Organism vs organisation
- Time for a new conversation
“If it is of God you will not be able to stop it or overthrow or destroy it,” – Gamaliel, Book of Acts 5:38
“Kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui. Be strong, be brave, be steadfast and willing,”Maori Proverb
At this critical crossroads in 2020 much of the denominational church dialogue we hear has become so inward focused, dull and lacking in visionary or prophetic zeal, that congregations remain ill equipped for the revolutionary shift Aotearoa-New Zealand desperately needs.
It’s time for a new conversation with fresh faces around the table who can see beyond the artificial walls and programmes we put in place and refocus on releasing the wave of reconciliation, healing, innovation and creativity that will spark a pan-denominational Spirit-led awakening.
Youth and Maori in particular are engaging in rich and challenging conversations about their place in our evolving society on social media and on marae and ad hoc gatherings around the country. The church voices we tend to hear most often end up silencing dissenting views or polarising or politicising rather than uniting.
When the Ratana church membership gets together in their thousands in January or Kingitanga bring their flock to Turangawaeae or Ringatu gather their membership there’s most often a sense of unity of purpose and a desire to work through the issues that divide.
The Christian church has yet to show that kind of determination beyond annual denominational gatherings and even those are too often fraught with dissent and division. So who’s modelling the way forward? What would Christ (Yeshua Hamashia/ Ihu Karaiti) want from those who claim his name?
Church members often see their places of teaching and worship as voiceless or lagging when it comes to healing our bi-cultural breaches or engaging meaningfully with the massive issues of societal change.
When we’re being media bombed with moral and ethical dilemmas, rumours of war, destruction of the planet through climate change and rampant consumerism, the growing rift between the haves and have nots and the mocking of our faith, we need socially relevant, inspired Bible-based messages.
So, are we giving any serious thought to dealing with racism, understanding the impacts of colonisation, addressing social justice, equality, the environment, the speed of technological change, training in powerful practical spirituality, generational healing and what it might mean to be a Maori and a Christian?
If our schools are finally going to start teaching New Zealand history as part of the curriculum then the church must step up. If churches don’t own and honour this history the risk is it will be de-Christianised in the evolving curriculum and believe me that is already starting to happen.
Treaty as spiritual document
Unless we more clearly define our role in spreading the ‘good news’ within the borders of Aotearoa-New Zealand including honouring our part in the Treaty of Waitangi and learning about early Maori-missionary history, many seekers and Maori congregants will slip out the back door, possibly for the last time.
So who is working to build strong bi-cultural links, supporting research within the Christian community, collating resources and intentionally collaborating and working in the gaps.
How can we improve connectivity and collate and share sacred and secular resources for the common good? Dare we share or are we still defending our denominational barriers and neglecting to creatively collaborate?
The challenges ahead include going beyond tokenism to the point where Maori are viewed and treated as full members of the Body of Christ; where Maori leadership is honoured and their aspirations supported (This is the Treaty in action).
Our rich history and the amazing renewal and awakening that happened when Maori took the Gospel to their own people from the 1820s until the 1850s sets an incredible precedent to leverage and learn from.
There were successive inflows or mini ‘revivals’ in some mainstream denominational and Pentecostal and Charismatic churches during the 60s, 70s and 80s but we mostly failed to respond in a culturally relevant way.
Following initial expression of repentance and forgiveness there was often little follow through.
Despite inspiring teaching and evangelistic preaching ongoing engagement with Maori needs, concerns or direction, particularly during the Maori cultural renaissance of the 70s and early 80s was sadly lacking.
Pressure to conform to European-based church culture resulted in an early exit for far too many who were wanting a deeper experience, genuine relationships and an opportunity to contribute.
Family counselling needed?
Like most of us, Maori generally want to participate in and be embraced as family in a fellowship that has purpose and direction and is committed to community. Many remain cautious about re-engagement with church because of past experience.
As well as encouraging Maori and highlighting their pivotal role in our Christian past and future it’s equally important to ensure Pakeha identity as tangata tiriti is affirmed so we can walk together as equals, sharing and enjoying our differences.
Too often, however, our churches take their lead from offshore, rehash old denominational programmes, lock things down to a 10-year plan for preaching and teaching, with a formula for ‘fun’ youth group nights, failing to hear the groan, ‘not another pizza and movie night, I want to be part of something world changing’.
If we don’t ask people what their needs, passions and interests are and simply ask for volunteers to fill pre-defined slots (Sunday School teacher, usher, car park attendant, dishwasher and coffee maker, set up and pack down...) we are curbing the flow, shutting down our best resources (people) and setting ourselves up for more of the same.
We need inspired teaching and preaching but what has been missing for so long, outside of ‘house groups’, is a safe forum where, like in the Book of Acts, people can raise questions and concerns, share ideas, dreams, thoughts, prophecies, creative expressions and encouragements (1 Cor 14:26)
Many Christians are involved in social work in the health and justice, education, environmental and bi-cultural studies and need to be embraced and supported by our churches because they’re doing amazing work. How can we encourage and involve and include these folk in our planning?
If we aren’t listening to Wairua Tapu (Holy Spirit) and making space for the wind of change and opportunity to blow through then we will remain stuck.
It’s like we’re afraid to rock the boat but the reality is the boat is already rocking and the storm is only going to get worse until we find the still place from which to regain our bearings.
What can we do differently?
What if the next wave may just come from the nation’s 750 marae, or from Maori-led churches or Maori leaders? What would that mean for the church in Aotearoa that so often talks about unity and reconciliation and yet in reality appears so divided along denominational and theological lines?
What did we do wrong in the past to put the fire out and how can we avoid this happening again?
Would we do things differently or again try to herd everyone into the assimilation box and ignore the wonderful mystery and diversity of difference that is meant to be a great gift to the church?
A major challenge is how to share with and challenge leaders who micro-manage or aren’t interested in New Zealand’s bi-cultural story, don’t see it as a Treaty of Waitangi commitment or even feel the need to explore cultural awareness.
It will require boldness, humility, wisdom and a deep move and conviction of the Holy Spirit to topple some of these denominational idols, systems, programmes and frameworks that keep us from each other and from our national destiny in God.
The obstacles include leadership that doesn’t foster and release the natural and spiritual gifts of their membership. Building trust and equipping the saints is pivotal and that means getting beyond set programmes and providing a safe place to openly and constructively discuss topics of relevance for the times with young and old where they don’t feel judged for airing their fears, concerns and confessions.
God knows who real leaders are and so do most people who are looking to be activated, inspired, encouraged and empowered to get on with who they are called to be not simply make up the numbers in the pews/seats on Sunday mornings.
Leaders, need to regain the role of discerning spiritual talent scouts, calling Maori (and others) forward into their giftings and begin resourcing their organisations with material to help everyone better understand this fragile transition period we are in.
Part of this should be an effort to engage with Maori leaders in their own community, build relationships and constructive dialogue about how to help and work together and encourage two way traffic between marae and churches.
Equipping the saints
The revitalised bi-cultural journey now gaining momentum around the country should be enthusiastically embraced as part of a fresh move of God but its going to require a new kind of team work.
Pivotal in this endeavour is for ‘leaders’ to support key individuals who are natural connectors, bridge builders, and mavens (holders of key contacts or information and knowledge) who can network, enthuse people and build connections between Pakeha and Maori, church and marae, needs and solutions.
Adaptive leadership and financial support will be needed for the bi-cultural shift that will change the atmosphere in our churches and para-church organisations and empower creative thinkers to explore outside failing frameworks and declining membership.
The game changers in our midst might include researchers, story-tellers, musicians, film makers, painters, prophets and poets, public speakers, administrators, tradespeople and mentors of all kinds, who want to collaborate and use their gifts to encourage others and built the Kingdom.
Key to this process is owning and unpacking our pioneering encounter stories and how to create new stories, including testimonies across all media forms, and creative solutions that can impact on church and society today.
If there’s solid evidence of hospitality, inclusion, healing, restoration, faith building and practical servanthood the word will get out and people will come and bring their friends or else they’ll go to where this is happening. Authenticity trumps the guilt trip about loyalty and church hopping any day.
Soundtrack for revival
I highlight musicians, singers and songwriters because that's often where the prophetic gift begins to set the tone for deeper revelation. Are we listening? Something’s happening. There’s a new song arising.
There’s a soundtrack to this renewal, a healing resonance of beauty and deep reflection born from pain and frustration and a desire for repentance, restoration and release.
In a Maori context, a waiata or song or haka that naturally comes as a response to a welcome or a presentation that touches the heart, is an important part of this exchange. Spontaneity cannot be scheduled.
There’s a rhythm that is indigenous to this nation and we need to reclaim it. It will touch the hearts of us all when it finds its expression on the airways and in our gatherings; Stan Walker is part of that, as is Brooke Fraser (the largest selling New Zealand artist of 2018) and many others including Whirimako Black who carries a deep and sweet cultural payload.
The albums of Cindy Ruakere and the more recent expressions from the Salvation Army compilation and Aaron Hardy and Link’s Te Rautini which have produced epic music now being used by churches across the country are feeding and seeding the hunger for change.
Just like Dave and Dale Garrett’s Scripture in Song (recently celebrating a 50th anniversary) found a common chord across denominations in previous generations the new song/sound/anointed prophetic words and messages open the way for what is yet to come.
And we need to recognise mammoth efforts like Dave Mann’s Hope Project which distributes professional booklets to our mailboxes along with his pithy broadcasts on Rhema and LifeFM (....and Southern Star, who blanket the nation with the Gospel message) and appreciate people like Andrew Urquhart on Rhema and Shine TV who actively pursues Treaty of Waitangi and bi-cultural stories.
In the past 15-years teaching and storytelling from passionate and committed people has ramped up to a new level with people like Jay Ruka running courses and publishing his book Huia Come Home. He regularly works alongside prophetic worship leader and speaker Cindy Ruakere, Bradford Haami the author of many valuable books and cultural advisors to film and documentary makers.
Alistair Reese for example has invested deeply in working alongside Maori leaders and others including the Parihaka leadership, being party to the Tauranga Moana Anglican apology and writing Naboth’s Vineyard and Reconciliation and the Quest for Pākehā Identity in Aotearoa New Zealand.
And of course there’s Treaty researcher Samuel Carpenter and the team at Kuruwha Trust who run informative training and onsite sessions including the annual pilgrimage to the home of the treaty on Waitangi Day.
Such people are great ambassadors and peacemakers with empathy and listening skills who connect well and make things happen.
Dancing on injustice
There’s more to come for this generation and the next, it just needs to be nurtured and encouraged in the right Spirit-led environment. I wouldn’t be surprised if many more songs, books, poems, theses, films and documentaries aren’t already being produced for such a time as this.
There are many new names appearing in Maori leadership who will no longer accept sitting in the back seat or being side-lined because they know the time is right for them to step up.
This shift not just happening in the church it is a general evolution across all manner of organisations from marae to local councils, committees, academia and decision making groups.
Ready or not our Maori Treaty partners are now sitting at the table of influence and we need to start listening to and praying for and with the wise ones who have fresh approaches that can help us navigate out of our monocultural stiffness and deliver healthy alternatives to our broken colonial systems.
Maori will no longer tolerate being treated as poor second cousins ... they are leaders, creatives, powerful speakers and contributors who have been trained and prepared to help us thrive in the midst of the challenges ahead. They are our partners.
Progress toward a more bi-cultural view of history within the church and parachurch organisations mainly comes down to the God-given passion of leaders who have had their own revelation that this is a journey they want to take their people on.
Personally, I think there’s a need for strong cross-denominational conversation that involves leaders and aspiring leaders from theological colleges, academia, church and youth groups, and those with media skills.
I imagine a series of wananga to inspire and encourage one another, mentors and emerging leaders in particular, and to empower story tellers and look at ways to produce, fund and distribute inspirational nation changing resources.
At the very least it’s time to move beyond denominational, compartmentalised or silo thinking to start sharing and building up an inventory of resources that we can all benefit from.
There is a raft of new and revised material coming to the fore from researchers, writers and academics exploring many of the areas discussed so far that will help further inform the way forward.
That might include web links to helpful messages, advice, studies, papers and articles, a list of books on social and historical relevance to the New Zealand Bible & Treaty situation, helpful contact lists of government or other agencies or church or para-church organisations or marae or Maori Christian organisations.
Is it time to review where we are, look at what’s holding us back, get resourced, collaborate around a more organic and better resourced vision of the future that can go viral, get some fresh faces around the table and have that new conversation?
NB: A major 2020 revision of a document requested by a Christian funding organisation that ended up in the round filing cabinet (2008). Evolving list of resources available on request.