Dear sisters and brothers in Jesus
Just after Easter Lorna and I head for the wilds of Lake Waikaremoana to tramp around the lake. We’ll be staying in DOC huts and carrying our packs with food, sleeping bags etc. To prepare for this event I’ve been beefing up my regular walks around Wellington and heading for the ridge of Mount Victoria most mornings when I’m in Wellington. I’ve found this a pretty interesting exercise, literally. I made a conscious decision to start pushing myself harder going up the hills as I wasn’t very happy about the level of my fitness. Now I realize that for some of you the Waikaremoana walk is something you’d run in one day. I think we’re taking 4 days over it. I can imagine others of you saying – silly old man – why bother, and waiting for the news of my demise. I’ve actually enjoyed the challenge of pushing myself harder, although I didn’t enjoy it at first. I discover a few things about myself as I’m grunting and groaning up the Mt Vic tracks. One obvious one is that as I get fitter it becomes easier, but at my age I have to keep at it. If I have a few days in Auckland or particularly Christchurch and don’t have easy access to a few steep climbs, I lose fitness fairly quickly. Another little quirk is that if I’m very focused on myself and how hard I’m finding it then it’s actually harder. Instinctively, often I find myself thinking about challenging work situations and with my brain working away looking outside the immediate task of climbing a hill and getting tired, I suddenly find I’ve climbed the hill and I didn’t really notice. That has said something to me.
This year I find I’m focused on Philippians 2 and in particular the way that Jesus entered our world leaving the comfort of the companionship of the Father “He gave up his divine privileges” v7. The earlier part of the chapter encourages us to have an outward focus – “make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose” v2; “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others too” v4. Paul then really builds the case by telling us to be like Christ Jesus with those very familiar and wonderful words.
A few thoughts about this. These verses strike at what can be an Achilles’ heel as Baptists – our independence. It’s so much a part of our DNA and it has magnificent roots in our history when our spiritual parents were persecuted and died for the right to have believers governing the life of the church.
However one of the privileges of my role is that I see great kingdom initiatives and dreams where pastors and churches act with generosity to brothers and sisters in Christ.
Can I share a couple of examples? Many of you were stirred by Chris Sola’s story at the Gathering. You also heard of his dream to purchase the Manukau City Sky Cinema complex that was vacated by Sky Theatres three years ago. Last week Chris and his church moved in. For that to happen there have been some very significant partnerships. One of the basic ones was one that many of you have benefitted from, a partnership with BSDS who made the money available for the loan. This is a huge project and a very big step of faith for everyone involved. With a cost of four million dollars to purchase the complex this was too big for BSDS to contemplate without additional security being provided by another body. Someone had the ingenious idea that the Baptist Union provide the security through persuading churches that occupied valuable property, to take out mortgages to provide the security. (The mortgages would have no cost for the church unless the project hit problems so it would be a faith step for the church.) On behalf of the Union, I met with leadership representatives of several of our churches. The end result is that several of our churches have chosen to partner with Chris and his people, the purchase has been made and we journey together, in faith, in this tremendous kingdom venture.
Something completely different - Over the years I’ve met with Jeff Whittaker from time to time. Jeff is an interesting character. He’s a bit of a reflective, monkish charismatic. He’d been pastor at Bryndwr Baptist for a number of years and had been seeking God’s mind for the future and this resulted in a move to Epsom Baptist. With all due respect to Epsom this could have been seen as a pretty tough assignment so I was really interested when I heard that Jeff had a dream not only for Epsom but other small churches in the Auckland area. We met and essentially he told me that not only did he want to see kingdom growth in Epsom but he wanted to be a blessing to other small churches. That is fantastic. My role in that situation is not to do a Union takeover but simply to say – how can we help? Jeff’s is a great outward focus that I find so encouraging as I see similar generosities again and again. One of our great adopted texts is “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and us” Acts 15.26
Who are you seeking to bless outside of your own church operation? If you take this seriously I believe your own journey will be more invigorating. We really do need each other at this time. Murray Robertson has written in the latest Baptist of the loss of our evangelical heart. I’ve heard others speak of a collective loss of confidence on the part of Evangelical Christians. This is a tough but challenging time to be leading a church. It also has the potential to be a very significant time. Many were encouraged by last year’s Gathering as we met to hear from God. Following the Gathering several of our leaders were charged with bringing together a ‘Rangiora Manifesto’. Lindsay Jones with the approval of the other leaders brought the following:
Through stories of struggle and pain, inspiration and apostolic example, God spoke to us to be followers of Jesus the Living Word.
- He told us to seek wisdom through the community of God’s people.
- He challenged our comfort and consumerist culture.
- He called us to let go of the clutter that surrounds our churches and our personal lives.
- He called us to take risks as we live like the Jesus of the Gospels.
- He told us not to be afraid of difficulty, but to be vulnerable and willing to change.
- He reminded us to look for the extraordinary, to dream dreams.
- He spoke an apostolic word from our Pacific peoples.
- He calls us to church planting.
We invite you to ask: what would happen if in this next twelve months, each church examined it’s clutter, and committed to taking one significant ‘risk’ for the Gospel?
At this year’s Gathering in Tauranga, we will continue that journey of hearing from God, seek to remove the clutter and focus on being like the Jesus who entered our world.
Prior to that we have the launching of our new style Pastors’ Conferences, which give us a further opportunity to journey together and be a blessing to each other. It’s therefore my hope that all of our pastors will attend our Pastors Conferences this year. This is your conference. It’s been planned with you in mind and by taking the conferences to five venues we want to make them both as accessible and affordable as possible. Each of the conferences will commence at 10.30am with coffee on day one and finish at 3.30pm with afternoon tea on day two. The evening of each conference will be free time for people to travel home if they are locals, or get together with friends and colleagues for meals. There will also be an invitation for those who wish, to have a meal with those of us who are doing the national tour. We will arrange the provision of the lunches and morning and afternoon refreshments. You can choose which conference you come to. Come as teams. The conferences will be at:
- Windsor Park, Auckland 9 and 10 August
- Rotorua Baptist 11 and 12 August
- Waikanae 13 and 14 August
- Hanmer Springs 17 and 18 August
- Dunedin 19 and 20 August
I’ve already heard of one Auckland team who have decided to make the trip to Rotorua for some relaxing time. The content will include Soul Food (encouraging stuff that feeds us as pastors), Tools of the Trade; Issues and Great Stories. Not all of our speakers will be able to make all 5 conferences and we’ll give more specific details closer to the time. Contributors will include:
- Mike Norris (St Pauls Church, Symonds Street Auckland),
- Digby and Jane Wilkinson – (Soul Food)
- Tapu Misa (outstanding Auckland Herald columnist with a great story) (Story)
- Murray Robertson and Leadership Network
- Steve Worsley and I will be leading a workshop on Music in Worship (Tools of the Trade)
Because this is your conference we will be looking for feedback and ideas for the future. We realize that for some part time pastors to attend may mean taking time off work and this makes the conference potentially less affordable. We have some funding available that should ensure that everyone can attend.
Back to the tramping theme. Occasionally when we push ourselves hard and take the risks we need others to rescue us and that’s OK. It’s the beauty of community. Lorna and I climbed Mount Egmont/Taranaki a few years ago and about a third of the way down we took a break. As I stood up from the break my foot slipped in loose shale and there was a loud crack which was my ankle. I had a very bad sprain and couldn’t walk. With the marvels of modern technology we used a cell phone to call emergency services. They sent in a helicopter to pick us up. I was very well looked after. Because it was an accident it was a free ride and we both appreciated it. Let’s get rid of that clutter and take some Kingdom risks
The Lord bless you and encourage you in your ministry. Keep looking outwards and upwards and journey well.