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Stu Cameron

Announcement: Stu and Sue Cameron

FROM THE NEWLIFE CHURCH COUNCIL (ELDERS)

Dear Friends,

It is with much sadness I need to inform you that, that after more than 14 years serving Newlife as our Lead Minister, Stu Cameron has accepted a call to lead Wesley Mission Sydney as its Superintendent Minister/CEO from January 2021, commencing a handover in November 2020. I want to stress that Stu will continue as our Lead Minister until that time.

Whilst this is not something we had anticipated, we recognize the call on Stu’s life to be a leader in God’s mission and we acknowledge that we have been blessed tremendously to have a pastor of his capacity play a significant part in growing Newlife to become the church that it is today. To Stu and Sue, we are eternally grateful – THANK YOU.

Stu has written a letter to you sharing his and Sue’s heart as they have prayerfully discerned this decision. Once you have finished reading this letter, we urge you to read it.

We are communicating this news as soon as is practical as his appointment at Wesley Mission has only been confirmed this past week.

Since learning of the likelihood of this call being extended to Stu, the church council (Elders) have been meeting regularly to hear from God, pray earnestly for wisdom, and consider the process of appointing our next leader as we seek to live out Vision 2030. We are totally committed to the vision of one family, many churches, a plan that we believe God has ordained for Newlife. Our confidence is in God, the one who has prepared and planned in advance a vision for us to fulfill. Jesus has declared He will build His church. We thank God for that.

As a church we are blessed with a fantastic team leading our churches, including Stu, Mike, Scott and Jon. With faith we believe that as we continue to be obedient in our love for, and commitment to Jesus, he will continue to bless us during this transition – that we will continue to see more people more like Jesus. Together we urge you to keep the faith to which we have been entrusted.

The Elders are actively engaged in a period of discernment in this season. We will consult with, and engage external advice from church leaders who have walked this journey before. We will consult with the Presbytery and those we believe can provide valuable insight into the path we seek to take. We will continue to work with Stu, Mike and the team as we discern our next steps. I stress that any recommendations regarding new leadership will ultimately be a decision for the congregation at  a meeting of its members.

This Sunday we had scheduled a meeting of the congregation immediately after our Gold Coast 10am celebration. We will now be holding that meeting via our online church platform, commencing at 12noon. The meeting will enable us – the Elders, Stu and Mike – to share with you more information about the transition we are entering into, as well as the steps to appoint a new senior leader for Newlife.

In conclusion, please pray for Stu, Mike and the leaders of Newlife. We will be meeting as often as necessary as we fervently seek God’s will for this season at Newlife and begin the next chapter in our family’s future. Rest assured we will keep you fully informed along the way. We thank you for your prayers, your participation, and your encouragement during this process.

Be assured of our daily and ongoing prayer for you and your family as our nation and world grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic. Through it all our faith is in Jesus.

Blessings,

Rick

Rick van Drimmelen

(Elders Chair)

FROM STU AND SUE

Dear Friends,

This is a letter Sue and I never thought I would be writing, certainly not now. As you will have read in Rick’s letter, after much prayer and a lot of tears, I have accepted the call to be the Superintendent Minister/CEO for Wesley Mission from January 2021, commencing a handover in November 2020. I will share more about my new role later in my letter, but for now I want to share my heart.

A little over fifteen years ago, Newlife (then known as Robina-Surfers Paradise Uniting Church) took an enormous step of faith when it issued a call to a 38-year-old, freshly ordained minister who had never led a church of any size – me – to be its Lead Minister. I was a leader with ‘L’ plates.

The years since have been the most incredible adventure of faith, for me and for us. God has been faithful, always and in all ways. You have loved us, prayed for us and supported us. You have been, and continue to be family to us. Thank you! The thought of leaving you is heart-wrenching, but we believe God is sending us to Wesley, and in accepting the call our motivation is to be obedient to God, no matter the cost. Let me share more of the journey.

Last September a recruitment firm working for Wesley asked if I would be willing for my name to be added to a long list of potential candidates for the role.  After praying about it with Sue, I said no, feeling peaceful about that decision. Then, in late October the chair of the Wesley Board rang me and asked me to reconsider. After praying some more and consulting with trusted mentors we decided to enter the discernment process, which unfolded from November through to January this year.

Along the way, God has slowly shifted our hearts, to the point where when Wesley indicated they would like to issue a call, we were ready to say yes. There was no audible voice from heaven, but critically we heard the still, small voice of God directing us through scripture, prayer, journaling and conversations with trusted mentors.

Over the last couple of months I have said to Sue on numerous occasions, especially after we have come home after a worship gathering on the Gold Coast or in Brisbane or visiting Coolangatta, ‘Why would we ever want to leave Newlife?’ Here’s the thing – we would never leave Newlife – other than believing God was sending us to a new assignment. That is where we are.

Right now our hearts are filled with grief, gratitude and love. Our grief is real and profound. Over the last few days I have cried a lifetime of tears as we have shared our news with our ministry and staff team. And we know that grief will be magnified in coming months as we prepare to say farewell to all of you – our church family. As hard as it is, this is a good thing, because our grief is born out of gratitude and love.

There is so much we are grateful for – the hundreds of transformed lives celebrated in baptism, the churches planted, the incredible team I have served alongside, the deep friendships and pastoral connections made, the developing unity amongst Gold Coast churches – the list is long. Above all, we are grateful to God. Years ago a scripture was prophetically spoken over me – ‘I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service.’ (1 Timothy 1:12) That God appointed me to serve you these years is one of the greatest gifts and privileges of my life.

And there is so much we love. More to the point, so many people we love – you and your family included. In return, thank you for loving us. You have blessed us beyond measure.

What does this all mean for Newlife? Our vision remains the same – to see more people, more like Jesus. We still passionately believe that Vision 2030 is God’s idea – that Newlife will be one family, many churches – a multiplying movement. We believe God will continue to build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. I truly believe that Newlife’s best and most fruitful years are to come.

Newlife is blessed with an incredible team of Elders. Over the past few months they have loved and led Sue and I, and our church, so beautifully and well. Together with our presbytery, they will oversee both the transition season and the process to appoint a new senior leader for Newlife. I have every confidence in them.

Newlife is also blessed with an outstanding ministry and staff team. You know that. I know they are determined to lead and serve you with excellence, empowered by the Spirit as they do so. For the last few years Mike has led our church superbly in my absences on annual and long service leave. I will continue to lean into him, Jon, Scott, Liz, Rob and Corey as together we offer leadership to our ministry and staff team, and through them, our church.

Let me assure you that until Sue and I move to Sydney, I will be giving all I can to lead Newlife well – relying on God’s strength. In accepting a call to Wesley I will not be turning off, but rather stepping up – especially given the particular challenges presented because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here is what I would ask of all of you who call Newlife your spiritual home in this season –  continue to gather, pray and love. Gather weekly with us for online church and other announced gatherings. We are committed to keeping you up to date and fully informed along the way. Pray – for our Elders, for Mike and our team, for me and for our church – that God would continue to lead us by his grace. Finally, and above all, love – love one another and our neighbors as Christ has loved us. God’s perfect love casts out all fear!

Before I finish I will share a little about the role I will be moving to. Wesley Mission, based in Sydney and part of the Uniting Church, is a large city based family of congregations, with 1500 in weekend worship, as well as one of Australia’s oldest and largest community services organisations, with more than 2300 staff across NSW and Australia. Wesley is thoroughly evangelical in its convictions and expression of faith. In my new role I will be leading all of Wesley’s congregational life and community services ministries. You can find out more at https://www.wesleymission.org.au/

Thank you for your continued partnership in the gospel. I look forward to gathering with you online this Sunday at 10am, 4pm and 6pm for worship. In addition, I strongly encourage you to attend our online meeting of the congregation this Sunday at 12noon via the link provided in Rick’s letter. We know too well that meeting this way is a poor substitute for being in the same room together, but we believe it is critical we have an opportunity to share with you more and to hear and respond to your questions.

Be assured of my daily prayers for you and your family. We are all facing an incredible season of challenge. But God is with us, and will never leave nor forsake us.

Finally, a word of encouragement, not from me, but from God’s Word.  It’s a personal promise for each one of us.

Come near to God, and God will come near to you.’ (James 4:8)

In these challenging times, on so many fronts, I simply want to remind you of our God’s amazing promise through Jesus.  Any time we draw near to God – our loving God will come near to us.  Always has; always will. Thanks be to God!

Grace and Peace

Stu Cameron

Lead Minister

COVID-19: A Message from Stu (March 12)

Dear Friends,

I want to update you on Newlife’s response to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic and the steps we are taking to mitigate the risks, and to ensure as a church family we continue to model the faith, hope and love that is at the heart of the gospel.

First, what are we doing.

We are closely monitoring and following advice from government, health and denominational authorities, and will continue to do so.

We are continuing to ensure our properties are thoroughly and hygienically cleaned.

We are providing hand sanitizer stations and encourage you use these on entering and leaving our venues, and to wash your hands thoroughly at other times.

We are reviewing our communion preparation and serving protocols in preparation for our next scheduled Communion Sunday (April 10).

We are continuing to host all of our current programs and activities, including weekend worship, and will continue to do so until we are advised otherwise.

Second, what risk-mitigation efforts are we asking of you.

If you are unwell, in particular if you have cold or flu like symptoms (fever, cough, sore throat etc.), please do not attend any church activity until you are well again. Seek medical advice.

If you have recently returned from overseas from a region or country where the Australian government requires a 14-day quarantine (currently Italy, Iran, South Korea and China) please comply with that advice.

If you are unable to attend weekend gatherings because you are unwell, or are in quarantine, please join us via online church. We stream our full 10am Robina celebration every week via Facebook, our Church App and our website. You can watch the service through the week from our Facebook page.

Restrict hand to hand contact at gatherings (we will remind of you this during welcome times), and use sensible precautions when in closer proximity to others.

Thoroughly Wash and/or sanitise hands regularly.

Third, let me talk about our opportunity in this unprecedented and challenging season.

This pandemic is a serious global crisis that we all must take seriously, and do our part to slow. Having said this, while we need to be wise in minimising the risks to ourselves and others, we also are not governed by fear. God’s perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). In and through Jesus we also have a hope that is imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:42). Together, with our words and by our actions, let’s model the gospel hope we have.

How?

Pray for those who are infected with the virus – for their healing. Pray for our world and our nation – that the pandemic would slow and halt.  Pray for our health care and other professionals at the frontline, including many in our church, for safety and strength. Pray for our state and national leaders – for wisdom. And pray for those whose livelihoods which have already been impacted by the economic fallout – for provision. As you are able, I encourage you to attend any of our three church’s regular prayer gatherings.

Care for one another and for those God has placed your world. Together, lets model the love of Jesus and the hope we have in him.

We will keep in touch with you regarding any further developments as necessary. 

This weekend we continue our Shepherd King series, as Mike (Robina 8am and 10am), Calvin (Robina 6pm) and Scott (Coolangatta 10am) unpack the story of David and Goliath. What a story it is, reminding us of what a hope we have!

Grace and Peace

Stu Cameron

Lead Minister

Domestic and Family Violence: A Pastoral Statement

A pastoral statement offered to the Newlife Church community at gatherings on Sunday February 23, 2020.

This week we were shaken by the horrendous news of a mother and her three children brutally murdered by her estranged husband and the children’s father. It was and is an unimaginable horror. Except it wasn’t. Tragically, what happened on Wednesday is an all too common occurrence.

Women and children far and away suffer the most through domestic and family violence.

The statistics paint a blunt picture:

Of the 77 reporting countries listed by the UN, Australia has one of the highest rates of domestic and family violence in the world.

According to the Australian Institute of Health, 1 in 6 women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former partner.

1 in 4 women have experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner.

Intimate partner violence causes more illness, disability and deaths than any other risk factor for women aged 25-44 years of age.

Domestic and family violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and their children.

On average, at least one woman is killed every week by a partner or former partner.

95% of violent perpetrators are men.

The Domestic Violence Prevention Centre (DVPC) is one of the agencies who serves and advocates for domestic and family violence survivors here in our city.  Through January, one calendar month, here on the Gold Coast:

  • 703 women sought help from the DVPC
  • There were 285 police Referrals
  • 254 women were supported for their Southport Court Appearance.

I could go on. Domestic and Family Violence is a scourge that reaches across, and impacts all sectors of our community, including the church. Rates of Domestic and Family Violence are just as high in the church as outside. It causes extraordinary pain and suffering that has generational impacts. Domestic and Family Violence is expressed and experienced in a variety of forms, including verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. All are completely and utterly unacceptable and inexcusable.

In light of this, and in light of what has happened this week, I want to do six things.

First, and perhaps most importantly, I want to express a heartfelt and repentant apology, both personally and on behalf of our church, Newlife, to domestic and family violence survivors here today, or reading or watching this statement later.

I am sorry that we have been complicit in perpetuating a culture of silence about domestic and family violence, as well as its causes. We have not spoken up, educated or advocated near enough about these matters. In my fourteen years here I have mentioned, in passing, domestic and family violence a few times. No longer.

I am sorry some of you have not felt able, or been or confident you could confide in your church family and leaders what you are experiencing – or even known who you could talk with.

I am sorry for where I and we have let you down, and repent and ask for your forgiveness. I am, and we are committed to change, with God’s help.

Second, I want to say that if you are right now, or have suffered domestic and family violence and confide this fact in one of the leaders of our church – we will believe you. Further, you will be cared for and offered support every way we can, both through the resources we have to offer as a church, and through the wonderful agencies here on the Gold Coast who are ready to assist. If this is you, at the end of the service today I invite you to share with one of the pastors or leaders of our church, or with someone in our community you trust. Help is available. You will be believed.

Alternatively, at the end of the service there will be a slide on the screen with some numbers of agencies in our city who would be only too happy to help.

Third, I want to say thank you to those of you who offer care for survivors of domestic and family violence, whether it’s through one of the ministries of our church or Newlife Care, as a professional working in the field, a health professional, counsellor or through your own personal commitment and engagement.  There are so many of you. Thank you, thank you, thank you – for taking up the gospel cause of working for justice and caring for those who suffer. You have my commitment we will do all we can as a church to support you in your vital ministry.

Fourth, I want to share with you that together with many other churches on the Gold Coast, Newlife is committed to the long term goal of playing our part in seeing the incidence of domestic and family violence significantly reduced across our city. Such a goal is almost overwhelming, so horrifyingly numbing are the statistics.  But work, pray, advocate and educate for change we must. The gospel asks nothing less than this. It starts with us.

It is my privilege to be a member of our city’s pastor’s roundtable.  For around a year now we have been learning together through workshops and immersion experiences about the root causes, and experience of domestic and family violence through partners like the Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Centre and Griffith University. This listening and learning phase is part of a long term commitment Gold Coast churches have made to make a difference, both inside our churches, and in the broader community.  We have a long way to go and a lot to learn. But we are committed to the journey.

Fifth, I commit our church to be a place where violence, in any form, will not be tolerated. I and we will continue to do all we can to ensure that Newlife, in all its expressions, is a safe place marked by the peace of God, where people can encounter and experience the love of God free from fear.

Finally, I want to pray. To lament, to confess, to offer intercessions and to look to God for hope, wisdom and strength. Will you join me.

Rev Stu Cameron – Lead Minister

Newlife Care

Phone: 55933262

Domestic Violence Prevention Centre (Gold Coast)

Phone: 55329000

Email: [email protected] domesticviolence.com.au

DV Connect Womensline:

Phone: 1800 811 811

DV Connect Mensline:

Phone: 1800 600 636

Lifeline:

Phone: 13 11 14

Catalyst Network

I’m excited to share with you that a new network of evangelical leaders, congregations and agencies in the Uniting Church has been established – Catalyst Network. Catalyst seeks to be a renewing movement with an emphasis on church planting and revitalization, evangelism and leadership development. But more on that in a bit. Let me remind you of the context in which Catalyst has been established.

In July 2018, the 15th Assembly of the Uniting Church decided to allow congregations to marry same-gender couples, should they choose. Leading up to and since that decision Newlife has prayerfully engaged in how we should respond to this decision, especially given it contradicted with our long-held position on marriage. This culminated in a meeting of our congregation in early September where we made a series of decisions (including to change our name to Newlife Church).

Since September, various state and regional bodies (synods and presbyteries) have met to consider proposals that would invoke a constitutional challenge to suspend the decision of the Assembly, requiring it to consult further with the church before reconsidering the matter. We enthusiastically supported this challenge. However, the challenge just fell short of the required support, which means the decision of the Assembly stands.

Which leads me back again to the formation of Catalyst Network.

One of the decisions we made last December was, ‘consistent with the paper ‘Standing Firm by Stepping Aside – 22.07.18’, joins a new national network of congregations and leaders, with the view to forming non-geographic presbyteries.’

Catalyst is that network, and a few weeks ago we issued a public invitation to congregations, agencies and leaders to become members. Newlife is a founding member of Catalyst and I am the chairperson of the steering committee that will formally establish the network as a separately incorporated body later this year. I invite you to read the Catalyst Network Overview and Invitation documents to gain a deeper appreciation for the vision, values and statement of belief of Catalyst. Catalyst seeks to a be a biblically faithful, evangelistically passionate renewing movement within the Uniting Church.

Catalyst has a clear and unambiguous position that ‘we believe we are called to celibacy in singleness and loving faithfulness between a man and woman in marriage.’

It is early days for Catalyst. There is a great deal of interest from congregations and leaders across the nation actively considering joining Catalyst. There is a lot of prayer, planning and preparing of the ground we need to do in formally establishing Catalyst as a legal entity. There are sometimes difficult conversations to be had with denominational leaders. In all of this, I and we ask for your prayers.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you have any questions about any and all I have shared about.  You can email me at [email protected].

New Things

God is always speaking, particularly through his word revealed in scripture. Sometimes God speaks so clearly and unequivocally that even those of us who are hard of (spiritual) hearing, hear. This past week God has spoken in such a way to us – to Newlife. Let me explain.

Last week we held our J35 prayer and worship nights, in Brisbane on Wednesday (February 13) and the Gold Coast, Thursday (February 14). I attended both, each evening rich in the presence of God.

On Wednesday night, Mike spoke a scripture over us he sensed was God’s word in season for us.

Unbeknown to him, as she prepared for our Thursday night gathering, earlier that day and before Mike had spoken this word, Ash had sent a few of us a scripture she sensed God was speaking into our life. It was the same verses. Exactly the same.

Then Thursday came.

Earlier in the week Scott had emailed some of our prayer team, asking them to pray into our J35 nights, preparing the ground spiritually.  He invited them to email or text back any direction they sensed from the Lord.

On Thursday morning Belinda messaged Scott with the same verses Mike had spoken and Ash had shared – without any knowledge whatsoever of what God had laid on their heart.

Then on Thursday afternoon, again independently and without any prior knowledge, Mandi did the same.

36 hours. Four different people seeking after God. The exact same scripture received by each for us as a church. Added to this, the scripture received was the ONLY one offered to us in this time period.  What is the scripture? What is God saying, so clearly and unambiguously to Newlife in this season?  The prophet Isaiah speaks these words from God to ancient Israel. And God, by his Spirit, God is speaking them to us now:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:18-19)

Thank you God! Thank God for his word, that speaks freshly and powerfully into our lives and our life together. And so we treasure this word in our heart, rest in the promise offered and continue to seek after God for the ‘new things’ he is going to do in our midst.

Genuine Love

Pastoral ministry is an incredible blessing, and at times, a real burden. Often it’s both. Newlife is blessed to be the spiritual home for more than 3000 people; from new-borns to almost one hundred years old and everything in between. Shepherding the flock under our care (1 Peter 5:2) can feel daunting in its size and complexity. Systems and strategies help, but at the end of the day only go so far. When it’s all said and done, effective pastoral care is birthed from, and empowered by love – ‘agape’ love – self-sacrificing, expecting-nothing-in-return, love. 

One of Newlife’s six stated values is Genuine Love. It’s another way of saying agape love. We long to be a community increasingly marked by joyful, sacrificial love for God and one another. Those of us called to pastor God’s people seek to shepherd with Genuine Love. What does it look like?

Well, Genuine Love is passionate for, and about people.

Genuine Love is purposeful.

Genuine Love is personal; it risks getting involved.

Genuine Love is prayerful; it offers only what has first been received from God.

Passion

Again and again we read in the gospels that Jesus was ‘moved with compassion’. It was an emotional, visceral reaction that led to practical and immediate response.

On one occasion Jesus hears the terrible news that his cousin, John, has been brutally executed. In his grief, Jesus withdraws to a solitary place (Matthew 14:13). But the crowds follow him:

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14)

With passion, Jesus didn’t avoid the interruption – he embraced it. Genuine Love does not run from people’s needs, it wades knee deep into them.

A little later in the story Jesus sees 5000 hungry men (and many more women and children) in desperate need of a feed. The disciples see a logistical nightmare – an impossibility. Jesus sees an opportunity for the people’s needs and his power to meet.  Genuine Love then births a miracle with five loaves and two fish.

Again and again when I move towards the often overwhelming needs of people I find in my empty hands what I need to extend love in that moment.

Jesus attracted crowds with his teaching and miracle-working. But it was his love – agape love – that set him apart from so many other rabbis, charismatic teachers and would be saviours of his day.

Genuine Love is passionate about people, especially the least, the lost and the lonely. Genuine Love is drawn again and again to the Imago Dei in every person, including and especially the most broken.

At the turn of the 20th century, American politician, leader and adventurer said:

People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.(Teddy Roosevelt)

In the end, Genuine Love recognises that people are not problems to be solved, or projects to be worked on but have been created by love, for love.

Purpose

Like pastoral ministry, parenting is not for the faint of heart. It can be a wild, roller-coaster of an adventure as you pour your heart and soul into raising your kids.  Most parents of young children would be clear in their purpose, even if its unstated. Our goal is to see our kids become well-adjusted, ready-for-the-world adults – to mature at the same pace emotionally, psychologically and spiritually as they do physically.  A loving parent will sacrifice (time, money, energy…) and will risk (hopefully temporary) rejection to do so.

Genuine Love is purposeful

Jesus spent three years, pretty much 24/7 pouring his love into 12 misfit men. It was a purpose-filled, three-year formation intensive. His love was shaping them as his disciples.

Following the example and command of Jesus, those of us called to pastoral leadership love with a similar purpose – to see people mature, becoming more like Jesus.  That’s why Genuine Love will sometimes be tough. Genuine Love will humbly ask the hard questions, compassionately challenge destructive behaviours – as well as encourage and cheer every step made towards maturity in Christ.

If we are to pastor with Genuine Love, our primary focus will not be on the obsession of our age to build a ‘personal platform’, or the immediate demands of a myriad of worthy projects and programs – but people. Genuine Love prioritises people above all other competing demands, other than communion with God. More on that in a bit.

Personal

Tragedy can upend the most mundane of days. In 1996 I was working in Tasmania, planning a national youth convention. One afternoon a work colleague left work a little early to ride her bike home. A couple of hours later we received the call to say she had been killed in an accident. We were devastated. I was floundering. That night, my friend and mentor Craig called me from Adelaide. He said he’d drop everything, get on a plane and come to stand with us in our grief; with me in my grief.

Craig’s Genuine Love for me and us was personal and profound. Genuine love will always be closely, intimately personal.

Genuine Love Gets involved. Genuine Love draws near. It’s what Jesus did again and again.

One day Jesus was moving through Jericho, the crowds swarming around him still. He wasn’t planning to stop, nor stay. But then he saw someone everyone else ignored, actually avoided – Zacchaeus the tax collector, hiding in the foliage of a sycamore tree:

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” (Luke 19:5)

Genuine Love sees, it stops, it steps in. Genuine Love is never arm’s length, but always up close and personal.

For we who pastor, Genuine Love is always on the lookout for the one – the one God is calling us to serve without agenda except to love as we have been loved.

Prayer

Genuine Love Prays. Always prays. Listening and asking; seeking and receiving.

The Apostle Paul’s pastoral ministry was saturated in prayer. His epistles begin and end with prayer for the people under his care.  Mid-letter he will often break out in prayer. For example, see Ephesians 3:14-19. At the end of the same epistle he offers this charge:

Always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. (Ephesians 6:18)

Always and all. Wow.

Here’s one way I seek to live out this encouragement. Every Sunday, with a bunch of others, I enjoy the privilege of praying with people after one of our gatherings – for healing, wisdom, provision, breakthrough faith…

This is holy ground.

The same day I note who I’ve prayed for and for what. For the next seven days I continue to pray for them.  It’s one, small step to ‘always and all’.

Here’s another.

Often Newlife people will come to my mind, any time of day, seemingly randomly.  I’ve learned, slowly, these promptings are often from the Holy Spirit. So I will text or call, telling them they’ve been on my mind, asking if there is anything I can pray for.  It’s amazing what emerges from these God-breathed conversations. I know it’s not always God that brings people to mind, but no matter. I find people are pretty receptive to any offer to pray for them, whether prompted by God or not.

Genuine Love is passionate, purposeful, personal and prayerful.

A couple of things as I finish. Love, by its very nature, is costly. Genuine Love certainly is.  And we are finite, flawed creatures. Pastoral needs press in on us and can threaten to overwhelm. Often as a pastor I will need to let go again of my ‘messiah complex’, thinking I need to rescue everyone. I can’t rescue all.  Never could, never will. 

But God does call me to ensure that those under my care are genuinely loved in the ways I have illustrated. This is where the Body of Christ is divine genius. The church is a living, breathing organism sustained by Genuine Love from God, overflowing for each other. In all of this, there are some God is calling me to go deep with. I love how Andy Stanley puts it:

Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone. (Andy Stanley)

Last, Genuine Love is sustained by an overflow of LOVE received. If I love out my own strength I will soon be overwhelmed by compassion fatigue, or worse, bitterness and disappointment and burnout.

I love because I was first loved. Genuinely, sacrificially and beautifully loved.

I cannot overflow with Genuine Love for others unless I am always standing under the forever flowing waterfall of God’s Genuine Love for me.  Put another way, I cannot lead people to a well I’m not drinking from myself.

And so, freely I receive again and again in order that I can freely give – again and again.

Things I’m Learning

Tomorrow I step into my fourteenth year pastoring a local church – Newlife. Back in 2006 I was a recently ordained minister. I had never married, buried or baptised a soul. That was all ahead of me. I had preached a bit, but never more than two weeks in a row in any place. I was full of ideas, passion, excitement – and not a little anxiety. I was a pastoral ‘L’ plater. I was also sure God had called me to this particular place and people. That sense of call has only strengthened. Simply put, I love being a pastor. It is all privilege, albeit a desperately hard one at times.

As I look forward to a new year with anticipation that only January can bring, I’ve also been reflecting on the foundation the past thirteen years has provided. Here are some things I’ve learned about being a pastor. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means. It’s some rambling recollections. But they are recollections learned and experienced again and again in the ebb and flow of pastoral ministry. I offer them as an encouragement to you, and as a discipline of remembering for me.

Front Row Seat

No one told me before I started about the bucket loads of joy I would experience in pastoral ministry. In particular, I didn’t realise what a privilege it would be as I enjoyed again and again a front row seat in observing the transforming presence of God is people’s lives. In some ways pastors are like spiritual midwives; active observers of, and sometimes assisting in the joy and pain of (spiritual) new birth. Such moments, and thank God there have been many these past years, fuel me through the other days of pastoral monotony, or worse, pastoral conflict.

Pastoral Pain

Similarly, no one told me before I started about the bucket loads of pain and disappointment I would experience in pastoral ministry. If they did, I didn’t listen. People let you down, sometime even betray your trust.  People come and people go. And then, despite your best intentions, you cause pain and disappointment for others. Too. Many. Times. Like a roller coaster, in pastoral ministry the exhilarating heights of joy can quickly be followed by heart-wrenching plunges into despair. Let me be frank; even surrounded by so many people, it can be awfully lonely. I am so thankful for the graciousness of my sisters and brothers who have allowed me to fail (again and again), but to fail forward, carried in the end in the arms of Divine Grace.

Body Ministry

I serve, and have served alongside some incredible servant-hearted, Jesus-loving, Holy Spirit-filled leaders – staff and volunteers. I LOVE team ministry. I love leading, and being led by others. The church functioning as a body is Divine Genius. Not only do we get to participate in the mission of God, we get to do it together.

God Adventures

Faith is a series of adventures God calls us into. And, boy what adventures we’ve enjoyed these past thirteen years – planting three churches, God-breathed growth, a $5 million building project – to name just some. Every faith adventure has stretched me, pushing me into a deeper reliance on, and trust in the sovereign grace of God. Truly, unless the Lord builds the house, we labour in vain. God has been so very faithful.

Treasure of God’s Word

Thirteen years ago I wondered whether I would have anything to preach or teach after the first couple of months. This was my first time leading a congregation; my first time as the primary preachers/teacher. Today our people wonder when I will ever shut up! I should have known, but God’s Word has proven to be an inexhaustible reservoir of life, truth, correction and inspiration. I am never more alive than when, after a week of preparation, I stand in front of our people about to teach, God’s living Word having already done its spiritual surgery on me. And then you experience those moments when the Spirit-breathed Word does its work on others. It is awesome.

Liminal Spaces

The second week into my Newlife journey I conducted my first funeral. I rang a friend in Adelaide to pinch his liturgy. I’ve conducted more than a hundred since. Beyond this, I have sat at the bed sides of the dying, cried with the grieving, thundered questions to God with the hurting, whispered scripture to the hope-less, officiated the weddings of the love-struck – and prayed with them all. There have been so many places and times where I’ve been present when the distance between our world and the next seems gossamer thin. These liminal spaces have forever changed me and how I think about, experience and worship God.

Empowering Leaders

For two decades some amazing leaders poured their wisdom into me – a raw, often arrogant and sometimes dumb leader with training wheels. I am forever indebted to them. These women and men gave me opportunities to lead before I was ready. They made it safe to fail, and to learn from my failures. Now I’m the old guy. Now, I’m the one with the opportunity to share, rather than cling to authority and power. Sharing leadership with others is so much fun. Seeing others grow in their leadership gifts brings me so much joy.

City Wide Ministry

I’m a country kid from South Australia. I can’t shake off my love/hate relationship with the mighty Adelaide Crows. But I love this city – the Gold Coast. It’s my home. And God is doing a good thing – a new thing – through his churches here – in this city of beautiful beaches, big dreams and rampant consumerism – a city of ‘immigrants’ like me, where everyone is from somewhere else, God has established an amazing diversity of Jesus-loving, God-honouring church communities. I have experienced so much joy serving alongside my cross-denominational sisters and brothers. This past year in particular they have held up our arms through a difficult and challenging season. I will be forever thankful.  Christian unity, not simply in theory, but in on-the-ground, in-the-trenches-together practice, is a beautiful thing.

Wonder of Partnership

I was called through the church to be the Lead Minister of Newlife. I have the paperwork to prove it! But I’m under no illusion – (mostly) thriving through thirteen years here has been in no small part due to the fact Sue and I were both called. In fact, Sue sensed God’s call while I was still in denial. Leaving our friends, our family and our history in South Australia was hard. Frankly, it still is. But God gave us each other; we serve together. Sue prays for me, encourages me, challenges and corrects me. She is always for me. We are so different in our temperaments, personalities and gift mixes. But God knew what he was doing. It works; we work. Thank God!

God Surprises

So many, many times I and others have stepped back with awe and said, ‘Only God’. Those Sundays when people spontaneously came forward to confess their faith through baptism. The day we announced our people’s sacrificial generosity in pledging to give more than $3million to extend our facilities for ‘those who are to come.’ Every one of the hundreds of baptism we’ve celebrated the past thirteen years. All this and so much more – only God. Only God can transform a human heart. Only God can bring dead people back to life again. Only God can breathe hope into the hopeless, announce freedom to the addicted and grant wisdom to the confused. And we’ve seen and experienced it all. Again and again I have seen such amazing, incredible things occur – it can only be God. And to God alone be the glory.

Honestly, I cannot think of a ‘job’ I’d rather have, or a place I’d rather be or a people I’d rather like to be with. God has been so, so good to me – to us.

Hearing God’s Voice

On July 15, Newlife’s Elders called our church to a season of 40 days of prayer and fasting. In this season, more than ever, we need to hear the still, small – yet unmistakable – voice of God. And I know we will. How can I be so sure? Well, God is always speaking to us in a variety of ways (words of knowledge, visions, prophecy etc.), but most especially through his Word, the Bible, often through a particular verse or passage that speaks powerfully into a moment.

Paul tells Timothy that scripture is ‘God-breathed’.  While written by human hands, it is divinely inspired and authored. And by the same Spirit that inspired scripture, we can hear God’s voice speaking a fresh word of revelation today. This has been our story through my almost 13 years leading our community.

So, as well as looking forward with anticipation to what God will say in this season, I want to remind us what God has already revealed to us in seasons past.  We carry these scriptures with us; they are already written into our story. These four scriptures remind us that we are to take courage, passionately pursue the presence of God, be clear about our purpose and look forward with expectation

Courage

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

Late in 2006 we changed our name to Newlife Uniting Church, nine months after I began as Lead Minister. We adopted a new strategic plan, vision statement and values. But it was the change in name that people around then will remember. Any change causes pain. Often it’s resisted. And often it’s not managed as well as it could be. Suffice to say, all of this was happening. And it was causing me to doubt whether we were heading in the right direction; even to doubt myself as a leader. No one would have known as I put on the ‘brave face’ I though was required of me.

Then one Sunday morning Mary came up to me after church. She grabbed me by the hand, looked me in the eye and said with conviction, ‘Stuart, the Lord has said, as for Joshua, “Be strong and courageous…Be strong and very courageous.”’

As she said it, my shoulders lifted, and more importantly, my courage returned. It was a word in season for me. And, I believe, it was a word in season for us. It still is.

Presence

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:14-15)

We were about to move from our auditorium into the hall as we engaged in the nine month ‘Time to Build’ project that would double our worship space, give us our fabulous courtyard, and expand our Kids Ministry facilities. I was listening, I think, to a John Ortberg sermon when this scripture he quoted grabbed at my heart and mind.

The context is that Israel has just prostituted itself to the golden calf. God is angry and says that, while he will fulfil his promise and lead them to the land of promise, his presence will not go with them. The people mourn, knowing the grave consequences of their sin. God, full of grace and mercy, relents.

Moses’ observation ‘unless your presence goes with us, do not send us up from here’ became our prayer in that season of change and transition and all sorts of distractions. It was the focus of our Vision Sunday. Who would we be, even with wonderful new facilities, unless God’s hand was on us, and presence around and moving among us. It was a word in season for us. It still is.

Purpose

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.” (Matthew 5:14)

It was November 2013, a few weeks after we had moved into our new facilities. There were lots of new faces around as God grew us in amazing ways. A lot of us were tired. I was very tired. One day I flew down to Melbourne to attend an advisory board meeting for Empart, a church planting movement in North India founded by Jossy Chacko. Our time together was drawing to a close. The half-dozen of us in the room prayed together. I was praying out of habit; it was what pastors are expected do after a day together.

Tim, a pastor from Tasmania that I had just met that day, stood behind me and rested a hand on my shoulder as he prayed. As he prayed, out of nowhere, a vivid image of a lighthouse was impressed on my tired mind’s eye. It was both unexpected and startling. Then, a few seconds later, as that image was still before me, Tim prayed ‘…and I believe God is calling your church to be a lighthouse to other churches.’ It was one of those moments where even I knew God was speaking in a powerful way. As he continued to pray he said, ‘…and God will raise up your hands in battle, as he raised up the hands of Moses.’ (Exodus 17:12) It was all rather strange, unexpected – at the same time wonderfully encouraging.

I flew back to the Gold Coast, not sharing with anyone (perhaps Sue?) what had occurred. The following Sunday as we sang our last song at our 8am celebration, I raised my hands in worship. I often do. While my eyes were closed, I felt hands gently rest under my outstretched arms, supporting them from behind. As we finished singing, I turned around to see Helen and two companions. Helen said that she didn’t know why, but God told her to do what she, and the two friends she invited to join her, had done.  But God wasn’t finished.

During the week, a friend shared with me that ‘God was saying that Newlife was called to be a lighthouse church.’  By this time, not only did I know God was speaking, I was revelling in, and in awe of his grace toward me and us.

This time there was no scripture offered (there’s nothing about lighthouses in either the Old or New Testaments I can think of). But God offered an image that immediately drew me to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.  Five years later we have, and continue to see this prophetic word fulfilled in amazing ways. It was a word in season for us. It still is.

Expectation

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” (Joshua 3:5)

Every time I open my bible and prayerfully read and reflect on its words, God speaks. Every single time. But sometimes the message is so direct, it arrests my attention and captivates my imagination.

It was like this when a few years ago I read these words offered by Joshua to Israel the night before, after 40 years of wilderness wandering, they enter the promised land. God slowed me down to pay attention.

These are words of faith and expectation; words that propelled the Israel forward the next day, even as they faced the impossible task of fording the Jordan river in flood. But as the priests led them, carrying the Ark of the Covenant on their shoulders – as their feet tentatively touched the angry water’s edge – God, who not only meets, but always exceeds our expectations, held back the water of the Jordan as he had held back the water of the Red Sea 40 years earlier. God truly did an amazing thing among them.

As I read again this familiar story, I sensed God saying to me, ‘Will you believe for me to do amazing things among Newlife in all your tomorrows?’  With the gift of faith, I answered, ‘Yes!’  It was a word in season for us. It still is.

So as we seek God in this season, I know that God has already spoken. He is reminding me, he is reminding us to take courage, passionately pursue and rest in His presence, be clear about our purpose and look forward with expectation. Thank you, Lord!

 

 

A Letter From Newlife 2050

A couple of weeks ago as I was preparing to speak at a Pastors Retreat, I stumbled across this letter I imagined a few years ago. It is written by Newlife leaders living in 2050 to the Newlife community in 2015. It is a letter of gratitude and celebration, honouring the decision to live as a sent people today, rippling out into a legacy of tomorrow.  Here it is:

Dear Newlife 2015,

Thank you.

Thank you that 35 years ago you decided to step up, not step back.

Thank you that 35 years ago you lived the truth that you were gathered to be sent; settled to be scattered.

Thank you that you decided to actively participate in the cause of the gospel rather that passively watch on as passengers carried along for the ride.

Thank you that you decided to carry the cross rather than retreat into cozy, consumerist comfort.

Thank you that you lived the vision, ‘More people, more like Jesus’.

We are your legacy, and the legacy of those who were before and behind you.

We are – this is Newlife 2050.

We are a church meeting in multiple locations in multiple languages – still spanning the generations.

We are a church that ranges from babies to retirees; from 0 to 120.

In 2015, 39 different birth nationalities gathered in your communities.  Today, we are a family – a multi colored tapestry – of 100 birth nationalities.

Our Robina campus is still our spiritual base, and is packed across multiple celebrations every weekend.  But it’s not where majority of our people gather.  In fact, there are 20 times as many people worshipping under the Newlife banner or carrying Newlife DNA in other locations than at Robina.  All because you decided to send, not settle.

Every year we are sending out multiple church planting teams and leaders to multiple cities to plant new communities and restart old ones. With other partners, you have ensured that church properties, the legacy of past generations, are again thriving mission outpost carrying the gospel to the people they surround.

Every year Newlife College is sending graduating leaders ready to be ordained by the Uniting Church and live out the mission ‘more people, more like Jesus’.  Every year Newlife College is training and sending out worship pastors, youth pastors and children’s pastors.  Newlife College is seasoning the Uniting Church with mission hearted, big vision leaders who believe with every fibre of their being that with God all things are possible

Every month we are sending out Acts 1:8 mission teams to our partners in Cambodia, Thailand, Bosnia, Solomon Islands and other parts of God’s world.  We are still bearing witness to Jesus where he sends us.

Finally, every day – every single day – God is adding to our number those who are being saved.  And heaven rejoices every day over each of those saved souls, as do we.

Newlife 2015 sisters and brothers, some things have not changed.

This is Newlife 2050:

We are one church, multiple locations and many gatherings through which the:

Homeless find a home

Lonely discover real friends

Addicted are liberated into recovery

Politicians hear the cry of the poor

Gold Coast is seasoned with justice, mercy, grace and love.

We are known more for our worship, our witness, our service than for the fact we have a big, red, LED Cross and a giant courtyard at Robina.

We are a messy, unrestrained, unconstrained, joy-filled, faith-inspired, Jesus-obsessed, Spirit-led people who believe with every fibre of our being that our God is: strong and mighty, gentle and merciful, loving and gracious, faithful and true, and that in and through him all things are possible!

We are an Acts 2 church, with and Acts 1:8 mandate, a Matthew 28 commission, living out an Acts 29 adventure.

We are STILL one big, happy – sometimes dysfunctional – family.

We are Newlife 2050.  This is our story. And our story is your story.

And so, dear Newlife 2015, we thank God with joy every time we remember you because of your partnership in the gospel.   We are confident of this – that he who began a good work in you is carrying it on to completion, through us and the generations that follow, until the day of Christ Jesus.

To God be the glory, forever and ever.  Amen!

Newlife: Our Values and Priorities

Last week I published the first of what will be a series of posts analysing Newlife’s results from the National Church Life Survey (NCLS).  The NCLS survey, conducted in March 2016, was filled out by 833 Newlife adults, and offers a wealth of information about how our church has changed over the least ten years when we compare 2016 with 2006 NCLS results, where we sit in our denomination and the opportunities and challenges we have in mission. My first reflection focussed on the demographic profile of our congregation (The People of Newlife). You can read that post here: https://church.nu/the-people-of-newlife/

In this post I will be focussing on our shared values and priorities.

What we value

Survey respondents were asked to choose three things they valued about Newlife the most.  The top five choices, with 2006 comparisons in brackets, were:

Sermons and preaching 51% (39%)

Contemporary worship 34% (30%)

Serving the wider community 34% (27%)

Ministry to children and youth 31% (27%)

Small groups 21% (27%)

It is worth noting that preaching ministry is increasingly, and by far the highest valued ministry by our community. In a large and growing church, small groups are less valued than they were ten years ago. People are attracted to our Sunday ‘platform ministry’ but value less discipleship opportunities available to them in smaller, more intimate community.

Worth noting also is that 12% of our respondents chose social and cultural diversity as one of their top three choices, up from 5% in 2006, perhaps reflecting our growing multicultural diversity. Only 9% chose traditional worship, down from 14% in 2006.

Priorities for the coming year

From a list of 14 choices (including ‘don’t know’), respondents were asked to choose the priorities for our church for the coming year. The top five responses, with 2006 responses in brackets, were:

Spiritual growth 41% (no 2006 measure)

Worship services 30% (31%)

Build community 30% (33%)

Encourage use of gifts 30% (41%)

Ensure new people are included 25% (31%)

It could be argued that four of five of our top priorities are more inwardly focussed.  By comparison, planting a church/new mission venture is a priority for 10% (3%), and evangelism a priority for 21% (18%).  Church planting may well be a stated goal of our church (we have planted two and will launch our third in 2019), but it’s only ‘owned’ by a small, albeit increasing, minority of Newlifers.

Fascinatingly (and I see this mostly as a positive) only 3% of people think growing into a larger church is a priority, compared with 13% in 2006.

Willingness to be involved in taking priorities forward

78% of respondents said they would lead, participate, or do both, in assisting the church fulfil its priorities.  This compares with 76% in 2006.

21% of respondents were unwilling and uninterested in such missional engagement, slightly less than for respondents across the Uniting Church in Queensland (25%).