Billed as a strategic consultation on church based evangelism and transformation of society, "Transform" was 48 hours with 25 other senior pastors from around NZ and a team from Alpha NZ. These were top people and I appreciated our discussions and the issues raised by our speakers. East Taieri is a church which has a heart for helping people discover Jesus. This is about seeing lives and communities transformed. You can see the connection I felt with this consultation. Some reflections and insights:
We need to think about the gospel we proclaim. What do people hear me preach? Simply that God loves them? Do I include the big picture of the Kingdom of God? Do I warn people of God's judgement?
Max Scott pointed out that "God loves us" (while being true) was actually not part of the gospel presentations in Acts or in Matthew, Mark or Luke. (Check it out if you don't believe me) The key part of the gospel presentation in Acts was that Jesus rose from the dead! And, it was usually given in the context of God's judgement. Max explored the issues raised in Don Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Crossway, Wheaton IL, 2000)
Leadership is key. It was so energising being around other leaders who shared a vision for seeing people come to know Jesus and living as citizens of his kingdom - working for salvations, justice and peace. We talked about discerning the biblical vision of the kingdom of God. Preaching it, talking about it, writing it down, discerning how it also springs up from the grass roots... We also talked about the way the role of the pastor needs to change and develop as a church grows.
Our consultation was very real about the integrity challenges facing the church. People often don't hear the good news of Jesus because of the way people view the church. Scandals and judgemental attitudes, internal divisions and dogmatic ignorance, churches perceived to be wasting wealth and yet always wanting people's money, misconceptions about doctrine or practice fueled by the media... all these cause barriers for our witness. We have seen Cadbury drop from NZ's most trusted brand down to number 32. In the same way, trust in the church has suffered over the years.
We heard inspiring stories of churches that were both helping people come to know the Saviour, and working for the transformation of their communities. One church, who are well connected with their community, recently broke the world record for the biggest pot of soup (25,000 litres). This was raising moral in their city. Read about it here. Every great missionary of the 19th Century had two passions: bringing people to Jesus and fighting injustice. Perhaps we are rediscovering this!
When we hear from time to time of churches having huge numbers of "converts", we must ask, "Where are they?" The pastors I spoke with were seeing people come to know Jesus, as we are at East Taieri, but it is slower, steady growth as people pray and reach out to others with the good news of Jesus. Alpha often figured in this. I'm all for praying for revival, but in the meantime we need to be faithful with the ones and twos. I'm all for transforming a whole city, but we it often begins with a home at a time, a street at a time.
On the way up on the plane I was able to speak with a man about how Jesus resurrection shows us that death need not be the end. Yet, I came home with even greater confidence in the lifechanging power of the message of Jesus we have.