On 20th February 2019, the Assembly Council together with the Mission Council nominated Charles Hewlett to the position of national leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand. The resounding response from the churches across our movement was, “Yes!” Charles commenced his role on Monday 11th March 2019. Here Charles shares some of his thoughts about his new role, his leadership style and what he loves about being Baptist.
What does the national leader actually do?
I believe my number one task is to keep the eyes of the Baptist movement on Jesus.
We must look to him for our direction. He will show us what our priorities must be. How to treat one another. How to live in our neighbourhoods. How to lead those entrusted to us. It is the power of his gospel that will bring renewal and transformation. It is his Word that we must listen to the most.
Can I suggest we are not Baptists first, but followers of Jesus first? What we do as Baptists flows out of who we are as his followers. If Baptists are focusing on Jesus then I am doing my job. Then we will have strong churches. Then we will have healthy relationships. Then we will impact our nation. Then we will bring honour and glory to God!
What do you like about being Baptist?
I immediately think of four core Baptist distinctives.
First, I love that we are committed to the Bible. Historically we have stressed the centrality and authority of the Bible.
Second, our commitment to baptism. I love that we call for uncompromising discipleship—Jesus Christ and the gospel are worth giving up your life for.
Third, our system of church governance. The fact that we all have the potential to minister for God (the priesthood of all believers) is important to me. How good to be part of a movement where everyone’s voice should matter when it comes to decision-making.
Fourth, our belief in freedom. Traditionally Baptists have taught that the church and state should be independent of one another. I love our radical edge and the flexibility we have to reinvent ourselves.
I believe that when these four things come together—God’s Word, committed followers, inclusivity, and imaginative thinking—things will happen!
How would you describe yourself as a leader?
From my experience of training leaders, and working alongside some very outstanding leaders, I absolutely believe that the greatest influence comes through character, the fruit of God’s Spirit. My leadership philosophy comes from Ephesians 4—not verses 11 and 12, but rather verses 1 and 2. How do we “live a life worthy of your calling”? “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
I have quoted Mark Labberton many times: “Charisma, winsomeness, popularity, charm, cleverness can matter. The greater testimony, however, comes from a character shaped by the love of Jesus, consistently demonstrated in ordinary action.”1
This is not weak leadership—this is strong leadership. And I would argue that this is the sort of leadership that makes Baptist ecclesiology work, particularly congregational governance! This is the type of leader I aspire to be.
What will be some of your initial priorities?
After ‘keeping our eyes on Jesus’ I have set myself a few personal initial priorities. I want to communicate well with people so they know what I’m doing and thinking. I have set myself a goal of phoning at least one Baptist pastor a day. It is important for me that they know I respect the work they are doing and that I want to help them the best that I can. Please follow me on Facebook or Instagram!
Another initial goal is to develop strong relationships with the regional associations, particularly the chairs and regional mission leaders. I think this is crucial to the health of our movement.
I also want to work hard with the staff team at the National Centre. They do an amazing job in serving us and I want to get to know them well. Also, I think it is important for me to generate conversation about who we are as a movement in 2019. I hope to start doing this at the Baptist LEAD Conference in June. Can I encourage anyone involved in ministry and mission to attend—I am keen for lots of discussion and interaction. We need you there!
I hope too that people will begin to pick up my commitment to the development of new faith communities—the unleashing of our resources to proclaim and embody the Kingdom of God.
What have you been reading?
The other day I read a comment by Andrew Menzies and Dean Phelan (Kingdom Communities, Morning Star, 2018). They write “we are living in a cultural moment that is calling followers of Christ to be more biblical, flexible, creative, and meaningful in the birth and support of what we call ‘Kingdom Communities.’”
This sentence is going to be a good challenge for me as national leader. I want to facilitate discussion with people that results in the birth and support of Kingdom communities.
Together, we must become more flexible, creative and meaningful in the way we use our resources, in how we spend our time, in how we define leadership, and in how we empower our emerging generations.
How was your first week?
The horrific events in Christchurch in March really defined my first week. What a privilege to be able to visit the city on your behalf and to participate in services of prayer and lament with our Baptist family. To hear and see the way people were actively providing pastoral care to those suffering was humbling. Thank you again, Canterbury, for showing us what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus.
I also became quickly aware of the international family that we belong to—the World Baptist Alliance. I received messages of support for Christchurch and Muslim people from every continent, including countries I never imagined. I love the church!
I appreciate that I have much to learn. While I know I won’t always get it right, I will work the best that I can, “depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me” (Colossians 1:29 NLT). Please be aware I will need lots of help and encouragement!
Story: Charles Hewlett
Charles is the national leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand. He is often heard saying, “I love Jesus. I love the Bible. I love the gospel. I love the church. And I love mission.”
- Mark Labberton, Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014), 8.
Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright ©1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.