The Baptist Union of New Zealand is a collective of faith communities bringing gospel renewal to people and places in our local neighbourhoods. But how well do we actually know our neighbourhoods? Where is the transformational power of God most needed? Where is God already at work? What people and places most need redemption, reconciliation and renewal? Charles Hewlett suggests some steps to help us explore these questions.
Below is a simple six-week challenge I would love to encourage you to undertake. Each week involves a simple task designed to encourage you to get to know your community and to look for ways you might partner with God in bringing renewal to your neighbourhoods. Here are the six tasks:
Week 1: Walk
Take 30 minutes to walk around a neighbourhood you spend a lot of time in. It might be where you live, your workplace, a school or some shops. As you walk, take note of the people, the buildings, the activities and life experiences in this community. What do you see? What things stand out to you? Write them down.
Week 2: Learn
Spend some time online at http://infoshare.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/people_and_communities.aspx. Search for the name of your community. What can you learn about the make-up of your neighbourhood, e.g. ethnicity, employment, income levels, housing, gender, population, education, etc? What things stand out to you? What surprises you?
Week 3: Talk
Venture out into your community and find a local to have a conversation with, e.g. in a café, a shopkeeper, a schoolteacher, a next-door neighbour or at a public meeting. Tell them how you have a heart for the neighbourhood. Ask them what they like about the place. Do they have any concerns? What could make it even better? What could be renewed? Listen carefully.
Week 4: Pray
Find a quiet place and spend some time praying. Talk to God about the many things you have observed about your neighbourhood. Invite the Holy Spirit to speak clearly to you in the week that is ahead. What are the people or situations God wants you to engage with? What questions, doubts or fears do your neighbours carry? What haven’t you noticed? Where is God already at work? Ask God to show you a specific action you can take to help bring renewal within your community.
Week 5: Dream
Take a pencil, some crayons and a blank piece of paper. Begin to write, to sketch, to list and to plan. Start to dream. With the knowledge that you now have of your local neighbourhood, come up with an idea that could be initiated to bring renewal to the people and places around you. What will it look like? Where will it be? What do you need? When can it happen? Who can help? What relationship do you need to develop? Maybe it already exists and you need to join in? What might be the results?
Week 6: Share
Meet up with a friend (perhaps a small group of people) and share with them the dream you have for bringing a little bit of renewal to your neighbourhood. Go on, be brave and share! Ask them for their thoughts. Is it a good idea? How might it be even better? Could they help you? Pray together that God would provide you with the guidance and courage you need to see it fulfilled. And remember, “If we think God is guiding us, but no one in the body of Christ that best knows us can stand alongside us and affirm it, that sense of guidance is likely doubtful and may be worth reconsidering before acting.”1
Leaders, why not build a challenge like this into your church calendar for the first part of 2021? Maybe you could design a teaching series around such an activity. Partner with another church that is perhaps a little further down the missional path than you and ask them for their help. Engage the services of your young people to digitally record people’s findings and stories. Call the church to a season of prayer that the voice of God would be clearly heard about action that needs to be taken. Begin to paint a picture of what could be.
When Jesus began his ministry on earth he clearly outlined that his purpose was “to proclaim good news to the poor…to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18‑19, NIV). In Romans we read that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, NIV). The Apostle Paul explains “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:19, NIV).
But importantly he goes on to say, “And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, NIV).
What an enormous privilege and responsibility has been given us—to participate in the very mission of God. Please pray with me that mission would remain central to the DNA of the Baptist Union of New Zealand. Oh, and let me know how you get on with the six-week challenge!
Contributor: 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 (Illinois: IVP Books, 2014), 143.