started my first part-time minister of music role. Over the course of the next decade, I served churches as minister of music in Georgia, Illinois and Kentucky. In 1985, I became an ordained minister within my denomination. I never suspected in those early years that the Lord would use me to plant churches and train church planters around the world. Four years ago, the Lord called me to be a pastor of the local church our family attended for the previous 11 years. The Lord surprised me with this assignment!
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I enjoy starting most days by making breakfast for Renée and me. We enjoy starting our day off together with conversation, a devotional reading and prayer. Before I start my work, I spend 20-60 minutes with the Lord. I like to spend my mornings on work that requires creativity and brainpower. I prefer to schedule meetings, pastoral care, and simple tasks in the afternoon. When I am at my best, I exercise in the late afternoon. In the early evening, Renée and I share our evening meal. My evening schedule varies day to day. On average, I have 3-4 evening meetings per month. If there are work projects that need my immediate attention, I dedicate evening hours to advancing or completing those projects. When there are no work meetings or urgent projects, I use evenings for personal projects, hobbies, socializing, and relaxing. I have two rituals that close my day. First, I spend 10-15 minutes planning tomorrow in my bullet journal. Second, I spend at least 5 minutes in a prayer of examen in which I review my day, looking for where I noticed God's presence, moments where I may have resisted God's promptings, and asking for God's help for tomorrow. Mondays are my Sabbath. Wednesdays I devote to creating Sunday's sermon.
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?
This is a hard question, because reading and applying what I learned formed me into the leader I am today. From a practical perspective, the book I use often is, "How Great Decisions Get Made" by Don Maruska. Maruska proposes that most organizational decision-making processes fail because they start from a perspective of fear and scarcity, which leads to real scarcity. The balance of the book lays out a 10-Step collaborative process beginning with discovering shared hopes which leads to real improvement. At the end of the book, he distills the entire process to a "30-Minute Miracle." Following this decision-making process whether over an extended period or within the "30-Minute Miracle" framework produces superior results for me.
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
My most recent significant leadership lesson is also my most ancient leadership lesson. The Lord is taking my lifetime teaching me that his life flowing through me to others sets the effectiveness of my leadership within the church and outside the church. The Lord's school of leadership drives home the truth of John 15:5 "I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing." Jesus has one goal: to teach me to feel, think, and act like Him. The more I allow Jesus to live his life through me, the better my leadership in all contexts. When I stray from this one goal, my leadership effectiveness diminishes.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
My leadership development plan is simple. Preach, teach, and model the Word of God. As the Holy Spirit applies his Word to the hearts of his people, I trust they will experience Jesus' life flowing through them. This approach assumes that as persons grow in their ability to feel, think, and act like Jesus, leadership within the church will arise as needed in response to the work of the Holy Spirit within the family of God. A strong emphasis on catechism from a Reformed perspective across generations produces within our congregation a church family that is well-grounded in God's Word. The Emmanuel Church Family engages kingdom work in local and global contexts. We trust God to supply leaders within the body as we need them for what he sets for us to do at the present time.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a church leader so far?
One of the most meaningful stories as a church leader comes from my missionary days. Together with an African pastor, I was influential in starting a church among the Ayizo people group in Benin. Soon after their founding, the Ayizo church wanted to reach out to a neighboring people group, the Ci. However, it was rainy season and a flooding river cut off the Ayizo from their neighbors the Ci. The Ayizo church leaders came to me with a plan to reach the Ci, which involved a significant financial commitment from me. I encouraged them in their desire to reach their neighbors and asked them to rework their plan to reduce the cost. This went through at least one other iteration where I encouraged them and asked them to reduce the cost. To my surprise, several weeks later the leaders came to me and told me that members of the church had crossed the swollen river by wading and in canoes. Men, women and children went to share the Gospel with their neighbors, placing themselves in physical danger to do so. It thrilled the church to see God at work. The village received them well. They made plans with the village to start a church. My leadership role meant helping leaders depend on God and not on me to do what God was calling them to do. The evangelism effort did not cost any money. The church paid the cost in time, effort and putting themselves at risk. God often does miraculous acts when we bring to him our "five loaves and two fish"—when we trust him to work through the resources we have at hand.