Discipleship focus at NZPUC meetings

Meeting in session: NZPUC church leaders at the union's year-end meetings. (Photo: Jarrod Stackelroth)

“We hope that during these meetings you are challenged by your responsibility to make disciples,” said Dr Brad Kemp, president of the New Zealand Pacific Union Conference, to open the year-end executive meetings, which ran this week at Union headquarters at Howick, Auckland.

His statement set the tone for the meetings as business was passed and reports were given—all through the lens of how to be better disciples.

“I think they were a great set of meetings,” Dr Kemp said. “There was good discussion from the committee members. Everyone on the committee was engaged regarding discipleship, and we explored some questions of the what’s working, what’s not working, etc.”

In fact, Victor Kulakov, director of Family Relationships Ministries at NZPUC, spent 20 minutes of his session giving committee members time to break into small groups and discuss what discipleship strategies they saw as: working, not working, what had changed and what priorities need to be; and outlining a plan to change the Union’s focus from being resource and program intensive to a dynamic and engaged membership. The Union hopes that 80 per cent of its efforts can be directed into encouraging iPace: pastors and members being ignited, passionate, active, connected, engaged, with only 20 per cent being spent on RIP: resources, information and programs.

"As I sit and look at the numbers, I wonder how well we are preparing our people."

Delegates heard about some of the success stories the Union has witnessed, including ADRA’s Church Partnership Program (CPP), which has seen local churches get on board to run programs such as Welcome Baby, youth mentorship programs, budgeting programs and other practical skills for life. In fact one church in Auckland has seen 20 baptisms this year from running these types of programs. The Union’s media presence is increasing with Hope Channel NZ now being watched by 4-5 per cent of the population and Voice of Hope Radio in French Polynesia being the most listened to radio station, including commercial radio.

The committee also voted to support a statement passed at the South Pacific Division year-end meetings about the role of commissioned ministers. See statement here.

Denison Grellmann, CEO of ADRA NZ, presents his report to the executive.

The meeting program, Convene—trialled at the SPD year-end meetings as a paperless report storing system—was also used at the NZPUC. While it took a little time to get everyone set up, voting was recorded and it seemed to go fairly smoothly.

It was not all good news, however, as NZPUC secretary treasurer Graeme Drinkall brought some challenging membership and monetary statistics to the attention of delegates. For every 100 members the Union adds, 45 are removed. Only 30 per cent of those have died, which means the remainder, according to Mr Drinkall, “we can do something about”.

“As I sit and look at the numbers, I wonder how well we are preparing our people,” Mr Drinkall said.

The potential for growth is there. In 2015, according to the secretary’s report, there was 1 baptism for every 21 members, and 11 baptisms for every 1 pastor. “Imagine if there was a baptism for every member,” Mr Drinkall said.

He finished the membership report quoting Ellen White: “The work of God in this earth can never be finished until the men and women comprising our church membership, rally to the work and unite their efforts with those of ministers and church officers” (E G White, Counsels to the Church, 58).

The tithing report was similarly challenging. Mr Drinkall reported that during the past five years, only South New Zealand had seen significant tithe increase. The other conference and missions had seen their level of tithe remain stable or decrease. While he acknowledged the devaluation of the Pacific franc, and other currency and economic factors were causing some challenges, he pointed out to delegates that tithe was not keeping pace with inflation and economic growth. According to research carried out in NZ by Nic Bolto, tithe engagement is only 43 per cent in NNZ and 59 per cent in SNZ.

World mission offerings have also plummeted since the 1960s.

This information led to robust discussion on how the messaging around tithe needed to be updated to reach new generations and possible strategies to change stewardship models, such as more engaging offering presentations, emphasis on the fact that giving is an act of worship and increasing membership awareness of eGiving possibilities.

A vote was also passed to set up a committee to look at the viability of merging the two New Zealand Conferences into one, after a submission from South New Zealand some time ago. The executive voted to set up a committee but the chair took pains to assure everyone that there was no preconceived outcome in mind, and that this would be an open and transparent conversation. The committee will have lay representatives from both conferences, as well as church officers. “We don’t proceed without the direction of you as an executive committee,” said Pastor Kemp.

Yesterday, a report was presented by Life Health Foods, a company that is owned and operated by the Church but manages a number of healthy, organic brands in Australia and New Zealand. Bennie Hendricks, head of LHF International, shared the work of LHF in countries around the world, such as the UK, Thailand, India and China, and also information on how some of the brands owned by LHF had become brand leaders in their respective markets.

This report was followed by a lunch prepared by LHF, which showcased the different products available, and was enjoyed and appreciated by the delegates. One delegate commented, “I never knew our Church did all this.”

The Life Health Foods spread: fresh and healthy.

Adventist Record editor Jarrod Stackelroth was also able to present to delegates some thoughts around the future of Record, plans for an NZPUC edition early next year and the newly launched Adventist Record website, encouraging more writers and news stories from New Zealand and the French Pacific.

Morning devotionals were also well received. The first, taken by Kelvin Peuser, outgoing associate CFO of the SPD, focused on God’s unconditional love. SPD president Pastor Glenn Townend, on the second morning of the meetings, presented “Seeing Seed power”, where he talked about the power of the Word of God to change people’s lives and activate them to grow and to multiply.

When asked to reflect on the meetings, Dr Kemp stated: “The meetings challenged us on a couple of core questions: how can the Church be fully engaged in its commitment and passion as disciples of Jesus; and how do we interact in society in a way that makes a difference? This is a personal question and a ministry question: how do we share with friends and neighbours?

Dr Brad Kemp shares how the Church can impact the community.

“I think there’s a lot of goodwill and a lot of potential for where we are heading as the Church in this region. In New Zealand, for example, providing a media platform through which we can do some exciting, innovative things.

“I would love to see the Church be really adventurous and to harness the platforms of ADRA, Sanitarium, the media and the local church to do something significant in the community. By doing that we could create a real presence and make a meaningful contribution to the lives of people.”