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Imagine Document

The Imagine Document was released in 2011 to provide a vision for the future. It is not intended to be written in stone, nor has it been altered since its release. The purpose was to inspire direction and thought to consider what church might look like in 6 years' time.


coming back to

New Plymouth Central Baptist Church


November 2017


In invitation to a conversation

a discussion paper for the congregation of New Plymouth Central Baptist. This paper is an invitation to imagine the wine of the Gospel in a new wineskin. This is not a statement of what has been decided but rather an invitation to a Godly conversation.

Coming back to New Plymouth Central Baptist Church 2017

Brian and Jane arrived just on time for the Sunday morning service at New Plymouth Central Baptist. They had been away for five years, leaving to go overseas at the end of 2010 just after the church voted to go through an intentional transition process.

 They noticed the changes immediately. The auditorium was full and the notice sheet told them that there was lunch to follow. There was a second service at 5.00pm with dinner to follow. They noticed there was also another service on Thursday evening following dinner. The music this morning was of a contemporary style and there seemed to be younger people coming up to play various instruments, even for just one song. But what was apparent was that the singing and the music was heart-felt. Songs were asked for from the congregation, people prayed and shared scriptures. There were two prophetic words and someone spoke in tongues. At that point the congregation waited and after a while someone said “I think I got it” and then proceeded to give an interpretation. Jane thought it might have been a first time for that person.

 The two prophetic words were interesting. The first one was quite formally “received” by the person leading the service. After the second word someone else got up (they later found out it was one of the elders) and gently thanked the person who gave it and then said that they were not to sure about that word and therefore they wanted to “put it on the shelf till next Sunday so that the elders could pray it through”. Everyone seemed comfortable about that, including the person who had brought the word.

 Just before the sermon started there was a small commotion at the front of the church. A young man came up very excited to give a testimony. He had come forward during the worship to a prayer area set aside in the front row. He told of having torn his Achilles tendon three weeks before. He was self employed as an Arborist and was helplessly watching his customers going elsewhere because his injury meant he could not provide services. The family was under real financial pressure, which had been helped somewhat by the church meals programme. During the service he felt one of those prophetic words was for him and he went to the prayer area. A person from the prayer ministry team was there, laid hands on him and God granted full healing on the spot. There was a buzz of excitement. Brian and Jane learned that these events were no longer uncommon.

 The sermon was biblical and challenging. People paid close attention, using their bibles, and engaging interactively with questions, thoughts and illustrations. There were two freestanding microphones in the aisles available for this purpose.

 After the service there was a great time of fellowship in the church’s new lounge out the back of the auditorium. Brian and Jane stayed for lunch. The new kitchens were great and a group of people who viewed their ministry as hospitality had apparently “taken it over” led by a chef whom they learned was employed by the church and worked Sundays and Thursday afternoon for that dinner slot. The lunch was provided cheap and was accessible for everyone. Visitors were given a free pass to the lunch. The back hall had been changed. It was full of tables seating between 6-8 people each. Apparently they were rolled away after the two meals on the Sunday so that the hall could be used for other activities during the week. The meal was well patronised with young and old mixing freely. In the middle of the lunch period a musical call brought everyone to attention and a simple celebration of communion occurred with bread and juice available in the middle of each table. The emblems were passed around and prayers were said. This took about 5 minutes and then the meal continued.

 Brian and Jane shared the lunch with old friends Jim and Mary. After the personal catch up Brian and Jane asked about the evident transformation that has occurred in Central.

 Jim and Mary spoke firstly of the transitional period where the church had confronted it’s somewhat turbulent past, confessing failures, seeking and offering forgiveness, reconciling relationships. Further to that they said the church members had intentionally committed themselves to building a culture of unity and affirmation. It seemed that the words of scripture were completely affirmed “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! . . . For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” (Ps 133).

 During the transition period Jim explained the church elders clarified the church’s position on the work of the Holy Spirit. They had publishing a statement of openness and welcoming to the Spirits work amongst them. Something “turned” in the spiritual realm at that time and there had been a slow but sure increase both in the miraculous signs of the Spirits working and in his work in transforming the inner person, building Christian character and love for one another. Spiritual gifts were expressed and evident in church and more importantly people had started to go into the wider community and dared to witness with signs and wonders. God has been faithful. Jim told them that the growth of the church from about 160 adults to nearly 800 today had significantly come about through conversion growth.

 Brian asked how that had come about. Mary replied “Where do you start?” The answer was multi-faceted. Many things had happened which had contributed to the change. Mary started by saying “To grasp what has happened here you need to understand that what you see in the church gathering today is the result of focusing on mission not on the church meetings. The Lord led us to understand that every single person had a mission/outreach responsibility and that was to be expressed where He the Lord had placed them in life; their homes, their neighbours, their workplace, school and the community they lived amongst. As we worked through that and began to connect we then had to ask ourselves what kind of gathering of believers were they most likely to come to especially if they were still at the curiosity stage. That moved us away from seeing the traditional church service format as the centre of our gathering and moved us to hospitality and belonging as the underlying theme. It doesn’t mean we don’t have teaching any more in fact there is more teaching than ever. We just present that differently. It is the same with music, we don’t have less we have more and it covers the music styles of all generations. We just do that differently”

Jim picked up the theme and began to tick of some particular characteristics of the journey.

  • The church began to pray for non believers - by name. Every home group, every study group, even the elders embraced the names of family members, friends, work mates and neighbours and began to pray for their salvation. At every church meeting we took two minutes to pair off and each bring a name to the Lord. Along with that they held one another gently to account for the quality of the connections and relationships with those they were praying for.

  • The church embraced an “all of life” missional vision. This meant work, school, neighbours, community and sporting groups of which the members were a part, were all viewed as missional opportunities. This was really a new direction and the church brought in serious training to help skill it’s congregation in these areas. It is impossible to understate the importance of this step. It called for all of us to be involved. Did you know that the greatest and most frequent meeting place of Christian and non Christian is the workplace? And the next greatest is your next door neighbour. Did you know there are more non Christians gathered and meeting at Rotary Clubs every week than meet in Full Gospel Businessmen’s Networks?” Interestingly enough right about this time in 2011 the annual Baptist assembly “the gathering” also strongly advocated the need to put energy into this all of life approach to mission. At that time it was a strong affirmation of directions which we felt very nervous about.

Jim was on a bit of a roll. This story lit fires of excitement inside him

  • Existing church outreach was seen at that time as a bridge to the community. So the youth group and children’s programmes, traditional strengths of the church, were linked to community ministries in family, marriage and parenting. This brought a lot more young people into the church programmes and a lot more intentional contact with non Christian families. Being able to invite them to lunch so they could experience our love and fellowship was easy. Connecting to the schools further enhanced that outcome. The congregation took the financial risk of investing staff in these areas believing that modern parents were very sensitive to good care for their children. They were right and the numbers grew. “The Gathering” back in 2011 also strongly advocated the need to put energy into faith@home to see the home as the centre of faith development. We embraced that and even though we are only five years down the road with that we are already seeing the fruit of that investment both in the marriages amongst us and in our children.

  • The church gave a lot of consideration to its next staffing appointment after the senior pastor and the Youth / Children’s leadership was strengthened. They decided that a Community Pastor was the way to go. This also indicated that their hearts had turned more towards mission. ‘Where your treasure is there your heart is also.’ The priority of the Community Pastor role was to mobilise the church membership into ministry expressions which would help give substance to all of life ministries. The call was often only for an hour or two per week from congregational members but multiply that by 160 adults it was like employing 8 staff members. So programmes like Fresh Perspectives family mentoring, Christians against Poverty, Love Your Neighbour, Resolve Mediation, Faith at Work, Cool Bananas amongst children, Faith@Home and others began to express the members growing support and love for their neighbours, colleagues and families. Even rest homes were seen as missional and church residents of these rest homes as missionaries. No one apparently retires from the gospel.

  • The Community Pastor started off part time. A church member with skills in this area took on two days per week as a contract alongside other work they were doing. The arrangement proved a mutual blessing and at the end of 2012 and heading into 2013 NPCBC was able to advertise for a full time community worker. We used that title rather than ‘pastor’ because it allowed us to also access community grants for the role.

  • In the children’s work during the transition phase a review of children’s ministries was initiated. Dynamite Bay was confirmed as a programme of value but it needed refreshing and more support and focus from the congregation. Adding the faith@home dimension our children’s work was developed into a Children & Family ministry. This called for investing more time in the curriculum to ensure it included age appropriate skill and knowledge development that parents could also work with. The church invested. It employed a qualified children and family worker. This was something of a faith risk financially. However the belief was that if we cared well for children we would attract families. This proved to be the case. Careful use of the Te Aroha-Noa Taranaki Trust raised philanthropic money from the community.

  • In the youth work the concept of interns was trialled in 2011. The idea was to establish a cadre of young people who in their final two years of schooling might make themselves available for this leadership role. The first year had mixed reviews but this role took off in the second year and has matured ever since. CBC did however partner with NP Bible chapel and St Mary’s in employing a couple of Youth Workers (Pastor) and this proved an invaluable investment and financially possible.

  • The church” said Jim “embraced a culture of hospitality”.

This one was going to take some explaining so Mary suggested she would come back to this point.

Brian and Jane were thrilled with what they were hearing. This change had to be more than just some clever programming. There had to be a profound heart change behind this. And what does a culture of hospitality mean? These questions had obviously been asked before. Jim said “Before we try to answer all of that, come and see the rest of the buildings, and we may be able to explain some of it as we go.”

They rose and walked out through the new lounge and past the kitchens Jim pointed to them and said;

You need to appreciate how central to the life of the church this lunch and dinner has become. We provide meals for six hundred people per week here. They pay for the meals but we do a good quality meal at a very accessible price. That means 75% of our folk eat together once a week. They also have an environment to which they can, without awkwardness, bring friends to as an introduction to the Christian community. Food does that. We did a study on meals that Jesus attended. We were amazed how much of Jesus mission and the life of the church that followed were centred on food. The promise of his return has attached to it a great marriage feast. We looked at our society, the café culture, the BBQ culture and said to ourselves ‘the world hasn’t really changed’ it’s just we who have moved out of step.”

Jane, ever realistic, asked “But who does the catering for all of these people?” Mary answered “We employed a chef in the end. It’s a ministry calling and we employed someone who had the skills, the calling and the dedication and then supported that person with a mix of paid staff and volunteers who had also a ministry of hospitality” It was a way of providing some pre university employment for some young people and there was a win-win all round.

Brian responded “Tell us more about this hospitality culture. You mentioned this several times as well as extended some significant hospitality directly to us already.”

Jim responded. “After we dealt with the negatives and began to explore new directions we remained conscious of some really deep issues.

Firstly; we still had the impossible challenge of reconciling different music preferences and different worship styles. There was no easy solution to this and saw that it would get worse rather than better as society continues to identify and reinforce sub-cultures at different ages. We realised that 13 yr olds and 16 yr olds really didn’t like each others music styles and whole commercial industries were devoted to emphasising these distinctions and differences. We knew that trying to make it work on a single Sunday church service was simply not going to work.

Secondly church had an attendance problem. We weren’t unusual, but only 60% of Christians attend on any Sunday. There was a real casualness about the value of meeting together. The things we did in church such as preaching and worshipping could all be accessed online often with better quality contributions and some of our church families were in conflict because we could not cater for the needs of teenagers, children and parents in one gathering for an hour and a half.

So we asked ourselves what it was that made “gathering” unique and godly. The answer that came went like this. - Too many of us believed that you could “love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, and strength” at home all by yourself, or in a meeting context where you did not necessarily even need to greet the person sitting next to you.” The ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ was a much lower priority in our gathering as it was then”

So what did you do?” asked Brian

Jim replied “The answer was hospitality. True hospitality says you are welcome with your differences and we will make a welcome space for you. It invites you to then extend hospitality to one another. The problem was that one and a half hours sitting in rows simply doesn’t provide a context for that. So we decided to not try so hard in that context alone. We decided that it took the full life of the church to embrace this diversity but that it also was important to have some context where diversity gathered together.

The scriptures do not call for us to run programmes, rather the call is to build relationships and maximise relational opportunities. We found a sole reference to programmes in Acts 6 but found relationships everywhere. So we moved to make all we did more relational.

  • In the auditorium we pulled the chairs into as much of a horseshoe as we could so that we could look at each other – that’s what you do in relationship, you make it personal.

  • We decided that the building should be a place to come and sit and talk and relate. Given that, you will see more lounges around, more spaces for fellowship, more coffee machines.

  • We carpeted the new lounge. You never feel comfortable on lino floors. They are cold and clinical, too utilitarian. Carpets are warm and cosy and inviting. So that’s the way we went. Over there in the lounge you will notice a pull down screen, there is a sky dish on the roof and the lounge is often full of people watching a sports match or a movie on the big screen. Food and coffee go with that model. During the day people come in all day and for $1 that can get a good coffee from the coffee machines. It has to be the kind of place where you can go for warmth, company and comfort on a rainy New Plymouth afternoon.

  • The Youth hall still has a hard floor. However that garage carpet people are using also allowed the hall to become less clinical in atmosphere. We saw that in use in a youth hall at Palmerston North Central Baptist and it worked well. We refurbished the hall so that it could operate as a dining room. The trick there was good quality tables and chairs and nice table settings.

  • The meal became the central part of our gathering. All ages can sit together around food. Young and old would eat together more easily than listen to music together. Communion in the middle gave it a special flavour. That was also interesting. Churches have long held that communion was for believers only. However the scriptures do not support that. The scriptures simply ask that we remember what the Lord has done. The words of Jesus are simply to “do this in remembrance of me” so we made that the basis for participation in the communion and any visitor was given a simple brochure with an outline on it explaining what Jesus has done. We found non Christians very affirmative of this simple act of reflection and devotion.

Jim went on. “The idea behind all of this was that we wanted this building to become a place that you could belonged to - not just attend. The nearest image we could find was that of a marae. Imagine a marae, but without the protocols. We wanted a place where all past present and future members of Central Baptist belong as of right. They can come and be here at any time with or without any set reason. They can bring their friends and neighbours, and it is comfortable, inviting, relaxing – in fact it’s a place to call home”. The Christchurch Baptist churches after the earthquake talked about their churches becoming community hubs places where people felt safe and together. Key to that they said was food and hospitality. This was a very confirming signal to us and we are grateful we didn’t need an earthquake to ‘bring our walls down.”

As we looked further at the reasons for gathering we agreed that

  1. The teaching received when together had to be prophetic. It was about what God was saying to this body of his people together, about direction and about mission. There was no way the internet could do that. Bible study is able to be done personally and in small groups and so Sunday gathering teaching should not be just a collective bible study. That could and does happen in different contexts. Teaching about what God was saying and doing in this day and age was more important for this gathering.

  2. The meal became our centre piece, Jude calls it a love feast, and we saw a good number of references in the new testament to this model actually being the pattern of the New Testament church, with communion together as part of it . Once you move the centre then teaching and even music and song can be more focused to appropriateness of age, maturity, subculture etc in more focused groups at different times. We now have at least four teaching contexts. The morning and evening services on Sunday each have one, we have an alternative service on Thursday evening for those for whom a weekend was not working and there is a fourth session for new Christians on a Wednesday evening. On Monday evening we have a theology teaching programme. We identified a lack of depth of good theology and saw too many people being distracted by “pet” theologies which often divided.

  3. We also had different worship expressions at different times. A more youthful style grew out of the youth programme and became the flavour of the Sunday evening service from 7.30 to about 9.00pm. Sunday evening from 5-6.30pm was a more contemporary adult style with a monthly contemplative service as variety. Both groups overlapped wonderfully around the meal from 6.30 – 7.30pm.”

We walked on, going downstairs. The old Lifeline offices had a different appearance. A window had been placed on the parking garage side and its curtains and light made it inviting. On the door a sign offered counselling, prayer ministry, prophetic consultation and conflict resolution.

Mary said “We opened this as a clinic. We had another tenant for about three years and the rental was helpful but after a while we saw it having more value as a centre to offer ministry to the general public. We decided on an unapologetically Christian flavour and it needed to be consistent with our Kingdom values. Its growing “success” turned it into a busy and powerful expression of God’s love.

Brian asked “What is prophetic consultation? And what do you mean by Kingdom values?”

Let me deal with the second question first” said Jim “Kingdom values means that all our missional expressions should unashamedly be an integration of word, sign and deed. E.g. a budgeting service is, on the surface, primarily deed focused. However we discovered that many of the dysfunctions that cause people lives and finances to get into a mess have deep rooted causes of spiritual or emotional or mental nature, or all of the above. The financial challenges are often just symptomatic of deeper issues. To allow the Holy Spirit to reveal these causes and to address them by His power is effective and transformative. So we allow for all levels of ministry in our missional outreach.”

Jim went on “To go back to your first question about prophetic ministry. Behind this sits a major learning experience for us. We developed the prophetic ministry of the church. Already by the end or 2011 we had a growing team of people who ministered in the Holy Spirit in areas prophetic, prayer ministry, discernment and intercession etc. We pulled them together and gave them a brief to search out the strongholds over the town, over the families or subcultures we were ministering to, over individuals and even over the church. That process started in 2011 as we dared to challenge rationalistic secular humanism as a stronghold of the mind. We persisted with God’s help and insight and the faithful teaching of the scriptures. By addressing root causes of issues and breaking the grip these strongholds have, we saw ministry become more effective and transformative. This worked its way out in a variety of ways. For example:

  • We added prophetic gifted people to our community ministry teams so that we could address the spiritual issues of these ministries

  • We set up this clinic for meeting community needs based on the same genuinely holistic kingdom worldview. We saw prayer ministry come into its own. E.g.: as marriages and families confronted their own lack of freedom to be what God wanted them to be, through deep ministry of the Spirit by prayer ministry many found a new freedom in Christ.

  • Several of our prophetic people were asked to meet as a team prior to elders meetings to seek the Lord for what he might want to place before the elders. It took a little while for that group and the elders to work easily together but as we did we saw real break-through and insights begin to happen.

Jane asked “You keep using the word missional, where does that emphasis come from?”

Mary picked up the reply on that one “In our reviews in 2011 we recognised the missional nature of the church. So we started to use the word missional about all we did or proposed to do. Mission was to be part of the DNA of the church. At the centre we saw a congregation that believed in and prayed through local and international mission. Our job was to find out what God was doing and get on board. This had some big implications.

  • Mission was to be delivered with a wise integration of the Word, Signs (The miraculous transforming power of the Spirit) and Deeds of compassion and love. The leadership committed itself to the equipping of the saints as per Ephesians 4. So the teaching and training of the congregation was geared in that direction. This was to be integral to all gatherings of the church. Sunday services, home groups, bible studies etc.

  • We moved organisationally to minimise using congregational energy and time for “non missional purposes.” So for example, cleaning rosters were stopped and commercial cleaners were engaged. This left people feeling freer to be available for other areas of mission.

  • We found a new language for the gospel. A 21st Century language for an unchanging message. We trained our congregation in its use. We trained our congregation in wisdom so that our commentary on society was “gracious and with respect” (1 Peter 3:15)

Time was moving on but Brian had one more question. “Jim these are huge changes. Tell about the leadership and how it works. Is all of this the result of one person’s leadership?”

Jim replied “No it wasn’t but we did change the way leadership worked and we did build it up a step at a time. This is how it evolved.

    1. In 2011 we restructured the leadership because untidy structures had contributed to our problems prior to that. The focus of the move was that the final decision making be with the members but the members make proper delegations with proper authorisation. That way the members could focus on the proper governance of the church.

    2. Eldership was strengthened with more numbers, we went to eight, and the Senior Pastor was affirmed as an elder as well as being an expression of the gifting of the Lord

    3. The eldership was structured to reflect the 5 fold ministry gifting of Ephesians 4. We now had actual leadership ability teamed up with pastoral care, missional passion, biblical knowledge and prophetic insight. This made for a robust leadership model.

    4. Behind these various gifting we built teams. I have already mentioned the prophetic team and their contribution to good leadership. We also built a large pastoral care team and built strength into their ranks through training and personal support. We then began to build a teaching team to improve the biblical foundations of the congregation at all levels. Finally, we built, through our missional language, an evangelistic heart in the congregation and a team led by the Community Pastor to support the congregation in this.

    5. All of these ‘teams’ resourced the decision making and leadership capacity of the church. Our new senior pastor was hard to find because we wanted someone who had real and proven leadership ability, who was prepared to implement the vision owned by the congregation and who was prepared to live and work in mutual submission to the eldership and the congregation. However we did identify such a person.

Obviously there was more that could be talked about but Brian and Jane had to go. They walked back through the auditorium and Brian stopped, looked at the stage and the musical instruments and said

You know Jim; in our time here we always had tensions around music. We had older folk who could only worship through hymns and younger folk who couldn’t and when ever the pendulum swung one group would be unhappy and the other glad” And Jane added “there was a whole group who were in the middle who never really were heard at all.”

Jim nodded. “It was not easy to fix. It seemed to be one of those areas that we were not sure whether the devil was using it to torment us or the Lord was allowing it to test us for love.”

Mary cut in; “we started to see improvement in 2012. We decided that culturally this was so important that we went out and hired a Worship and Music Leader. We spelled out clearly about accountability, teaming with the pastors and all that because our history taught us about the need for setting it up right. We engaged someone for two days per week. It had to be someone who could seriously lead worship and do so respectfully cross a range of styles. I guess you could say that when it came to music and worship we wanted someone with a hospitable heart.”

Jim continued, “The meal was the other part of the answer. Because the meal was now central to our gathering we removed the pressure to have to accommodate all styles in one gathering. So we found ourselves with different styles and flavours in different gatherings. We ended up with a traditional worship time, a really modern (and loud) time which the youth loved, we had a contemporary style for that middle group and then we also ended up with a contemplative service. It began to work so well that musicians were attracted and we found ourselves increasing our Worship Leaders hours till he became full time. This person took some finding but with God’s help we did it.

As Jim and Mary walked them out to their car Brian said “I just realised that we parked in the old YMCA car park” It now has Central Baptist signs on it. What happened?”

The council actually owned this car park and put it on the market. We entered into quick discussions with the YMCA and we agreed to buy it together. So we have the top half giving us an extra 30 spaces. The Council was happy with this because our Sunday parking was becoming a challenge both to us and to them. We also entered into agreement with them that the air space above the car park was available to both them and us for development purposes either as further multilevel parking or office development. However we secured first options for Central.”

Jane asked “How did you pay for that?”

Jim replied “We recognised the space as a legitimate investment opportunity and invited some of our folks who have serious investments to consider redirecting their investment and buy shares in the land and options. They received their returns from parking income from weekday hirers and from capital gains accrued when they sell it back to the church at some future date. The church itself financed some of it from Baptist Savings.

A year or two later the YMCA itself came on the market because they moved up to the TSB stadium. We bought it taking quite a large mortgage out. It is still currently operating as a Gym and other services but owned and operated by Central Baptist. We are seeking the Lord about future use of the site. All we know for sure is that it will be an expression of mission and not a new auditorium.

Brian and Jane bade their farewells and left noticing as they went a nativity scene on the roof of the foyer ready to be switched on in the upcoming new Plymouth Christmas lights display centred on Pukekura Park. In more than a nativity scene New Plymouth Central Baptist had become a light to the city.

NPCBC June 2011