Rick Pierce tells us about a growing initiative called PressingOn, which combines the teaching resources and networking power of seven Baptist churches in Auckland.

omething special happens as we eat and drink together. Whether simply enjoying the rich, full taste of a cappuccino or flat white, or appreciating the fine cuisine of a full meal, many conversations around the table have been the catalyst for empowering vision. 

So were the humble beginnings of what is now known as PressingOn. Enticed with the offer of a free lunch from Grant Harris (Senior Pastor, Windsor Park Baptist Church), several pastors from Baptist churches on the North Shore gathered in 2011 to hear Grant’s heart “for churches to be working together for the benefit of our communities.” Like a stone thrown into a still pond, the conversation generated a ripple effect of further conversations. This ultimately resulted in Belmont, Northgate and Windsor Park embarking on a shared journey in 2012.

Getting in sync

The name for this new initiative was ‘SYNC’. This is a term more commonly used to refer to the process of connecting our mobile devices to our computers, ensuring that the data matches, i.e. that they ‘sync’. Here were three churches, playing with one of the traditional pillars of Baptist life, our autonomy, coming together in sync. In practice, this has largely been based on a shared teaching journey where the themes of approximately 75% of our Sunday gatherings have been the same across the churches involved.

To help resource the journey we created a website,
www.pressingon.org.nz. The name has its roots in Scripture, where the Apostle Paul encouraged the church at Philippi to press on “toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). The teaching series and accompanying resources are designed to help us do just that. The aim of the website is to create a place for people to find resources related to our teaching series, thus contributing to our journey of transformation to Christ-likeness, no matter where in that journey we’re at. 

These aspects are some of the visible signs of the network. Behind the scenes, the pastors invest time in meeting together to plan teaching series, share resources and experiences, identify key teaching points, and share creative thought on how to communicate these. We also discuss other opportunities, outside of Sunday, to invite our communities to engage in each series. 

The relational health of the process is based on mutual respect, recognising we all have something unique to contribute that makes the whole richer. Our teaching series have been the fruit of this investment. Each and every time they have been far richer in their outworking than when we originally began. In addition, our times together have been an opportunity to listen to one another’s hearts, struggles and hopes, and to encourage, love and pray for each other and our churches. 

A name change

The journey hasn’t all been plain sailing. With the freedom to opt in and out, a couple of churches have been part of the journey for just a short period over the past seven years. Each made a valuable contribution and there’s a process of grieving we go through when their place at the table is no longer filled. 

At times when the journey has been more difficult, people joked about ‘SYNC’ actually being ‘SINK’. This conjured up an image of the Titanic suffering the consequences of its collision with the iceberg—obviously not the impression we wanted to communicate! Confusion also arose at times between our use of SYNC for the network and PressingOn as the resourcing site. Therefore, the need became apparent to drop the name SYNC and refer to the whole network of churches as PressingOn. We made this name change in 2016. 

The PressingOn network expands

As word has spread of the network, the ripple effect has continued with other pastors expressing an interest in PressingOn. The network now stretches beyond the North Shore, with seven churches journeying together through 2018. Whangaparaoa joined Windsor Park and Northgate in 2016, Franklin and Royal Oak in 2017, and Beachlands and Manukau City at the beginning of this year. 

A key aspect of the PressingOn journey has been the sharing and resourcing of a teaching journey. However, the potential is far greater as we continue to build on the relationships established across the Auckland churches, stretching 65km from the Hibiscus Coast in the North to Pukekohe in the South and 55km to Beachlands in the East.

Autonomy and unity 

PressingOn doesn’t undermine the autonomy of the individual churches. There’s significant freedom for pastors to be outworking the journey within their own churches. What the initiative helps us recognise is that we’re part of something bigger than any one church and the network serves to strengthen each church’s journey, in our autonomy. 

More significantly, it helps display the unity that we share through faith in Jesus Christ. Today’s issues are more complex than what any one church community in isolation can resolve or at least make a positive and creative response to. There’s a great need for us to recognise we’re better together! PressingOn is evidence of that. It is similar in effect to how two oxen, when joined together, can pull significantly more than the combined weights they’re able to pull individually. 

You only need to read the comments from the Senior Pastors currently involved to get a glimpse of the positive effect the initiative is having. The impact is also experienced within the individual churches as we look to connect across the various ministry areas such as children, youth and young adults. Having a church as a whole on the same journey brings much unity and richness as the different generations bring their unique and important contribution to the table. We are indeed better together!

What I have observed along the journey of the past seven years is that we all have individual stories—as pastors, churches and the people of God—but we’re all connected by the greater story of God’s redemptive work in his creation. In this we’re better together for the sake of our church communities and for our participation in God’s greater story of bringing all things together in Christ. So as Baptist churches let’s press on together. It’s as simple as having a conversation with the pastors around your vicinity—over a great coffee, of course!  

Story: Rick Pierce

Rick is Pastor, Spiritual Formation, at Windsor Park Baptist Church. His role with PressingOn has been described as being like an “engine room” and “a little like glue holding the relationships together and being the connecting point for each of the church pastors.” He also holds responsibility for the shaping of the PressingOn teaching series.

Scripture: 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.