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We’re All Called to Give (Issue 33)

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A wealthy businessman had just gone through a heart-wrenching divorce. Burnt out and broken, he went along to a church to try finding some solace. He was delighted when he was invited home for dinner – finally it looked like someone was going to take the time to listen to him. But he quickly discovered he’d only been invited around to hear a business proposal. He needed relationship; they just wanted his money!

When churches and ministries talk about giving, we’re often talking primarily about finances. But the fourth of our NZCMS ‘missional postures’ reminds us that giving involves far more than cash: “We’re all called to give of our time, effort, energy, money, resources and skills.”

Really, generosity is all about our heart attitude, not how many zeros are on the cheques we write. Some of the most generous people I’ve met have very little to contribute financially, but never cease giving in a host of other ways: welcoming strangers, being liberal with smiles, always being available to listen when someone needs it.

Since giving isn’t just about financial giving, this Intermission features articles that explore various dimensions of generosity: What does it mean to be generous with our time? How have cultural shifts influenced how different generations approach giving and generosity? What does it mean to give others value? And is receiving actually one of the most profound ways we can give? We hope this variety will help us see that giving includes what we do with our money, but is so much bigger than that!

A final reflection

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With my departure from the office imminent, I wanted to share a reflection I’ve been mulling over for a while now. I’ve been in this communications role for almost four years, and as I get ready to leave my role, this is a good chance to share some reflections on NZCMS and our future – especially as we approach our 125th anniversary as an organisation.

A while back I was representing NZCMS at a conference. During a worship time we were invited to ask God to speak about the group we represent. I wasn’t necessarily expecting to hear anything, so was a little surprised when a couple of Bible passages along with an image popped into my mind. As I’ve pondered this, I believe it captures an important element of where we are as a nationwide community.

Picture a small group of soldiers with their shields, chain-mail, helmets, swords. These soldiers have truly ‘fought the good fight.’ They’ve been in the battle so long that their armour is worn and tired and dull – it’s not going to last much longer. But unlike the rest of their set-up, their shields are glowing and bright. There’s something about who they are and how they’ve fought that, though everything else has aged as you’d expect, their shields have become almost supernaturally illuminated – rather than wearing out, they have become stronger.

Through this image I felt God was speaking of the loyal NZCMS family who have been committed to this community for decades. Many of you have fought the good fight and are nearing the end of your race (2 Timothy 4:7). This raises questions for both you and for the wider NZCMS family: what will the future of our community be like? Who will rise up and ‘take your place’? How will we be sustained into the future? For years we’ve been seeing decline across the church and fewer people are picking up the mantle of mission. If something doesn’t change, is there a future for mission in and from New Zealand (… and is there a future for NZCMS)?

At the end of the image I’m describing I felt God ask, “How can you hand on your ‘faith’”? In Ephesians 6:16 Paul describes the shield of faith/faithfulness, one of the key pieces of the Christian’s ‘spiritual armour.’ The question to you is, what would it mean to hand over this ‘shield’ to the next generations? Are there things you can do so that your years of faithfulness and faith will be, in a sense, passed on to those stepping into your place in the battle?

These questions make me think of my friend Stewart Entwistle who passed away earlier this year. He dedicated the final years of his life to various research and writing projects, ensuring stories of faithfulness in mission endured. Now that he’s joined the great “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) he’s no doubt cheering us on, knowing that he did what he could to make sure this ‘shield’ was passed on. Let’s all do likewise!

Praying for the Hindu World

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With our current focus on prayer, we thought we’d remind you about the upcoming Hindu World prayer focus.

This year, the 15 days between October 8 – 22 is set aside to learn about and pray for our world’s over one billion Hindu neighbours. That time period also encompasses the significant Hindu Festival of Light (Diwali). A new annual Hindu World Prayer Guide is being produced to help Christians know how to pray for the people(s) growing up within this major and very diverse world religion.

Copies of the booklet can be ordered by emailing pray4hindus@missions.org.nz or you can print and send in this flyer.

Copies cost $8 a copy, with discounts for multiple copies.

For more information visit www.pray15days.org

We’re all called to Pray (Issue 32)

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In the latest Intermission we’re looking at the link between mission and prayer. Below you’ll find the introduction – we’ll post the articles from the magazine over the next few weeks. To receive the Intermission in the post fill in this form or email office@nzcms.org.nz

A group of us on a mission school, frustrated at our own apathy, committed to getting up at 6 in the mornings to spend two hours in prayer. It lasted one morning. And even then, most of us fell back asleep within ten minutes.

A problem with teachings on prayer is that they can amp up the pressure we’re already feeling. We all know that prayer is important, and many (many!) of us feel we’re failing in this department. Yet I’ve seen it time and time again: people make resolutions to grow in prayer… but they’re often so incredibly idealistic and unrealistic that they’re doomed to fail.

We’re not wanting to burden you with more pressure, but instead show that it really is possible to grow in prayer – personal time with God, prayer with others, prayer for others. So at the outset we want to make this clear: don’t set unrealistic goals for yourself, because when you don’t measure up you’ll likely give up. If you feel God’s inviting you to become a prayer warrior and pray for two hours every morning, start off with 5 minutes. Once you’ve mastered that, increase it to 7 minutes. God is far more gracious with us than we’re often willing to be. Incremental steps in the right direction are far better than giant leaps that last one morning!

To help us all grow in this area, this Intermission explores prayer as it relates to mission from a variety of angles: How prayer can lead to discovering our calling in God. How prayer and mission fit together. How prayer relates to being a family-on-mission. How prayer is different through stages of life. We hope this inspires you as you pursue God in prayer.

15 days of prayer for the Hindu world

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Over the past several decades, a movement of Christian pray-ers focused on the Muslim world has grown significantly. Especially during Ramadan, Christians around the world pray that God will move among Muslims, who make up about 24% of the world’s population. However Hindus, who make up 15% of the world, simply don’t receive the same level of attention, despite the fact that Hindus are often quite receptive to Jesus and the Gospel!

This year, the 15 days between October 8 – 22 is set aside to learn about and pray for our world’s over one billion Hindu neighbours. That time period also encompasses the significant Hindu Festival of Light (Diwali). A new annual Hindu World Prayer Guide is being produced to help Christians know how to pray for the people(s) growing up within this major and very diverse world religion.

Please pray that there will be a growing enthusiasm for prayer for the Hindu world! Also pray for this new Prayer Guide initiative: there is a need for further funding and promotion in order for this to take off.

For more information visit www.pray15days.org

Death by a comma (Issue 31)

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Let’s eat Grandma. 

Let’s eat, Grandma.

One comma can be the difference between a polite invitation and a threat of cannibalism. Punctuation saves lives. 

The comma that almost killed the church

In ancient Greek, punctuation basically didn’t exist. In fact, it typically consisted of a non-stop series OFCAPITALLETTERS. For the most part we’ve had no trouble working out what punctuation should be there, but sometimes we got it wrong.

Here’s the old King James version of Ephesians 4:11-12. “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” 

Notice all the commas! Let’s pause to remember: there are none in the Greek! 

New translations have rejected one comma, and as a result we get this: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (NIV).

In the first version, you have three clauses side by side – the professionals are to 1) perfect the saints, 2) do the ministry, and 3) edify the body of Christ. The second version is remarkably different just because of one comma. Verse 12 is no longer about what the professionals do, but the goal of their efforts:  to equip God’s people for works of service, and in that way the body of Christ is built up.

I’m not being pedantic here! This one comma took ministry away from the ordinary people like you and me and put it in the hands of professional Christians – ‘ministers’ were to do the work of the church while the rest of us were pretty much just spectators. That’s very different to seeing the minister’s role as equipping others to minister. It’s a huge paradigm shift, and one that I’m afraid we’ve still not fully shifted into!

Here’s my definition of ministry: it’s about equipping others to minister! If as a church leader you’re spending all you time ministering to people rather than empowering them to minister, then something’s off. And if you’re not a professional Christian, then you’re God’s primary work force! Our Christian gatherings aren’t supposed to be the focus of our faith – they’re meant to prepare and equip us for living for God in all of life. The real work of ministry is what happens Monday to Sunday through the whole people of God. Our homes are to be ministry centres. Our families are our ministry teams. Our workplaces and neighbourhoods are where God provides ministry opportunities. In a very real sense, the whole world is our parish! 

What about the ‘professionals’ anyway?

Let’s now read the passage again in the NCV (not correct version): “Christ gave the paid church leaders to equip God’s people…” That’s precisely not what the passage states, yet it seems to be how we live it out. Our churches almost always operate under a model where one (or a few) top leaders are paid to do pastoral and teaching work. But let’s actually read the passage: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people…”

Apostles. Prophets. Evangelists. Pastors. Teachers. That’s five functions, not one (and nowhere does it hint that we’re talking about paid senior leaders). It seems my two year old can count better than the average church! For the people of God to mature in Christ (v13) we need all five working together to equip the church.

I don’t actually think the passage is saying that everyone is one of these gifts – the point’s that all are needed for the sake of all God’s people. But let’s pretend for a moment that each of us is gifted to offer one of these functions within the church. And let’s suppose that the functions are divided evenly – so that 20% of us are apostolically gifted, 20% are prophetic and so on. I think this gets to the heart of a problem I see in the church: even when we accept that we’re all called to participate in mission, we think it has to look a particular way. We see the whole of mission through the lens of particular giftings and callings and feel like that’s how it should be for us all. 

Are we all self-starters?

Let’s consider two examples. The reality is, we’re not all self-starters. That’s a special gifting that some of us have, which means it’s something many of us don’t have. Some people call this ‘apostolic’ – like the first apostles, these are people gifted by God to start new projects and ministries and movements. But at most, one out of five are apostolically gifted! That leaves at least four fifths of us who are likely not natural self-starters. Yet when we hear we’re all called to participate in God’s mission, we can feel like we’re supposed to get something started – whether something big or small. 

If you’re not apostolic, then maybe God’s not calling you to start something from scratch. Instead maybe you can partner with someone who is apostolic, using your gifts to overcome some of their shortcomings. Or maybe there’s a group or club or organisation in your neighbourhood that already exists which you could join to be salt and light – a school board, tennis club, advocacy group. Many of us struggle to be missionally engaged if we have to initiate it, but if we plug into what others are doing, there’s plenty opportunities to seize.

The same can be said about evangelism. Sermons on evangelism often claim we’re all evangelists, but I don’t think the New Testament shares the sentiment. Ephesians 4 suggests those who actually are evangelists are to partner with the rest of us so that together a clear proclamation of faith is heard. We’re all to have an evangelistic perspective, looking for natural opportunities to share, but only some of us are gifted to constantly create opportunities to proclaim the faith (look at the distinction between Paul and the church in Colossians 4:2-6).

Called as a community

A key take-away from Ephesians 4 is that God has called us as a community. Mission doesn’t really work when we go at it alone – and it’s not supposed to! When churches do take local mission seriously, we can be given the impression that we’re at it alone: “Be a missionary wherever God has you, whether in your neighbourhood, your workplace, your friendships.” We’re sent out as individuals, not a community, and as a result these sermons can actually become disempowering – they put on us a pressure to perform despite feeling unable and unequipped to do it.

Contrast that to the vision of the church in Ephesians 4, where a variety of leaders gifted in various ways are investing their energy to equip all of us to participate in God’s diverse mission: the apostolically gifted getting things started that we can join, prophetic people teaching us to hear and respond to God’s voice, evangelists teaching us to see the opportunities for sharing the Gospel and how to go about it, pastoral folk who nurture and care and encourage us to never give up, teachers grounding us in a solid understanding of the faith. It’s as a community, where all God’s gifts are flourishing, that we’re all called to participate.

For discussion

Have you felt equipped and empowered for everyday mission and ministry? Why or why not? What would a step towards equipping look like for you?

If you’re in any position of leadership, how can you better invest in equipping others for the work of ministry?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission

We’re all called to Participate (Issue 31)

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In the latest Intermission we’re looking at ways that each of us can get involved in mission, whoever or wherever we are. Here’s the introduction – we’ll post the articles from the magazine over the next few weeks. To receive the Intermission in the post email office@nzcms.org.nz

Maybe you feel like the frog above. He’s a hard worker who’s good with his hands, loves his family, cleans up after his dog on walks, and is an all-round great guy. But for one reason or another, he doesn’t think mission is for him. He knows of the super-stars who have exciting callings to serve God in exotic places or to serve the church as a pastor or priest, but he’s just a ‘normal Christian.’ And he’s content with that.

But he shouldn’t be content, because God isn’t! There’s no classism in God’s Kingdom – each and every one of us is called to participate in mission. God welcomes us all into the playground of his world and has something unique and essential for everyone to contribute. But participation is different for each one of us.

It’s easy to get trapped into thinking that participating in mission looks a particular way. And if we don’t fit our own image of mission, we assume there’s no place for us. You might see mission as going overseas, or constantly preaching the Gospel to friends, or standing up for the oppressed, or spending every evening at a soup kitchen. We need a new paradigm of mission that’s wide enough for us all – with our unique talents, passions and perspectives.

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Short-term Mission – further reading

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As a follow up to our issue of Intermission about ‘short-term mission’ here’s some useful online articles that capture some of the pitfalls of short-term mission and ‘voluntourism.’

A Cautionary Tale. A brilliantly funny short video from the Helping Without Hurting training mentioned at the end of this Intermission. 

The Voluntourism Paradox. How your visit to orphanages could be traumatising children, breaking up families and fuelling human trafficking. 

Western do-gooders need to resist the allure of ‘exotic problems.’ A deeper look at the problems addressed in Noah’s article. 

The Good Missionary. A look at short-term mission trips through the eyes of an African orphan. 

Stop Calling it a Short-Term Missions Trip. Why the phrase ‘short-term mission trip’ is unhelpful, and some better alternatives. 

When Short Term Missions is Actually Christian Tourism. Our saviour complex is challenged when we realise they might not need us. 

Why You Should Consider Canceling Your Short-Term Mission Trips. How our going and giving can actually hurt those we’re going to. 

 

Prayer during Ramadan

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The 30 Days of Prayer for the Muslim World is a prayer focus which coincides yearly with Ramadan (27 May – 25 June), an important month of fasting and religious observance for Muslims. Christians worldwide are called upon to make an intentional but respectful effort during that period to learn about, pray for and reach out to Muslim neighbours.

While Media sound bites about Islamic extremism can too easily incite anger, fear and even hatred towards Muslims, we seek to resist this temptation to generalise, and instead, resolve to respond and pray with the mind and heart of Christ.

Join the millions of Christians around the world who regularly participate in this largest ongoing international prayer focus on the Muslim world. A new full-colour prayer guide booklet—available in both adult and kids versions—is produced each year, and is a proven tool helping Christians to understand and to persistently pray for Muslim neighbours and nations.

Find out more and order copies of the prayer booklet at marn.org.nz

Today’s Humanitarian Crisis

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The worst humanitarian crisis the world has seen in decades is happening as we speak, yet amazingly it’s not being talked about. The United Nations warns that the world is facing its worst crisis since the end of World War II, with more than 20 million people on the brink of starvation and famine in four countries.

On Friday the UN’s humanitarian coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, called for an urgent mobilisation of funds to “avert a catastrophe” in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

“Otherwise, many people will predictably die from hunger, livelihoods will be lost and political gains that have been hardwon over the last few years will be reversed,” O’Brien said in his warning to the UN Security Council.

“Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease. Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost.”

“We stand at a critical point in our history,” he said. “Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death.”

“All four countries have one thing in common. Conflict,” he said. “This means that we, you, have the possibility to prevent and end further misery and suffering… It is all preventable. It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines — to avert these looming human catastrophes.”

He called war-wracked Yemen “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world,” with two-thirds of the population, or 18.8 million people in need of assistance and more than seven million with no regular access to food.

With a situation as horrific as this it is hard to know how to respond – which makes this a great time for prayer! We encourage you to learn more about the crisis in these four nations in order to make your prayers informed.

For more about this crisis please click here.