A non-negotiable faith

For a man helping steer a major Australian not-for-profit Christian organisation, Gerry Weatherall is far removed from his roots as a young English Anglican.

In his current role of Acting Chief Operating Officer, Gerry is responsible for the day-to-day operations of an organisation that includes nearly 70 member churches, hundreds of care services and thousands of staff and volunteers. Ultimately, as an important part of the leadership team, the care of tens of thousands of Australians and ni-Vanuatu are in his hands. Here, Gerry talks about business, leadership, spirituality and what are his non-negotiables.

Defining moments

Born into what he calls a ‘dyed in the wool village Anglican Christian family from England’, Gerry’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were either caretakers or active in the local village church. You can go there today and find little plaques recognising the hallmarks of many generations of his forebears.

The Weatherall family were active participants in church life, but young Gerry always felt there was something more to life and more to his faith.

“As a teenager I never went through a period in my life where I thought there is no such thing as God and I’m just here on my own. But the journey I had to go on was to appreciate how a knowledge of God or being within a Christian environment translated into a personal relationship with a God who is real,” Gerry said.

He questioned how what the Bible said about Jesus, his person and his purpose could be appropriated in his personal life.

“That was my teenage journey and I got to a point at about 16 or 17 years of age where something changed. I went from being somebody contemplating what it meant to be Christian and if I really wanted to be one, to having a confidence within myself that making a definite decision to follow Jesus and all that meant was right. In doing that I had, if you like, fallen over the line and reached a point where I now felt assured that I had a real relationship with God.

“Other people may call that a conversion experience, and I’m not fussed on language, but there was a definite time in my life where I made the decision that I actually needed my life to be transformed by His grace and to put my faith in Jesus as both my Lord and my saviour because of what He had done for me through giving His life for my sake. Now this may sound like religious language but I can’t tell it any other way. That’s what I did and it changed my life forever.

Gerry discovered, like most people, that he fell short of any aspiration he had to be the holy young Christian. He discovered despite the fact a confident decision could be made and had every intention of being the person God wanted him to be, that actually living a Christian life that that reflected the person and teachings of Jesus was nowhere near as easy.

“By the grace of God I met my wife Joy, who is also a Christian person, and for 42 years we’ve had the very close relationship that has enabled us to seek God’s direction and purpose together and develop our commitment to the spirituality that is ours – this personal relationship with Jesus, as a saved member of the kingdom of God,” Gerry said.

Journey to leadership

“That conviction led me to work with people in need, to want to work in aid projects, in essence to try and put into practice as much as I possibly could of what I believe God, through his grace, had given me the skillset to achieve.”

In the 1990s Gerry and Joy and their young family packed up and moved to Vanuatu for a number of years to work on a mission station and do whatever they could to help the ni-Vanuatu.

His leadership experience in business and missional work led to Gerry being part of the Conference Council and later what was the Care board and then to be part of the original Board of Churches of Christ in Queensland. Gerry was then invited to take an operational role and be part of the Executive team.

“The whole experience of my personal spirituality is what sustains me in life. It gives me a humble view of what we as people in God’s kingdom need to be doing and striving for,” Gerry said.

“I have a great burden for people who suffer and an ultimate burden that people would somehow or another get to understand that being citizens of God’s kingdom and actually accepting that Jesus Christ is in fact the king that God has appointed to lead and direct what the world he has created needs to be like is fundamental to our present wellbeing and certainly most important eternally.  

“For me, my spirituality leads to a position of assurance that comes through knowing you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, which is an eternal relationship within His kingdom, with Him as the king. If He’s the king then my duty is to serve Him in the way that He chooses. As I read his teachings, loving God with all your heart and loving others as yourself is a pretty good summary

“One of the phrases that is often referred to in the office here is ‘who are we and what are we on about’ – there are many contributors to our mission that we bless and respect as colleagues committed to the outcomes that we are seeking to achieve, and that’s the hallmark of it… that we  truly respect and we abundantly bless all of these people, even though their spiritually may be something that is totally different, a totally different expression or a indeed a different interpretation to ours.”

Like minded partnerships

When it comes to the operations of a major community services organisation and working with dozens of affiliated churches, Gerry sees that faith and sense of spirituality are as important as the leadership skills he’s acquired. A sense of spirituality is also a factor when considering organisations to partner with, notwithstanding however, that the primary focus are the outcomes for those cared for and the uplift and transformation brought to their lives.

“I think though there should be fundamental non-negotiables in the process of joining or partnering with somebody. We need to make sure that they understand who we are and what we’re on about,” Gerry said.

“We don’t expect that they necessarily have to agree with our driving motivations, but rather that they have a connection with and understand what we would say is the spirituality that consists in what we do… that they understand who we are and what underpins our conviction; the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.

“We have a set of very important values as well that underpin our operations, and take a stand that they are not-negotiable requirements for our staff. In terms of partnering, if we can join with somebody who has a pretty close alignment on the fundamental basis of love for other people… that we are acting, and expect that we will only act with absolute integrity, we have a good basis to form a relationship.

“Obviously the whole concept of stewardship and sustainability; that all the resources we have whether a government grant, services income, gift from someone or whether it be a collaboration to bring on board the skills of a partner or whatever else… are most effectively and efficiently used sustainably for the benefit of the outcomes we are trying to achieve is a value we would want any partner to share.

“So what I would be emphasising to a potential partner is; ‘ what you believe and why you believe is your business, if your spirituality concept is different to ours – that’s fine, lets focus on the outcomes, and  make sure you understand who we are and where we are coming from and that our  values have to be uppermost in the partnership or the union that we are seeking to develop’.”

Demonstrating faith through leadership

Gerry says that the concept of faith-influenced leadership means maintaining the highest integrity and irrespective of consequences saying ‘that’s who we are and that defines how we are going to act.’ It is in the way we are standing up  for the oppressed, giving to the poor, supporting the vulnerable and doing all we can to uplift individual lives , where this unique form of leadership becomes a vital compass and is a not-negotiable for him and for those in similar positions of influence.

“In my view as an example, the person and teachings of Jesus demand that we must take leadership in social justice – it’s just not an option for us. Being champions of social justice is not a project that Christians undertake it’s just a part of what we do.  Actually it’s not a question, it’s an imperative for us.”

“Are we going to love everybody irrespective of their position, of their beliefs, of their social background… is all that going to be a complete irrelevance in any decision we make about how we bring the love to them… well for me it’s a not negotiable. There’s a leadership in that, to stand for that, to take a lead in that… we are not going to compromise on that. We are not going to compromise on the need for people to feel safe. We’re not going to compromise, in any way.”

“We as Churches of Christ in Queensland, because of our spirituality, need to stand and say that child abuse in all of its forms, domestic violence in all of its forms, the wrong treatment of refugees in all its forms, discrimination in all its forms… those sorts of things are not-negotiable for us and dictates how we should lead as an organisation as well as individuals.

Sustaining the faith

Gerry maintains his spirituality, even in the darkest of hours, by placing himself in a prayerful position and has one simple request.

“Whatever I need to be, whatever I need to do, I pray for your sustaining influence in my life, to help me overcome the doubts and fears, to be able to do Lord what it is you require of me this day, just this day. I’m going to get some things wrong God, I’m going to get some things right. What I need of you today is to somehow mediate on a moment by moment basis so that overall, is that by your grace, I have been able to tap into your sustaining power for me and apply it in what I am doing so that people are blest.”

Read more stories like this in the latest edition of Networking.

Posted March 2, 2017 in Networking blog