Group picture of ministers attending the "leadership" portion of Men's ChallengeEight months ago, Geoffrey Fairest invited me to the annual “Men’s Challenge”–a nation-wide men’s retreat held in Rotorua, New Zealand (that’s on the North Island for you geography nuts!). Last Tuesday, August 23, I departed for the “land of the long white cloud.”

It’s a long arduous trip to New Zealand. Not as long or as arduous as in times past. I didn’t have to spend weeks on horse-back and then 3 months on a sailing ship, braving storms and perilous seas. But 24 hours in transit (14 hours on the leg from LAX to Auckland alone!), stuffed in economy class, and forced to eat airplane food is its own form of “braving.”

When you cross the equator, the seasons turn upside down. August is mid-winter in New Zealand. Still, the country is beautiful: green lush fields, sheep grazing on hillsides, flashes of blue from lakes and streams. This is supposed to be the wet season but the sun has been shining since I arrived. Gorgeous!

You lose a day when you cross the International Dateline—something I forgot when booking my tickets. I thought I was coming in the day prior to the event … a chance to rest and prepare. A week before leaving, it dawned on me I’d be arriving the morning of the event itself—leave on Tuesday, misplace Wednesday, arrive on Thursday. Fly into Auckland at 9:00 am. A three hour drive to Rotorua. Speak at 1:15 that same day.

I was brain-dead, but God was good. Somehow I muddled through my first two talks. People were even kind enough to speak well of what I shared. The first two days of this event (Thursday and Friday) involved about 30 leaders from all over New Zealand and a couple of preachers from Australia. I decided to talk to them about (shock) leadership matters: keeping Jesus at the center of distracted churches … the necessity of human leadership in this divine endeavor … the idea of “calling” and the need to recapture a theology of calling as we think about church leadership.

It’s been fun. The guys here are wonderful and curious and hungry. God is doing some great things in New Zealand. I’m grateful to be part of his work in this place.