It has been communicated to our movement that I will complete my time as National Leader at the Gathering in November 2011. Assembly Council asked me a while ago if I would be willing to carry on until the end of 2013 and I told them earlier this year that I believed I should finish instead in 2011. I thought it appropriate to share some of my thinking around this with you.
I am tremendously grateful to God for the experience of the past four years. I was surprised, particularly at my stage of life, when I was asked to take on this role and I suspect some of you were as well. Ministry for me has been a wonderful privilege and never more so than during the last four years.
I couldn’t pretend that I have enjoyed every minute of it and some of the situations I needed to become involved in have left me perplexed and sad. However it has been a very rich learning experience and I’ve often found myself reflecting on the wonder that, when we are followers of Jesus, there is the potential to keep on learning, growing and accumulating experience. I don’t know of anything more fulfilling than that.
So why finish? Simply because I believe it will be the right time.
Brian Winslade, my predecessor in the role, also served for five years and I had a great deal of admiration for the energy and sense of purpose that Brian, particularly in conjunction with Lindsay Jones, who was National Consultant, brought to the movement through that period.
When I was invited to become National Leader I took some time along with Assembly Council seeking to understand what God was calling us to address through this period. Essentially it has broken down into three areas:
• Our character as followers of Jesus. My reading of the situation when I took over from Brian was that Christians were not trusted or respected by many Kiwis and this hurt our mission potential. We had just had the horror of the Graeme Capill situation, which confirmed for many that Christians tend to be hypocrites.
Like Brian I was influenced by a couple of books – The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience by Ron Syder and The Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark. Although Ron Syder was drawing on data from the United States, his thesis is essentially that, when it came to the gospel changing lives, in the American context, it didn’t! The lifestyle of Christians was no different to those who weren’t Christians.
Christians were as greedy, sexually promiscuous and violent as non Christians. They were also more racially biased than non Christians. Stark’s book came from a totally different angle.
His focus was on the fact that the rapid growth of Christianity in the first few hundred years after Jesus founded the church came about because of the difference between Christians and non Christians. The Christians were more compassionate, generous and showed great courage at times of adversity. Reading those books and trying to understand our Kiwi context, Romans 12, with its wonderfully practical teaching and emphasis on the work of the Spirit in the transformation of our minds, became something of a mantra for me.
Then we had some tragic events that changed the perspective of some Kiwis – the Mangatepopo Gorge tragedy and the heroism of Tony McLean, plus the great grace shown by grieving families. Then, not so long after, again the heroism shown by Austin Hemmings sacrificing his life as he went to the aid of a woman being attacked. God did something significant in those incidents, as he has done in other tragedies that followed, like the Samoan tsunami. It’s still game on in terms of showing “Kingdom values” through the way we live.
• The way our folklore ecclesiology easily accepted that we function very independently as churches. I find nothing in the scriptures to support this. I believe it arises out of the trauma of our church history where our spiritual parents rightly rebelled against local rulers and dignitaries automatically becoming the leaders of the Church. Our spiritual parents died for the right of the Church to be governed by those who were believers and we have inherited the gritty independence that was engendered through that post-Reformation period.
However we are meant to be “people of the book.” The Bible is our guide. We are living in a different context and the Bible knows nothing of the unhealthy independence that can characterise Baptist churches.
Read the New Testament and understand the teamwork when it came to mission strategy. Take seriously Jesus’ prayer in John 17 and so much of Paul’s teaching. The greatest promises are given to people who agree together to be “Spirit led” (Matthew 18:19).
Are we getting traction on this? People tell me they enjoy being together at our assemblies and conferences. Is it helping us to take some tough but needed decisions when parts of the body needs a transfusion of life?
• Regional groups that are truly mission focused and church facing. For me this is a work in process, which I am keen to devote time to over the coming year. A number of our associations had either died or were exhibiting signs of terminal weariness. Because of this we centralised a great deal of our coordinated health and mission focus. I think it was the right thing to do at the time but it had to be for a limited season.
There was a fourth area that we identified as I commenced my time as leader and that was around the concern that we had regarding our drop-off rate with young adults. I’ve been involved in a number of discussions about this and this will be a focus of our 2011 Gathering: Being the Body – Nobody Missing.
In leadership, as well as concentrating on the tasks at hand, we are always laying foundations for the future. My sense is that a new season of building that will benefit from fresh leadership lies ahead of us. That, essentially, is why I’ve chosen this time to finish.
I’m looking forward to this coming year but I also look forward to the opportunities that will be provided with a new leader and a new season.
– Rodney Macann