As I conclude the operational activities of my role as General Director of NZBMS, it seems right that I offer some reflections on my experience in leading a denominational mission organisation which has as part of its objective, “to enable Churches of the Baptist Union of Churches in New Zealand to fulfill the ‘Great Commission’ of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:16-20) in those areas of the world to which He may direct.”
I do this not for self-gratification or self-congratulation, but rather to offer some encouragement and some challenge as I glance in the rear vision mirror to where we’ve been, and look ahead down the road of our mission activity and into the heart of the 21st Century.
So, as I look in my rear vision mirror at eight years as General Director, one key evaluative question must be, “Am I leaving this organisation in a better position than it was when I arrived?” The simple answer to this question is “Yes, I believe I am.” It has been a privilege to add to the work of those who went before me.
That then begs a question that is equally important, “What have I observed, as I have led NZBMS, that I wish to communicate to New Zealand Baptists?”
This article will spill over into next month as I attempt to respond to this second question. I believe it is important for us as a movement to reflect seriously on these answers as we move forward, and it is in this light that I offer these observations.
First, mission over the next twenty to thirty years must urgently adapt to a fiercely changing global stage.
I believe New Zealand Baptists are equal to this challenge. It will, however, require a paradigm shift from our old thinking and require us to take some risks in developing new approaches to mission. NZBMS did this back at the turn of the century with its brand of “business as mission,” but this is no longer cutting edge. We need to continue to do business as mission, along with development, medicine, education and church planting, but we are in danger of failing the great commission if we did do not continue to innovate.
One approach is to start with a major global injustice and use every means possible to reveal the Kingdom of God through a Christ-centred approach to mission as we seek to speak into and bring change to that injustice.
Stand Against Slavery is one such approach, but there are others. I urge us to find the new thinkers who may scare the living daylights out of us right now, and set them the task of discovering the new edges of Mission. We may not find these people in the mainstream of Kiwi church life. However, if we look to the edges, perhaps to the indigenous peoples of the South West Pacific, we will find, with our Maori and Pacific Island brothers and sisters, innovation in abundance.
Second, we must stop measuring Kingdom effectiveness as some sort of draconian return on investment where we compare the number of baptisms we can notch up with the amount of money we give. Thankfully, I don’t get asked the “numbers” question too directly these days. I have wondered whether it’s because it can be a little embarrassing when the question is mirrored back the questioner with a query about local church conversion activity.
We need to be aware that the process of salvation and conversion is not always as clear cut in an Eastern culture as we perceive it in the Western world. The first step for many of those we (NZBMS) share Christ with is that they first add Jesus to the long list of other gods they revere. Then, over a period (sometimes a long period) of time, we see Jesus taking a more central place in their home and notice the other gods beginning to disappear from the walls or mantelpieces of their homes. Then comes a growing understanding by the disciple that there is only one true God; and so, when this disciple makes the final step towards absolute alienation from their society by being baptised, they have chosen to become fully devoted followers of Jesus in a way that we rarely see in New Zealand.
To enable this sort of personal transformation, we need people who are willing to respond to a call to mission and go out for the long haul, or to give of their resources for the long haul, or to pray for the long haul; not because there is a monthly balance sheet to consider but because this is what God calls them to do.
Kingdom economics is not humanly logical, so we shouldn’t try and apply human economics to the Mission of God. We need to trust that God will move in the hearts of the men and women he brings across the paths of our NZBMS workers and businesses. But to truly move, He needs to know that we are committed to his work for the long haul.
More next month.
Peter Mihaere is the former General Director of The New Zealand Baptist Missionary Society (NZBMS) [2005-2014]– New Zealand Baptists Reaching the World. This is part one of a two part series on Final Reflections before Peter begins fulltime work with Stand Against Slavery. He concludes with NZBMS on March 28, 2014. Part two of Final Reflections will be in next month’s World Reach.