What do you get when you bring a movement of churches together and ask for their opinion about how things are doing?
Contrast. Division. Folly even!
I believe it is part of our human nature to divide. We see it in competitive sports. We see it in politics. We see it with social issues. Why should the church be any different? Well, because the basis of who and what the church is, is founded on unity.
You see, not conforming to this world means not following it’s patterns. And one of those patterns is the nature of division. This one pattern is at the core of the longest, most intense prayer we have of Christ in John 17. On the eve of his suffering he chose to pray about unity. Not evangelism or social issues or good, sound doctrine. Unity. I believe it is because the pattern and nature of division is so ingrained in the conformed world, it would be hard for the Church not to conform to it. It’s no surprise when Jesus, at the height of his prayer, states:
“…that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:22-23)
The world will know that Christ was sent by how united we are. The world will know how much we are loved by God by how united we are. Not by how biblically right we are. Not by exegetical sermons. Not by awesome worship music. Not by evangelism!
The reason why I believe things within the Baptist Union of New Zealand are at such a breaking point is because of the crossing of three main issues that have matured into a tangled knot.
- Social issues (bi-culturalism, sexuality, gender identity) have become a full blown concern for many and the call for the church to be at the forefront of these issues is dividing the movement.
- The decline of church attendance is creating panic responses.
- The loss of Baptist identity by the influx of leaders who are either not well versed with what it means to be Baptist, or are not particularly interested in being so, have caused angst within the movement.
It is within this whirlwind of a climate that the Baptist Union of New Zealand asked for the opinions of the churches. All that did was show just how divided we are. Some of the proposed resolutions from some leaders are, well, interesting.
There’s been this catch call for church planting.
It’s obvious to me that there are not many around who have church planted, because anyone with a dose of experience will tell you that most church planting is an incredibly difficult venture and that most plants fail. Having been a part of two church plants, one successful and one not, Church planting can be like heroin. The initial shot is fantastic, but reality settles in and all the problems that were swirling around church culture, whether they be in the leadership or in those who begin attending, will catch up with you. Church planting needs to be thoughtful, cooperative, strategic. In the Hutt Valley I’ve seen, just in my three years here, a number of church plants come and go. No thought (there are something like 100 churches in the Hutt Valley). No cooperation (we had one start across the road from us. Didn’t even know their intentions). No strategy (within twelve months they are gone). Personally I think church planting speaks more to the ego than to the reality of the problems the church is facing.
There’s been this catch call for evangelism.
I keep hearing this and it baffles me. This is basic and obvious. It’s actually not evangelism that people are calling for. It’s a call for some sort of consumeristic explosion. It seems to me that everyone is looking for the next best thing. The magic pill. Can I hear a call for Revival please!?
Sorry, but that’s just not how it works.
Instead of evangelism, do you think it might be a leadership issue? Do you think some of us who are leading churches have no right to be in the positions we are in? Instead of looking for the next best thing, or blame people’s views on social issues, maybe take some time to look inside of yourself? Maybe a little more self awareness would go a long way to helping the Church grow. We are all ready to point the finger at sexual immorality but is anyone challenging self righteousness?
I don’t hear many of us talking about Unity!
As important as leadership is (and it is) or the social issues we facing are (and they are, if we are not willing to engage in a meaningful way with the gender, sexuality and bicultural issues we render ourselves no different to the pharisees of old who, through their stubbornness and closed eyes to the social issues around them, missed the Messiah and oversaw their world fall apart with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple and saw the Roman Empire continue for another 300 years!) we need to learn to work together. We need to find ways to begin tying our churches together so that the world can see that Church is not a fractured, divided entity, but one that is united even if we do not always agree. Unity, not conformity. The very basis of what makes us a movement.
I firmly believe if we do this right then maybe the words of Jesus will come about…
“Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23)
What does that all look like? Now that’s a good question! Maybe focusing a nationwide Hui on that would be a good start?