Publications

When Prayer Meets Calling (Issue 32)

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By Steve Maina (NZCMS National Director)

I remember it clearly. Floating above the earth, glancing down at the world, wondering where I’d land. When my feet finally rested in Saudi Arabia, I was a little caught off guard.

No, I’m not an astronaut, and no, NASA hasn’t invested in a base in the Middle East. Let me explain. During my university years, I was part of the Christian union group. We felt God calling us to invest in prayer for the world, so we developed a unique model to make it work for us.

Every so often we’d roll out a giant map of the world and spread it across the floor. This thing was massive, easily filling the average Kiwi living room. The line from Psalm 2, “Ask of me and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,” inspired us to pray for God’s Kingdom to come to the nations as we literally stepped on different nations on the map.

Because of the busy uni schedule, many of us would start gathering as early as 5am, and since sleep might be unnecessary distraction at that hour, it only made sense to walk about while praying. We’d walk across the map without looking down, praying for God to be at work in his world. It wasn’t until you felt the Spirit’s nudge to stop walking that we’d look down to see where in the world we were stepping, and at that point we were encouraged to spend 10 minutes interceding for that specific country. We had Patrick Johnstone’s Operation World as a resource if we needed more info on how to pray for specific countries, but often we’d find God give us the words – and the heart – to pray for places we previously had no connection to. In prayer, God shared with us a glimpse of his heart for the nations! 

I remember the morning I landed on Saudi Arabia, the heartland of the Middle East. I didn’t just pray for those 10 minutes and move on, but felt God lead me time and again to pray for this country for a number of years. In fact, over this time I felt a growing sense the Lord was calling me there as a cross-cultural worker one day. But I didn’t know at the time how to take the next step. With a growing heart for the Middle East, after university I stumbled upon a dream job with an organisation that was seeking to disciple followers of Isa in this region of the world. I studied the Koran and helped run a discipleship correspondence course for several thousand inquirers and young Christians from Muslim backgrounds. That involved writing many thousands of letters – by hand! – for the next year and a half.

I’ve still never been to Saudi Arabia and I don’t know if there’s ‘unfinished business’ for me there, but I do know that this ‘mapping prayer’ helped ignite in me a global mission vision that has shaped my vocation as a Mission Mobiliser and eventually led to me being based here in New Zealand. With so many Saudis in this country, perhaps there’s now an opportunity to step further into that original sense of calling right here on my Kiwi doorstep. 

Prayer enables us to align our priorities with God’s and to subject our will to his. I believe prayer is vital in helping us identify the places God is calling us to be involved. There are things God has stored up for you that will only be discovered as you pray! I find many young Christians desiring a sense of calling and purpose in the world, but often that will only come about when they first turn their eyes off themselves and towards God and his world. 

In that moment of prayer I didn’t just intercede for a country I knew nothing about. It was a true kairos moment where God invited me to enter in and started me on a journey of discovering my purpose in his world! The question is: What might he be inviting you into?

For discussion

Like Steve’s prayer map example, what sort of things could your group do together to make prayer more engaging?

Have you ever felt God inviting you into something new during prayer? Have you actually pursued it? Is God inviting you into something new?

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.

Learning to Pray (Issue 32)

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By a friend serving in the Middle East

As I write I hear the familiar voice of our local ‘spinach lady’ in animated conversation on the street outside. Hearing her prompts me to ask God to have mercy on her and let her come to know him.

Earlier today I sat with a new neighbour for an hour and heard her tragic story. She’s not a believer but I prayed that God would speak to her heart as I shared about a current dilemma I’m facing and how God was helping me through it. As I left I told her I’d be praying for her.

Yesterday I met with two friends and we spent time praying for each other’s needs. One woman wept silently as we brought her needs before the throne of grace.

At church on Sunday the preacher asked, “Should we pray for Daesh?” Following a general murmured consensus one man said, “With God all things are possible.” Some of those sitting there were refugees whose lives had literally been turned upside-down by Daesh. I prayed that God would help them to forgive, and yes, to pray for their enemies.

Last weekend we attended a wedding. It was a lovely wedding held in a Catholic church and as the priest spoke his message to the happy couple I prayed that the truth of his words would penetrate hearts and minds despite the distractions of flashing camera lights, glamorous gowns, and adorable bridesmaids and pageboys.

Flossing, Eating, Breathing

Why pray? Prayer opens the way for God’s power to work. How sad is it when we so often go through our days forgetting the awesome privilege we have as believers in a God who hears and answers prayer. That’s why at different times in my life I’ve used prompts to remind me to pray throughout the day – maybe hearing a phone ring, or going into a particular room, or walking up and down stairs. Lord, help us to pray.

Maybe for some of us prayer is a bit like flossing – undoubtedly beneficial but easily postponed till the next day if time is pressing. For others prayer may be like a good meal – a nourishing and anticipated part of our daily routine. For yet others prayer is like breathing – the frequent expression of a deep and abiding, though not always conscious, dependence on God.

During my years of serving overseas I’ve experienced prayer in all of these ways. Yet I confess that sometimes my prayer life has not been what I wished it to be. It’s opportunity that’s now lost. Prayer is the heart of our relationship with God. It’s the life-line that holds us to our Lord and is an essential element in our service for him.

I’ve always been captivated by the thought expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” The amazing treasure that each of us ‘clay pots’ carry is the Gospel, the power of God for salvation and transformation through Jesus Christ. Part of the secret of the clay pot is its porous nature which allows it to absorb water and remain saturated with it. This enables it to keep the liquid it holds refreshingly cool. The pot becomes permeated by what it contains. As we spend time in the Word and in the presence of the Lord in prayer and worship, our lives become permeated by his life. The more permeated our lives are with him, the more we will overflow with his love and goodness. This is surely the prayer of our hearts – more of him, less of me.

Praying for Missionaries

Maybe you’re wondering how to pray effectively for missionaries when you don’t have a real feel for their situations and don’t know what their specific needs are. Rather than just asking for general blessings – which is certainly not a bad thing to pray – perhaps you could begin by praying for their prayer-lives to be enriched. Pray that they will be deeply rooted in God’s Word and for their lives to be permeated with the life of Christ.

We don’t usually need to be reminded that we’re clay pots as we’re often all too aware of it, but pray that they will remember that they are carrying a treasure. Pray that they will have opportunities to share that treasure with those around them. And pray that whatever difficulties or battles they are facing, they will be reminded of the power of God to hold them and his strength to sustain them, and that they will be given new hope in believing.

Of course, there are many more things you could pray. The Apostle Paul has some wonderful prayers in his epistles for example. The most important thing is to simply pray, and as you do, be assured that prayer opens the way for God’s power to work. There have certainly been times when I’ve known we were being prayed for and have literally felt buoyed up by the prayers of the saints! Workers who have people committed to faithfully praying for them are truly blessed.

This article has offered insights into how invaluable and essential prayer is for mission. NZCMS produces resources to guide you in praying for our Mission Partners around the world. To sign up for our monthly Prayer Fuel pamphlet or to receive our email newsletter Interchange, please contact the NZCMS office (office@nzcms.org.nz).

For discussion

In your life, how have you experienced prayer as flossing, eating and breathing? Are you in a season of flossing, eating or breathing at the moment?

What can you and your group do to grow in your prayer support for Mission Partners around the world?

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.

Reacquainting our knees with the carpet (Issue 32)

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By Katie (Serving in Spain with NZCMS)

“I pray but I could always pray more.” I hear myself say that time and time again. But why should I? Why are we ‘all called to pray’? Living in Spain in the midst of a different culture and language has taught me a lot about the importance of prayer for my relationship with God and for mission. As we pray we express our dependency on God – not only for own lives but also if we’re to see any change happen in the lives of others.

Learning to be dependent

They say people respond in various ways during the process of cultural transition. When I started off here in Spain, with only about five words of Spanish under my belt, my initial response was plenty of frustration. I battled away with trying to express myself and simply understand what was going on around me, and for a while I became pretty dependent on other people. I felt more like a pre-schooler than a ‘sorted-out’ mature adult.

This is how God wants us before him. He wants us to be dependent like children so that we cry out and, like the writers of the psalms, pour out our hearts to him. In those first few months I spent a lot of time talking to God as I knelt next to my bed, went for long walks around the city and wrote words to him in my prayer journal.

The process of cultural transition called me to pray and helped me see how much I depend on God – in my weakness but also when I might feel strong. As Christians we’re called to pray because we’re dependent on God, and because of his love for us in Christ he desires to listen to us.

I’m loving working alongside a Spanish church that has a heart to see people discover who God is in the Bible. However, the non-believers I meet are on the whole reluctant to ask questions or engage in any conversation about God. I think it’s about the same in New Zealand as well. Wherever we are in the world, a lack of spiritual curiosity makes mission at times feel discouraging. As a response, prayer has been where my team has been turning because as Christians we depend on God to be at work in the lives of others.

Learning to be intentional

Intentionality and sometimes a bit of planning can be helpful to motivate us to pray. I’ll share a few of the ways we’ve been learning to pray for the city and its people.

Having fellow Christians to push you on in prayer is really helpful and incredibly encouraging. Every Thursday morning I meet with a couple of other women and together we walk around a specific suburb praying for the people, businesses, schools, community centres. Pretty much anything we see can be prayed for! We also pray for churches and church leaders, for local and national governments, as well as for some of the common obstacles to the Gospel.

I enjoy praying through passages of the Bible as well. I find that using God’s word to form my prayers helps me pray specifically. Once a month as we walk we use various Scripture verses printed onto sticky notes to shape our prayers. After we pray we stick that particular Scripture to a park bench, a lamppost or some other item of street furniture with the hope that someone may read about Jesus.

It doesn’t have to always be praying out and about. You can stick verses around the house and use them in your prayers as you lay eyes on them during the day. A dear friend of mine, a busy mum, uses the laundry as her place to pray. She has Scripture and prayer points on the walls and uses that space to pray fervently for God to be at work in our city and province. You can be as creative as you want!

God’s been teaching me that prayer is front-line work in mission and essential for seeing people become curious and want to discover more about him. My desire is to see people in Spain know true and lasting joy in Christ and so I’m called to pray to the one who alone can gift people this joy. Day to day we depend on God to change lives as well as to continue working in our own lives. And so, as Brooke Fraser sings, we’re all called to keep “reacquainting our knees with the carpet.”

For discussion

Have you felt that you are not measuring up to the standard of ‘praying enough’? Why do we often feel this ‘pressure to perform’?

What could you, as a group, do to spur each other on in prayer WITHOUT this pressure?

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.

The Moment I realized I couldn’t be a Monk (Issue 32)

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By Rev Joshua Taylor (Vicar at St John’s in Timaru)

Just over four years ago my life took a dramatic turn. My wife Jo and I entered the unknown territory of parenthood. We now have two lovely girls, Phoebe (4) and Esther (1).

I think it would be fair to say that I underestimated the impact having kids would have on my prayer life. It’s not like I was undertaking great vigils of prayer or had an amazing set of disciplined rhythms in the first place. Yet when we had kids, any rhythms that I did have in place took the backseat in the hustle and bustle of family life. I’ve heard all the romantic claptrap about wonderful times of prayerful cuddles and encountering God in the midst of changing nappies, but frankly it just seemed more like sleepless nights and a juggling act just to keep the balance of life at home and work.

I remember a friend of mine with teenage children who had just left home saying to me that he finally felt as if he was reconnecting with the passion he had for his faith in his early adulthood. He admitted he hadn’t prayed much or engaged in any kind of mission while his kids were at home and he described parenthood as like ‘being on a treadmill.’ I did the math and thought, if we had 3 kids and they left home at 18 (unlikely) with a couple of years between each, that would be around 22 years of my life on that treadmill. So, when I found myself staring down the barrel of nappies, kindy runs, teenage hormones and all of the responsibilities of parenting, I wondered if God really intended for us to get on the treadmill and largely ignore prayer and mission at home for two decades.

So I did my best to set up some personal rhythms of prayer, committing to taking time to read my Bible, spend time in silence, and morning and evening prayer. I treated prayer as a private exercise and added it to my long list of things to do on top of our busy home and work life.

As a Pastor this was simpler for me than most, since the flexibility of my working day gave me ample time to do this. A year down the track I realized I my family and I were more stressed and stretched than ever. What was my problem? I had somehow decided it was a good idea to compartmentalise my life and go on my own heroic journey of prayer. It doesn’t help that most of the so-called heroes of prayer seem to have been single and celibate. It should have been obvious, but living like a monk isn’t feasible when you have a family. Something had to change.

It Begins with Baby Steps

For the past two years, I’ve served as the Vicar at St John’s in Timaru. My family and I moved to Timaru from Christchurch and it meant a personal cost for all of us. We left family and friends behind to go out on a mission, Jo left her job teaching, and we left our support networks to venture out. This was the moment God chose to shake me out of my individualistic complacency. We had to do this together or we wouldn’t last.

First, it started with some honest conversations with Jo. How could we keep the fires of a vibrant prayer life burning in our household? What would it look like? What would it mean to do ministry together and involve our kids? We started talking over coffee together, then we committed to rhythms that we could sustain in our little household. To begin with we carved out space for evening prayer together once the kids were in bed and before we crashed. We introduced times of eating together and prayer with our family around the table, lighting a candle over dinner, saying grace and having meaningful conversation about our day. We introduced a rhythm of reading devotions with our kids before bed and we created space where each of us could take quiet time aside to read the Bible daily.

What we’ve discovered as we’ve done this is that God has drawn us closer together as a family through prayer. We have a growing sense of shared mission and ministry and have begun to invite other families with young children into our home to share our lives and work out how to cultivate a culture of shared prayer and ministry as families. Prayer together is helping form us as a family-on-mission and is creating an extended family of other parents and children on the journey!

Being a Mum or Dad is busy, having a young family is hectic. Too often we can separate our family life from our vocation to be disciples of Jesus. During this busy stage of life many of us might struggle just make it to church, let alone a Bible study or to volunteer our time for a ministry programme of some kind. We often feel guilty as a result. But what if instead we simply looked for the small opportunities to pray, play and do mission together in the complexities of everyday life as a family?

For discussion

What does prayer look like for you in this stage of life? How is it different to previous stages?

Do you relate to Joshua’s experience of seeing prayer as a private exercise?

Are there baby steps you can be taking to grow as a prayerful (extended) family-on-mission?

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.

Learning to Breathe (Issue 32)

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By Jeremy Harris (Grace Collective Auckland)

Prayer is a beautiful thing. When we pray we’re participating in Jesus’ relationship with the Father through the Holy Spirit. We enter the Triune dance between Father, Son and Spirit of God through Jesus who is our Great High Priest, sitting at the right hand of the Father and making a way for humanity to come back to a relationship with God.

There’s so much going on in a conversation with God that we don’t always have the capacity to acknowledge it all at once, but I want to remind us of two elements in this transcendent and yet very grounded practice at the heart of our faith. Spirituality and mission are intrinsically connected, and for today’s cold, anxious and groaning world, the slowness, silence and solitude of the contemplative spiritual practices of the monastics is good news.

Resting in a busy world

I’m an anxious person. The first thought I have as I wake up is worry. I’m not alone in this. There’s a well-known and often ignored trend of growing mental illness in New Zealand. Ever increasing demands – whether financial, work related or self-imposed – are getting to the fabric of our hearts and damaging our souls. We have leaders who spread suspicion towards the most vulnerable in our world and anxiety about what refugees might do if we let them in. Meanwhile thousands displaced by war, violence and climate change are desperately anxious for a place to stay and food that’s regular. Anxious war-lords hoard wealth and fight for power at the expense of their own people, and single parents working three-jobs worry about what will happen to their kids if they can’t keep living off adrenaline from one thing to the next. The world is oftentimes an anxious place.

When I wake up, I’m often cold now days too. I’m flatting in a kind of accidental community of friends in an old uninsulated villa in Central Auckland. But as with my anxiety, the cold is reflective of the world we live in. It’s a reminder of the experience of the homeless on Queen Street who are passed by and given the cold shoulder by the public. It’s a reminder of the empty seats on the bus next to each of us just so that we don’t have to talk to someone we don’t know. It’s a reminder of the concrete floors of garages that families inhabit, or the winter winds beginning to blow against vans of homeless families in South Auckland. It is reminiscent of the colder winters and conversely the hotter summers of climate change, and likewise the West’s ignorance of the rising sea on Pacific Islands.

And like most of you, when I wake up I’m groaning – particularly on Mondays. But unlike my superficial groan of “not todaaaay,” the earth we’re slowly eating away at is crying out from deep within its belly. Our fast paced, over-consumptive and unsustainable life-styles are slowly but surely causing the rocks to cry out how glorious God is… and how fallen we’ve become.

Our world is moving at a pace faster than ever before, the earth’s resources are being used quicker than it can sustain, and we’re drawing borders between ourselves more than ever – whether national borders, picket fences, gated communities or smart phones. The earth is crying out for a spirituality that warms it, that slows it, that gives it solace and rest. We’re in desperate need of rest for our souls. But even though the Creator of the universe took time away to pray when he took on flesh, we are continuing to live like we don’t need to.

But the gift of the monastic traditions is a spirituality that speaks missionally right to the heart of the human condition: it offers community, connection with God by the Spirit through Jesus and his Body, and provides a stillness and slowness that our ever-accelerating world craves like the groaning of the earth.

Learning to breathe

Mother Teresa said that breathing is to the body what prayer is to the soul. Bill McKibben, the author and climate activist, says that when he feels down, the only healing is action. They are both right. We need both spirituality and mission. It’s the ancient art of breathing. Monastic spirituality offers a vehicle for these two to come together.

Two days before any march, Martin Luther King Jr would gather with others to pray. When the Waihopai Three were on trial for getting in the way of government sanctioned violence, they made a camp in a Wellington park and prayed all night for their enemies and the victims of war. They were joined by street kids and security guards, who later returned without uniform to keep praying with the kids. Nuns have prayerfully broken into a nuclear weapons facility and literally beat weapons of war into ploughshares with hammers. John the Baptist retreated and ended up being followed by his community to receive baptism. And Jesus died on the cross crying the words of a Psalm, and through it saved the world.

Mission. Spirituality. They go hand in hand. And the world is crying out from deep within itself for a spirituality that spills out of church walls to offer healing.

Before I leave each morning I sit with a copy of the Book of Common Prayer and the Scriptures, and with a friend or by myself, I sit in silence and pray the Jesus Prayer. I follow the words of those gone before me, prayed around the world and throughout history. I’m sent out by God into the world to participate in his Missio Dei. My anxieties are more and more stilled by the Word of God, and my heart is strangely warmed by his presence.

The world is over-stimulated and over-entertained. We don’t need more parties to help us forget all that we have to do. We need more stillness in the presence of God, like those silent times looking into the eyes of a loved one, to find happiness and rest once again.

My prayer is that we rediscover the ancient art of breathing. Spirituality and mission are intrinsically connected, and for today’s cold, anxious, groaning world, the slowness, silence and solitude of the contemplative spiritual practices of the monastics is good news.

For discussion

How does the pace of today’s world affect you?

Have you typically been stronger when it comes to ‘breathing in’ (spirituality) or ‘breathing out’ (mission)? How might you create more of a balance between the two?

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.

Dreaming with God (Issue 31)

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One of the most encouraging trends I’ve witnessed in the global church is an exciting wave of creativity which is igniting new ways of being church and is bringing the flow of God’s regenerating life into communities and families, especially those that linger in the margins of culture and the shadow of abundance. In every field, whether technology or agriculture, finance or the arts, hospitality or science, the people of God are positioned at the creative edge of innovation.

And what really lights my pipe is the fact that these pioneers and missional entrepreneurs are most usually not the collared clerics nor the degreed theologians. Neither are they the ecclesial superstars that fill our pulpits, stages and bookstores. They’re ordinary people who simply believe God’s still active and that they are, each one of them, strategically positioned to make a difference in their world.

Will you take a bribe, minister?

Some years ago when I was a minister – before the missions bug bit me again and sent me on another pilgrimage – a very ordinary but lovely lady in our church invited a few neighbours to her home to learn some crafts, enjoy a cup of tea and have a short reflection from the Bible. Word spread and the group outgrew her living room, finding a new space in the church where I worked. In a few years the group had grown to 400 people learning 40 different crafts, filling the church building to capacity every Wednesday (even the cleaning closet was used) and creating a two year waiting list to join. I often had people on the streets recognise me as one of the ministers and ask me to bump their name higher on the list (and no, I didn’t take bribes). We added Thursday nights which I attended to give the 5 minute devotion called ‘Think Spot.’ The numbers only continued to climb. 

Even my mother signed up to learn the art of painting, which soon became her profession, enabling her to make enough money to occasionally visit us overseas. But even more encouraging, my mother was deeply impacted by one of the Think Spots when I asked a craft teacher to give her testimony of how she found God. Not all of the teachers were Christians, but she’d recently decided to follow Jesus so I asked her to speak out of the freshness of her life transformation. This was a significant moment in my mother’s life. “Now I know that I am a Christian,” she told me later.

Pioneers who dare to dream with God

There’s so many stories I could tell of ordinary people who would most likely never be asked to lead a Bible study or give a sermon but who felt empowered to launch some tiny initiative that took root and blossomed into something that transformed lives and the local community. Here’s just a few examples:

Last week I met a lady who went to a food pantry at an Episcopalian church and was asked to lead it. She later came to faith and was baptised – which might be in the wrong order but it didn’t seem to matter too much. Today she still runs the Food Pantry for 450 families each week and has helped to start multiple food pantries in her city. And through her books, including a New York Times bestseller called Take This Bread, Sara Miles is sharing how food and faith are intrinsically connected.

Over the last month I’ve visited a few times with Timothy, the son of an Anglican Canon in Singapore who was told by his father not to enter ‘the ministry’ but instead pursue a career in business. So he became a banker. He and his banking friends launched a missional cafe that hosts Alpha groups. A few more missional cafes have already popped up in a few countries and the movement is just underway.

A new initiative by the Methodists seeks to start hundreds of tiny Kingdom initiatives by empowering ordinary people to give birth to the dream that smoulders in their hearts and minds. What I find interesting is that they expect most of them to fail. But what’s important to them is that God’s people are actively involved in launching tiny endeavours among the poor that bring hope and the living message that our Creative God is still active in bringing new things to life that will be conduits for his love and grace and gifts.

I wish I could tell you about the many other inspiring missional entrepreneurs I’ve encountered. Like the family in Portugal who teach struggling mothers each week to cook a meal for under 5 Euros. Or the retired businessman in Germany who visits a Syrian refugee camp three times a week to teach the German language. Then there’s the Silicon Valley entrepreneur who created an Artificial Intelligence based phone app for detecting depression and preventing suicide. Or the Catholic school teacher in The Gambia who’s starting libraries for children and permaculture projects to provide food during the rainy season.

These are just some examples of how ordinary people have found their place participating in the great mission of God. The beautiful thing is, there are simply no rules about what mission can and should look like – we need innovators willing to listen to God and creatively step out and try something new, even if it might fail. Every garden begins with a single seed and a step of faith. As church leaders equip and release their people to be the church in the world – to be grace-bearers and risk-takers – we’ll see the whole church begin to take the whole Gospel to the whole world.

For discussion

Is God inviting you to ‘dream with him’ in a new way? What part of your life might he be pinpointing, what opportunity might he be opening up, what group of people might he be highlighting?

“If you try the same old thing you get the same old results.” What are some new things you and your group could try? (Why not brainstorm a number of ideas while asking God to give you creativity and boldness).

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.

100s and 1000s in mission mobilisation (Issue 31)

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By Mike Robb (NZCMS Personnel Team) 

Hanging on the wall of my house is a small framed picture of those little ‘100s and 1000s’ sprinkles you put on ice-cream. At the top we’ve written “Train 100s to win 1000s.” This was a word God gave Ruth and I about 25 years through a preacher and it’s become the measure we’ve used to evaluate all major decisions since then. Regardless if its involvement in overseas missions, in the local church or in ‘secular’ work places, we ask ourselves whether it’s an opportunity to influence and equip and mobilise others for the furthering of God’s Kingdom. In other words, does it take us closer or further from training 100s to win 1000s? 

‘Mobilisation’ is a word that’s being thrown about in many mission and church circles. All of a sudden it seems we’ve all woken up to the fact that if we don’t mobilise for mission – if we’re not recruiting and equipping and training people – then there won’t be anyone engaging in mission at all! Future generations’ participation in mission depends on us taking mobilisation seriously today.

When the default setting is broke

The main places where the vast majority of Christians live, work and serve are outside the walls of the local church, not within them. Sadly, when we think about serving God, we often have a ’default setting’ that limits ministry to what happens within the church. If you want to serve God, your church offers plenty of options: become a children’s church teacher, a door greeter, a musician, a youth leader, even a preacher. These are all great and necessary, but it’s a very narrow view of what serving God looks like. When someone says they’re “called into ministry” they’re almost certainly talking about either pastoral ministry or overseas missions – it’s just our default way of seeing ministry and calling! But why couldn’t we have people say “God’s called me to medicine” or “God’s called me to be the world’s best postie.”  

I don’t think this ‘narrow view’ is represented by Scripture. As a simple example, look at John the Baptist. “He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. … ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord…”’” (Luke 3:3-4). 

“Into all the country… One calling in the wilderness.” That doesn’t sound like preaching in the temple or synagogues. Jesus too spent the vast majority of his time among the people: in houses, on the streets, at weddings and banquets, fishing at the lake. And we’re to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, taking the Gospel into the whole world (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15, Luke 24:46-49, Acts 1:8). “Into all the world” doesn’t sound like going just to the temple, synagogue or church does it?

Your local church is supposed to be the place where all believers are developed and equipped for ministry outside of the church. That’s because most Christians’ primary spheres of influence are in their schools, work places, clubs, communities and neighbourhoods. In fact, in order to reach the lost and build up the church, the ministry of most Christians must be performed outside the local church. Otherwise the local church becomes more like a residential care facility, where the staff look after the members and simply keep them happy. That’s not the vision of Church presented by the New Testament! 

More than seat warmers

Turning back to mobilisation, what if the primary role of the leaders of a local church was to care for and train, prepare and release Christians to be serving in whatever context God has them in? What might happen? What if attending the local church was more a means to a greater end, rather than just being the goal of our Christian faith? 

I’m convinced there’s more in God’s Kingdom for each of us than to just keep a seat warm once a week! What if the nurturing and equipping we received from our local church on a Sunday was to resource and encourage us for the week ahead, where we’ll spend much of our time with others who don’t know Christ? It was these environments that Jesus expected these following words to be applied, not in the local church: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14). 

So how do we move from seeing ministry as what happens in church to it being all about what happens beyond the stained glass windows? People’s giftings and desires need to be explored, evaluated, and possibly most importantly, given opportunities for expression. (From everything we can take away from 1 Corinthians 12-14, one main lesson is that Church and ministry are supposed to be something we all get to participate in.) Leadership of our churches may need to release people, provide training opportunities and nurture a culture of permission giving. Where else will the saints learn how to minister if not within the church?!

Could this get messy, and could some mistakes or disasters happen? Almost certainly! But are we willing to pursue mobilisation anyway? Do we really want to “Go into all the world”? 

NZCMS is all about ‘Making Mission the Centre’ for EVERY follower of Jesus. We want to see all of God’s people mobilised for local and global mission – which includes sending people overseas but involves so much more than that! Talk to us about how we can support you in your mobilisation efforts by emailing office@nzcms.org.nz 

For discussion

What’s the difference between seeing yourself as a seat-warmer and seeing yourself as a minister wherever God has placed you?

What can you, your group and your church be doing to equip people for ministry outside of the church? Are their opportunities for you to be equipped as well?

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.

Joining God’s missional breed (Issue 31)

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I’ve just come back from the Philippines. No, I wasn’t there to have a holiday or to work on my tan. I was part of a team of Samoan women who all desired an experience of cross-cultural mission. We had the privilege of visiting NZCMS Mission Partner Dianne Bayley and the Children’s Bible Ministries team in the Philippines. 

Some reflections

As I reflect on my experience before, during and after this trip, I have been impacted by a number of things.

People. I’ve come across some phenomenal people who breathe and dream ‘living missional.’ They’re a special breed. Location is not a barrier, their veins are pulsing by how they might join God on his mission and at the same time mobilise others. They are today’s heroes of the faith. While I’m in awe of their faithfulness, passion and boldness, I must admit my surprise with how little interest there is in such global concerns amongst Kiwis (including my own Pacific community).

Excuses. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard phrases like “I can’t be involved in mission.” Some of the excuses have left me picking up my jaw from the ground: it’s only for those who go to Bible College, I don’t know my Bible enough, I don’t have the time. Sometimes I’m struck by disbelief. You’d think that if we’ve accepted the Good News and received forgiveness we’d be eager to share the hope we’ve found. Unfortunately, it’s not often the case. But God calls us all to participate in his mission!

Talk. We like talking about being missional but few people actually want to live it out. Why? Because living missionally will cost you, as an individual, a family, a community, a church. It could be your time, commitment or resources. But just maybe, what keeps an individual – or even a church – from being missional is that we don’t understand the benefits of it.

All this leads me to ask some important questions. Why can we so easily turn a blind eye to the world around us? Why are so many churches not actively participating with God to live missionally both locally & globally? And how did five Samoan women from Christchurch end up joining the crazy ‘missional breed’?  

We must recognise that it’s God’s mission. Not ours, not your pastor’s, not your church leadership’s, but God’s. His is far better, bigger and our task is to submit to his mission. Serving God is an honour, something that made a profound impact on me during my time with CBM. Everyone there, from youngest to oldest, knew the mission. They owned it, believed it and lived it out. They were committed to it, even if it cost them something. They have limited resources but dream big and aren’t afraid. They think, breathe, sleep and dream missional. 

Since coming back I’ve wrestled with what it’ll cost five Samoan women to continue living missional. And as crazy as it sounds, it will cost us everything. When Jesus laid out what it really meant to follow him many of his followers withdrew (John 6:66). So am I willing to pay the price? Most definitely, because I understand the benefits of participating alongside God in his redemptive plan to restore all things. Living missional simply isn’t an event on the calendar or an item on the to-do list. It isn’t just doing some stuff – it’s joining God in his work.  

So what changed for me to start thinking and actually living missionally? It was an encounter with God. It was being deeply transformed by his word and submitting to his will. And it’s ongoing, it’s rewarding and at times it’s very challenging.  

We’re on a journey and we’ve joined the ‘missional breed’ where we embrace and learn to pay attention to what God is doing in our families, neighbourhoods, work places, relationships, communities and in the church. Discovering our part has meant that we can be confident in what God is asking us to do. 

Rediscovering, reconnecting and being refocused on God’s mission has been a life changing process and it’s still on going. We’re not doing it on our own; we’re part of a wider family contributing and participating in God’s mission. We’re doing our part to serve, to love, to celebrate as part of God’s family. Every part of our life is being caught up in God’s mission here and now, just like our brother and sisters in the Philippines.

For discussion

What are some of the ‘benefits’ of participating in God’s mission?

What encounter or experience might help you and your group to grow in your understanding and living of mission?

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.

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

Who’s telling the story anyway? (Issue 31)

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By Kate Dugdale (Bishopdale Theological College).

My sisters and I are fairly rambunctious, and talk over each other a lot (to my parents’ frustration!). We also do it to our parents, and I can recall a number of times when Dad would turn to the person who had interrupted and ask, “Who’s telling this story!?”

When we think about the mission of God, this is an excellent question to ask. Every culture – and in the age of globalism, every sub-culture or social tribe – tells a different story which shapes the way we look at the world. For example, Western society tells a story where success is measured in money or fame, and yet, Jesus teaches us not to seek after these things (Matthew 6:33). Sometimes the same event can be interpreted in radically different ways – is it terrorism or holy jihad? For Christians, it’s vital to reflect upon which voices we listen to, and therefore, which story we participate in. We can’t live out of two different realities without risking our own wholeness as individuals.

Your story or God’s?

This question of story becomes even more pressing when we begin to think about the mission of God, because the Gospel, by its very nature, is an invitation to individuals to step out of their own story and into God’s. 

There are two key points that need to be made here. The first is the importance of familiarity with the metanarrative of Scripture (that’s a fancy word that makes you sound smart – it just means ‘the big story’), because it’s an unfinished story which find ourselves in the midst of. Jesus is the centre of Scripture. The Old Testament anticipates Jesus, by telling the story of creation, the consequences of human disobedience, and the history of the people of Israel who God set apart as his witnesses. Israel turns their back on God time and time again, and yet no matter how many times they flip the proverbial bird at God, God continues to remind them of their calling to be a witness to the nations. Even when there are consequences for their sin, God reassures Israel that they belong to him.

At the end of the Old Testament we find Israel waiting for God to send them a leader who would free them from being subject to foreign rule. However, when their Messiah comes, he doesn’t meet their expectations. Instead of coming as a strong man of war, a military conqueror and astute political ruler, Jesus becomes a carpenter in a backwater town, before beginning his public ministry at the age of 30. At the moment when his popularity is exploding and he could ride the wave, he talks about the cost of following him in a way that makes the crowds leave. Instead of destroying the Romans, he’s crucified by them. Nevertheless, Jesus’ resurrection changes everything, and we see Jesus’ disciples preach about who Jesus is, the way that he has reconciled humans to God and about his promise to return again.

The difference this makes

This biblical story is probably familiar, but it’s worth revisiting in order to reorient ourselves in the midst of God’s story. This is the second point that needs to be made: as believers in the twenty first century, we should pay close attention to the example of the apostles, for just as they were called to proclaim the Gospel, so are we. The apostles didn’t attempt to build their own international ministry, or develop a website, or release a line of books… Instead they shared the story of God, both by simply teaching about Jesus and through demonstrating it in signs and wonders.

Living from God’s story frees me from the pressure of achievement. I no longer need to be the hero of my own story, because as the one who sets me free, Jesus is the hero of my story. Even more astounding is that God invites me into his story, to participate in what he is already doing and has been doing throughout history. The biblical story reminds us time and time again that it’s God who’s at work – creating, redeeming, and bringing us to the day when the Kingdom will be fully revealed. Even though in the here-and-now, the world is marred by sin, God is in the process of restoring all things. And so, whatever we do – whether we teach theology, or work in retail, or raise our children fulltime, or build houses – knowing the story of God allows us to understand how what we do can fit into that story. We may not be famous or rich, but we can actively point to God through our whole lives and can seek to bring his loving rule to everything we touch.

Understanding the story of God gives us a much richer understanding of what Scripture means when it talks about all the cool stuff God is doing – recreating, reconciling, redeeming, saving, healing. If the Gospel is simply about my salvation, then the story we’re part of is that Jesus died for my sins so I get to spend eternity in heaven in a mansion (or so some of us seem to think.) But when we get this sense that Jesus is the central axis of a much larger story that God is writing, and which we are invited to be part of, it’s like we’re invited to leave a 2D cinema to move into a 3D one instead. The story is the same, but it is a much deeper experience – one which is big enough to encompass the whole of creation. And it’s a story I get to participate in.

Recommended resources

The Bible Project captures the story of Scripture through brilliant videos, graphics and an integrated Bible reading plan. Learn more at thebibleproject.com 

Regent College’s ReFrame Series is a video course for home groups which explores how the story of God impacts all of life. Find out more at reframecourse.com 

Two of the best books that explore the story of God and its implications are The Drama of Scripture and Living at the Crossroads by Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew.

For discussion

What are some of the ‘stories’ our culture pressures us to live out of? 

If you’re honest, to what extent have you been shaped by the stories of your culture instead of the story of God?

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.