The moon is pregnant with anticipation, illuminating the scenic mountain scape behind us. We have arrived at a church member’s house for the Queenstown meeting, with the mountain rearing majestically behind, almost the backdrop for a movie, looking too good to be real.
Hospitality greets us in the form of a warm handshake and a hot drink. We settle in to the lounge and wait as, one by one, the guests arrive. There are nine people from the Queenstown group, who eventually settle and we begin introductions and explaining the reason for our visit. The wooden walls and the homely setting give an intimate feel to our meeting.
We have been on the road for around five hours but it is almost a privilege and certainly a blessing to have driven through the countryside we have seen today. God’s handiwork was everywhere, from the pristine alpine lakes to the snow capped mountains surrounding the tablelands we’ve been driving through. Blessed by the conversations about church and life and driving through postcards, signed by God himself, the miles flew and the time passed quickly.
Dr Nick Kross, as he will all week, presents the issues and mindset that adolescents are struggling with, raising awareness and facilitating dialogue about what can happen in the communities that we are visiting.
The group in Queenstown has unique challenges to face. Queenstown is a highly transient community, where seasonal workers come and go, tourists drop in to visit ski fields and the church sees many visitors come and go.
The encouraging thing is that they are already working with their children, who are in a pre-teen stage, including them in church services by asking them questions they can answer and, at home, by reading them the Bible Stories series. It sounds like their group is less formal, meeting in a school hall and more interactive than a regular, traditional church service.
The room is full and as we walk through the material the church of Acts is emphasised. I can almost feel it, sitting in this room with these passionate people who are keen to see God impact their community and to see their young people in the Kingdom. The room is intimate, cosy, full. Believers are gathered together, sharing, dreaming and planning. There is fellowship, as well as truth being spoken. Yet the Conference leaders haven’t come with all the answers. Their presence shows their support as churches and communities wrestle with the changing world that their young people find themselves in. They are here to dialogue, to hear the needs of the communities and to challenge these church groups to tackle the problem of youth retention head on, instead of just letting it happen. They pledge their support and resources.
This is just as much a church as the beautiful meeting we had in Timaru the day before.
This is church. What if church looked more like this?
What if we got back to this New Testament model of church?
One of the key passages Dr Kross has emphasised is found in Acts 2:42-47:
All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.
A simple formula. Scripture, fellowship, prayer, the Holy Spirit changing lives, generous love and doing life together. What was the result? The Lord (not the people) added to their number DAILY those who were being saved. This happened, not in “church” buildings but in homes, like the one we met in tonight. Intergenerational families—meeting together, taking an interest in each other and doing life together, on a regular basis.
This sort of community, where the Holy Spirit has room to work, is the type of community that young people need in their lives. A place where they have room to find their identity, where they have social and moral support, where they can be mentored and discipled into the faith. Do our communities look like this or are we a pale echo, a counterfeit? Is the Kingdom being lived and are our numbers being added to daily? If not, then we need to rethink the way we are doing things, because our results are not biblical. We cannot continue to do the same thing and expect a different result.
Tomorrow we continue to head south, to Invercargill. Continue to pray for the South New Zealand Conference as they attempt to tackle this important issue. If you have comments, questions or thoughts, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to social media to continue the conversation.