Category

Stu Cameron

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%).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The People of Newlife

In March 2016, the National Church Leif Survey (NCLS) was conducted in thousands of congregations across our nation.  Newlife participated for the first time in ten years.  Over recent months we have been receiving the results of our survey. For a few weeks now we’ve been able to access our comprehensive report.  It makes for fascinating reading and analysis, and provides a wonderful wealth of information as we plan, pray and dream God’s future for us.

833 Newlife adults filled out the survey form.  With around 2000 adults calling Newlife their church home, that’s a very good sample size. This means the survey results offer a very accurate picture of who we are, albeit at a point in time.  Where the survey results become even more interesting is when the 2016 results are compared with 2006, and with the wider Uniting Church in Queensland (UCAQLD). These comparisons give us a picture of how our church has changed over the last decade, and where we sit in our denominational family.

In a series of blog posts over the next few weeks I am going to share a summary and some brief personal observations arising from the (almost overwhelming) data.  In this post I will look at the NCLS category, ‘The People of this Church.’

Age Profile

46% of our adult population is under the age of 50.  In 2006 this figure was 32%.  We have become decidedly younger.  For the UCAQLD, 25% of adults are under the age of 50.

Gender

42% of Newlife adults are men. In 2006 this figure was 38%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 37%.

Education

48% of Newlife adults have a bachelor level or postgraduate degree qualification. In 2006 this figure was 33%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 35%.  Over the past 10 years we have tended to attract and keep University educated adults.

Retirement

25% of Newlife adults are retired. In 2006 this figure was 38%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 51%. This reflects our increasingly younger age demographic.

Country of Birth

57% of Newlife adults were born in Australia. In 2006 this figure was 66%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 76%. We are an increasingly multicultural church.

Of those born overseas, here are the percentages – with the 2006 figure in brackets:

South Africa/Zimbabwe:14% (9%), Asia 9% (3%), NZ 8% (7%), UK 6% (8%), Europe 4% (3%)

Americas 2% (2%).

Our biggest increases are from South Africa and Asia.

Not one of the 833 survey respondents identified as Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander.

Church Background

On the survey Sunday in March 2016, respondents self-identified as follows, with 2006 figures in brackets:

Visitors from other churches 4% (2%), Newcomers 14% (13%), Switchers from other churches 36% (19%), Transfers from other UCA congregations 6% (14%), Long term attendees 39% (51%).

The majority of our growth over recent years has been switchers from non UCA congregations.  The percentage of newcomers (new to church entirely, or returning after a long time) is static, and on par with the average of all congregations.

Frequency of Attendance

63% of Newlife adults say they attend every week. In 2006 this figure was 68%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 74%.

Length of Time Attending

34% of Newlife adults have been attending for less than 2 years. In 2006 this figure was 24%.  For the UCAQLD, the figure is 17%. It is worth noting that our attendance increase over the 2 year period referred to was around 18%

There are a lot of (relatively) new people attending each week. Our front door is wide open.  Our back door needs some work.

A Letter From The Future

We have just finished our SENT series, a four week exploration of what it means to live as Gods people sent into mission. Our key text was Jesus commissioning of the 72 (and us), As the Father sent me, I am sending you. (John 20:21)  Along the way we were reminded of the incredible privilege we have of participating in Gods mission.  Our city, the Gold Coast, is predicted to double in population from 600,000 in 2015 to 1.2 million in 2050 (Future Gold Coast Report).  What a mission field right on our door step!  So my imagination started to run

What would our church Newlife write to us from the future, from the year 2050?  What would they say to us IF we chose today to live as Gods sent ones to risk the way of Jesus?  What would they say if today we refused to settle, but live as sent?  What would they say to us if we chose not to retreat into cosy, consumerist comfort, but instead decided to take up our cross and live as empowered disciples?

Here is what I hope they would say if indeed we chose to live as Jesus sent ones.  Here is a letter from the future:

Dear Newlife AD2015,

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 AD2050.

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. In fact, since 2015 the Uniting Church has not sold one property on the Gold Coast to a property developer. Rather, with other partners, you have ensured that through us every church property, the legacy of past generations, is a thriving mission outpost carrying the gospel to the 1.2 million Gold Coasters 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.

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, an 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!

Some Muppet Theology

I grew up with the Muppets, first on Sesame Street, and then the show that bore their name.  I cried when Kermit the Frog sang ‘It’s not easy being Green’.  I laughed at Fozzie Bear’s lame jokes.  I loved Animal, the maniacal drummer (is there any other type of drummer?).  The least likeable Muppet characters were a couple of grumpy coots called Waldorf and Statler, who would sit in their theatre box each week and watch the performances on stage, always ready with a biting, sarcastic and often hilarious criticism.  (Waldorf: ‘They ain’t half bad.’ Statler: ‘No, they’re ALL bad!’)

Waldorf and Statler were armchair critics taking potshots from the balcony, while on the stage the actors risked it all each night.  When it comes to the church, there is a little bit of the spirit of Waldorf and Statler in me.  I find it way too easy sometimes to stand back and point out all that isn’t as it should be.  When I do, I forget momentarily that if I claim allegiance to Jesus Christ, the church is not something ‘over there’, but a community that is around, and encompasses me.  For the believer, the church is never ‘them’; it always ‘us’.

Make no mistake; God’s church – made up as it is by broken people is in need of constant reform, and reform will often begin with loving criticism from within.  Renewal arises out of repentance.  The choice we have is whether we will sit in the balcony watching on, arms folded, criticism on the tip of our lips, or instead join the other actors on the stage as together, with faltering steps and imperfect lives, we are caught up in the drama of God’s redemptive plan for the world.  Stage or balcony, which will it be?  Right here, right now this is what I believe God is saying to all of us who call Newlife home:

Don’t spectate; participate. Don’t sit back; step up. Don’t observe; engage. Don’t come to church; be the church.’

I’d rather be Kermit or Fozzie, than Waldorf or Statler any day.