Recently, Holiness Today sat down with Gary Hartke, the newly elected General Secretary for the Church of the Nazarene. Hartke has served as the director of Nazarene Youth International (NYI) since 2000 and previously served as an associate pastor in churches in Ohio, Maine, and Illinois. Hartke will replace David Wilson as General Secretary in March of 2019.
HT: You have a long career in youth ministry, both in local churches and globally as director of NYI. How do you think this background will help inform your upcoming role as General Secretary?
GH: From a global sense, I’ve been through five General Assemblies as a delegate and leader of the global NYI convention. I’ve also been on the General Board for 18 years—those are two of the main responsibilities of the General Secretary. And beyond that, I’ve traveled to 55 countries and have been able to see the church at work and the structure we have and how the church organizes worldwide, and all the challenges and needs that exist.
HT: What is something you love about youth? What gave you a passion for NYI?
GH: I’m a product of NYI. I came into the church when I was 15. It was the youth ministry of the local church that reached me, and I became a believer. My discovery of the Christian life was through the Church of the Nazarene, and I know firsthand the impact that the church can have on young people.
Through a series of open doors, I got involved in youth ministry myself. I didn’t initially know that it would be what I would do with my life, but I was invited to be a part of different events, and stayed with it my whole life. That’s where my beginning was, and I have experienced the impact it can have in a young person’s life.
HT: This issue of Holiness Today is about the different seasons of the church calendar and changing seasons in our lives. What is something that’s important to remember during this transitional season of life for you?
GH: I think seasons break up life in such a way that we pause, reflect, remember, and focus. It’s the seasons that give us that regular opportunity to orient our lives and align our lives with the journey that Christ has called us to.
Right now, I’m reflecting a lot on where I’ve been in my leadership journey; what I’ve experienced and learned. I’m thinking a lot about what I’m leaving and what I’m walking into: it’s good to have those seasons to break up life and give us a reason to reflect.
HT: What is an important leadership lesson you have learned in your career?
GH: So many things have come to mind, but I think one of the greatest takeaways is that you lead yourself first. It’s important that you care for yourself, educate yourself, and put yourself in the right experiences so that you are adequately prepared to be a good leader for others.
Another leadership lesson is to trust God. Over the 15 years I was a youth pastor, I was in 3 churches but served under 9 different pastors. It was rarely ever what I dreamed it would be, and it wasn’t until later in my ministry that I was okay with that. I learned that you lead where you are and it’s important not to constantly have your eye on something else. For 15 years there was a lot of transition, and I couldn’t constantly wait for it to get better or for something else to turn up.
We pray the Wesley covenant prayer about being in plenty and in want. It may be much easier to pray that prayer when we’re in plenty, but what I realized is that the experiences I had as a youth pastor—even though I struggled at the time—really shaped me as a leader and equipped me for my years with NYI and now going into the General Secretary position.
My role is to serve where God has me, to the best of my ability.
HT: What piece of advice might you give to the next NYI Director?
GH: I think the biggest thing for me is to not let the day-to-day work keep you from maintaining an outward focus on what your message and mission is. Always keep the big picture in mind. Think about what’s really important and what you’re really trying to do and don’t get lost in the administrative aspects.
HT: Do you like to read? If so, what is something you’re currently reading?
GH: I just finished a doctoral program last year, so I’ve read a lot! The most recent book that I read was called Character by Samuel Smiles back from the late 1800s. I’m reading lots of leadership books still—my doctoral work was in leadership, so it gave me a thirst for that.
I’m also doing a study of the book of Numbers from a leadership perspective. The first several chapters are explicitly laid out instructions for Moses: they leave no doubt as to what Moses is supposed to do, and they lay a foundation for the future. There is a lot about leadership in Numbers, so I am journaling and working on a project to talk about that.
HT: What qualities do you value in the people with whom you spend time?
GH: My list is long! If I had to boil it down, I appreciate people who are fully present and aware of what’s going on around them—meaning they listen, care, and understand. They feel a sense of responsibility with their life and recognize that we are here for a higher purpose; what we do matters.
HT: What is one saying or piece of advice that has impacted your life?
GH: Samuel Smiles in Character first coined the phrase similar to “Do the right thing at the right time in the right way.” I’ve heard a lot of people quote that over the years unsourced, and as far as I can tell, he is the source. I have added one line to that phrase about character:
Do the right thing (competence)
For the right reason (character)
At the right time (commitment)
In the right way (chemistry)
I always try to evaluate and ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” I have ordered this list specifically to be able to do that.
HT: For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
GH: Ultimately, I think it comes back to family; the people who I live day-in and day-out with. We still like each other and have fun with each other! I have two grown children who I respect very highly. I am very grateful for family and the relationships we have.
HT: What might someone be surprised to learn about you?
GH: I am an official barbeque judge. I just judged the American Royal at the Kansas Speedway recently. There is a class you can take with the Kansas City Barbeque Society; you receive a certification at the end and you can go judge contests. That is one thing people might be surprised to learn!
Please note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Holiness Today, Nov/Dec 2018