Dominic Steele is the senior minister of Village Church Annandale in Sydney, and also the host of The Pastor’s Heart—a podcast of deep-end interviews with senior pastors. Dominic has kindly agreed to speak to the ACR and share some of his hopes for and encouragements from this new and very helpful resource.
Dominic, could you tell us a bit about your background and how you came to minister at Village Church?
As a former journalist, I was leading the independent network ministry ‘Christians in the Media’ (which I still do) and in 1999 we planted a church in Glebe aimed at being explicitly evangelical and also having a positive vibe towards creativity.
That church outgrew Glebe Library and moved to Glebe Public School. When they wouldn’t fix the heaters, we moved to Annandale Public School. Annandale Anglican wasn’t quite dead at the time, but the vultures were certainly hovering overhead.
I spoke to the Archbishop and offered to take on the responsibility for ministry in the geographical area if he would allow us to base the media outreach there as well.
With Annandale Anglican’s average attendance at close to single figures and giving at $8,000 p.a. he said something like, “Well I haven’t got a lot to lose”.
I’m sure your role at Village Church keeps you very busy. Why start The Pastor’s Heart? What was your aim for it?
I wanted to encourage fellow pastors with a weekly ‘shot in the arm’, to help us in our common task of sharing Christ and building up his people.
I wanted to do this with stories of peers who were following Jesus in comparable circumstances, with helpful pastoral examples, based in the Scriptures, and with suggestions of best practice, new methods and tools.
While there were other similar things out there, they were mostly from overseas and didn’t land theologically or culturally quite where I wanted to.
I wanted The Pastor’s Heart to especially serve team leaders, knowing that in serving them we would also be benefiting assistant ministers, rising leaders and keen lay members.
It also had to be something that was manageable. Going live (with a tailing podcast audience) meant it would be affordable in both time and money. The single take is also higher risk and more ‘fly by the seat of the pants’, which suited my background in radio.
We also thought that if we did it in a video as well as an audio format, it would have a bigger impact. The vast majority of our audience are audio podcast listeners. But we keep hearing that on particular topics, quite a few ministry staff teams put the video on to watch together.
Why do you have a focus on the pastor’s heart?
My friend Matt Andrews came up with the title and the emphasis on the heart. I am very grateful for his suggestion which was miles better than any of the ideas I had, and actually expressed my aim for the program much better than I’d been able to.
The bottom line is that it all starts with the heart—if our hearts aren’t right then the whole thing falls apart.
And the discussion about someone’s heart with God has pretty quickly become one of the most interesting parts of each week’s program. Of course, some guests share more than others. And some have better answers. But it’s been really helpful for many to hear different leaders’ struggles and wrestles with God, and the way he has shaped and moulded them in Christlikeness.
How do you decide which guests to interview?
I look around and think about who I might benefit from hearing and learning from. This has been a wonderful privilege. There’s a fair bit of thinking ahead, particularly as I’m trying to interview leaders who are visiting Sydney as well as local leaders. But then I’m working hard to keep things current as well. Some interviews are pretty timeless, yet there’s a radio journalist in the back of my mind, saying, “News is news when it’s new!”.
A few times we’ve intentionally inserted ourselves in the centre of discussion by making snap decisions about guests. For example, hours after Billy Graham died, we spoke to Peter Jensen, and that became one of our most popular episodes of last year. It wouldn’t have had anything like the audience or impact if we had spoken to him a month later.
After over 15 months and 70 interviews, what do you think the contribution of The Pastor’s Heart has been? What kind of feedback have you had?
I think it’s given us another platform for the sharing of evangelical thought in our community. And it’s helped many of us get to know other leaders better.
For example, Rhett Harris’s interview on ‘Why rosters are contrary to the gospel’ not only shook up many churches’ planning, but it was also wonderful to hear him talk about 20 years of parenting a disabled child and the sacrifices he’d made, and it was tremendously educative on how Rhett had navigated a more complex home life with his busy ministry role.
I think the impact of The Pastor’s Heart outside of Sydney—for missionaries and church leaders in isolated areas—has been massive. I live within walking distance of Moore Theological College so it’s been a privilege for me to serve those people who are far more isolated than I am.
What have been some of your favourite moments so far?
I thought the interview we did with chaplain Jenni Woodhouse on domestic violence (which featured the interview with an anonymous domestic violence victim) made a real contribution. There was the discussion with four ministers from four countries who had lost their church building, home and license in taking a stand for orthodoxy (that one came out of Gafcon). The discussion with Phil Colgan and Craig Schafer stirred a lot of people up. Presbyterian minister Mitch Smart was very vulnerable about his story with same sex attraction. And I learned lots from Mez McConnell about ministry in poorer areas. Andrew Barry gave us his whole heart in the story of two years of grieving the death of his son Nathan. And look Colin Buchanan was just great fun!
What are you hopes for the future of The Pastor’s Heart?
As our audience grows each week so does the impact and the responsibility. Consequently we’re needing to put more effort into the researching of interviews, planning, production. And we are starting to think about how we can get the word out about this little program even further afield.