Martin, a Youth Pastor in Christchurch, reflects on where he sees the need for the Gospel here in New Zealand.
I came to New Zealand about 5 years ago. Before that, my experience of this beautiful country was limited to a high school case study about cattle and sheep farming for geography class. It’s safe to say that never in my thoughts could I have envisioned living here. However, as I’ve come to realise and accept, God’s plans and my plans are very different, and it usually works out for me if I abandon my plans and follow his.
Growing up, I always knew I was going to be a lawyer. This position was emphasized for me in high school, because all the teachers talked about was excelling and joining the “Big four” professions, i.e. Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer and Pilot. It was while studying Law in university, in my third year, that I specifically heard the voice of God calling me into full time ministry.
The first time I ignored him for two reasons - I did not know if it was my own thoughts playing a trick on me. And, secondly, I was enjoying law school, so why would I quit and do something different? Thankfully, God did not give up on me and, in my fourth year, he came calling again. This time, he'd been working in my heart and I said yes.
After graduation, I started working at Nairobi Chapel as an intern. The plan was to do the internship program for two years then go out and plant a church somewhere in Nairobi, or around Africa. About a year in however, St Augustine’s Anglican Church from Christchurch came calling.
How did I know it was God’s plan? I wasn’t sure I'd be able to adjust to the culture and, even if I could, I would never get the documentation required. However, it was God who had called me, so that process, although long and tedious, went smoothly and I became the youth pastor at St Augustine’s Anglican Church. This was the beginning of a deep learning process for me.
The Kiwi Culture
The first thing I realised about this community is that people were friendly, but without any depth or commitment to the friendship until they knew who you were and they felt they could trust you. This is what I call the ‘small wall’ and the ‘big wall’.
In many cultures, especially in Africa and America, if the community does not like your ministry or presence, they will make their feelings known very quickly. So you’re under no illusion as to where you stand. You immediately experience a ‘big wall’, and you have to start bringing it down brick by brick. When the big wall is down, people can trust you and mission becomes easier. Generally, I’ve found this can take six months to a year.
In the kiwi context however, it’s the other way round. Everyone seems friendly and happy, giving you the illusion that everything is working well and things are good. But no one trusts you for a long time, until you have proved your worth. This process can take between 1-2 years depending on how consistent you are in interacting with people.
However, underneath the clean and neat exterior that forms the thread of our society here in New Zealand is a hurting generation that needs a saviour more than it realises. This Kiwi community needs healing, the healing that Jesus Christ himself can provide, and the confidence that comes from believing in a saviour who loved humanity, not only in word and thought, but through action.
This is what I’ve discovered when I started to scratch the surface. Our society is suffering from many things, but I see two big problems.
A Life About Ourselves
We are individualistic and are struggling to grow the value of community and togetherness. But because we look like we have it all together, those people who are struggling are repelled by us. The irony of this is that not one of us has it together, yet we drive each other away from ourselves, and from real and authentic community.
The second problem is that we often reduce God to an understandable and malleable concept. Our God has become too small and manageable. By doing this we dethrone him, thinking that we’re autonomous and can do all things right in our own eyes without any consequences.
The result of this way of life is that our mental health suffers, especially when we discover we cannot do it on our own, and we end up feeling even more inadequate.
These two issues become a vicious cycle hidden under nicely mowed lawns, picket fences, manicured nails and fancy clothes.
What Does Mission Look Like?
These are the core reasons why I think New Zealand needs missionaries, people who are totally sold out for the Gospel, ready to die to self and proclaim Jesus as king in their lives. People willing to be in an authentic community of believers to grow and be known by others in order to attract and not repel.
Henri Nowen, a Dutch Catholic priest and theologian, articulated it well in his book “Out of Solitude: Three meditations of the Christian Life”.
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”
In New Zealand today, mission is denying ourselves and putting away our inclinations of individualism, consumerism and anything else that the western world offers as an alternative to real authentic community. We need to pick up our cross daily and realise that we’re all fallen people.
We're not mistakes needing correction. We’re sinners needing a saviour. A saviour who tells us that he is strong when we are weak.
Finally, mission is following Jesus. This means prayerfully and intentionally gravitating towards those in our society that are looking for an authentic relationship, first with others and, even if they do not realise it, with Jesus Christ who understands their deepest hurts and pain.
This type of mission cannot be fulfilled within a year or two years. New Zealand needs people who are willing to commit at least seven to ten years of their life to intentional communities that are full of life, love and grace.
I finish with the words of Jesus in Matthew 9:37-38.
“The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest”. There are many ways you can spread the Gospel, but perhaps the first most important question would be to ask the Lord of the harvest Lord, “What are you doing within me and around me, and how can I be part of it?”