Monday, November 28, 2005

"New Paradigm of Normality"

Encouraging words (if you read the whole thing) from the head of the Baptist Church in NZ:

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Sunday, November 27, 2005

New Zealand Baptist leader says being in ministry today is immensely difficult, but he is supremely optimistic about the future

By John McNeil, Challenge Weekly, New Zealand
Special to ASSIST News Service

Brian Winslade

HAMILTON, NEW ZEALAND (ANS) -- It’s an unbelievably difficult time to be in Christian ministry, the Baptist Union of New Zealand's national leader, the Rev Brian Winslade, told the church’s annual assembly in the North Island city of Hamilton on November 10.

“No doubt similar comments have been made in previous generations,” Mr. Winslade said in his annual report, “but I think the heat is rising. Peculiar sociological factors in the dawning 21st century make this an especially difficult time.

“In our post-modern Western world, a massive shift has occurred away from historical spirituality. Church is no longer the moral conscience of a nation. They once built towns around churches; nowadays they’re regarded as irrelevant in town planning agendas, let alone a respected voice in society.”

Mr. Winslade said being a minister of religion used to be a respected profession but not any more. The moral failure of high-profile Christian leaders had not helped their image.

The complexities of family life in the 21st century were vastly different to a generation ago. Marriage break-up was much more affordable, and with that came a complex web of blended families.

“How do we disciple gay families who come to faith in Christ?” Mr. Winslade asked.

The age of consumerism and fickle loyalty was a significant threat to many churches. Church leaders felt the pressure of dancing to the many tunes of their constituencies, and if they didn’t they watched people leave for greener pastures down the road.

“Leaving a church is a well-developed art these days,” he said.

“Sexual promiscuity is not new to our age, but the degree to which the opportunity assails us is very new and insidious. Nudity on TV, billboards, bus shelters and printed media is pervasive, to say nothing of the availability of explicit porn on the internet.

“The number of men in our churches living with unresolved guilt and a sense of failure over issues of sexual impurity is pandemic.”

Mr. Winslade said ageism was alive and well in the Church. “Ask any male pastor over the age of 55 about how he sees his prospects for a future call. Most vacant churches want a pastor in their early 30s, preferably with 25 years ministry experience under his/her belt. We do not value acquired wisdom like we used to.”

Church attendance had become a discretionary activity. If no better choice was on offer people might decide to attend church on Sunday.

“Today most churches typically attract two-thirds of their committed constituency at best – and next week another one third will take a Sunday off. When our children were born I think my wife missed one Sunday. Today’s young couples seem to believe they’re the first humans to ever give birth – we don’t see them for six months.”

Mr. Winslade said the clash of musicology in many churches was crippling their mission. This was nothing new. Handel’s Messiah was originally banned from the Church for its lack of reverence and Charles Haddon Spurgeon referred to the choir room at the Metropolitan Tabernacle as the ‘war room’.

“Leading churches with deep and ingrained selfishness is deeply disheartening. Music genre that moves one generation is accredited as more spiritual than that which moves another. Many a church today bears witness to sinful, carnal behavior over acceptable church music – rather than a missional focus.”

Conflicting expectations of contemporary pastors were often unbearable, said Mr. Winslade. The omni-competent skill some congregations expected was unrealistic, and often thoroughly unbiblical.

The rural-parish model of church leadership where a “flock” of God’s people related in co-dependent pastoral relationship to a local “shepherd” was an unbiblical construct of modernity.

“If the New Testament is our model, church leaders work to equip other members of the church in the exercise of their spiritual gifts, rather than do the work of ministry on behalf of their congregation.

“Many a contemporary pastor is torn between a desire to fulfill historical expectations of those who pay his/her salary and at the same time lead the church in rediscovery of biblical principles of ‘body ministry’.”

Mr. Winslade said that if anyone thought he was a little depressed for listing these things, he was assuredly not. In fact, he was supremely optimistic about the future of the Christian Church, and the Baptist denomination in particular.

The basis of his optimism was a profound sense that Western Christianity was on the cusp of a second Reformation. The first had dealt with theology; the second was more about ecclesiology.

“God is shaking the foundations and fabric of His Church ... While there are many societal circumstances that appear to conspire against us, could it be that God is reshaping His church around a new paradigm of normality?” Mr. Winslade asked.

The shape of the Church that emerged in the next few decades would probably be very different from the models of the past.

“Will we be courageous enough to welcome these new expressions of Christian community? New forms of Christian community are beginning to emerge, and more still are needed. Will we let them in, or will we reject them unless they conform to our history and experience?

“Amid the seas of change I offer a call for encouragement towards those who render pastoral leadership in our churches. There are numerous and conflicting currents flowing through the church and our pastors need to know they are loved and supported.

If you doubt that is important, stop and consider whether you would like their job. Maybe a word of appreciation or an encouraging hug (or perhaps even a special love-gift) might go a long way towards keeping those at the coalface of change focused for the years that lie ahead,” Mr. Winslade said.

John McNeil, of Christchurch, a veteran journalist with decades of newspaper and radio experience, is the South Island reporter for Challenge Weekly, New Zealand’s only non-denominational and independent Christian newspaper.

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