Sunday, July 29, 2007

Partners

I'm back in New Zealand primarily for the birth of our grandaughter Raegan. It just happens to coincide with a church planter’s assessment center led by a team from West Michigan. A whole bunch of us are here – probably the most of any one time in the history of the partnership between the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand and the West Michigan District of the Wesleyan Church. So, this Sunday was an interesting Sunday for me to observe what has happened over the past six years.

It was about this time in 2001 when I received a call from Mark Gorveatte asking if I could host Richard and Jane Waugh at Berkley for a Sunday. I nearly said, “no” because I had just begun a new series of messages that week. What a fateful decision that was. By saying “yes” my whole life was changed. We had a great time and found our hearts knit together.

Less than a year later I had the privilege of leading the first team from WMD to NZ to do exploration of what a partnership might look like. We had a lot of meetings and made many friends in the process. The most important question asked me initially took me off guard, but has come to add new shape to my view of what partnerships are supposed to be.

“So, does partnership mean you give us money and then get to tell us what to do?” Kiwi’s are known for being direct, but the question was over the top even for most of them. It grew out of a frustrated heart – it put me on notice – partnerships have to be mutual – there has to be benefits to both sides.

Yesterday I attended services at two New Zealand Churches. East City – partner with Kentwood Community and Cession – partner with Lowell Impact. As Wayne Schmidt spoke to the ECW family I was struck by what a blessing again is mine to be one who simply connects people and then steps out. Wayne brought a powerful message appropriate for the ECW church as they are about to go ‘possess the land’ of their new building. The Kentwood people have done much to develop the leadership of ECW. But in one comment from Wayne’s greeting to the ECW people, I also saw what they were teaching Kentwood. ECW is the most culturally diverse church I know. Pakeha (New Zealanders of European descent) Maoris, Chinese, Indonesians and other Polynesian Islanders, all mixing and treating one another with great love and respect. Kentwood, like so many of our churches, is primarily a white church. And, frankly, Grand Rapids has more than its share of prejudiced whites. The Kentwood Community Church, to it’s everlasting credit, is trying to change all that. It’s a great challenge in North American culture. ECW becomes a model and an inspiration for the change.

Then yesterday as I watched Phil Struckmeyer pour into the lives of the Cession people during the morning (only hours after getting off a 4:30 a.m. arrival from the US) I was blessed again. It was great to see what both churches are gaining. Cession is looking at planting and Impact has gained a missionary heart for the world. I also loved the way Phil backed out and let Cession be Cession. He wasn’t the visiting dignitary, he was a praying partner.

Which lets me segue to my concern about the ECW service. It felt very North American to me. The voices are primarily North American. The worship leader is Canadian, the interim pastor is from the US and then the main speaker was from the US as well. I’m not saying this is all bad or should have been done differently on that particular day. But I did miss that beautiful New Zealand brogue and I am concerned that ECW – especially in its position as “anchor church” not become a North American outpost.

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