7 Questions with Jim Catford
Name: Jim Catford
Current title: Senior Minister
Current organisation: Doncaster Church of Christ
Jim has been in ministry at Doncaster Church of Christ for the past 3 year. He was previously in ministry at Mornington Church of Christ for a decade and over a decade as Principal of Tabor College Victoria. Jim has a bachelor degree in religion and philosophy, a masters degree in biblical interpretation, and a post-graduate diploma in organisational leadership. He is married to Liz who is also an ordained Churches of Christ minister and currently teaching at a local primary school. He has two adult children, two grandchildren & three adult step-children, along with three dogs, two alpacas, 10 chickens, a rabbit and a goldfish!
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
It is difficult to narrow leadership challenges down to just one as it mostly depends on time and place. However, more generally, I would say the greatest challenge is winning the hearts of volunteers and aligning them to a clear vision of the future that is not so much about personal preferences but a preferred corporate future. If I can add one more, it would be helping Elders understand their leadership role as strategic leaders who set policy in partnership with Ministry Teams who implement vision. It is sometimes difficult for Elders to maintain boundaries because they often have to set strategic direction and then "roll up their sleeves" as volunteers to help implement it and then roles get blurred.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was a farmer and shearer for a decade after leaving high school, then received a call to ministry so left the farm to pursue pastoral ministry. After 6 years of study in the USA, I ended up leading a Christian Tertiary College for 12 years. I came to faith in a Uniting Church, was ordained in a Pentecostal denomination and when invited to lead a local Church, I left the College to join the Churches of Christ Vic/Tas because I thought they were grappling most seriously with the contemporary missional challenges confronting western culture.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Our alarm goes off at 6:30 am (earlier if I have breakfast meetings), I go and feed the animals, make a cup of black tea, and spend time with God in reading and prayer. Apart from the Bible, I usually read 2 or 3 other devotionals. I practice intermittent fasting so only eat after 12 noon to 8 pm. My mornings are usually the most productive time of the day for me. I love working with "to do" lists and Mondays are used for planning my week, catching up with staff and any admin issues. Tuesday mornings are weekly Ministry Team Meetings (and Elders & Finance Team once each per month in the evenings). The rest of the week will vary depending on the monthly rhythms of our church and community. I try to end each day with a 5 km or longer walk with my wife and three dogs. Evenings can consist of meetings, TV, reading and/or creative computer work (I love making diagrams & charts to clarify time-frames and execution of strategies).
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?
Whilst I understand the need for leadership, I have never liked the word. I wish we could use "servanthood" instead. When Jesus donned the towel and washed His disciples feet in John 13, he demonstrated the very essence of leadership. The book that has had the most profound impact on my life so far has been many books by Fr Richard Rohr. I love the way he so clearly delineates between "imperial Christianity" which is mostly about protecting its own power and influence in contrast to "Spirit-led movements" which strive to share God's love and Good News with the world. Two of Rohr's books, "Falling Upwards" and "Everything Belongs" helped me gain a far broader and deeper understanding of how God works in the world during a deeply personal life crisis, some 15 years ago. For me, continual inner personal transformation (becoming whole by embracing the good, bad and ugly of life) trumps external leadership principles (as important as they are).
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Covid-19 lockdown in Melbourne over the past several months has exposed the stark contrast between positional and relational leadership, and the flaws in our discipleship model. Just because people were coming to our church building for worship services and other activities, didn't necessarily mean they were responding to our leadership strategies, nor being transformed into the likeness of Christ, so much as perhaps just coming out of habit. One lesson I am learning out of this is that I need to be clearer in my leadership communications, gain better alignment with my leadership team (Elders and Ministry Team) and spend more time working on the detail of execution. I have tended to be a bit more "laissez faire" in my leadership style in the past, preferring to be so-called "led by the Spirit" but I am coming to realise that being clear doesn't negate being Spirit-led.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
I am not a good example of developing a healthy leadership pipeline in my church. I think we are a work in progress. I would simply say that for me, I value character over competence in identifying potential leaders, and that Faithful, Available, Teachable people are who we are wanting to develop as followers of Christ. Although we have developed a number of leaders in our church over the years, we are currently developing a far more consistent pipeline, encompassing both teaching and mentoring, with clearer pathways into the ministry and missional life of our church.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a church leader so far?
I've never viewed the Church as an end in itself. When that happens it looks more like a club than a church in my view. The journey of leading my previous Church into missional connections with the local community brought the most satisfaction for me as a leader. Although we weren't a large Church, our impact in the community was significant via our Op Shop, Community House, and community-based programs. When we surveyed our neighbourhood, school principals, local government councillors, state and federal representatives, chamber of commerce, other community groups and neighbouring houses, they all knew who we were, who we represented and appreciated our contributions to the community. Fulfilling Christ's great command and commission (to love & disciple all people groups) is my life's calling and passion.