As I write this I have just returned from Baptist World Alliance meetings in Kuala Lumpur. The most heart-warming moment was when I was sitting at breakfast one morning with Steve Asante, one of the great leaders of the Ghanaian Baptists and church planter extraordinaire and he said, “When I look at you, you make me smile.”
I hadn’t thought I was very inspirational at breakfast – but then he explained. It was simply because I was a New Zealander and it made him think of Ross Campbell. He described Ross Campbell as the “father” of the huge church planting movement that started in Ghana and spread to other parts of Africa, Europe and the United States.
Ross is a New Zealander, a Baptist, still occasionally to be found at Papanui Baptist in Christchurch, but who after many years away still spends much of his time in Africa.
Ross will be unknown to most New Zealand Baptists. They may recognise the Campbell name because of Lyn, our current President, and Fraser, Lyn’s husband and one of our very fine pastors. But I doubt whether in recent years there has been a more influential New Zealand Christian, let alone Baptist, in terms of Kingdom contribution, than Ross Campbell.
Ross is one of those people who has worked under the radar encouraging others. I don’t know Ross but am keen to find out more about his story and would like to track him down for a major interview with this paper. He’s been described to me as shy and self-effacing.
Ross is someone with a big vision and commitment to match the vision and has seen the outworking of that vision through his ability to see potential and inspire people who will become great leaders. What a gift!
The story of the Ghana based church planting was one of the most exciting stories shared at our conference. In sharing the story, Steve Asante identified the key factor as passion. The other factor that shone through was a single-minded commitment.
Every so often we hear about those who are relatively unknown but whose influence is huge. You read of one such person in the biography of John Stott, who quietly influenced John Stott and others who became major movers and shakers for God and the gospel. We have different gifts. If yours is that similar gift of encouragement and looking for potential, don’t undervalue it. Nourish it and use it.
There was also another exciting church planting story based on initiatives taken by the European Baptists to go into some of the hard places in Europe – some of the old Soviet Republics where the opposition will come from Islam and the Orthodox Church but where there has been a response from people hungry to hear and experience the gospel.
Some of us experienced a different story shared by a Korean theologian giving us an overview of the evangelical church in Korea over recent decades. It was a sobering and challenging picture.
Korea was the envy of much of the Christian world because of the rapid growth of the church in South Korea and the extraordinary mega churches that developed, some of the largest in the world. Through that time Korea was also developing into an affluent nation with a very vibrant economy.
Korea is now one of the wealthier countries of the world. With that wealth has come many of the characteristics of Western consumerism. This has impacted the church, which now shares characteristics of the Western church. It is in decline and has been for the past decade. In examining the reasons for the decline of the Korean church there were no surprises. Factors that were identified:
• Through the period of growth there was a “bless me” culture that hasn’t translated into robust discipleship but sits more comfortably with consumerist and individualistic values.
• People therefore ask, “what’s in it for me?” rather than the questions around serving and expressing God’s love.
• The true calling to look outside ourselves and seeing the needs of the world we live in has been set aside. Responding with passion and commitment, as in the case of the Ghanaian church planters, has been replaced with a desire for self-fulfilment and comfort. God is seen as the ultimate Band Aid or comfort toy.
During the period of the rapid growth of the Korean church it was easy to look at what was happening and think, “If only….” We can also look at Ghana and Eastern Europe and dismiss what is happening as simply too different to our own mission context, but the principles of passion, commitment and a burning desire to see communities come to know Jesus can translate into any context.
I rejoice in the fact that in our post-Christendom era we are operating much more at the margins of society than in the past. Like our brothers and sisters in Ghana and Eastern Europe this gives us new opportunities to re-present a gospel that is always fresh and redemptive.
Sometimes God drags passion and commitment out of us as we are met in the toughest of circumstances. It was a privilege at the BWA Conference to hear the Japanese Christians say that, despite the tragedy of the tsunami and the fear of nuclear fallout, they have met God.
And it was a positive experience to be able to say thank you to those from around the world who had responded with such generosity to the Christchurch earthquakes, and tell of the response of our own churches. Even though at times it’s almost impossibly hard, we too have met and experienced God in the earthquake.
Now a number of us will be on the road again for the pastors’ conferences. This presents those of us working nationally with a great opportunity to share and hear from our people around the country. Come and encourage your pastors to be there. We are enriched by your presence and we learn as the Spirit speaks to us through the giftedness of each other. The Lord bless you.
– Rodney Macann, National Leader, Baptist Churches of NZ