IMG_0286I flew into Rotorua Wednesday afternoon (August 21). Tiny 15 passenger turbo-prop. Puddle-jumper. Tree-scraper. I was seated in the front of the cabin. I felt I helped land the plane!

At the Rotorua airport, I was greeted by the three gentlemen whose photo is attached: Geoffrey, David, and Aaron (from left to right). Geoffrey preaches for the Rotorua Church. David is Chairman of the Board for the South Pacific Bible College (and works with the Otamotae Church in Tauranga). Aaron ministers to the Dunedun Church (on the South Island).

Full-time ministers are relatively rare creatures in the New Zealand church. Most churches are small and poorly-funded and lack the resources for full-time ministry. Unless the funds come from the States or a missionary has located in a particular location, churches depend on men who work as plumbers or teachers during the week but are willing to dedicate their gifts and energies to the church on weekends.

So I am particularly pleased to spend some extended time with these three men—who are in a position to offer significant time and energies to the churches they serve—and pour a little encouragement into their lives.

Like churches everywhere, the New Zealand church struggles with the tension between the traditional and the progressive, old ways and new, what was once effective and what holds the promise of being effective now. Leadership is a constant struggle. They suffer from what they call the “tall poppy” syndrome: whenever a leader rises above his peers to provide direction and motivation, others feel called to cut him down to size. It has kept the church here from growing beyond the founding fathers and finding new ways to reach a new generation. Sound familiar?

IMG_0285Over Chinese food last night (including an excellent spicy chicken!), we talked about the challenges for the church in NZ, the opportunities of the future, and the impact the church needs to make on a rapidly changing culture. Demographics have shifted radically in NZ over the past three decades. Racial and ethnic roots are becoming more diverse. The population is more educated. Almost all families have two working parents. Life is far more expensive. People are extremely busy. Time is short.

Just this week, NZ legalized gay marriage. The culture here is largely secular, materialistic, and humanist. Alcoholism and joblessness are major issues among the native population. People feel the constant pressure of financial survival. The social safety net promised by the NZ government is being strained beyond sustainable limits.

These three men, while weathering some rough winds in the church, speak of the future with a great sense of optimism and enthusiasm. They love the church, love ministry, and love the chance to spend themselves on worthy causes. I commend them to your thoughts and prayers.

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