In February 2016, Baptist leadership teams gathered to consider how we approach the priority of mission within the Baptist Churches of Aotearoa. Five priorities emerged, centred on the theme of grace. Our Churches are being encouraged to explore these over the next five years. Here, Ben Wakefield and Sarah Harris reflect upon one of these priorities — what does it mean to unleash grace?
Out of the gathering in February 2016 came a priority which has been entitled Grace Unleashed. What is this about? Put simply, it is about exploring diverse, creative, and evangelistic expressions of church. It is about giving room for fresh, transformative, and dynamic expressions of God’s Kingdom.
We are asking people to step out of the normal way of doing things. We are asking for different models of church and leadership. We are asking for experimentation. We are asking for people who might be outside the ‘box.’ As we explore this, there will be deep implications. But for now, allow me to offer three things that we can do as a denomination to help us step closer to this priority.
Find, communicate, and celebrate different expressions in our movement
To start hearing from groups that are doing things differently takes time. Truly hearing from others requires trust and patience. Some of these groups are experimenting and do not have solid answers. We need to be willing to support them and communicate what they are doing even when expressions don’t appear to take off or are not growing numerically. We need to talk about the journey as well as the destination.
Find people who are willing to pray, think, and network this through
Doing something differently needs a group of people to push it—people who are passionate, experimental, prayerful, and able to share or network. We believe there are people who are ready to do this. This again may take time—trust will need to be built so that people can share in and support these expressions.
Work across the natural lines to see steps towards new tangible expressions
We need to listen to those who do not have a majority voice. This can help us hear and see God working in different ways, and we may find at our heart beautiful expressions that take us by surprise.
This may mean things get changed or modified at local or national levels. We may need to give up some control. This is not the same as giving up accountability—it is instead about allowing new, innovative, and potentially unstructured expressions to emerge.
Those exploring this priority are likely to be passionate change-makers and possibly idealists. We need to hear their voice and ideas before we put up any barriers to success. It can be easy to put up subconscious walls if certain unspoken success criteria are not met. Yet underlying all of this is the core invitation for people to follow Jesus. This is already a motivator for most people who try things and seem different. We can see that and provide the support needed.
I can think of several examples of communities within our denomination that are already on this journey. Keep reading below for two stories.
Story: Ben Wakefield
Ben is co-pastor of Paraparaumu Baptist Church
Lessons from Pentecost
In the Pentecost story, all of those gathered were speaking about God’s deeds of power, declaring God’s story in a public place. The onlookers sneered – they said they were drunk. Peter explained what was happening through the prophet Joel and the Psalms. I paraphrase his response in Acts 2. Peter said:
"This is what God said he would do, so why are we surprised? God said he would pour out his Spirit on all flesh. God said it wouldn’t be restricted by gender, class, or race. God said it would be supernatural, in dreams and visions, and in signs on the earth and in the heavens so it would be visible. God said that all who call on his name will be saved. There is no two-tier system, no hierarchy, because it is the one Spirit who does this. And you people have seen God do this before – at Sinai and in the wilderness, where grace alone sustained us. And God has done it definitively in Jesus of Nazareth, the person humanity crucified. But God raised him from the dead because death couldn’t hold him in its power. For he is the Lord, and he is the Messiah, and unlike your greatest hero David who is dead and buried, Jesus is not. Therefore, because of God my heart is glad, my tongue rejoices, and my flesh lives. Because of God in Christ and by the Spirit, you see and you hear these things. Humanity, you crucified the Lord of heaven and earth, but God unleashed his grace. This promise is for you and your children. Everyone. All who are far and near. So save yourself from this corrupt world. Save yourself from sin and corruption by calling on the one who saves.”
If that isn’t the crash of cymbals at the end of the symphony, well I don’t know what is! God has done everything humanity needs – everything humanity cannot do for itself. And 3000 responded and were baptised. Luke says they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. And as we read on, they moved out, taking the gospel with them.
Grace unleashed is abundant. Grace unleashed unites humanity. It unites the church. Grace unleashed is every member ministry, and it gives voice and life to dry bones.
Ascension and Pentecost are the final parts in God’s trilogy. Human-made barriers are definitively broken down. People are empowered by God to take grace to the world. Pentecost signaled that a new age had come. God’s mustard seed had given life to Israel’s dry bones that life might be given away to the least, the last, and the lost.
Story: Dr Sarah Harris
Sarah is a New Testament lecturer at Carey Baptist College.
This article is adapted from a talk given by Sarah at the Baptist Hui 2016. You can view a video of the whole talk at lifelonglearning.nz/grace-unleashed
- Are there examples of communities who are unleashing grace that come to your mind?
- How could you encourage them?
- Could God be asking your community to explore creative, diverse and evangelistic expressions of church?
- How could you create spaces for God to lead you?
- How do we know when to keep building into already established ministries, and when to let things go and move forward?
- How does your church encourage everyone to find their place within the worshipping community?
Photo credit: Jeremy Moore/lightstock.com
God's grace upon the nations
I am sitting in the Sunday service of Global, the Kiwi-international friendship group of Auckland Baptist Tabernacle. Fourteen new people are being welcomed as first-time attenders this morning from Mongolia, South Korea, Japan, China, Hong Kong, Venezuela, and Macau. A new work of God’s grace is unfolding among the diaspora in Auckland city. Migrant people are flooding into New Zealand as part of a world–wide movement of people groups. People move for many reasons, and such change brings an openness to the gospel for many of them.
‘F’ came to New Zealand as a Chinese language student. One of the leaders within Global invited F to come to her Alpha group where she came to faith. F explains:
“After arriving in New Zealand, my dear heavenly Father sent angels to look after me. The confusions and concerns I had before were taken away by knowing God. The words he spoke to me and the way he comforted me brought me joy and love that I never had before.
“I required myself to live up to the rules set by others, but as time went by the rules and barriers I set for myself exhausted me as it was so difficult to forgive every single mistake that I made. I could not escape from the sins I put on myself.
“Luke 9:25 says, ‘Will people gain anything if they win the whole world but are themselves lost or defeated? Of course not!’ (GNB) Now I understand that the value of life is not measured by experience, money, appearance, talent, work, persistence, kindness, cleverness, strength, contribution, or sacrifice. It’s about experiencing and understanding the unconditional love of God. Without that love, we can never truly love anyone without asking for return. When we love to get what we want, to get confirmation or acceptance, we actually already choose to trade our love for betrayal and hurt.
“I will be a faithful Christian, who follows God and repents every day. I also want to thank and praise God for forgiving my sins.”
Reika comes from Japan. She attended the Global community at the Baptist Tabernacle for eighteen months before committing her life to Christ. Many Japanese are hesitant to become believers as this is non‑conformist, which can be frowned upon in Japanese culture. There was a cost for her, but she discovered the strong attraction of a faith community who gave unconditional acceptance. She says:
“I have many challenges in my life. However, they’re not impossible to overcome for me because God is always with me. I feel it deeply from my heart.
“We have a door in us that we can invite Jesus through. In my case, it was four doors. I could open the doors slightly in my life. However, it was too hard to open the last door to Jesus fully because of my family, friendships, and study.
“When I joined Grapevine (a ministry to Japanese) for the first time, I was given the Scripture ‘Love does not keep a record of wrongs’ (1 Corinthians 13:5 GNB).
“In this year, during my two months’ holiday, I could spend time thinking about my life and Jesus sincerely. Then I realised I already believed Jesus, I know he is in my heart, and I want to follow him closely. Finally, I decided to be baptised.”
We have had 178 people baptised in the last five years, and many have been migrant people. After 162 years of witness to the grace of God in the good news of Jesus, including many decades of sending workers into Asia, European Kiwis now make up just twenty per cent of the wider Baptist Tabernacle church family. Ethnic Chinese are the largest single group. Today, the Baptist Tabernacle is made up of five congregations:
- All Nations: Kiwis and migrant professionals living and working across the city
- Global: reaching the English-language students in the inner-city academies
- Mandarin: Migrant and next generation Kiwi Chinese
- Friends of Friends Fellowship: for neighbours from 10/40 window country backgrounds
- Living Waters International: multicultural church plant in Balmoral.
In Acts 8:1-4 we see the gospel being spread due to the persecution of Jewish Christians. They were “scattered” or dispersed “throughout the countryside” and “those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.” God’s grace is upon the nations as they pour into this country. As they come to faith, many are being mobilised to welcome their own people, to help reach an indifferent Kiwi population, or return to their places of origin to light new fires.
Story: Lindsay Jones
At the time of publication of this article in the Baptist magazine (August 2017), Lindsay was Senior Pastor of Auckland Baptist Tabernacle.
Messy Church at Epuni
"It was a bright, sunny Sunday morning in Christchurch and we were enjoying time with our family at a local fair. Suddenly, a thought struck me: If we were at home on a Sunday morning we would be in church. A question crossed my mind: What have we got as a church to offer our community? We would have to offer something at a different time of the day, or even a different day of the week, and a different style of church. For me, this was a ‘God moment’ and the result was the birth of our Messy Church.
Fast-forward seven years to 2017. It is the last Sunday of the month. Come with me to our Messy Church. As you walk in the door, one of the team will welcome you. There will be crafts and games centred on a theme for the day. After a time, we will move into the auditorium for a focus time that will include worship, a Bible story (often done as an interactive drama with everyone taking part), and a creative prayer time. This will be followed by a sit-down meal. One of the team will be present at each table and they usually lead the Table Talk questions. We also celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and achievements. At the end of the evening we all help clean and tidy up.
Before each event, the Ideas Team meets to plan Messy Church and reflects on how it is going. We ask: What is God saying to us through Messy Church and what will we do about it? We will always think about how we can do things better. We plan making sure we cover the five core values of Messy Church: Christ-centred, intergenerational (all age), hospitality, creativity, and celebration.1
God continues to lead and challenge us. We know how important it is to build relationship with those who come.
Having run Messy Church for a while, this year we felt challenged to begin discipling some of those from the Messy Church community. So we have invited a few, along with a family and two young people from church, to attend Messy More. This meets between the monthly Messy Church and we go deeper with the last theme. It is early days, but our times together, our discussions and prayer times, have all been very encouraging.
A couple of stories to finish. There is a five-year-old boy who comes to Messy Church regularly. He says: “I like playing the games the best. I liked blowing up the paint and I like eating the cakes! I have learnt about Jesus and his friends.” His mum comments: ”I like coming to Messy Church so I can learn the stories too and it’s nice to be in a caring, positive atmosphere. It is really lovely sharing a meal with everyone as well as the delicious baking.” A solo dad who has been coming to Messy Church with his two children for a long time now says: “I enjoy getting out and meeting people at Messy Church. I have learned new things like the stories about Jesus and Joseph. The church has changed me heaps and I am now more careful about who I hang out with. I like Messy Church because it is more relaxed and easy to understand.”
God has been good to us in Messy Church over the years. He has encouraged us, inspired us, and blessed us. He has also provided us with a wonderful team of church people who use their gifting to serve in Messy Church. It is exciting to be on this journey with God!
Story: Diane Stevens
Diane is the leader of Community Ministry at Epuni Baptist Church. You can contact her via [email protected]
1. "Welcome." Messy Church NZ, messy church.nz
For scriptures marked GNB: Scriptures and additional materials quoted are from the Good News Bible © 1994 published by the Bible Societies/ HarperCollins Publishers Ltd UK, Good News Bible © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992. Used with permission.