7 Questions with Tim Kurth
Name: Tim Kurth
Current title: President
Current organisation: The Shepherd Fund
Tim is the husband of Elizabeth and together parents of two and grandparents of two. He began his career as a Christian school teacher then served as Director of Christian Education for over 20 years. For the last 20 years he has worked in national and international missions, disaster response work, donor relations, and consulting on Christian leadership and governance. He continues to lead short term mission teams and recently published the book "What If Everyone Is Saved: What the Church isn't Telling You About Jesus." Available on Amazon.
1. What have you found most challenging as a church leader?
People. To be more specific, the particular brokenness of people who have fallen for the satanic lie. It's my long-held and deeply considered opinion that Satan has only ever told one lie to humanity. "You can be like God." Every iteration of trouble since humanity's fall into sin can be traced to people considering themselves equal to God in that they believe they can decide right from wrong. It is beyond our capacity as created beings to decide right and wrong. We cannot decide truth. We are on a lifelong journey of discovering truth, which is a point fixed outside ourselves. This simple, yet complex situation in which we find ourselves, namely being stained with sin, makes gathering as Church incredibly challenging.
When corporate bodies gather there must be some form of organizational structure. Eventually, the nagging lie that we can decide right and wrong, truth, permeates the system and leads to judgement, condemnation, division, and separation. It is the greatest challenge of the Church corporately and individual Christians within the Church to resist every temptation to wrest control from God over those things for which he alone has complete authority. And I will say there are far more things in the world of the Church over which we have no authority than we can imagine. As an observer of church for nearly fifty years now, it grieves me how much damage has been done by church leaders claiming authority that isn't theirs and distracting people from falling into the loving arms of Jesus, knowing the overwhelming generosity of the Father, and hearing the compelling voice of the Spirit.
2. How did you become a church leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
My mother was a faithful follower of Jesus. Prior to my birth as her first child, she committed my life to God much the same way Hannah did as recorded in 1 Samuel 1:19 and following. I was raised in a Christian household, though fraught with many struggles, attended Christian grade school, and was active in church from my earliest remembrance. Many who have not become church leaders have a similar story, but I believe God took my mother's prayer seriously. She never pressured me to work in the church. In fact, when I considered a career in medicine she encouraged me. When I considered going into the legal profession, she was my cheerleader. I don't remember a time in my life not having an awareness of God's presence. While I certainly strayed from his ways, there was never a time when I rejected him or fled from him.
Between my sophomore and junior years of high school my church invited me to help teach Vacation Bible School. It was during that two week experience that God revealed the path into full time church work. The mentoring of the Principal of my Christian school and the encouragement of pastors and church leaders along the way, prepared me. God opened doors for me to work in local congregations, then in regional ministries, then traveling nationally to present, lead and train folks. Eventually, God provided opportunities to go internationally and lead, speak, encourage, and learn. It continues to be an incredible journey.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
It truly depends on the season. In the days of working in the local church, when my routines kept me close to home, I was regular in journaling first thing in the morning. From there it was to the office for scheduled meetings, planning, and event prep. Now, before the pandemic anyway, my job has me on the road serving ministries all over the country. It's more challenging to find routines when I'm in and out of airports, hotels, rental cars, etc. Recently my wife and I moved into a new home and that has also presented challenges in finding new routines. To be completely honest, at this point in my life I'm working hard to build some new structures that will become routine.
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 going to cheat here and name two books that profoundly impacted me. First is George Barna's "The Power of Vision" first published in the 1980's. I got my hands on that book and it crystallized things I had been observing since my teen years in the church. Visionary leadership is crucial to the success of any venture and that includes the church. I've shared that book with others and referenced it countless times through the years.
The other book is "Your God is Too Safe" by Mark Buchanan. I paired that book with a study of Romans. Buchanan rightly identifies some of the root causes of the malaise in the Western church. We want to control God and make sure we get the Christmas promise of peace on earth, goodwill to men. We miss the part where our God is an untamed force. Buchanan really drives home the point made by C.S. Lewis in the "Chronicles of Narnia." Of course God isn't safe but he's good. Church leaders would do well to give themselves over to a God who isn't safe!
5. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
In the last year I had the privilege of getting certified as a Governance Systems Professional. That's a fancy way of saying I've been trained in the Policy Governance Model pioneered by John and Miriam Carver. I was beyond excited to discover this model for board governance because it addressed all the common dysfunctions of church boards. Digging deep into the model and seeing how it can improve the function of any organization has been a real eye opener.
This is a governance model that can revolutionize the church. It will free up pastoral leadership to truly lead. It will give church governing councils clear boundaries and direction for how to truly benefit the ministries they love. I can't say enough about this model and the power it has to bring health and function to the church. The best leaders would be well served by implementing Policy Governance. I'm just sorry I didn't find it much earlier in my career.
6. How do you develop a healthy leadership pipeline in a church?
The simplest formula I've ever found came to me in the 1980's when I was working with a grief recovery ministry for widowed, divorced and separated singles. That type of singles ministry is very transitory and the model developed by a friend of mine turned over leadership in the organization every six months! That's not a typo. Every six months new leadership was installed. That meant I had to coach leaders from the day they took over that they were looking for their replacements from day one. I'm sorry I can't say who came up with the simple process I learned, but it was taught to me as "The 4 Phases of Ease." Step 1: I do; Step 2: I do, you watch; Step 3: you do, I watch; Step 4: you do, I move on.
From this I developed some simple rules. First, there are no visitors only newcomers. When you welcome someone as a newcomer there's an unspoken expectation that you expect them to return and become connected to your ministry. This first rule I call, "Welcoming them into membership."
The second rule is to impart the core vision, mission and values of the ministry in a winsome and inclusive way. Start trusting people with simple but real responsibilities for the ministry's success as soon as possible. I call this step, "See that they take ownership." There will be those who seize the opportunity and show a passion for the success of the ministry and truly internalize the mission, vision, and values. These people you take under your wing and give them deeper levels of significant responsibility. I call this third rule, "Nurture them to leadership."
If you want a healthy leadership pipeline: Welcome them into membership; See that they take ownership; Nurture them to leadership. Nothing beats a systematic, replicatable, process of relationship building.
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?
Wow! That's quite a final question. My answer may not be traditional so I'll set it up a bit. I've had the privilege of serving in some of the most impoverished communities in the U.S. From Native American reservations to the Appalachian hills and hollers. I've been in disaster zones from the Gulf after Katrina to Joplin after the tornado to Nepal after the earthquakes. I arrived in Newtown, Connecticut twenty-four hours after the Sandy Hook shootings and spent a week comforting families there.
The Lord has blessed me with opportunities to serve widows and orphans from the interior of the Amazon jungle to the streets of Nairobi and the far west rural regions of Nepal. The scope of the work the Church is called to do can crush you if you were to look at it all and felt responsible for being the one to fix it. I say that, to tell this story. It's the most meaningful story I can think of.
The year before my mother died in a tragic accident in her home, she had the chance to travel outside the U.S. for the first and, it turned out, only time in her life. She went to Bangkok, Thailand to meet her husband who was coming home from a long work engagement in the Middle East. As they walked the streets of Bangkok, Mom was overwhelmed by the children begging on the streets. She repeatedly stopped to interact with one after another. Squatting down to meet them at eye level, she let them know they were loved. At some point her husband grew frustrated and said, "Judy, you can't help all these children." Without rising from her place in front of the child she looked over her shoulder and gently said, "No, but I can help this one."
As church leaders we can sometimes be overwhelmed by the scope of the work there is to do. We can work ourselves to a frazzle in hopes of changing the world. I can't fix all the many things I've seen in this world. All I can do is be the loving presence of Jesus to those with whom I am face to face. And be satisfied that that is enough.