Erin White is the Communications Manager South West Baptist Church, Christchurch.

“30 Around 30” was an event for Baptist gospel leaders, focused on gospel renewal. Around 30 thirty-year olds (or close enough) gathered in South Auckland midweek in February to dream, discern and listen together. We were inspired by the change of focus that Charles Hewlett, National Leader of the Baptist Union has been talking about for the Baptist movement. 

This change would see the movement pivot in its strategic focus, from foundational and structural issues to an even greater focus on ministry and mission. We’d put greater effort into gospel renewal through our communities of faith.  

We were a mixed bunch of senior pastors, youth pastors, non-pastors and a cohort from Arotahi. 

We wanted to answer these questions:  

1. What does gospel renewal look like?  

2. What do our priorities need to be so that this gospel renewal might occur?  

From the beginning there was an atmosphere of anticipation in the room. This was the first opportunity to engage with the national Baptist movement for many of us, and the first time our voices and ideas were heard and considered on a national level. It was also a strong reminder that there are others like us, thirty-year olds on similar journeys with faith communities across the country. It was encouraging from the get-go.  

We began with a check in on the state of the Baptist Union. What were we seeing across the motu?  

Things looked pretty bleak at first - the list of negatives was longer than the positives and neutrals combined. But as space was created to discuss perceived issues, there was a significant shift in the room. Being given permission to talk about hard things allows you to press into hope a lot more quickly.  

Permission-giving was a theme for the whole event. Space was given to share, to be honest, and to be heard. It wasn’t token listening; we weren’t met with pre-prepared plans and priorities. We were genuinely consulted and humbly listened to.  

The hope in the room led to excitement about gospel renewal. And how can you not be excited about gospel renewal? It’s God’s kingdom breaking through here on earth! Here’s a glimpse of what thirty around thirty think gospel renewal looks like in our communities: 

> A joyous place! 

> Sacrificial and others focussed, with people making costly decisions 

> Sitting with brokenness and the tension of mess 

> Vulnerable 

> Being captivated by Jesus and having confidence in Him 

> Transformed communities 

> Reconciliation 

> Diversity 

> Power systems broken 

> 24/7 church – a church without walls 

> Unity 

> Soaking ourselves in Scripture 

Then we went further. We grounded the dreaming with strategic priorities:  

> Encourage and resource our Baptist whānau to spend time in spaces outside our normal context, whether locally or globally. In a new place, what new things is Jesus teaching us? Does the voice of Jesus sound different there? What are we hearing? 

> Intentional identification and training of leaders, both for church and local leadership 

> Provide resources around discernment for local churches 

> A prayer walk the length of Aotearoa 

> Connect local church to iwi 

> Consolidate our assets 

> Pruning – clearing away what has finished its season, to make space for new life 

> Engage people with the reality of who Jesus is by providing learning opportunities e.g. camps, CareyLocal 

As part of the overnighter, we also spent an evening with Derek Wenmoth (Chair of the Upper South Regional Association), who shared about giving people agency. The following morning, we were joined by Luke Kaa-Morgan (Te Pouarataki mō te hikoi Treaty Guide). We sensed him challenging us to think about how our movement and communities could journey with Māori without allowing that relationship to be driven by a desire to improve 'our' (i.e. our predominantly Pākehā) feelings, image or even the health of our churches. What would it look like to humbly partner with Jesus in the gospel renewal that is occurring as Māori reclaim their God-given reo, tikanga and whakapapa? What would it look like to do that expecting only that His kingdom would come amongst our whānau, hapū and iwi? 

It was a beautiful time together. In our poroporoaki we shared that we so appreciated being asked for our input, having our dreams listened to and valued, and gathering with a room full of peers. While we had been invited to contribute, we were also able to take a lot away: sense of hope, a sense of movement, a sense of following Jesus together, a sense of gospel renewal.  

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