Here are some reflections on the 5th New Zealand Christian Leaders' Congress held last week in Waikanae. I had mixed feelings, with question marks living alongside exclamation marks.
4 Exclamation Marks:
1. We have some remarkable leaders in New Zealand! Kim Workman, soon to retire as Director of Prison Fellowship (NZ), is one of my favourites. I find his story, his words, and his manner to be compelling. He facilitated a Crime & Punishment focus with issues of retributive vs restorative justice being debated. One provocative statistic? Did you know that the apprehension rate (by the police) of Maori in Nelson and Canterbury is 50% higher than anywher else? And Kim's wry comment? "Maori in these regions must be 50% more evil than in Hamilton or Rotorua ... Given the 80+% rate for re-offending what we are doing in these regions is creating criminals."
If I could wave a wand it would be to have the Christian community reclaim forgiveness to be at the heart of transformation and bring it to bear in this gaping wound in our society.
2. Another couple of favourites are Sam Chapman and Murray Robertson. Murray spoke from the Nazareth Manifesto in Luke 4 and noted how 'disturbing' Jesus' listeners found his message (Luke 4:28, 29). Our message is too personal, too boring, too comfortable to be disturbing today. Then Sam retells the 60 Minutes story of the Notorius Mongrel Mob leader to whom he offered not "a hand-out, or a hand-up - but just a hand"(available on the www.visionnetwork.org.nz site). Not exactly boring or comfortable - and quite disturbing for many of us.
If I could wave a wand it would be to have the Christian community sit under the Word of God more faithfully and more fully so that we hear how it stings (as well as sings) and wounds (as well as heals) ... disturbing the comfortable (as well as comforting the disturbed).
3. A book was published alongside the Congress. A mammoth task! Edited by Bruce Patrick and others. I tried to skim-read the book during the Congress and thought I'd mark up the Table of Contents page, placing an asterix next to those chapters I thought were worthwhile. I have a lot of asterixes! The editors and writers are to be commended.
If I could wave a wand I'd get that book into the hands of leaders up and down the country and have them absorb even just 2-3 chapters of relevance - and let it reshape the way they think and live for Jesus.
4. When it comes to facilitating musical worship, David Lyle Morris is simply the best (if I may be permitted to express it like this). He has sensitivity, maturity, balance, grace, humility ...
If I could wave a wand I'd make personal coaching from David (as well as completing the One Step Ahead worship course developed by Stephen Worsley - see www.onestepaheadworship.com)compulsory for every 'worship team' in the country!
2 Question Marks
1. Why do we give so much time and space to Christian political parties? A bunch of representatives from these parties were interviewed one evening. They were asked "what will you do to prevent the Christian community being embarassed by you?" Good question - partly because there was plenty of cringe and embarassment going on in front of us. One likened his 'mistreatment' by the media to the sufferings of Christ ... another took the opportunity to hand out a party promotions folder during the event ... then there were some soap-box speeches ... not to mention them dredging up that dreadful day last year when two of them botched a merger in front of the nation - in order to have another go at apportioning blame.
If I could wave a wand I'd rid the political landscape of these Christian parties. I just can't see what they contribute. I don't resonate with their hunger for political clout as the hope for transformation. I'd rather commend those Jesus-followers who know God's call into public life and carry this out through diverse political parties.
2. How did this event move from being a specifically evangelical gathering to being a merely Christian one? The purpose has broadened out. The desire is to have as wide as possible a representation of Christian leaders present. The goal is 'flowing together in unity'. While this is praiseworthy I remain unconvinced about how much such a movement can achieve. Even John 17 places 'that they may be one' in the context of shared truth and holiness and mission around which an authentic unity gathers. If the truth that is shared spreads too thinly then what unites us will lack strong adhesive qualities ... and missional outcomes will suffer. I sense this danger is before us.
If I could wave a wand I would target the event for leaders who easily own a spacious evangelical confessional stance like The Lausanne Covenant with their most articulate theologians and practitioners being the ones who spark the debates. For whatever reason, too many of these people were sitting and listening.
In reality I have no wands to wave. It is probably just as well. I will keep working and praying toward these ends in the meantime.