What do we want Baptist churches in New Zealand to be known for? If you had to describe the culture of the faith community you are part of, what would you say? How would others describe us? Charles Hewlett shares six characteristics he hopes we might be known for.
I know I’m like a stuck record, but Baptists must primarily be known as people who have their eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. When determining our priorities, we immediately look to him. When unsure what to think and how to act, we begin with his Word. When wanting to bring renewal, we start with the power of his gospel. And when wondering how to treat our neighbours, we look to his life.
We have been called to be the church in a country that mostly rejects the Christian message. The idea of a metanarrative or overarching faith story is often viewed as ignorant, arrogant and oppressive. But Baptists must be countercultural and recognised as people who love Jesus and are quick to reference the Bible as we graciously work to restore all that is broken.
Let’s be a movement of churches marked out by appreciation and thankfulness. Rather than being negative, critical and grumpy, let’s be known for our enthusiasm and positivity. Think about your own conversations, social media posts, sermons, etc. What sort of culture are you helping to create? Philippians 4:8 is an important verse: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (NLT).
I was deeply challenged by a Facebook post a friend of mine made last year in the middle of her cancer treatment. Fiona wrote, “Something I’m learning is that when you don’t feel ‘alive’ most of the time, you can still choose to find and celebrate the things that bring you joy. Today I felt gross but sat by the beach with a friend, and enjoyed the feeling of the wind on my face, looking at the beautiful ocean and enjoying my friend’s company. Tonight it’s listening to the ocean and hearing the birds and feeling the sun on my face. It’s so good to keep on finding things to feel hopeful and alive!”
When people think ‘Baptist’ I would like them to think of words like creativity, imagination and improvement. That our faith communities are known as safe places for risk‑taking and doing things in different ways. Where people are empowered to think outside the box—to avoid stagnation and sameness.
I talked recently about Northland and Central Otago being two regions where I believe Baptists could bring renewal over the next decade. An innovative culture will unleash and empower its pioneering leaders to dream and achieve new ideas for ministry and mission. A cautious culture is often focused too much on the here and now, scared to engage with the future and all the complex issues it brings.
I hope that we can be known as a movement that expects God to do amazing things and therefore it is the norm for us to approach him with our crazy expectations.
What is the shamelessly audacious gospel prayer (Luke 11:5-8) that you are currently praying? Does your church have one? Your leadership team? Your family? How many new followers of Jesus are you asking for in 2020? Baptisms? Where do you want to see redemption, reconciliation and healing in your community? Do you even have expectations? Do you talk together about these things?
The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). If our God can work miraculously in the lives of people like Abraham and Sarah, Esther, Daniel, Hannah and Elizabeth in the past, then he can work in people like me and you today.
I have always been challenged by the story in Luke 5 when Jesus calls his first disciples. After being with Jesus for just a few moments we find Peter on his knees worshipping God and giving up everything to follow him. Talk about being contagious!
When people spend time with us, how do we influence them? What do they go away thinking? “Wow, what a great house!” or “Wow, what a great God!” Do they say, “We must plan a better holiday next year” or “We need to get home and fall in love with the scriptures again.” Do they say, “We need to work on our superannuation plan” or “We’ve got to start actively serving in our neighbourhood.”
It’s my prayer that Baptists would have a culture that naturally points people to Jesus. When people visit our faith communities and spend time with us, may they go home saying, “God is great and I want to love and serve him more than ever!”
6. Giving up our rights
I pray that New Zealand Baptists would be known for their willingness to give up their rights for the rights of others. We can so easily get this one wrong. “I’m happy to serve, as long as I get noticed” or “If I’m not the leader, well don’t expect me to be involved” or “If it’s not done my way, don’t expect my financial support.” Jesus tells his followers, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44, NIV).
The culture in God’s Kingdom is marked out by loving service and not having to dominate. It is about putting others first and being prepared to give up our own status. Kingdom culture is not having to retaliate, paying back evil with evil. It is about being prepared to take second place and give up my rights for those of another. May this be our norm.
It is my prayer that it is the norm for Baptist faith communities and people to be marked out by being Jesus‑focused, thankful, innovative, audacious, contagious, and being prepared to give up their rights for others. “That’s just the way we do things.”
Contributor: Charles Hewlett
Charles is the national leader of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand. He is often heard saying, “I love Jesus. I live the Bible. I love the gospel. I love the church. And I love mission.”
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, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries, Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™