7 Questions with Olwyn Harris

Name: Olwyn Harris

Current title: Pastor

Current organisation: Liberty Church Whitsundays

A Bi-vocational pastor in a small regional congregation who also works as a Relationship Counsellor.

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

I work as a bi-vocational pastor... which means that there are many hats that I wear, and various contexts in which I am required to function at 100%. The challenge for me is to be aware of where I am and in how I am relating to other people in this moment. I use the metaphor of a very well used 'hat-stand' and I need to be constantly aware of which hat I am using in any one time. It is important to me that I choose to be diligent in this so that my credibility in each of my roles is maintained.

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

Being a person in ministry has always been part of my Christian experience. Even as a passionate school student, I was positioned in roles that had influence. So the actual "role" of leadership was something that I never pushed or pursued, until one pivotal moment when my Senior Pastor invited me to apply for a vacancy on staff. I respectfully declined, but I was amazed that he seemed shocked that this wasn't part of what I was wanting. I went away... not shocked by my refusal, but challenged by my lack of "want to".

I remember wrestling very transparently with God and telling him I most certainly would do this if that is what he wanted... but I just didn't 'want to'; however I was open for him to change my 'want to'. That is what happened. God took me on a 12 month journey until my lack of 'want to' was so completely inverted. I was given the next step of doing a diploma of Christian Ministry internship in a regional church. As a woman in ministry I felt the frustration of many road-blocks, but I remember very clearly the Holy Spirit speaking into my heart, that this was "never about position, but positioning". It was after that I was offered to take a pastoral role at Proserpine Liberty Church Whitsundays.

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

I wish there was a simple answer. What the day looks like depends on whether it is a paid work day for my employer... or a day in which I spend on our Church. As I get 'paid' a small stipend from our church, most of my ministry hours are in reality volunteer, and this has been written into my employment contract. This year I have taken to tracking my work hours... as part of my accountability to the Church Board. I have colour-coded my timesheet what is Bivocational; pastoral; administration; volunteer hours. It has been a useful exercise... and yes, I do invest the hours... but it has also shown me that flexibility is part of what is required of me.

There is not one day, in one week that looks the same. It is reassuring for me that models of doing Bivocational Pastoral work is not well researched, even though it is a very dominant form of ministry in our State, so what I am doing is not pioneer... it is just finding a format and a rhythm that works for me. I remember being given a very definite word from the Holy Spirit, about protecting my 'Flexibility' so that he can do through us what he desires. Some common elements in my day... constantly talk with God about what is going on... spend some time on what feeds my creativity... remember to connect with family when I spend so much time connecting with others...

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?

Jesus and the Undoing of Adam... by C Baxter Kruger. Although this is not a "Leadership Manual", the impact of this little theological thesis was very significant for me. Part of my influence is about journeying with people through some of their darkest times... and this book allowed me to revisit the story of salvation in a way that encouraged to see how God models leadership to me.

He is present, in love, in fellowship, in perichoresis... and he is constantly inviting me to be part of this dance with him! It has taken the pressure off performance and production to be more authentic and real in the heart to heart relationships that I am positioned to be part of. God is a God of excellence... but his excellence is focused first and foremost on loving excellently.

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

I had previously had conversations with pastors who would be so very vocal about "their day off". I think I resented the freedom they had to do that, when, as a layperson on team, who was also working full time, that was a bit of a pipe-dream. I think what happened was that I made an internal vow, that I would not use that language... and I would try and "flex" to be available, regardless.

The result was a miss-mash of boundaries that became unsafe and unhealthy: not only for me... but for the people I am caring for. My personal wellbeing needs to be protected. I found mistakes were made in the name of 'flexibility', but in reality started to morph again into a pattern of not taking a Sabbath. The last season where that was my pattern... I suffered significant burnout. Relationships that were important to me became burnt... and my capacity to do what I do, was very nearly irreparably damaged. Lesson learnt... if God says a Sabbath is a good idea... it is for a reason... so that we can set aside time to regroup, and know that what we are called to do is sustainable.

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

We have a small church... so healthy relationships are a matter on continuing to keep conversations open and connection points real. One tool I often find... is to ask questions to open up the conversation rather than to always offer answers. I have people say to me... "You do this all the time... I come with a problem, and find that as I talk with you I had the answer all along. You drew that out of me."

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?

It is encouraging for me as I see the jig-saw pieces position in my life, knowing that the Master has his hand on the whole picture. I am part of something much bigger than me... or our church... or our region. I had a friend say to me recently that she was praying and talking with God about why a small regional church would be the only platform for my teaching and ministry... (her loyalty, love and respect is humbling...) but what she felt the response was, that this is part of God's extravagant generosity... like a wild hibiscus flower in a rainforest... unseen, unsung, but a beautiful expression of God's creativity and excellence.

To be an expression of God's generosity and excellence where he has planted me, creates in me such a sense of God's grace in this place... that he bothers about the small places... that we don't have to settle for second best or left-overs, but this is an expression of Jesus leaving the 99 and caring for the ones and the twos... even in regional Queensland. I do what I do... excellently... consistently... and am privileged to be part of how Jesus is building his Church.