7 Questions with Tania Nelson
Name: Tania Nelson
Current title: Executive Officer - Local Mission
Current organisation: Lutheran Church of Australia
Dr Tania Nelson is the Executive Officer – Local Mission. Her role includes oversight of five mission-focused departments of the Lutheran Church of Australia. Tania is a primary teacher by background and former Head of the School of Theological Studies at Australian Lutheran College (a College of the University of Divinity). She is married with three adult children, two dogs and four chickens.
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
There's always so much more to do as a church leader and Christ's mission does not fit neatly into a 9 to 5 role (as at times I feel that would make things easier!) However, the challenges of mission and ministry in a post-modern and multicultural Australia and New Zealand remind me that it’s God's church, His bride, and I'm simply trying to discern where God is up to and join in.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I was looking for the next challenge in my teaching career. I loved my role as Deputy Principal, but God was calling me to something more. I ended up at Australian Lutheran College which was such a wonderful learning time. Then I was tapped on the shoulder for my current position, which I viewed as beyond my capabilities. I knew that if I was to take on my current role, I'd have to rely on God's blessing, his love and his guidance. Thanks be to God, I know he's here with me and his Spirit is giving me the encouragement (and the nudges) I need. When I look back, I know that God had a plan all along.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
From a management point of view, my outlook calendar is my 'best friend'. I schedule everything from time to read emails to major projects, and from minor actions to those relationship-building phone calls in my lunch time walks.
I try to keep one day clear as a family day (a Sabbath day of rest and down time and time spent with my husband).
The danger, however, in a 'scheduled life' is that my spiritual life could become compartmentalised too. I'm currently studying a Missional Spirituality unit within a Masters of Missional Leadership course. The practical activities we've been assigned, plus the support of a spiritual director, is helping me to be more attuned to the Spirit's moving in my day. I'm now stopping, more often, to turn to God in prayer.
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'm really not sure I can give you just one book. I love reading and have read so many books that have inspired me.
One recently published book I've enjoyed (and been challenged by) is 'How change comes to your church' by Pat Keifert and Wesley Grandberg-Michaelson. It's a book about changing church culture. I'd recommend it.
A golden oldie that I've recently returned to is Richard Foster's 'Celebration of Discipline'. I need to be reminded to not get caught up in my own doing and allow myself to be still and know God. I love this book.
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
It's all about relationships. Not much point being a leader when no one's following. So relationships are key. And my relationship with God is central to that. If I'm relying on God, if I'm joining in with His mission, then the rest seems to fall into place (thank you Holy Spirit). In my day to day work, it is too easy to simply send an email or write a letter and that completes the matter at hand. Emails and letters, however, can be so impersonal. I'm learning to pick up the phone more, and COVID-permitting, meet with people face-to-face more. People are more important than getting the job done.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
By the term 'pipeline' are you asking about the development of healthy leaders? If so, all I can suggest, as any good teacher would attest, is to be aware that a leader is always modelling leadership behaviour (for good and for bad). So be the person you want others to be. Good leadership to model includes encouragement, permission-giving, freedom to innovate, create and experiment and freedom to fail. And let's not forget the importance of a servant heart. Good leaders are self-aware - aware of their strengths and their weaknesses - and are able to work well in teams but can still make the hard decisions with integrity. Don't underestimate the synergies that occur when teams have a clear vision, drive and God on their side!
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?
As a woman in leadership in a faith tradition dominated by male leaders, I have been inspired by the servant heart and gentle, soft spoken and caring nature of my former female colleague in our International Mission department. I was privileged to attend a number of meetings in Indonesia with various church leaders and Bishops alongside this wonderful role model and I learned so much as I sat at her feet. The meetings, at times, required a high level of diplomatic ability (and then throw in the language barrier and potential cultural misunderstandings to make things interesting). My colleague was gracious and loving. Jesus' love certainly came to life in the relationships that she was nurturing and developing. She is an inspiration to me and reminds me that God's love will prevail even while institutions may come and go.