Dear sisters and brothers in Jesus
I don't know how much of a sense of family you have when it comes to being a part of our New Zealand Baptist movement. It's possible that this is something you develop a heightened sense of when you come into a position with some national responsibilities.
Brian Winslade has written an excellent, typically Brian article (one that challenges you to engage with him) about the 'Relationship between Denominations and Large Churches'. He cites some differences in thinking, for example – The language of senior pastors of large churches is typified by words like leadership, vision and missional advance whereas - The language of denominational leaders is typified by words like servant-hood, pastoral care and unity.
Hmm – I think he may be right. I've certainly thought more about unity and, if not pastoral care, then certainly care for pastors since I became Brian's successor. However, from my current perspective I see unity or unified action and care for pastors as strategic for the Kingdom.
Anyway, about family – One of our pastors who I didn't really know phoned me a while ago to say that he'd been driving away from the Parihaka Peace Festival and he gave a lift to this lovely young guy and his girl friend and the young guy's name was Stu.
Stu (my son) obviously shared something of his story which was one of commitment to Jesus, followed by dissatisfaction with the church and a loss of belief, but a continuing questing for significance and truth. The pastor said he'd rung because he wanted to say to me – he's going to be alright. That moved me to tears, not something that easily happens. Lorna and I were pretty concerned about Stu at that time. That phone call was a wonderful expression of family and a beautiful thing to do.
Families are a great gift. When Stu rejected church (I've asked his permission to share this) to an extent he rejected us as his family and for a time said that family could have no special place in his life as he had to love everyone equally. I loved his desire to push boundaries when it came to loving, but it hurt. It hurt his siblings, Rachel, Katharine and Rob, as well.
Stu then went through a difficult time and has suffered from depression. In the midst of the difficult time he said he wanted to come home and that he was a Christian again. He explained his coming back to faith and re-embracing of church saying that he had an overwhelming sense of God's love for him.
I've reflected on this and believe that something of God's love was mediated through the love of his family and other Christian friends. One of the things I love about my own kids, and like their parents they are far from perfect, is, that they care for each other and will turn to each other if they are struggling. We, in our different ways, tried to love Stu through the time when he kept us at arms length. We can be a precious gift to each other.
When Paul in Romans 12:9 says - Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them and again in v10 Love each other with genuine affection then clearly he sees a huge potential and a partnering with God in loving. Stu's story is still being written as are ours, but we're grateful.
Families have disagreements. One of my tasks as National Leader of our movement has been to become involved with churches that have been experiencing conflict. I accept the necessity for this and am glad that I can be available although am very aware of both my own inadequacies and human sinfulness (including my own) when I engage with these situations. I feel as though I've been on a very steep learning curve over the past few years. It's been important for me to embrace the challenge these situations present.
Conflict has always been a part of church life. Many of the scriptures we treasure, particularly Paul's writing, were written initially as a response to a conflict situation in the early church. Our most revered fathers of the church, Paul and Peter were not immune to conflict. How can this be with people who are commanded to love each other?
Apart from the stock answers of our sinfulness and the devil having a lot of fun, which can all too easily be an excuse for behaving badly, I believe that our very passion for the gospel and our love for Jesus easily leads us to strong disagreement with those who share our passion and our love but see the outworking of the passion and the love in different ways. We can passionately disagree with each other. This is not always a bad thing. Crisis and opportunity, as we know, can almost be one and the same.
How do we deal with this? God in his goodness has given us a number of tools. Two scriptures which I find myself coming back to again and again are Romans 12 – full of good things like the injunctions to love plus some choice phrases – 10 'take delight in honouring each other'; 16 'don't think you know it all'; 8 'be encouraging'; 2 'let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think' (NLT). And when things may have appeared to come to crisis point Matthew 5 'You're blessed when you're at the end of your tether. With less of you there is more of God and his rule' (Peterson kiwi-ized).
Sometimes we cannot solve situations in a way that is going to satisfy everyone and we need under God's direction to move on. But if relationships have been harmed, in God's good time we need to seek the restoration of those relationships. One of my own encouragements has been that I've seen that restoration of relationships emerging from some very difficult situations, and that is thoroughly biblical.
Often where there is relationship breakdown, whether it is marriage or difficulties in a church, help is not sought early enough. This may be because of pride or a misplaced belief that things will sort themselves out. Church conflict often begins with difficulty between two key people. If you see this happening in your context I would urge you to act quickly and also consider calling in 'Resolve', one of the excellent tools we have at our disposal.
In families we're often at different stages of our journey. We've recently shared our stories of 'Hearing from God' and there's more to come at The Gathering. In ministry there are times when the line is not very clear or we seem to have been cut off. I appreciated this prayer of Thomas Merton's which I share:
Our Lord God, we have no idea where we are going. We do not see the road ahead of us. We cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do we really know ourselves, and the fact that we are following your will does not mean that we are actually doing so. But we believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And we hope that we have that desire in all that we are doing. We hope that we will never do anything apart from that desire. And we know that if we do this you will lead us by the right road though we may know nothing about it. Therefore we trust you always though we may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. We will not fear, for you are ever with us, and you will never leave us to face our perils alone. Amen.
One of Nigel Wright's phrases that encouraged was let the church be the church. That says to me that we always know enough about the task ahead of us.
I've written and spoken about our national restructuring. With the recommendation to Assembly of a new Carey Principal we have three significant appointments looming – Charles Hewlett – Carey Principal; Grahame Walker – Pastor Health and Development; and Lindsay Jones – Church Health and Development.
Along with other recent appointments like Elke Keeling – Children and Families; and David Moko – Maori Ministries, I'm pretty excited about the potential and also gift complementarily of our national team.
People have asked about the new roles. The following are Principal Objectives for Grahame in the Pastor role: Facilitate inspirational conferences; Oversee our pastor search processes; Oversee the pastor registration process; Facilitate and resource pastor clusters; Facilitate with Carey College the Ministry Development Course. The overarching vision for the ministry is to 'ensure our pastors fulfill their potential as whole people and leaders'.
Some of Lindsay's objectives in the Church role will be: Partner strategically with churches; provide consultancy services to churches; create a church planting value and culture within the Baptist family; facilitate a church/congregation planting network; communicate with churches about resources available. The overarching vision for the ministry is 'Thriving New Zealand Baptist churches appropriate to their mission context'.
At The Gathering Grahame will be introduced to many of you at the 'Pastors' and Spouses' day. Charles will be our keynote speaker on the Friday morning and Lindsay, as he has done in the past will be facilitating stories from the churches.
Having been at Spurgeons' College with him in the 1970s it was a personal delight to spend so much time with him and Judy. God is good!
May the Lord bless and encourage you in life and ministry.