In the twelfth episode of Inspiring Stewards, Nathan Jones speaks with Gary Williams from Australia. He talks about growing up with a rich Christian heritage and simply trying to use the gifts God had given him. From there, he shares how he and like-minded stewards formed CMA 20 years ago for the purpose of helping Christian organizations remove the obstacles that tend to limit ministry effectiveness. With that lens, he urges listeners to steward the opportunities God gives to us and to steward God's reputation. He concludes by challenging us to be “all in” with our Christian faith.
We’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, or feedback. To do so, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The music is Concerto a’ 4 Violini No 2 by Telemann played on classical guitar by Jon Sayles. Published by Exzel Music Publishing.
On today’s episode, I have the incredible privilege to head south to the land Down Under and spend time with Director of CMA Australia, Gary Williams. In our time together, we cover a significant amount of ground. So hang on as we jump into episode number 12.
Once again, my name is Nathan Jones and I want to thank you for joining me on this episode of the Inspiring Stewards podcast.
Well, Gary, thank you again so much for your time today. I've been looking forward to jumping into this conversation. So let's just kick it off and give us a little bit of background of your story, growing up, where you're from, that sort of thing.
Yeah, thanks, Nathan. It's great to be with you.
I was born in a country town, a rural farming town in Australia, the eldest of four children. My mum was the youngest of eight children and they all had lots of children. So I've got dozens and dozens of cousins, a very big family. Now and then, we gather and pray for our family and we print off a list of all of the names and there's 386 names from my uncle's downwards. Big family and a really rich Christian heritage right from there. Many of my cousins and nieces and nephews have been pastors and missionaries and been to Bible college.
So I grew up in this warm, huge, big farming family for our first few years. But I developed asthma out in the agricultural region and the doctors said, look, we should be moving to a coastal region where the air is less dusty. So we moved to the Gold Coast when I was about five years old. And really, the Gold Coast is where I grew up, not on the beach, but in sort of a beach-side city.
My dad was the director of Youth for Christ on the Gold Coast. So right from my earliest memories, it was a Christian household that we grew up in. Lots of fond memories from back there. After school, I went to Bible college, a discipleship training center modeled on L'Abri in Switzerland in the Australian Outback.
From there, I went back and worked with Youth for Christ, went to university to do an education degree, trained as a math and computer high school teacher, met my wife at church, Debbie. We married, had a couple of children. Fast forward, the children are 23 and 25 now. They've left home. They're doing great, they're walking with the Lord. I look back on lots of fond memories and a rich Christian heritage. Very fortunate just with the people that I grew up amongst.
That's tremendous, obviously growing up in a Christian home, Christian culture with your extended family and lots of connections. But what was it, Gary? And how did you come to know Christ in a personal way? What drew you to him?
Look, I'm one of those people who can't put a time and a date on it. As my earliest memories, I would have called myself a Christian. But certainly, around the age of ten, I think there was a period where this was back in the days where sort of youth rallies would have an altar call and people would come to the front to declare their intention to become a Christian. And I did that more than once. I think I must have gone through a little phase where I thought I might have needed to prove to God that I was serious or prove to someone else. For a little while there, I think the joke was, “There he goes again!”
So I can't really put a finger on it. Right from my earliest memories, God was real and life was something that you lived in response to the reality that there is an eternity, and that the life that we live here is influenced by the reality of eternity with God.
Wow. What impact then did that decision have on your life and that time in your life of coming to a deeper knowledge of Him?
It influenced everything, I think. It comes down to the blue. If this is true at all, if this whole God thing is true at all, if there is eternity, and if my destination in eternity depends on my response to God, then you've got to be all in. If there's any truth to it, then it's profoundly true, and it ought to affect everything.
So, from relationships – I was looking to marry someone who had the same passion about what's important in life. And in the career choices – I went to university to get an education degree, and the reason I wanted to be a teacher was not so much that I thought teaching was a magical career, but I thought, look, there's ministry opportunities in teaching. I've experienced a little bit of that in Youth for Christ as a religious education teacher, and I thought, look, I might be able to serve the Lord as a teacher in government schools. It might be an opportunity.
So, it affected everything. Particularly, I think a turning point was those two years at the discipleship training center, which had a lot of apologetics in it. So it really helped ground my faith and it really has influenced everything. And I'm not saying for a moment that people who choose careers outside the ministry world are in any way less spiritual or that's a less noble pursuit.
But for me, what it's meant is I spent eight years on a church staff, team administrator, and pastor of a couple of different areas. And then into my current role, leading CMA, it's meant that in all the choices I've made, I'm looking at what would God want me to do. What is the best use of the opportunities and the gifts that God has given me? Where is He calling me to? So, it's influenced everything.
Yeah. That's wonderful. Let's go there. Talk more about your role with CMA and what you do and how you got into that space.
I'm the national director of CMA, and actually, we've just had a conference celebrating 20 years. So, it was 20 years ago that I started CMA. So, let me maybe just backtrack a little and tell a fragment of that story.
I was a church administrator primarily, and I needed some training and needed some resources to help with all of this operational side of ministry: finance, fundraising, HR, governance, strategy, budgeting, all of these sorts of things. And I couldn't find what I needed that reflected the peculiar reality of a church organization. I went to a lot of the secular sort of training things, and they were helpful to a point, but it missed the spiritual side altogether.
It really started clicking in place for me with my first, what was CMA, now CLA conference in Nashville in America. I went over and was deeply impacted by the Nashville Conference and people like John Corts, the CEO of the Billy Graham Association, and Bob Andringa talking about ministry governance. John Pearson, who was the CEO of CMA back then, was an incredible encouragement.
It began a series of trips to America to attend the CMA conferences. And the idea started there that, look, we shouldn't have to cross the Pacific and spend a fortune from Australia to get access to this kind of training. Maybe there's an opportunity to build it in Australia. So, I won't tell the founding story, that it would forever. But a few of us got together and prayed and contacted the American organizations to see who in Australia might have expressed some interest.
We formed CMA in Australia 20 years ago. The purpose of CMA – and we modeled it on the US organization as much as we could – the purpose is to help Christian organizations be more effective in whatever core ministry God’s called them to. But to help them be effective by removing some of the obstacles that seem to get in the way in these areas of governance and finance and people and communications and risk, et cetera.
We see, I saw, and we still see lots of good organizations just really coming unstuck because of preventable failures in some of these operational areas. Not necessarily because of a lack of spirituality or a lack of prayer or fervor. But because they don't understand succession planning or because they mismanage finances or because of these things that some people look down on as secular but are in fact part of the spiritual gifts of administration.
And so, we continue to run an association. We have about 1,700 members around Australia: the leaders, managers, board members of Christian churches, and charities primarily. And we want to help them be more effective in whatever God's called them to do.
That's tremendous. We can go on for a long time just talking about what you've learned and observed and how God is working through CMA. But let me summarize maybe, and go in this direction, given that this is the Inspiring Stewards podcast, how has that concept of stewardship informed your life and your work and your story?
It has permeated everything. I sort of grew up thinking that stewardship was primarily about money. And I think that might have just been the way the church taught it back then, that stewardship was about what you do with your money. Money has never been a big part of our lives. We weren't in poverty, but we weren't affluent either. So the money thing was never really a central thing for me or for us.
But stewardship, as I look at it now, I think there are a couple of key areas. And of course, yes, it has to do with money and time and all sorts of things. And as I was saying earlier, it really has influenced all of my life choices from career and partner and family and parenting and all of those sorts of things.
But I think there's two that sort of stand out to me now when I think of stewardship. One is stewardship of opportunity and the second is stewardship of God's reputation. Now, let me unpack what I mean by both of those.
We are stewards of the opportunity that exists. In Australia, we're a free country. We're often referred to as the lucky country, a prosperous country. We have opportunities for ministry. We're still able to go into government schools and teach religious education and put chaplains in there. It offers tremendous opportunities for ministry. There are storm clouds gathering, just geopolitically. Who knows how long this opportunity will be as good as it is?
But here in Australia, Christian organizations, Christian mission organizations, Christian businesses, and social enterprises – we're in a time of enormous opportunity and we can waste that opportunity or we can really make something of it. And I think that's a really important stewardship question that we need to be thinking of. We make the most of this opportunity while the opportunity is still there rather than waste it.
And then the other one, I think, is stewards of God's reputation. When Christian organizations publicly misbehave, God's reputation is damaged and people turn away from God. And we've seen lots of that in Australia and I know that's not uncommon. It happens around the world tragically. But we are stewards of God's reputation. God has entrusted us, to a degree, with His reputation.
And when Christian organizations are publicly revealed to have been involved in fraud or some of the public cases that have made the news in the last year with major moral failures in Australia. There's been a royal commission into sexual abuse in institutions and it's not by any means just the church that has happened. All sorts of institutions have been shamed by what has historically taken place. But in amongst them are some Christian organizations. And the reputation of the Church and the reputation of God is severely damaged when that kind of sin is discovered to have been taking place.
And this is one of the messages that we try and work within our constituency is that the way we behave publicly from our finances, from our accountability, from our stewardship, from the way we spend money, the way we treat people, the way we respond when bad things happen, the onlooking world makes an assessment about God often based on how Christian organizations behave. And sadly, there are lots of instances where people have been turned away from the Christian faith and turned away from God and said, well, look at the results.
And so I think there's a stewardship element there that we're trying to address, certainly with one division, which is the CMA Standards Council, which is in Australia, very similar to ECFA in the USA accrediting Christian organizations.
That's tremendous. I love how you frame it as the money thing, where it takes the power away from what has controlled so many in so many different ways, and said, God is much bigger. How are you, Gary, seeing God at work in the world around you, whether it's across Australia, around the world? You've hit on a number of areas, but anything else you would add?
My focus quite deliberately has been in Australia. We've got our work cut out in Australia as a small organization. And I look with great interest at what God is doing around the world. But I'm quite deliberately saying, look, I believe God's call for me is in Australia.
And one of the great privileges of the role that I have is just the members, the people who make up our membership, the people that I visit with and who attend our events, and who I consult and pick their brains for ideas, the leaders of these Christian organizations, and just incredible people. And so I'm constantly amazed at just the caliber of people that are hidden away in tiny little organizations or obscure parts of the country who are doing profound things that might not make the front page of the headlines, but God is clearly at work in surprising and incredibly diverse ways.
We often think of the Christian celebrities or the big headline-getting movements, and many of those are commendable, of course. But it just amazes me. Australia is a big country with not a lot of people, and then you visit a little town or a remote region and you find something really amazing and you say, God is at work for people who are available. It's just fascinating and really enriching for me to see that.
Particularly in the CMA, well, I recall back to a conference, the International Accountability Summit we had here in Melbourne a few years ago. Dan Busby was present and Dan made the comment that he said, “I think we're seeing globally the coming together of the global generosity movement and the global accountability movement.” And I thought that was a really profound observation that I think I see happening here in Australia.
God is at work in the world of generosity, but hand-in-hand with that in the world of accountability. Generosity and accountability go together in a way that might not have been quite so obvious a decade or two ago. And I really see evidence of God at work in that. I admit I'm looking at life through the lens of CMA and the organizations that we seek to serve. So it might be a fairly narrow interpretation. But I really see evidence of God at work in those areas of generosity and accountability.
And I think hopefully trying to combat some of the damage that's been done to God's reputation by the misbehavior of organizations. And I'm really encouraged to see Christian leaders and organizations not just saying, “What's in it for me, but what can we collectively do to help elevate the reputation of God and of Christian ministries?”
And I love the passage in Daniel, which is sort of like a theme verse for CMA, where at the end, Daniel's accusers say, “We can't find anything wrong with him. He's neither corrupt nor negligent. So if we're going to find something wrong with him, it's going to have to be about the law of his God.” And I think that's what we want to see here. We want to see people who say, “Well, look, you can't fault them on their public behavior and their accountability and their trustworthiness, but I don't like their God.”
We can never change that. That's between a person and God. But we hope for the Christian public testimony to be one that people say they can't find fault in us except for the fact that we're followers of Jesus. That's the life of Christian discipleship.
That's amazing. What a rich conversation. Gary, as we wrap up, any final thoughts you would leave those listening today with?
I think back to one of the early remarks. If this whole thing of God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and eternity, if it's true, then we've got to be all in. A good colleague of mine – that “all in” rings in my head – a colleague of mine was at a pivotal point making a decision, and he said, “We're all in.” And I think if the Christian faith is true, we've got to be all in. And that means different things for different people, but there's no point messing around the edges of it.
Life is too precious. Time is too short. Eternity is too long. We don't play games with this. We've got to be all in. And I think each of us has a responsibility to determine what that means for each of us and then to follow that obediently.
What a great summary. Gary, thank you again for your time today.
You're welcome, Nathan. It's been a privilege.