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7 Questions with Richard Coombs
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7 Questions with Richard Coombs
Name: Richard Coombs
Current title: Australian Director; Teaching Pastor
Current organisation: MECO (Middle East Christian Outreach) Australia; Wattle Park Chapel
Brought up in Christian family as 'Preacher's Kid'. Theological training through NZ Baptist Theological College(1977-80). Pastored two churches in NZ (1980-88); two in Melbourne (1988-2002); MECO Australia (2002 - present); Teaching Pastor (2018 - present). Also Chairman of Belgrave Heights Convention.
Married to Margaret. Three married sons - two in ministry.
Enjoys reading, cricket, golf and rugby union.
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
Conflict is never easy to work your way through. It can arise through most surprising people and can catch you off guard. It's difficult not to take some of it personally - even if it is not focused on you. When it does become personal, it's also difficult to protect your family from accusations and untruths.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was brought up as 'Preacher's Kid' so observed ministry from the 'front-lines'. I started preaching publicly when aged 15 and often preached through my teenage years at Youth for Christ rallies (crowds of 2000+) and in churches. Entering into ministry was a 'call' (Jeremiah 20:9 - ... his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.' Reading biographies of preachers stimulated me - George Whitefield, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, etc. Leaders in my home church affirmed both my preaching gift and my call to ministry. This was also endorsed by the members of the church. I trained for Baptist church ministry in NZ. The constant need to be Jesus-centred in my preaching is a joy.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
My devotional life is first priority after breakfast. This has varied across the years, using scripture, prayer and a variety of devotional helps - mainly the Puritan writers.
The rest of most mornings is spent doing sermon preparation and reading.I usually have my sermon done by Thursday lunchtime - then I let it 'sit and ferment' and get my final draft done on Saturday morning.
Afternoons usually consist of meetings and pastoral care issues. I also set aside time for reading (widely) as my own soul needs to be nurtured in order to feed others.
At least once a fortnight I will take an afternoon off and play nine holes of golf - the fresh air does wonders for the mind!
Evenings can often consist of meetings but I am very careful to 'guard time' for Margaret and the family. In my early days of ministry I believe I was more 'married to the church' than to my wife! Pastors need space for family and personal growth.
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?
When I first entered ministry, Steven Covey's book 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People' and 'Principle-Centred Leadership' were the 'go-to' books for leadership. I'm not sure any book on leadership has had a 'profound impact' on me. Frankly, I don't read a lot on leadership as I found that most were culturally inappropriate or written by people in a totally different 'ministry environment' than my congregations. There are some principles to be learned, I acknowledge, but, on the whole I found leadership books talking much more about 'corporate models and structures' than what I was comfortable with. Across the years I have gravitated much more to the leadership principles found in people like Moses, Nehemiah, Jesus and Paul - ie: Bible characters and leaders!
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I'm soon entering 'retirement' years (not that I will retire!) so am very happy to be much more in a mentoring role for younger preachers and pastors. I'm getting a lot of satisfaction from encouraging my two sons who are in ministry and mentoring a young man who is doing some regular preaching at the Chapel where I pastor. To learn how to 'pass the baton on' well and willingly, and be a spiritual encourager is an important leadership lesson that older pastors would do well to practise.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
First of all prayer! Pray with and for your leaders! Prayer shows what's in a person's heart and gets beyond the expected surface answers.
Second, be an encourager! Help nurture and develop the gifts that people have. Regular retreats (3-monthly) are helpful to set aside the 'business' of the Church and use it to develop and encourage current and prospective leaders in the congregation with a day set aside for looking at 'vision' and 'practices' with a good dose of bible study and prayer.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a church leader so far?
I've been leading a mission agency for the past 20 years so have been out of local church leadership for that time. I have had the privilege of travelling to the Middle East regularly during this time and developing friendships with national Church leaders in that region.
I remember sitting in a room with 14 national leaders and 10 of them had been in prison for their faith - arrested and punished by their authorities. What was remarkable was their forgiveness towards their persecutors; their resilience in the face of continued pressure; their absolute trust and faith in God; their continued resolve to be bold in their proclamation of Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
It has put my ministry in Australia into perspective. We have it so easy, here! There is little, in many of our services, time for quiet, reflection, lament, confession. A sense of the 'fear of God' (in the biblical sense of 'fear) is missing - the holiness of God is rarely preached on. (I recognise that this a 'generalised' comment - these things do happen in some churches but they tend to be few and far between.)
What's one question you'd love to ask other leaders in our audience to generate discussion about leadership? Eg. 'How do you do difficult conversations well?', or 'What's one tip for leading a remote online team?'
How do you evaluate that members of your congregation are 'growing up' and maturing in their faith and understanding of God? How do you measure this?