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From Kid’s Pastor to Church Planter to Multi-Site Pastor in Ten Years: Joel Chelliah, The Interview

Joel Chelliah is Senior Pastor of Centrepoint Church which he planted ten years ago in West Australia. Centrepoint is a multi-site church in two locations and is about to launch a third location in Perth.

Joel is also the state president of Australian Christian Churches Western Australia. He’s been married to his wife Sharon for 15 years and they have three active boys.

He is actively seeking to grow a healthy church.

John Finkelde: Give us three words to describe the feel of your church.

Joel Chelliah: The word that a lot of people would use is fluid. If something lasts for more than a year, I’m talking about the smaller things and the way we do things, then it deserves a medal.

I get bored after a little while and I think it’s just nice to keep things fresh and alive, so fluid would be one.

Another word is fun.

We have a saying at Centrepoint, fun is our secret ingredient.

I would also say we want to be friendly. That’s our heart, to just make friends into family.

John Finkelde: What got you into church planting?

Joel Chelliah: I didn’t want to plant a church.

I was the children’s pastor and youth pastor of the church at Perth Christian Life Centre under David Storer. I’d been there since I was seven years old. I love the church, I love serving there, I met my wife there, had my kids there.

One night I had a dream that I planted a church. I woke up very panicky, very upset. I woke Sharon and said to her, “Look, I had this crazy dream. We planted a church and we were senior pastors.” Sharon turned over and said, “Yeah, yeah, I know.

She had known for a couple of years and God was working on her very slowly. She is slow and steady and I’m the ‘let’s get this happening last week’ type person.

I went and spoke to my senior pastor who said, “Yes, God’s been speaking to me about you outgrowing your shoes here and we want to plant you out.”

John Finkelde: So you didn’t run towards church planting?

Joel Chelliah: No, not at all. David always encouraged us that if we ever wanted to plant a church that he would love to be the first to know so that he could help us because he wanted to send us out.

That’s always been his motto, to give generously.

We planted with $30,000, 30 adults and 20 kids from Perth Christian Life Centre.

John Finkelde: In ten years you’ve grown into a multi-site church. I know that growth is exciting, exhilarating even. However, what’s the most dissatisfying thing about having a growing church?

Joel Chelliah: I loved church when it was a little bit smaller, to be honest. I love people, I love knowing everything that’s going on.

I love knowing everybody’s name and going to people’s houses for dinner, and that sort of stuff.

Now I rock up to a leaders meeting and there are Connect Group leaders that I feel like I’ve never met before.

John Finkelde: Wow.

Joel Chelliah: For me, that’s unsettling. I’m introducing myself for the first time and they’re coming for maybe one year, or two years. That for me is different, something to get used to.

I know we’re impacting more people and I know God’s in it, but I’ve had to get used to the fact that I don’t know these people that I’m currently the senior pastor of.

John Finkelde: Joel, that’s very encouraging for other pastors who can sometimes look at growing, multi-site churches and say, ” If only I had a growing church.” There’s always a downside to growth and I think it helps pastors when they hear you say, “Well, everything isn’t as I’d like it to be.”

Joel Chelliah: Absolutely. I remember when we were about a 180 people, the tithe was comfortably paying for everything that we needed and everyone loved me, and I loved everybody.

I remember saying to God, “You know, this is perfect.” I wouldn’t mind us camping here, and I felt a challenge in my heart from God saying, “Is this it? Are you willing to do what I called you to do?”

It was a challenging moment for me. I knew it’s going to be uncomfortable ever since then.

John Finkelde: What’s one thing you’ve enjoyed about the multi-site experience?

Joel Chelliah: I think the multi-site experience is very unique. It’s not for everybody.

I people that have tried it and have failed and I know people that are doing well. You need to feel a clear direction from God to go there.

The good part is we are now reaching three completely different communities.

In fact, the furthest distance is 45 minutes from our brand new campus to our second campus.

We’re reaching new schools and new local communities.  We have politicians come to our services and say thank you. We would never have been able to reach that community if we didn’t plant there.

John Finkelde: How do you cope with that level of complexity?

Joel Chelliah: I have great people around me. My organizing skills have had to improve a lot, but still far from where I’d like it to be, but I’ve got great people around me.

I’ve got wonderful campus pastors that have been with me for many, many years.

Some of them since they were teenagers in our youth group, back at Perth Christian Life Centre.

Having the right people, I think growing the right people, that’s been the only way we’ve been able to go forward, apart from the grace of God.

John Finkelde: You were in your home church for many and I assume you’ve taken some of Ps David Storer’s style and developmental mindset into your own setting?

Joel Chelliah: David is a man that we greatly respect. He’s still our senior pastor, so if he ever did call me in and tell me to step aside or do something I would still take that wisdom because we’ve placed him in that place, for Sharon and myself, as our senior pastor.

Although we are a multi-campus church, we also plant autonomous churches.

In the ten years we’ve planted 3 autonomous churches where the senior pastor has come from our church, Centrepoint.

John Finkelde: In your role as State President of the Australian Christian Churches here in Western Australia, you interact with a lot of pastors. Are you noticing any trends amongst pastors and church ministry today?

Joel Chelliah: I think the multi-site trend is massive. They tend to be established or older churches handing over their church to younger, emerging leaders, mainly because they don’t have a replacement.

We are starting to see churches being planted that are brand new, grassroots.

I think the models have changed. It used to be, get a guitar, get an overhead projector and go and start hopefully somebody comes.

Now, it’s form a team, do preview services, great marketing, have a children’s ministry, have a youth ministry and a worship team.

When you have a core team, then launch out and start with momentum. They tend to last longer or grow quicker.

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John Finkelde: It appears to be that team and connection with the team is one of your main values, one of the main things that you enjoy in ministry.

Joel Chelliah: Yes, absolutely.

In order for a church to continue to grow, for us to continue to do all that God’s called us to do and reach more people, we’ve got to constantly disciple and lead leaders. Leadership is important to me.

John Finkelde: That climate of development of other people would assist you in terms of multi-site.

Joel Chelliah: Absolutely. I think if you’re a great youth worker and the church is a one-campus church, and they’ve already got a youth pastor, then there’s no progression unless they leave the church.

A lot of people want to stay in the church, but they also feel a call of God to do more, so there’s more opportunity.

John Finkelde: Let’s go back to your days as a team pastor with David. What’s one word of advice you would give to a team pastor today to help them be fruitful?

Joel Chelliah: I think have patience because as the team guy with a strong leadership gift, I sometimes would struggle with the calls that my senior pastor would make.

I’d think why is he slow to move in particular areas, and why are we doing it this way, and why are we doing it that way?

Since becoming a senior pastor, my perspective has completely changed, because senior pastors see things from a completely different angle.

As a youth pastor and children’s pastor, I only saw it from a certain angle.

If I could go back and speak to myself as a team pastor I would say, “Hey, just be patient, you’re not seeing the full picture.”

John Finkelde: If one of your team pastors was frustrated with you, would you prefer them to come and have a talk with you, or work it through themselves?

Joel Chelliah: We’ve got an open-door policy at Centrepoint. I would be disappointed if they didn’t feel like they could come to me directly and discuss it.

John Finkelde: I think that’s excellent advice for any team pastor. If you’ve got something burning in your heart go and talk to your lead pastor. They mightn’t fully agree with what you’re saying, but that’s fine. At least you can get past that sense of frustration, and learn to be more patient as well when you hear their perspective

John Finkelde: What’s the worst mistake you’ve made in ministry?

Joel Chelliah: I think I have this disease of wanting everything done immediately. I will go to a trip to Hillsong conference or go to Planetshakers, be thoroughly inspired and I will come back and change everything.

My poor, poor team would just have to put up with, “Oh gosh, he’s away and he’s going to come back and everything we once did is now not going to be the case.”

Even though I do like change, I think there’s a right way to implement change.

I think as I’ve gotten older and a bit more mature as a leader, I’ve realized that even if it’s good for others it may not be good for us.

If it is good for us, it’s about selling it and getting the whole team on board rather than trying to drive it myself.

I need to take our team with us, encouraging them to see everything as an adventure.

John Finkelde: What’s the one big thing you want to achieve in ministry by the time you turn 60?

Joel Chelliah: I would like to see a number of sons in the faith serving God in church ministry.

My goal is to be a father to fathers, and to train and release people that have a passion for the church of Jesus Christ all over the world.

I would love to see more, dozens upon dozens of people saying yes to the call of God, and planting churches and impacting communities.

As well as every area or strata of society, but especially in the area of ministry, I want to see men and women of God released of ministry.

John Finkelde: What’s the best book you’ve read lately, or the best podcast you’ve listened to, or the best YouTube video you’ve watched?

Joel Chelliah: Okay, well, I have to say my favorite lately has been Robert Morris’ sermon and podcasts from Gateway Church. He’s just a brilliant, brilliant teacher and he’s the one that wrote the Blessed Life series.

The book I read recently was Courageous Leadership by Bill Hybels. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

John Finkelde: Joel, thanks so much for giving us your time.

Joel Chelliah: Thank you so much for this honor.

Here’s the original audio for the interview

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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