grow a healthy church


Life-Changing Advice I’d Give My 35-Year-Old Self

Rod Waters, with his wife Wendy, has planted two churches in over 30 years of ministry. They planted their first church over 30 plus years ago in the tropical far north of Western Australia, in Broome.

Rod was also a team pastor in our church for a few years, and over 20 years ago planted C3 Church Joondalup which he still pastors today. He’s also a business owner and an investor.

Rod Waters is a close friend. We even went to high school together. And we share a common passion to grow a healthy church.

John Finkelde:   What would you say to your 35-year-old self about organizing your week as a pastor and as a leader?

Rod Waters:       Organization was something which wasn’t my strength. I love my spontaneity.

However, it cost me dearly because I’d often didn’t use a calendar and just used my head. A lot of things got neglected and forgotten. Then there’d always be those midnight screamers, where you’d wake up with a fright thinking, “Oh no, I’ve forgotten something,” or, “I forgot to call that person.”

Inevitably, my sermon would boil down to the end of the week and I would start frantically listening to sermon tapes on Saturday afternoon, hoping that God might speak to me.

I’d neglect the family, and if I could have 35 again, I would say that Saturday is for your family.

After many, many years of frenetically preparing on Saturday, and even into Saturday nights, I started doing my sermons during the week.

I wish I had done that earlier.

John Finkelde:   What would you say to your 35-year-old self about money?

Rod Waters:       Church planting is always costly.

It’s a very expensive operation unless you’ve got some wonderful benevolent father who can pay all your bills!

I think we should have some various streams of income. For example, if you’ve got a job, you shouldn’t give up your job to plant a church.

Keep your work, keep your family finances going, and look for other opportunities.

The 35-year-old me had a lot more capacity than what I trusted in myself.

I said no to things in my financial world far too many times. Opportunities knocked on my door, and I said, “No, I’m building a church. I can’t do that.” It’s a bit narrow.

My 35-year-old self was a bit narrow in his thinking, and I let a lot of things slip through my fingers that would today have been fuelling and funding me, even to this very day.

John Finkelde:   Do you think you were too cautious as a 35-year-old?

Rod Waters:       I think as a 35-year-old I was single-minded about the ministry.

That’s good, but I think that my single-mindedness was to my detriment. I would say, “No, I’m building the church, I can’t do the other things.” I now think that the other things brought along to us by the Lord are there to make provision for us.

I now look at the apostle Paul. The guy was making tents for the Roman legions, and running a successful ministry and writing some incredible books.

There was a guy who had an immense capacity, but somehow I just minimized it to, “No, I’ve got to build a church, I can’t do anything else, it must be sinful.”

I’d have a chat with 35-year-old Rod and say,

“Rod, come on, build the church, but fuel other things that are going to finance this thing. Don’t look for your primary focus or your finances just from church life.”


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John Finkelde:   You’d see it as a mindset more than a cautious attitude?

Rod Waters:       I think it’s a mindset. Of course, to be a church planter, or go out and start something from scratch, there’s not a lot of caution doing that, is there?

John Finkelde:   That’s true.

Rod Waters:       You’re ready to throw things to the wind.

Entrepreneurial thinking that leads to financial independence means you’re not having to burden a fledgeling church that’s got 35 people in it with, “Someone’s got to support this thing.”

If you use your entrepreneurial skills to look for financial income streams, your wife will be happy. You’ll keep your wife happy because she’s worried about different things than your ‘sacred’ church. She worries about putting food on the table for the children, clothing and schooling.

John Finkelde:   What would you say to your 35-year-old self about the key team members that are around you in your church?

Rod Waters:       I would look for, and equip, key members a lot earlier.

I’d do some personality profiles. What does my personality look like, and what sort of personalities set me off in a negative way?

Sometimes we put people around us that are just like Sister Sandpaper, and we don’t get anywhere with those people.

So, number one, I would select people that are fun to hang out with, you enjoy doing life with them.

Number two, people that have some similar values. They don’t always come complete. That’s the other thing, I’ve always prayed, “God, give me people that are complete.”

John Finkelde:   He doesn’t answer that prayer?

Rod Waters:       No, He doesn’t answer that prayer. I think he gives us incomplete people.

I think it’s up to us to help shape them and encourage them to become something that, we can do life together.

I think you only need four or five of them, and you can enjoy doing life with them.

Think about iron ore. If you’re going to make a great Toyota car, first you’ve got to bring in the bulldozers and get rid of all the dirt. Then you put it through the crusher, through a process, and then hey presto, you’ve got a brand-new Toyota bring rolled off the production line.

I think I’d work more on my team.

John Finkelde:   What difference do you think that team building approach would have made to you as a 35-year-old planting a church?

Rod Waters:       I wouldn’t have felt as lonely as I did.

I hear that a lot from pastors. I hear that from myself at 35. “I just feel so alone.”

It’s the Elijah syndrome where God tells us, “I’ve got a few other prophets that haven’t bowed their knee to Baal.”

When we plant a church, or start a new business, or do something entrepreneurial, God will put around us people that will complement our short-sightedness.

I wish I had said to myself,

 “Listen, God’s pretty smart at this, and He’s done it for years. He’s good at making churches.” I’ve got to trust Him that He’s going to put within my reach good people that are going to complement what I’m doing.

I didn’t search out that enough. I thought they were coming because I was such a red-hot preacher.

John Finkelde:   In a sense of walking by yourself, what would you say to your 35-year-old self about that streak of independence that we often have when we’re young?

Rod Waters:       I’d say, “Listen, you have got some things, but there are things in other people that you need, and you need to put them around you, and complement what you have. As much as you want to stay alone, we’re not islands.”

Simon and Art Garfunkel wrote, “I’m A Rock, I’m An Island.” It was the call of the 70s, but it was a lie.

We’re not rocks and we’re not islands, and I think it’s to our own peril that we stay alone and try to do it independently.

John Finkelde:   What advice would you give to your 35-year-old self to find those relationships that would be far healthier than being independent?

Rod Waters:       Go on a very quick search to marry yourself to a great movement of churches.

Obviously, don’t marry yourself to people or organizations that aren’t of your like mind, but go on a quick journey to find similar-minded people.

The less time you spend doing life independently, the better.

Then celebrate that group of people and that movement.

Together you can do much more.

I had some spiritual fathers around me who said do life independently.

I had to still their voices within my heart because they’d become independent because of hurt. People will hurt you, and cause you to then drift into some point of independence, but it’s not healthy.

I spent a lot of time building bridges that were bridges of hurt, bridges of offence.

It’s not always going to be perfect, but I think it just is crazy to try and do it alone.

I’ve been enjoying these latter years of my life in fellowship and relationship that’s organic, and done life with some great people.

John Finkelde:   What would you say to your 35-year-old self about your marriage and family? You have five children, adult children now.

Rod Waters:       John, I think I would’ve got my diary out, and I would’ve prioritized time for them, and been totally non-negotiable with that time.

I would prioritize a space in my world for them and give them my unreserved attention.

Turn off the mobile phone, don’t read emails, don’t go on Facebook, not that we had it back then. We just had other distractions.

Turn off the distractions, leave your mobile phone, lock it in your glovebox, whatever, and give them your attention.

It’s not days and days, it’s just hours and hours, where my undivided face is in their face.

John Finkelde:   Fabulous. What advice would you give to yourself as your children become teenagers?

Rod Waters:       I would refuse to try and balance ministry against teenage life. If your teenagers need you, that’s your priority.

If you’ve got a great team around you, you can lean on that team and not feel like you’re the warrior that needs to solve everything.

You’ve got a team around you who appreciate that you’re going through something that needs your full attention, and they can say, “Pastor, I’ve got this. You just go and prioritize your children, and get into their world and spend time with them.”

Someone once said, “I don’t think you understand children when they become teenagers, but they don’t need to be understood, they just need understanding.”

They go a bit dark, but they just need understanding, and I think understanding is expressed in the time that you’ll just be around for them. Have a coffee with them. Spend time letting your princesses know that they have your face.

John Finkelde:   What one thing different would you have done with your wife Wendy back when you were 35?

Rod Waters:       This year we celebrated 42 years of marriage.

One thing my dad modelled to me when I was younger was that when he got home from his work, he would close the door in our living room and he’d say, “I’m going to spend some time with your mother. You all be quiet, you just settle down, go read a book or watch TV.”

For half an hour Dad would spend time with Mum without the distractions of the children. He would download his day to his wife, and she would download her day to him.

My wife needs me to listen.

She’s been talking googly-gump with kids all day, and she needs adult conversation. All she needs to do is have you listen. She doesn’t need you to fix anything. She just wants to be listened to.

Schedule time to listen to your wife.

The second thing is  toput a plan in your world where you prioritize the wife of your youth.

Plan special occasions like a weekend away. Get the kids babysat and have a weekend away. Fall in love again!

When we had our 30th wedding anniversary, it was a bit of a milestone for me and Wendy, so I planned a trip around the world with two round-the-world tickets. I started planning that five years out. It was a milestone.

John Finkelde:   Rod, it’s been fantastic listening to you give life-changing advice to your 35-year-old self.

Rod Waters:       Thanks, John. It’s been wonderful being with you.


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John is a wellspring of information, experience and advice in all things church. His responses were often out of the box of what's been said before.
Ps Christie Blaikie
Oasis Church

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