oh, to wave a wand

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.

nice chatting



A. J. Chesswas said…
Interesting comments Paul. I don't like the idea of Christian parties either, but I thought the question asked of them was a bit unfair and unrealistic.

Any chance that book will be available online as a pdf or word document?
Andrew Butcher said…
Thanks for these reflections Paul. I wasn't there, but I knew a number of people who were and have had "reports back". I would have a question mark too: where were the Asian and other ethnic communities? Let's have a discussion about the impact of New Zealand's changing population on our local church before we have one about political parties.
Paul said…
AJ - I am not sure about how the book will be distributed, but the bibliographic details which I have are:

Bruce Patrick (ed) NEW VISION NEW ZEALAND VOLUME III (Auckland: Tabernacle Books, 2008)

And Andrew - your question could easily be added to mine. I am sure it is one on the minds of the organisers ... and not that easy to solve.
Mark Maffey said…
Whether "waving a wand" is a good phrase in the context of discussion is a moot point in our "PC" world. I understand the "if I could change the church" feelings that are behind what you are saying.
The quest for authenticity and a community of believers that not only understand but live the principles of Lausanne is something that more than a few desire. Without a vision for authencity underpinned by repentance, forgiveness and a biblically literate Christian community I think will Murray Robertson that the Church will struggle over the next ten years.

As much as we can postulate about what issues beset us I sense that we need to grow into an understanding of what it is to "meditate upon the law day and night, and to not deviate from the left or right" (Joshua 1, Psalm 1, Psalm 27) and not only hear the word, but then DO what God is calling us to do,even if like Joshua we need to be able to stand and deliver on ALL that he was told to do, even if in the process we are unpopular and take no prisoners.
Mark Maffey said…
Just to amend my comment rather than:

Without a vision for authencity underpinned by repentance, forgiveness and a biblically literate Christian community I think will Murray Robertson that the Church will struggle over the next ten years.

I think will Murray Robertson that the Church will struggle over the next ten years.

It should read: Without a vision for authencity underpinned by repentance, forgiveness and a biblically literate Christian community I agree with Murray Robertson in his view that the Church will struggle over the next ten years.
Glyn said…
1. The book can be purchased from the www.vision.org.nz website.
2. re: Ethnic leaders - At the conclusion of the 2005 Congress, the lack of representatives from other ethnic groups was mentioned. It was commented in reply that these leaders exist within denominations whose senior leaders were at Congress, and that the solution to this problem rests to a large extent in their hands. We will continue to try to do better in this regard in future.
3. re: Is Congress for evangelical leaders or Christian leaders? Congress is a 3-yearly event directed by Vision Network which is the NZ member of the World Evangelical Alliance. The pattern of inviting non-evangelicals was set before my time by those who ran Congress in the '90s. This matter will be discussed further by Vision Network's (evangelical) leaders over the next couple of months.

Glyn Carpenter
Paul said…
Thanks, Glyn - some helpful clarifications for us.

Are you able to enlighten us further on why you think Christian political parties receive such an emphasis - particularly in light of the fact that they barely register with voters and seem prone to do and say things which embarass the wider body of Christ? Is it just media mis-reporting? And is this the sort of formal power which followers of Jesus should seek in order to exert influence on society? These are honest and lingering questions for me...

For example, take a couple of quotes from Philip Jenkins' book The Next Christendom (which I have been rereading this week - page numbers are 2002 edition):

Speaking of American Christianity:
"I personally believe that religion flourishes best when it is kept farthest away from any form of government intervention, even the best-intentioned." (103)

From the final lines of the book:
"Christianity is never as weak as it appears, nor as strong as it appears ... (and it) demonstrates a breathtaking ability to transform weakness into strength." (220)

While neither of these quotes is directly about Christian political parties they provoke me to think about them in a different light.

Look forward to catching up with you later today (as it turns out!)
Mark Maffey said…
I agree witH you Paul in that distancing Christianity from politics we are better off. It seems to me the louder the "Christian" label is waved, the harder the downfall aka "Spitzer". That doesn't mean that we shouldn't be actively lobbying and I think Family First and Maxim have their place in the New Zealand political landscape.

It is however o so easy for "Christianity" to be labelled by what people see "Destiny's black t-shirted march on parliament" being an example of the media providing NZ with a view which could associate all Christians as being like Destiny Church.

It is easy for Christians to be portrayed as naive,right wing,and out of touch, and I think that the Church and church bodies need to be much more educated in their engagement with the Media. Often sound bites can easily distort the true meaning of the message being portrayed. As Easter approaches it will be interesting to see how churches are portrayed by the Media,will they be seen as irrelevant and the focus be on the Easter Bunny?

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