Where The Tall Trees Grow

© Tash McGill

This large shoot is growing out of the aloe-type bush at the front of the office block here at church. It will snap in the next big windstorm we think. At least, that’s what happened last year when another one of these things grew. So every day we watch and wait for it to fall. Isn’t that how we treat so many of our tall trees? Maybe I’m feeling particularly conscious of ‘tall poppy syndrome’ these days.

Not sure why. I’m not a tall poppy, I’m only 5’2″. Last night on the way to Saltworks, Tony and I were chatting about the expectations and assumptions of people.

The national leader of the denomination that we belong to, and our senior pastor has just written a letter of considerable depth and thought, that will undoubtedly provoke an unfavourable response from some members of the Christian community. It will be interesting to see what develops from that alone, but we were talking about the ‘status’ that allows him to write with authority into that particular situation. That he has the position, maturity, experience in the ‘senior pastor world’ to write a letter like that.

Tony made the comparison to the youth ministry world.. about those who are seen to be the ‘tall poppys’ of that circle.. and that whilst we know that for some it’s seen as a ladder of experience, age and success… for those of us that know and interact with ‘senior’ and ‘newbie’ youth workers alike.. they are all just people.

Sometimes genius strikes you, from someone whose ‘newness’, brings freshness and insight; and likewise from the ‘aged and wise’. God works in all things, which is encouraging.

It’s a good thing, to be able to recognise the strengths that we are surrounded by in terms of leadership.. where there is so much to learn, I am in a leadership-rich environment. But this place is also a privilege for the fact that it exposes the weaknesses that help us to remain in the state of grace and dependance on God. To learn how both strength and weakness work together for the sake of excellence and humility is a positive thing.

So we are growing some tall trees at this place. And that is okay. Politics aside, there is rich and fertile soil here, and we will be better for it.

The Baptist Identity
Last night we had Saltworks, a quarterly youthworkers training and encouragement night for youth pastors and leaders through the Auckland region. We held it at the Saatchi & Saatchi building, with great food, cool live music from Chris Cope and band (of one). Aaron Roberts, who has been with Attitude as a presenter and writer. He’s speaking at eastercamp this year. He spoke about Justice Issues last night.

His most interesting comment came at the end of the night however. He commended us on being Baptist, and having such missional and service to the poor and marginalised values at our core. He spoke to us as if our Baptist identity is strong. And I realised that in talking to many from outside the denomination.. especially the larger independant pentecostal churches.. there is in fact a perception of a strong denominational identity.

Whilst I think that this is true in the slightly older generations, where being Baptist meant you held a strong, middle of the road, Bible-believing, practical service faith. If NZ Baptists were a state, we would be Tennessee, the Volunteer State. Think about it.. the two major sponsors of our largest youth event aren’t Parachute Music or Coca-Cola.. but they are our highly praised learning institution and our mission arm. Maybe that does say something about us.

So how important is a larger sense of identity within our denomination? When practices between Baptist churches are increasingly varied, is there a growing need to affirm our belonging to a wider group? If it doesn’t matter for the sake of today, does it matter for the sake of yesterday or even tomorrow? What does it mean to your average young person / young adult / youth worker to be Baptist? Does it simply mean that the current community is a Baptist one? Where is the deep sense of need for a tribal story being demonstrated amongst our young people? How might we encourage it? Where are the young people training or going to mission because of the history of Baptist mission work? Where are the people who know why Carey is called Carey? Does it matter that we no longer take the time to tell the stories of our immediate ancestors, as well as the Biblical ones?

One More In The Name Of Love
Last week Richard West and Chris Hansen were killed when the Mission Aviation Fellowship plane they were travelling in crashed in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea. Richard was from our community here at Windsor Park. In years to come, we will remember 2005 as the year we lost some of our beloved ones to tragedy. It is a year for looking to heaven and wondering why. But in light of this, and other losses, I wonder who will tell the story and remind us of our recent heroes.

My young people read about Gideon, David, Daniel.. and they grab hold of a larger sense of the cause we live for. They also should grasp hold of that in the life and death of more recent histories. Perhaps it is our proximity to them, that means we see not only great leaps of faith, but their failures and humanity.

I remember first hearing the story of Jim Elliot. It came to me in the form of a quote that became the basis of my philosophy towards so many things.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose”

Later, I read his journals, and realised the strength of his knees, and the hours he spent on them, seeking after God. His pursuit of God seems at times almost to his own detriment, but even now, I recognise how his story has influenced my own behaviour. In a world that is thirsty for role models, we should turn our eyes to our own recent history as well as that which is ancient.

The story of the People of God did not end with Malachi, or even the Ascension. Not after Pentecost, or even after the Revelation of John. If the Story of the People of God is essentially about God interacting with man.. then God’s most recent activities are still worthy of being told.

Freedom – The William Wilberforce Story
Most popular American history recalls Abe Lincoln as the Great Emancipator of the slaves, but it would appear few recognise where the movement was born. The abolitionists of the relatively young Union of States, were largely influenced by the work of one William Wiilberforce in the motherland. Wilberforce was late to come to faith, after squandering a number of years at university. Although in childhood he had spent years living with an aunt of some religious fervour, through whom he knew and befriended John Newton (reformed slave trader), his rather more liberal mother had removed him from the influence of ‘religious fanaticism’. When he did reclaim his faith later in life, Newton influenced him to use the political acclaim he had come by through his formative years in academia, to work for the abolition of the slave trade through the Indies.

This he did, tackling first the trafficking of slaves from Africa to the British colonies in the West Indies. When this was finally abolished, Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect set about the abolition of slavery altogether. This movement then went on to influence Lincoln.

This year at Easter, we will tell Wilberforce’s story, because there is power in the history of the People of God. And if we are Baptists, if we are passionate and driven for the sake of the poor and marginalised, the victimised, the broken and wounded, then his story will motivate us towards the pursuit of true freedom more and more. The modern day equivalent is the work of Freeset.

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