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The Leader: Melissa Lipsett, CEO of Baptist World Aid Australia

Australia Melissa Lipsett 020124

JO KADLECEK speaks with Melissa Lipsett about her work with the aid agency, her time working in Navy intelligence and as a pastor, and the challenge of ending global poverty…

No day is the same for CEO Rev Melissa Lipsett of Baptist World Aid Australia, a former Navy intelligence officer and pastor. With its office in Sydney and staff around Australia, Baptist World Aid Australia works across 18 countries in development, disaster relief and advocacy. Lipsett is responsible for the Christian vision, culture and strategy of the international development and fundraising organisation. Their goal? To end poverty. 

Australia Melissa Lipsett 020124
Melissa Lipsett. PICTURE: Courtesy of Baptist World Aid Australia

How would you describe the mission of Baptist World Aid Australia? Do you have to be a Baptist to support it?
“Formally, we’re the aid and development arm of Australian Baptist ministries, but actually we’re a bunch of passionate, faithful people who believe in a better world for all. We have the privilege to join God in His work in building a better world, but we’ve also got the responsibility of doing that. We’re passionate about what God calls us to and that which we know to be true: if local communities are given equity of opportunity, they can lift themselves out of poverty. The rich too often devour the poor and keep people poor. We want to see better than that. You don’t have to be a Baptist to support us; you just have to believe in those principles and a better world for all. We all have a part to play.”

“We have the privilege to join God in His work in building a better world, but we’ve also got the responsibility of doing that. We’re passionate about what God calls us to and that which we know to be true: if local communities are given equity of opportunity, they can lift themselves out of poverty.”

Ending poverty and creating a better world can seem daunting. What exactly does Baptist World Aid Australia do to help achieve those goals?
“In our long-term development work, we work locally with 36 partners and double that number of projects; our work is bespoke to the community’s needs. A central pillar is to empower women and young people. We know that women and young people are passionate about changing their local communities, sharing their knowledge and resources, so we come alongside them.

“Another pillar is helping people prepare for disasters, particularly in communities affected by climate change or conflict. We respond and partner with humanitarian organisations to help those displaced. Right now, over 100,000 million people have been displaced from their homes – the largest number our world has ever seen – because of conflict or natural disaster. That number has doubled in the last ten years, especially now with Gaza and Sudan. We respond with prayer and humanitarian aid.

“Another part of our work is advocacy, which helps Australians understand how the rich can keep people poor. We want to educate people not just to change their own habits but to advocate for a better world. Our Ethical Fashion Guide is one way, because advocacy provides power to change.”

Talk about a few stops along the way to joining Baptist World Aid Australia.
“God doesn’t waste anything. This is the sweetest time in my life and ministry – everything that has gone before has brought me to this place. I spent 15 years in the military in Navy intelligence and operational experience. I also had 20 years in pastoral ministry which softened the edges of my military training. In both, I’ve always had a passion for integral or holistic international mission. I sincerely believe that while we must have a transforming relationship with Jesus, we must also have a transforming relationship with the world. Faith was never meant to be just about Jesus and me. He never said, ‘Follow me and I’ll take you to Heaven’. No. He said, ‘Follow me and I’ll send you out’. We’re all sent to build His Kingdom and a better world. There’s no special class of superheroes – we’re all sent. He doesn’t need us to do that, but He has invited us to, and that’s where the privilege and responsibility are. My military and pastoral experiences have come together around this deep call to partner with God in this holistic and integral mission. It’s a sweet spot.


Books on my beside table… “Celebrities for Jesus by Katelyn Beatty;  My Refuge: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms by Tim Keller; and, Wifedom: Mrs Orwell’s Invisible Life by Anna Funder.”

Verses I come back to… “I adore Psalm 121: ‘my help comes from the Lord’; Micah 6:8 underpins my calling; and Ephesian 3:20 invites me to depend on Him in everything.”

What are some current challenges Christians face in caring about global poverty?
Too often we think we can’t make a difference. A friend of mine, Baroness Caroline Cox who has been an inspiration to me for decades, said, ‘Nobody can do everything but everybody can do something.’ She’s right, but too often we hide behind this belief that I’m too insignificant to make a difference. Yet every single one of us has a sphere of influence. We are God’s plan to make a difference.

“I also think the church has forgotten that there are 2,000 verses on poverty and justice in the Bible we need to pay attention to. Too often, we’re caught up in things that don’t matter rather than the call on our lives to deal with poverty and injustice. It’s up to Christian leaders to form our people around things that are important, rather than get distracted by leadership entitlement and other unsavoury things. As followers of Jesus, we all have a responsibility to know the Scriptures and our call to respond. The emphasis has too often been on appearance rather than substance.”

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Worst and best advice about leadership you’ve received?
“I’ve seen how someone’s life doesn’t bear out what they say about leadership. They say one thing but do another and entitlement creeps in.

“Best advice? Humility. We have to know we’re not always right, learn, listen and be curious.  Our best qualities will always have a shadow side; for instance, to lead an organisation you have to have some ego, but we must keep it in check.”

What insights or advice would you now give to yourself in your early ministry?
“I should have paid more attention to some things. As a woman, it can be hard to find space at the table. And other women don’t necessarily follow. I wish I’d been more conscious of raising up other women and it deeply disappoints me that the church hasn’t done more even now. I should have spoken up more. So I’ve spent the last years of my career trying to advocate for others. It’s also important to take responsibility when you make a mistake, learn from it and apologise when you get it wrong. Then be kind to yourself but only after you’ve taken responsibility.”

After three years at Baptist World Aid, what do you still look forward to?
“I love every single minute; it’s a great privilege. We’re great people doing great work with great faith. It doesn’t get much better than that.”



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