Family Update and Providing Support

I want to update you on the news since we gathered on Sunday and it is sad news. I also want to give some ways that you could provide prayer or practical support. Thank you so much for being such a loving and supportive church.

Update on our Syrian families
Four members of our Syrian families were attending the Masjid Al Noor Mosque on Deans Ave on Friday afternoon.

The father of our family living in Somerfield, Khaled, was shot, and died a few hours later at Christchurch Hospital. His 16 year old son Hamza was shot and died at the scene. His 13 year old son Zaid was also shot. Zaid received a six hour surgery on Friday evening and is recovering well.

The father of our family living in West Spreydon, Hisham, was shot. Hisham received surgery on Sunday morning and is recovering well.

Care for the carers
We’ve had many offers of people reaching out and wanting to help. If you know people who have been directly caring for the families affected by this tragedy and are in need of some care for themselves, please get in touch with our Pastoral Care team on 03 3384163 or pastoralcare@swbc.org.nz.

Muslim Families Support Fund
We have created this fund as a short-term account to provide financial support to families who have been affected by this tragedy, including those who we have helped to resettle in Christchurch and others who are connected to our church.

If you would like to contribute to this fund, the details are as follows:

Bank: BNZ
Branch: Riccarton
Name of Account: South West Baptist Church
Account Number: 02-0820-0247412-00
Particulars: MuslimFamily
Code: Donation#### (put your donation number here if applicable)

We will be able to issue a donation receipt for these donations, please include your donation number if you have one.

Offer of Buildings
We have sent a letter of support to the Imams of Masjid Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Masjid Mosque offering them our prayers, our sorrow and practical support including the use of our buildings if that will be helpful.

For ongoing information over the next few days, please visit this blog which I will be updating daily.

A Helpful Prayer
Lord, in our shock and confusion, we come before you.
In our grief and despair in the midst of hate,
in our sense of helplessness in the face of violence,
we lean on you. 

For the families of those who have been killed we pray.
For the shooter—help us to pray, Lord.
For the communities that have lost members—their anger, grief, fear—we pray.
For those striving to be your light in darkness beyond our comprehension, we pray.

In the face of hatred, may we claim love, Lord.
May we love those far off and those near.
May we love those who are strangers and those who are friends.
May we love those who we agree with and understand,
and even more so, Lord, those who we consider to be our enemies.

Grace and peace,
Alan

Update

Kia ora, e te whanau,

We are all aware of the pain, confusion and destabilization that Friday’s horrendous acts of violence have brought to our city and our country. Eight years ago, we were rocked by natural disaster, now calculated hatred and evil have brought new fears and losses. Including a loss of who we sense we are and what our country is about. Many of us have sat with our refugee friends and said “You are safe here” believing that New Zealand and especially Christchurch are different. Believing that we are not marked, like other parts of the world, with violence and terror. Today we know the pain of the world in a new way and in this we need to be reminded of who we are and how we can affirm the faith and values we believe in.

Last year we welcomed three families from war-torn countries to be part of our community. Today they are scared and grieving. Four have been shot and all know family and friends who were killed or injured. Their neighbourhood communities, our refugee team and pastoral team are with them offering support and care. Your prayers for the families directly and those close to them would be enormously appreciated.

Many people from international refugee programmes, Baptist churches and other church leaders are sending us their prayers and concern which reminds us we are not alone. As we care for our Middle Eastern friends and grieve as a city, unknown friends around the world hold us in their prayers.

Tomorrow at our 9.00am, 11.00am and 7.00pm services families can choose to stay together or children can join the children’s programme. We will have three spaces available. A combined children’s programme will run in the Auditorium. Our Living Room will be open throughout the service for people to sit, talk or pray. You are welcome to stay in the service or move in and out to the children’s activities or The Living Room as you wish. Our services will be spaces of tenderness, gentle compassion and powerful hope.

We want to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters in their grief and tremendous pain. We are together the children of Abraham and Sarah and today is a day to share prayer and care as family. We also want to pray for our police, emergency workers and hospital teams and thank them for their bravery, commitment and expertise.

Tomorrow we will also have news of Baptist and city-wide church prayer times that you may be able to support.

At a time like this I am deeply aware of God’s presence and the goodness, compassion and courage of our church body. You are very much in our prayers today.


For those asking what practical support can be offered to our Middle Eastern friends, we will be collecting meals at all of our services tomorrow and distributing them out to the affected neighbourhood communities. These meals will need to be halal for the families, otherwise you will need to specify that they are for the wider community supporters. For ease of distribution, please ensure that these meals are able to be frozen. Thank you for your aroha and support.

Tragedy

Today’s tragedy in our city is appalling and deeply painful. We, as a church, have supported and become friends with families from the Middle East. Some of these friends were praying at the mosque this afternoon. Four of them were shot. Tonight, the communities that care for them are wrapping around the families, supporting them in hospital and their homes. Groups have gathered to pray in each of the communities sponsoring a family. We, with the churches of Canterbury, “are praying for our Muslim brothers and sisters, for those injured and those who have lost loved ones, for the police, ambulance and other emergency services, and for all in the city of Christchurch who are feeling distress and fear tonight” (taken from a combined churches of Christchurch statement from Te Raranga). As we approach Easter we are reminded that Jesus suffered, seeking peace and compassion for all – may we respond and pray in the same way.

Justice Issue

Over recent months our media has run several articles on Australia’s Department of Home Affairs policy of repatriating citizens of other countries at the end of prison sentences.  Those with New Zealand citizenship are sent here even though they have spent most, or in some cases all their lives in Australia.

Although some may have family and friends here in New Zealand, a media report from earlier this year focused on a 26 year old born in the Cook Islands.  As such, he is a New Zealand citizen.  He went to live with his family in Australia as a preschooler never living in New Zealand.  Some like this individual are deported to a place where they may have no connections at all.

Perhaps SWBC could be involved in offering help and support to those now numbering into the thousands who have failed Australia’s “character test”.  In the same way that we’ve responded to refugee issues, perhaps SWBC, other Baptist churches and those from other denominations can respond positively to this issue and allow Jesus to look good and God’s kingdom to increase as we assist these exiles one at time.

If you are interested in finding out more about this issue and ways that we can pray for and assist those affected, please contact Peter.

Global Week

We’ve come to the end of Global Week, and what an amazing time it was. Night Market was a great success with many different sounds and smells filling the building. Tim Costello spoke on Jesus’ call to love our enemies, and what that means for the building of God’s community and the mission of the church. Then to have Ants and Dola share was a real privilege, to hear such a strong multi-generational story of hope. To have both Ants and Dola in the country was a miracle in itself, the result of much prayer and paperwork.

Twelve months ago the amount promised to Global was $504,000. The final donations came in at $580,000. This is a church that has been faithfully giving to our global work for 45 years, and exceeding the budget for every one of those years.  If you aren’t already, we’d love you to be a part of it. Chat with our Info Centre on Sundays about how you can support our global work, financially or through prayer.

Women and Leadership In Our Church

At this year’s Baptist Meeting – we call it the hui and it involves representatives from 240 churches across NZ – there was a discussion about women in leadership. Five men were asked to make brief video comments on the their perception of women as leaders in our churches. Here is what came out of it.

The following statement was also produced:

A Statement and Process towards Equality in Leadership in Baptist Churches

We hold scripture teaches the inherent-equality between men and women for both are made in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27, Gal 3:28). Both men and women are called to work as co-labourers in God’s world (Gen 1:28); God’s purposes and call works itself out in individual lives, the church, and the world.

We affirm that both women and men followed Jesus as disciples, and that the Holy Spirit was given to all for the sake of the mission and the Church. We acknowledge Paul’s female co-workers (Rom 16:3,6, Phil 4:2), and the female leaders, teachers, and apostles within the development, life and ministry of the early church (Luke 2:38, Acts 18:26, Rom 16:1-5,6,7, 1 Cor 1:11, Phil 4:2-3, Col 4:15).

We affirm God’s calling of both women and men into all areas of preaching, teaching and leadership. God’s calling of all persons into God’s service extends from volunteers and staff responsibilities, and to all senior leadership positions. God does this for the glory of His name and the sake of the church.

-November 2017

 

Life in Neighbourhood

Recently we were interviewed by the Baptist Magazine around our Neighbourhood Communities and why we have been developing them and how they are shaping us. The article is now online and you can read the article on the Baptist Magazine’s website here.

Cafe Update April

After much prayer, idea sharing and conversation, we have come up with a way to meet our current hospitality needs and leave room for future dreams and plans.

The vision of the café is ‘to provide a welcoming place of hospitality to help foster relationships, welcome new people and encourage redemptive communities and people becoming lifelong followers of Jesus.’

We want to:

–          Create an environment that is warm, relaxed, comfortable, non-threatening and personable

–          Prioritise the café being open on Sundays with two or three food choices and barista coffee available

–          Explore the café being open from Tuesday to Friday 10am – 2pm with coffee and a small selection of bought in food (e.g. slices)

–          Providing hospitality around key church events, including funerals

–          Explore fundraising options for Sundays

–          Explore commercial renting of the kitchen on weekdays

To do this we need to apply for resource consent, that is built around providing a full café menu and operating from 10am – 10pm on Sundays and from 9.30am – 5pm on weekdays. Once this is granted, specific opening hours and menus will be determined. We are also going to employ a start-up manager to provide a food control plan, Sunday volunteer rosters and operational systems.

The consent process will take a couple of months (or more), so in the interim we want to foster a culture of hospitality within the church by continuing a Sunday hospitality roster with free tea and coffee. A plan for mid-week ministry support is already in place.

We trust you will continue to enjoy hospitality in the café space.

Prayer 101

On Sunday morning we looked at ‘Watching and Praying’. Here are some points to get you started…

1.       Pick a time (maybe early morning)

2.       Pick a space (quiet, few distractions, something to focus on)

3.       Set yourself a time that is not rushed (I’ve got x minutes with God free)

4.       Be aware of God’s gaze on you (love and joy of this offering of time)

5.       Read your passage (maybe Mark 14 v 43 onwards)

6.       What are you asking God for? (Jesus passion be mine)

7.       Where does what you read speak to, touch or surprise you? (Stay with that… what is God showing you?)

8.       How can I pray from this time? Who can I pray for?

9.       Note down key thoughts, feelings, insights

10.     Tomorrow re-read your notes at the beginning of your time

Some questions and answers

I was asked this week to answer some questions for leaders in the Baptist churches of Virginna (USA) as they prepare for their annual conference. Below are their questions and my responses.

 

1. Your book, “A Churchless Faith,” was a pioneer in suggesting that people in western cultures were beginning to imagine life and spirituality apart from congregational involvement.  That is an alarming word to those invested in congregations today.  How would you counsel church leaders today to respond to church leavers? 

When people talk about being unsatisfied, disgruntled, looking at leaving a dance can easily begin. In the dance the disgruntled person steps back from the pastor and leaders. The pastor and leaders, in turn, sense the person’s unhappiness or pulling back and step back too. This so easily begins a series of backwards steps from both pastor and disgruntled person that so easily opens a cavern of mis-understandings, lack of communication and potential blaming of each other.

Counter Intuitively the best thing a pastor can do is step towards the seemingly disgruntled, even angry person. Step toward them to engage them in conversation.

Now those early conversations will probably involve more listening and soaking up of emotion by the pastor or church leader than anything else. Many things may be said that are untrue but the feelings behind them need to be heard even if the source of the feeling is deeper than the person can identify or name at this point.  But this listening and absorbing of pain and misunderstanding is the basis of future trust and conversations that help heal and rebuild faith.

If you want an unfair analogy – it sometimes feels like parenting teenagers. You just have to suck up the awkward feelings and comments as they individuate. But they won’t be angry, disgruntled and searching forever. Well, at least not as long as they are helped in productive ways early on.

Finally leavers are your friends. They will tell you things about the church that the satisfied church members never will. They will point out the sort of things that stop outsiders engaging with your church but never tell you. What these disgruntled potential leavers tell you won’t come easily and it will be painful to hear. But reflect on it. Sift what is said. What do you and the church need to hear? What is more about the person’s own journey and needs to stay with them? What can you consider as you plan and build for the future of the church?

But whatever you do don’t ask the disgruntled potential leaver to lead change in the church. That won’t help them or the church. At this point they need to work on the deep issues of their own faith. Trying to solve ‘church’ issues won’t reduce their angst or lay the foundations for a deeper engagement with God, scripture, prayer, discipleship or mission. And asking them to lead change in the church will often lead to them creating new things for disgruntled people, like themselves, they others are not actually drawn to and that they themselves wouldn’t be part of once the internal deeper faith work is underway for them personally.

 

2. You identify several types of leavers:  – “disillusioned followers, reflective exiles, transitional explorers, and integrated wayfinders.”  What trends are you seeing in New Zealand, and do you have any observations of church leavers in North America? 

The trends in NZ are pretty alarming. The rate of leaving is increasing but not only among the middle aged. An increasing trend is for the active retired to leave as they holiday more, go mountain biking, sailing or spend time at the batch (holiday home). The other demographic increase is among the 25 to 35 year olds. A group that would previously have been settling into church as leaders and creative innovators now has many leaving with a sense of dissatisfaction. And then there are those coming each week who are leaving internally. They are present but inside the lights are out. Other things keep them coming – their children, friendships, playing in the band etc. Yet they are not engaging in the way they would have previously.

I did my initial study on church leavers 20 years ago and since then the trends have only increased.

But there is another side. People are coming to faith as well. Young people, immigrants and more vibrant church models are drawing people in. However studies of immigrant families show that the second and third generation of immigrants don’t stay in church any more than the general population. And many of our vibrant churches have both a big front door (attracting new people in) and a big back door (people leaving).

I am aware of the volume of writing coming from America abut church leavers and notice the increasing concern and volume of research and pastoral work in this area. 20 years ago when I was researching church leavers the dominant work was coming out of Europe. Today this is being significantly; I should say hugely, added to from an American context.

 

3. What can the North American church learn from the New Zealand experience of the church as it interacts with a culture that has increasingly seen the role of the church as an agent of transformation to be irrelevant? 

New Zealand is arguably the most secular country in the world. One of the Scandinavian countries may beat New Zealand for that dubious title but however you read the data we are among the most secular cultures in the world. In this sense we are decades ahead of many American denominations in our engagement with a highly secular people, a godless popular culture, and our engagement with church leavers. I know many will say I don’t understand America. I get the same reaction when I make comments like this in Australia. My response is that I’m not sure Australians and Americans see the degree of ignorance, hostility, cynicism and deep dismissiveness in the NZ culture towards the Christian faith.

On the flip side there are groups of Christians and churches that are creating more locally community focused forms of church that are showing new ways of engagement as followers of Jesus and with the people and places they live. Such groups, despite difficulties, are pointing to new forms of church. I find this very exciting, relationally far more demanding that institutionally focused forms of church and, dare I say it, closer to the New Testament descriptions.

 

4. What are some ways your church has interacted positively with church leavers?  What signs of hope do you see in these engagements?

I have moved churches eight years ago from one that was very involved in providing groups, personal mentoring and resources for people leaving or considering leaving churches to one that is focused on forming community approaches where people from the church live. This is providing ways that young and old, Christian and non-Christian and those struggling with church and those who have left years before can engage around working-bees, BBQ’s, meals as well as rhythms of prayer, bible study etc.

I am less focused on providing programmes for leavers now and more focused on relationship based discipleship.

 

5. Your books help us recover the idea of the value of embracing “the dark night of the soul” in spiritual journey.  Say a word about that, and talk about how have you seen value in churches engaging people who are in deep spiritual questioning?  What do the journeys of “leavers” look like “five years on?”

Firstly the dark night of the soul, as John of the Cross described it, is a great description of the lived experience of many people of faith as their sense of God and all God was to them seemingly disappears. Or at least is not accessible to them in the ways they had previously come to experience God. I think Protestantism, including we Baptists, have lost the deep insight of the voids of faith that are clearly explored in the writings of some of the great Catholic leaders of prayer like John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius, Benedict, the desert fathers etc.

These crisis of the soul are the invitation for pastors and mature Christians to care deeply. Many years ago I found reading the Starbridge series of novels by Susan Howatch (https://www.goodreads.com/series/75351-starbridge ) helped me to see these opportunities to come along side someone.  [Small side note these are novels with spiritual hero’s at the centre of them and it is only as you read the whole series that you realize there are in fact no spiritual hero’s only broken people dependent on a loving and deeply powerful God.

Five years on people’s trajectories away from God (and or church) or towards God (and church) are typically simply further down the path and direction they were headed five years earlier.  That is they keep moving down the same direction they were pointed to when they left the church. Without a wise Christian mentor or a solid commitment to a group of Christians who engage with faith questions and practices very very few people change their path of increasing disengagement with God and people of faith after leaving the church.

 

6. Can you say a brief word about how your background in the military and as a sociologist have informed your pastoral leadership?

Both the military and the mileu of academic sociologists are very secular. Bbing used to both the culture and academic underpinnings of secularization and secular mindsets may have been formative for me. What I have also found helpful is the military wisdom of ‘lingering with intent’. Which means to be their for people when people want to talk or need you, winning their respect because through skill and care and then building relationships.

 

7. Do you have any thoughts about the unique value of the Baptist voice in engaging a culture that increasingly ignores the church but is all-in for spiritual searching?

Baptists are inherently covenant people. People of deep conviction and commitment to God and each other. We believe in the body of Christ in the community of the church. We, at least historically, made deep commitments to this body of believers. If we can mine those deep covenant commitments to build Christ centred community together where we live and with those who live around us then I see hope. But if we become increasingly more and more an institutional model of church our fragility will also increase.

Baptists are also prophetic people who showed and lived an alternative community. Maybe there is much we can learn from our history that could help us shape our future. Maybe deep commitments to community that are lived out in relationships marked by promise-making, truth-telling, costly sharing, regular hospitality and life-together are the way ahead. Maybe some communities of Baptists will learn from the past and be living alternative communities of Christ in our own context. Then we’d be prophetic again!