a scribbled agenda

It took a little while for me to see it. But one quarter of the way through the 24 hour retreat, it dawned on me. The small gathering included a number of my inspirations down through the years. All in one room. About 15 people in total. A Murray here and a Merrilyn there. Two Ians on a couch. Kim in a chair. A Duncan in the sun. Peter in the corner. Mary in conversation. Sam in absentia (but his voice still heard). You get the idea. It was like a little slice of Hebrews 11 for me.

Much of the discussion focused around the decline of the church in New Zealand. Even though I live overseas (the only one in the group doing so), I find that my default setting is still the NZ context. As I travel, the conversations ignited in my mind and heart tend to be about the way forward back home. As I listened, I scribbled some rushed responses into the front pages of a book I was reading at the time. Here they are, ten of them:

1. Embrace a practical commitment to the authority of the Bible, not just a theoretical one.
How many people in our churches read their Bibles regularly? How many home groups go deep into the Word? How many sermons remain in the Bible for the duration of the sermon? One participant, in a recent calendar year, spent 44 Sundays in different Kiwi churches. Across the denominational spectrum. He needed his Bible on just 3 occasions. Far too often the Bible is being assumed rather than articulated. We become what we soak in. We are what we love. If we spend more time with Reality TV than with the Bible, then guess which one will influence us more?!

Back at Marsden Cross for the sixth time (but the first time in seven years)
- the site of the first preaching of the gospel in Aotearoa - New Zealand

2. Find aspiration in the far northwest, rather than just the far northeast. 
I understand the allure of the USA. They have the marketing power. They have the resource base that keeps their pastors and their publishers, their seminaries and their seminars in the headlines. But why look their way for help with mission when they are faltering so badly in mission themselves? We should be filling our imaginations with stories - and our hands with skills - drawn from places like Asia, rather than America. They know a fair bit about effective evangelism over there.

3. Exchange this tired obsession with relevance for something better: be intriguing
The impulse behind relevance is the desire to be present in the world, fitting in with it, flowing with its trends - and updating our approaches to suit these changes. It is the salt impulse and it is a good one. But it is not good enough. We've been duped for a generation. It is not working. We are also called to be light. Be distinctive with distinction. Be a contrast community. Draw a line in the sand (rather than rub it out). Stand out. Make it more obvious that we belong to Jesus. Risk being abused. Be attractive, not just incarnational. Lift curiosity. Intrigue. The numbers may go down - but the authentic mission will go up, in His way and in His time.

4. Find a wall and break it. See a border and cross it. Enter a conflict and pacify it.
There is nothing much miraculous in like-minded (or like-looking, like-earning, like-educated, like-aged etc etc) people hanging out together. There just isn't. That is a club. One of the ways the gospel makes its power known in a society is through stories of reconciliation and forgiveness. We need to hear God's personal call into unfamiliar settings that are unlike us and quietly be agents of reconciliation. Let's drench Aotearoa-New Zealand with these simple, little stories - and celebrate those committed to living such lives.

5. Rescue holiness from coming a distant third in the imaginary race within God's character.
Being motivated by the love and justice of God is great - but it is not enough. We need to soak in the fullness of who God is. How can we expect Him to be at work through us if we neglect to embrace all of who He is? It doesn't make sense. He is not a buffet from which we pick and choose. The holiness of God - and the holiness of his people - has fallen into a deep recession in our generation. [NB: this is partly why #3 is an issue]. This not as obvious in the majority world! Holiness is not less than ceasing from things like greed and lust and pride - but, oh, it is so much more. It is what enables God to come and live among us and in us, releasing his Holy Spirit to be at work through us as well.

6. Return Jesus to being Master and Lord, not just Friend and Saviour.
I've loved this feature in the vibrant form of Indian Christian spirituality. Hearing people pray, pouring out their longings to Jesus. Again and again it is 'Jesus, oh Master'. The default setting in their lives is that Jesus is someone who controls and directs their lives. They live for him. They are at his disposal. Eavesdrop on Kiwi Christian conversation, as I do when we come home, and what is heard? C'mon - be honest with me. That is not the instinct. We want Jesus to be at our disposal. Jesus is to live for us. It is the wrong way around. We much prefer Jesus to be our friend, rather than our master.

7. Step into the public world - with truth and grace - and feel the heat of suffering for Jesus.
The Christian life and witness needs to be lived publically, not privately. People around us should know we are Christians by the way we live and by what we say. Written into a similar context, 1 Peter makes it clear that suffering for Jesus' sake should not surprise us. It is the expectation for every believer. Plus it is as plain as the nose on our faces that there is some correlation between the presence of such suffering and the effectiveness of mission. Is this not evident in so many places around the majority world? Why the reluctance, if the way forward is so clear?

8. 'Building lifelong followers of Jesus' - I know this is true - but, wait, there's more, far more.
Yes, yet again, my concern is with something that is true, but not true enough. There is shrinkage here. Jesus is far more than a guru to follow. The 'following Jesus as a disciple' paradigm is big in the Gospels - but what is big in the Epistles? There we find what one scholar calls the most revolutionary truth in the New Testament. We are 'in Christ'. We are united to the founder of our faith. This needs far more reflection - and conviction. Living in India, the land of gurus, shows me how relevant Jesus-as-guru can be - but also how incomplete and insufficient it usually is.


9. Be patient
Do the right things in the right way - and then be patient. Wait. Hope. Pray. Persevere. These are the biblical mandates that come to the people of God during exile and during winter. It is tough in New Zealand, very tough. I am full of admiration for pastors and leaders who hang in there. The exile will end, the winter will end - but only under God's sovereign and providential direction and probably related to profound changes within a people of God content with starting small, going deep and persevering patiently.

I am mistaken. I thought there were ten scribbles written on the inside cover of Mark Labberton's Called. But I see it is only nine :).

nice chatting

Paul

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