Thursday, March 12, 2009
5 Year Vision
Captain Kirk had an initial 5 Year Mission. It was "to seek out new life forms and civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before" Apart from its sexist language, grammatical split infinity and Kirk's habit of kissing the life forms he did not kill it was a clear example of a strong relationship between vision and mission in practice.
I have been reflecting on our first three years as we have encountered new life forms and civilisations and its implications for the next 5 years of Mission. I am conscious that it is a little foolhardy to summarise the challenges we face in a few paragraphs but am grateful to all who commented on and helped shape the piece and also to Paul Windsor for his editorial. Both these will appear in the next Canvas but represents the beginning of a conversation that will shape the way TSCF works over the next 5 years and what the Pacific Partnership Trust prioritises in the Pacific. Do feel free to comment.
"Over the years I have learned to find relevance in unexpected places. It was the theologian Carl Henry who asserted that ‘only the eternal can hope to be forever contemporary.’ I believe that being anchored to unchanging truths provides a far better foundation for relevant engagement than shifting forever with the tides of changing trends.
This past week I sat down with a Kiwi missionary on home leave and clicked his ‘play’ button. I asked him how he had found church in NZ. The relevance flowed. It reminded me of a similar occasion some years ago when a returning career missionary addressed a gathered throng about the challenges facing the NZ church. I heard some question ‘What can he know? He has been overseas all these decades!’ He knew a lot. He saw a lot. I hung onto every prophetic word.
Was it not the Scot, Robbie Burns, who spoke about the value of ‘seeing ourselves as others see us’? If we are humble enough to listen, this is the very vision that can emerge from our blindspots with a timely relevance and a shuddering impact.
My respect for another Scot, Nigel Pollock, as well as the entire TSCF staff team, is immense. I was among those who interviewed Nigel for his current role. I still consider it to be one of the most strategic processes with which I have ever been involved. I have looked forward to the day when Nigel feels transplanted enough into Kiwi life that he is able to speak into the challenges we face. This issue of Canvas is that moment. Nigel has the mind and eye and heart to say something significant. Read carefully.
And as you read my prayer is that your mind and eye and heart will recognise the relevance of the ministry of TSCF in our nation and that you will be stirred to support it in new ways."
Paul Windsor, Principle Carey College (at time of writing), Associate Director, Langham Preaching (by time of publication) and TSCF Board member (over the whole of those two weeks - and longer!)
New Zealand is the first major land mass to see the start of each day. I believe that we are uniquely positioned to see by ‘first light’ emerging global trends. New Zealand is a very interesting place to be, still evolving in our national identity, with a tradition of leading social change and a fascinating blend of Maori, European, Pacific, Asian and other cultures. Over the past 3 years I have had the privilege of meeting students, graduates and church leaders from all over New Zealand. I have found their insights challenging and helpful. I have also found that being in the South Pacific has provided a vantage point to consider what is happening in other parts of the world. In TSCF we long to see the gospel at the heart of New Zealand and New Zealand at the heart of World Mission. I am under no illusions as to the scale of the challenge we face in pursuing that vision, but without vision people perish.
I hesitate to offer too many thoughts on the challenges facing New Zealand. I am still learning and there is much I still do not understand. But I have frequently been told over the past few months that if I do not capture my initial reflections as an “outsider” that I will lose them! I believe that we are at a significant watershed in world history and that like the Men of Issachar (1 Chronicles 12:32) we need to “understand the times and know what to do”. I also believe that the current global financial meltdown demonstrates how interconnected our lives are. I have a postcard on my office door of a factory churning pollution into the atmosphere with the caption “in a world where problems know no boundaries..”
So I offer here my thoughts on 10 major challenges that I believe are key to understanding the times that we live in; each presenting an opportunity. These are broader reflections with some New Zealand application and you can decide how each is relevant to 21st Century Aotearoa. I believe there is an opportunity to work together in new ways which can benefit NZ and have an impact far beyond these shores, in a world where opportunities know no boundaries we can be at the leading edge of change in Christian mission in the world. I hope these challenges stimulate your thinking and make you think about how we can respond.
There is a growing number of un-churched post Christian people in western societies. This is not a group that we are engaging with well anywhere. Most of the things that seem to be working like “Alpha” and “Christianity Explored” are much better at engaging with people with some church background. This is not irrelevant because this is still a significant mission field, but it is a diminishing one. Most expressions of church underestimate the culture gap between where we are and where the people around us are. We live in a country that is increasingly secular. Many now see faith as a negative thing to be pitied and opposed. The key opportunity here is to listen. We need to understand the culture we are in and look for contact points and bridgeheads to share faith. Programmes and resources written for other cultures, countries and contexts are not the best starting point and yet they are all too often the things which NZ churches and TSCF student groups have become dependent upon. Our vision is for biblical evangelism that is culturally sensitive. Effective evangelism among students is at the core of our ministry. TSCF are working with students to help them be less reliant on resources, more connected with their friends and better able to share the good news of Jesus. We need a new urgency in evangelism flowing from a fresh encounter with God.
We live in an age of mass migration. Through choice or necessity, millions of people move about the planet. Entire ethnic communities exist thousands of miles from their point of origin. There are 1 million people living in NZ who were not born here and there are 1 million “Kiwis” living overseas. We all like the idea of a multi-cultural society, it sounds exciting, but what that looks like is not as easy to work out and it involves understanding other cultures, giving up racial stereotypes and, as Christians, pursuing a new Gospel culture. How much of your culture and language do you retain and how much do you give up? Historically, cross-cultural missions have looked to develop indigenous leaders to carry the work forward when they leave. There is as great a need as ever for cross cultural mission but the concept of indigeneity has become more complex. I believe in NZ that bi-culturalism is the foundation on which a strong multi cultural society is built and that the resolution of outstanding issues and treaty claims alongside the valuing of Maori culture and ideas is of immense importance. But alongside the challenge of the past we face the challenge of the future. We are profoundly thankful for the huge involvement of internationals in TSCF and have been thrilled to see students from around the world coming to faith and indeed leading Kiwis to Christ. Our vision is to value all the cultures of New Zealand and to take the opportunity to practise hospitality and show Christ’s love to all. TSCF is one of the most diverse movements in IFES and we are currently building links with greater number of ethnic groups on campus. We are at the same time committed to encouraging students to actively participate in the world wide mission of the church. Our partnerships in Ecuador, Fiji, Papa New Guinea, India and Bangladesh are a great help in this. Although we are remote we have strong connections not least with those who study here. I believe that the fulfilment of the great commission in the 21st century involves Pacific Rim churches growing a vision for world mission, in a way that the Atlantic churches did in a previous century.
Issues of poverty, justice, AIDS and the environment are not optional concerns for the few. We all need to be on the front line of working for peace and prosperity for all. I continue to believe that the exile is the key paradigm shaping our involvement in society. Jeremiah encourages the exiles to seek the welfare of the city of Babylon where they are in captivity (Jer 29:4-17). They are to plant, build and have children, to increase in number but to remember that they do not belong there. They are to remember that in 70 years God will take them home. The challenge that faces us is to fully engage in our communities and to work on the big issues without losing sight of the hope of glory. It is interesting to note that around the world those Christians who live on the margins of society and suffer persecution look forward more earnestly to Christ’s return than those of us who have invested more in this world and can see Jesus’ return as a threat to our comfort. It has been said that some Christians are so heavenly minded that they are of no earthly use, I sometimes wonder
if the reverse can be more true today. We need to be heavenly minded and of earthly usefulness. We cannot separate gospel and social engagement as if somehow it was possible to have faith that did not translate into action. Our vision is to call a new generation to change the world in the power of the Holy Spirit but to do so with a gospel agenda and a kingdom perspective. Our new Catalyst graduate and faculty ministry is at the start of growing a new generation of Christian influence in the professions, the marketplace, education, public life, the arts and the church.
I am frustrated that as I look around the world there is, all too often, a great divide between creativity and content. Many of those who are the most creative are bereft of Biblical content and at the other extreme those who have great content are often lacking in creativity. The protestant tradition has tended to be quite iconoclastic, seeing imagery as often leading to idolatry and therefore needing to be destroyed. More recently a new emphasis on iconography has sought to develop art which can enhance and focus worship rather than detract from it. There is a place for criticism and for creativity. Both can honour God when done for his glory. But I believe that the primary opportunity today is to be an interpreter, seeking to relate faith to culture and culture to faith. Our vision is to be a prophetic voice where creativity and content combine together to speak powerfully into our cultural context and ultimately introduce people to Jesus. We are encouraging students in creative arts to relate faith to their course and we are actively exploring ways of using digital media to promote evangelism and discipleship in NZ and beyond.
The Baby Boomer generation (born 1946-63) has been the most analysed generation in history. They have contributed a huge amount to the development of the cultural, economic and intellectual landscape we inhabit. They are now coming to the end of their era of responsibility. Many in the next generation do not believe that the structures that served the gospel in the last century are necessarily the same structures that will serve the gospel in this century. The older generation becomes frustrated at the lack of commitment of those coming through. The problem is that the baby boomers see the vision as being intertwined with the structures they have invested their lives in. That generation of leaders need to let the structures go and be clear on the vision, entrusting new leadership to adapt and in some cases dismantle that which they hold dear. If we are to engage a new generation with the call to initiative and responsibility we cannot ask them to be janitors of the legacy of yesterday. We are a strongly egalitarian culture which is great, but it can leave us critical of leaders and wary of accepting responsibility. We need to stop chopping our leaders down, covenant to build them up, and be willing to step into the gap ourselves. Our vision is to mentor younger leaders in vision, to trust younger leaders with responsibility and to see inter generational partnerships grow so that together we can move forward under God. TSCF are currently extending the training and mentoring of students and graduates across New Zealand and the South Pacific, we are enthusiastic about partnering with all those who share the call to raise a new generation of influence and initiative.
I read a facebook post the other day which said “I am not going to GO to church ever again. That’s it. Enough is enough. I’m simply going to BE church, journeying with fellow travellers hanging out with Jesus...” It saddens me greatly that for many in my generation the thing that they cite as being the biggest obstacle in their Christian walk is their experience of church. What is interesting about the quote is that the experience of going to church does not seem to correspond to what they are looking for. One key issue here is that people’s experience of preaching neither engaging with the truth of God’s word or the reality of their lives. I have spoken to a number of graduates who have heard no Bible teaching on work, money, sex or career. I know others who long for greater depth of relationship with God and a more authentic experience of Christian community but are not willing to give what might be necessary to get what they seek. I have been fascinated in NZ both by how seldom many keen Christians attend church and also how often people move from one church to another. We long to see better partnerships with, and more unity between, all believers. We encourage new and old expressions of church that encourage people to love God, follow Jesus and live it out in daily life. I spoke to a pastor in Canada who said “Ten years ago people in my church saw the most valuable commodity as money and they would give time to save money. Now the most valuable thing is time and people will give money to save time. Our staff team is much bigger but in truth our congregation is much poorer. We have professionalised service and lost a key expression of being the body of Christ”. Our vision is to see the NZ church grow under leadership that prioritises Bible teaching and prayer; which is centred on the cross; promotes radical discipleship in community and which looks to resource and connect people in their daily lives.
We face a crisis of Bible Engagement around the Western world. Put simply many Christians do not see God’s word as being central to, or having a transformative influence on, their lives. The Bible Society in New Zealand have just published some excellent research on Bible use here. Among Christians 7% read it daily, 9% weekly and 23% monthly. Only 18% of 18-24 year olds stated that the Bible influenced their lives. Only 26% of Christians regularly discuss the teachings of the Bible weekly or more frequently with other people. Many times I’ve been told that the Bible is boring and hard work only to discover that the person making that statement has read little if any of it. I’m not talking about non-Christians here, but Christians. It’s not just that people aren’t engaging it’s that they never have, and were never encouraged to and don’t know where to start. Our vision is to see the Bible opened and handled in a way that encourages people to explore and apply it for themselves. We want to see students excited about the Bible, able to teach it and hungry to apply it to every area of life. TSCF are working hard to model biblical teaching and to support small group leaders getting to grips with scripture.
I think there is a lot of good quality work being done with children. Some can tend to lapse into morality teaching and not say enough of God and grace but there are many committed people who are working hard. Where there is confusion is what do when they get to be 13 or 14 years old. Some churches get them to help with the younger kids, others to start going with their parents to the morning service, others connect them into a Sunday night young adult service which may be more reflective or more high energy depending on the culture of the church. The problem is that none of these are geared to helping teenagers in their discipleship or witness at school. We need to be helping teenagers see how faith relates to school life, their relationships, personal development and the future. I believe we set the bar too low in what we are trying to do with teenagers. There are some centres of excellence and I know many others are concerned about this and are starting to think about how to make progress. One of the striking things to come out of the Mangatepopo river tragedy was seeing the impact of college students who were sold out for Jesus. Our vision is to see teenagers in a real relationship with God with a heart for service and a desire to see friends get to know Jesus. One of the issues in New Zealand is that many in their twenties go on an OE at just the time you would be expecting them to be helping with youth groups and leading at camps. This missing generation means that many teenagers do not have role models in the next generation to look up to and follow. TSCF share the concerns of many throughout NZ for this crisis in teenage discipleship and are talking with Scripture Union and others about how we can do better. We are encouraging graduates to consider teaching as a career and are currently working on helping students transition from college to university.
The nature of the university continues to evolve. Much is now driven by financial considerations such that both the pursuit of knowledge and the teaching of students takes second place. The restrictions on student societies and the lack of support for student activities on some campuses are appalling. On many campuses student societies cannot even book university rooms for meetings which makes regular meeting times and places difficult. Student debt continues to climb and 90% of students in NZ work for more than 10 hours a week in part time paid employment. Many students living in shared accommodation do not share life, choosing to shop, cook and eat separately. The availability of “E” relationships through text, Facebook, email, Twitter and chat is not always conducive to fostering fully orbed relationships. Many students have a wide circle of contacts but not many friendships of quality and depth. TSCF believes in the university as a centre for the exploration of truth and ideas. Our vision is to support Christian academics and to see students relating faith to their studies, to see universities as vibrant exciting communities which contribute to society and prepare graduates for life. We long to see a new generation raised up who can articulate Christian truth in the market place of ideas. We are beginning to look at how we can better support academics and are working to mobilise prayer for Universities. We are experimenting with different models where students live in supported community as places where life is shared through hospitality and outreach.
The acceptable standard of morality in society has been uncoupled from any external frame of reference. Choice has become personal and anything goes as long as it “does not hurt anybody”. Who decides this and works out the true impact of actions is less clear. The way our choices affect and limit other people’s choices, and the standards of personal behaviour we adopt, are confusing. Christians are keen to avoid being seen as judgemental (perhaps the only universally agreed sin in our society). I recently heard someone speaking about Martin Luther King who talked of young black men being struck down by ushers on the steps of a “white” church while the congregation inside sang “Love Divine All Loves Excelling”. It makes me wonder about the cultural blind spots in my own worldview. On important issues, how many of my values come from God and how much do I conform to the society I live in? Issues such as: abortion, race, class, sexual standards, commitment in relationships, raising children, acting justly, loving mercy, making peace, speaking out against oppression, caring for the orphan, the outsider, the marginalized and making use of money, time and talents. Our vision is to call this generation to a standard of Biblical morality not to be content to accept a comparative standard from society. 1 John says “If anyone obeys His word God’s love is truly made complete. This is how we know we are in Him; whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (1 John 2:6-7). TSCF are today, and every day, investing in the lives of students in the hope of them and us becoming more like Jesus. We work to see lives transformed and the foundations of character laid, on which the rest of life is built.
These are only some of the headline challenges. There are others! We are small but we believe under God that change is possible. We are not overawed by the task we face, we are not bowed by the opposition, we look to God and to the enabling of His Spirit. We believe it is not by might or by power but by God’s Spirit that the work of God advances. We believe the work of God IS advancing. Jesus has promised to build his church and that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. We know that we are in a spiritual battle. We look to God and we look for opportunities. In God’s grace over the past three years we have seen TSCF staff more than double and our budget nearly treble. We have seen students coming to faith and new groups starting but we are just scratching the surface. In the next few years you will see us trying many new things. They will not all work, but we will learn from our mistakes and we will persevere. We hope that you will partner with us in service, in prayer, in financial support and encouragement as we seek to know God and make Him known.
“Now to him who is able
to do immeasurably
more than all we ask or
imagine, according to
his power that is at work
within us, to him be glory
in the church and in
Christ Jesus throughout
all generations, for
ever and ever! Amen.”
I am particularly interested in hearing about places where these challenges are being met in creative ways; in speaking with emerging leaders (of any age) who are keen to make a difference engaging with others of vision and in networking with people who can see beyond the old organisational tribalism and want to serve the purpose of God in our generation.
As Captain Kirk would say if he had spent more time reading the Bible "to boldly go where God is going before".
Or as another Captain had engraved on his memorial in the Antartic: "to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield". Which is a quote from Tennyson's Ulysses and which in the poets own words to his son is about "the need to go forward and brave the struggles of life" To which I would say Amen but would add "Together and under God".
My thanks to all who encourage me in this great adventure.