Tuesday, February 03, 2015

ode to georgetown

It is thirty years ago this month (February 1985) since I started as a pastor - at Georgetown Baptist Church in Invercargill, on the south coast of the South Island in New Zealand.

Ten years ago this church closed its doors (although another church still uses the facilities). I was overwhelmed by an uncommon grief. I wrote a little article to work out that grief - Ode to Georgetown. As a mark of my gratitude for all that this church taught me and for the generous way in which they shaped me, I post it again here...

I have no electronic photos with me in India from this era of our lives
- but here is a photo of the Georgetown church which I found on the internet.

[written in 2005] 
The grief clung to me for weeks. It was not a family member who had died. Nor was it a friend. On this occasion it was a church. Georgetown (Invercargill) - the only church I ever pastored, back in the 1980s - was closing its doors. But not before opening my life in so many ways…

Like connecting the pastoral to the parental. Being a pastor is ‘like a mother … (and) as a father’ (I Thess 2). I learned that the love at work in both is the same brand. I was taught that if my people are convinced that I love them, virtually no weakness in me will seem too great; however, if there is even a hint of doubt about my love for them, then no strength in me will seem to be enough. I will never quite make it in their eyes. Georgetown showed me that this is true. Today it is too easy to fast forward to leadership too soon, rather than pressing play and slowly giving time for love to be proven.

Like breaking the grip of statistics. It is tough to have numbers look good when you are in a small church in a declining area. It is demoralising to go to pastors’ gatherings where the repeating default question is ‘how many do you get on a Sunday? ’ It is not that numbers aren’t important. The book of Acts demonstrates that they are. But they are not the full story, or even the bottom line. I never ever ask that question of a pastor now. Georgetown showed me that God can be doing a big work in a tiny turnout. To this day I delight in thumbing my nose at ‘but its not strategic’ and taking training to the nooks and crannies of this country. I find this surge of excitement as I realise what God can do among a handful of people. That is because I’d seen it happen at Georgetown.

Like pressing on with obedience through despair. No nostalgia could ever change the reality that Georgetown was hard work for me. God seemed so inactive. I remember those periods of despair when a stubborn obedience to the call of God was the only thing I had to offer. I kept preaching the Word as best I could. Georgetown showed me that God can still create something out of nothing in me by his Word. Like hope and restoration. Like life into those dry bones. Every first-time pastor should experience this. It sets them up for life. I remember five minutes in Habakkuk that were miraculous. God is always active. When he seems to be doing his least through me, he is doing his most in me.

Like starting with what you are and what you have. We had one person in the church between 13 and 25. The parents of this age group were scarce as well. That is a lot of absenteeism when it comes to energy and wisdom. Welcome to the challenge of pastoral leadership in the provinces! And this was happening in a denomination where my impression was that if you didn’t have a youth group, you weren’t a proper church. I battled with this guilt and shame for months. Georgetown showed me that the call of God starts with what is in front of you on a Sunday morning. And so the children and the elderly received a lot of attention and gradually the other gaps filled in.

Like confirming the value of systematic biblical preaching. Book after book. Series after series. Feeding the people I loved. It was decidedly unspectacular stuff, but I stuck at it. Georgetown showed me that the local church has its best opportunity to be effective in the missional drama on its stage when the backdrop to that stage is filled with systematic and sustained preaching through the Bible. Few people may make the links, but the links are there. We saw harmony and maturity and growth quietly overtake us as we sat together under God’s word each week.

Like believing multiplication to be more strategic than addition. Leadership development was the priority. Taking 75% of the church through Ian Malins’ Discipleship course was the spark. Suddenly we were awash with leaders. Adding all kinds of initiatives became possible. But God had other ideas. Georgetown showed me that releasing your best for the sake of the mission of the wider church is far more strategic. Multiplying resources for that cause is far smarter than adding resources to our own cause. A tithe of the membership went off into further training for mission and pastoral work. A tithe! Imagine if every local church contributed to the wider mission to this extent. This had always been Georgetown’s vocation and I do wonder now whether this contributed to its eventual closure. Georgetown may have died but the life it has breathed into God’s work elsewhere is remarkable. It was an honour to serve you for a season. Thank you for that privilege.

nice chatting

Paul

6 comments:

Jillian said...

What an encouragement for small community churches!! Thank you.

Paul Windsor said...

Thanks, Jillian. If that is what you overheard in the article, then I am pleased. Not sure whether you are in New Zealand, but here is a little piece that might encourage you and the 'small community church'...

http://paulwindsor.blogspot.co.nz/2011/05/epuni-and-stoke.html

best wishes

Paul

Jillian said...

I am just a member of a small NZ church and I very much appreciate your writings, finding blogs challenging, intersting, thought provoking, encouraging and stretching at times.
I do realize that Georgetown has closed its doors - the encouragement came from the bigger picture that you painted at the end, members heading elsewhere to contribute to God's wider work; the value you place on systematice Biblical teaching, believing that it is God who does the work of growing and maturing people; the willingness to see God at work in 'little' communities of believers.
Thank you for the link to Epuni and Stoke churches.

Nicola Steed said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nicola Steed said...

I made a comment and then rethought it! What a blessing that little church was to us..even in its smallness and what a blessing the older people were to us. It has always made me appreciate the elderly in the congregations I have been in since. Theirs is often a quiet wisdom.

Paul Windsor said...

Yes, Nicola - those were the days. I think we all learnt a lot about God, about others, and about ourselves. And valuing and loving the elderly among us was a lifelong lesson that we learned together.