Columnist Kevin Robertson, or 'Kev the Rev' as some people call him, is a gumboot-wearing-chainsaw-wielding-farm-hack and pastor-of-people at Te Awamutu Baptist Church in the beautiful Waikato region. Salt of the earth: it's what Jesus says we are. Paul the Apostle encourages us to season our conversations with salt. This column is about that: telling stories of salty people, inspiring us to imagine something we haven't thought of before, or helping us taste something differently. Porridge is better with salt!

Yay! Time for celebration, I finished a degree and diploma at Carey Baptist College. Just a few hurdles to go. One of these was my exit interview with three learned gentleman from the college staff of the day. The famous three have moved on to greater heights: One is now the national leader, one the principal of said college and the last has progressed to that wonderful high calling called ‘retirement’… can’t wait!

The meeting was encouraging, positive, uplifting… and then the retiree lent a little forward and said “I don’t want you to take this negatively but what I like about you is that you’re a mongrel”! High praise, received gladly. I knew it was a complement and the retiree expounded on what it meant to him. I ain’t no pedigree, I wasn’t an ‘ideal’ pastor trainee, maybe look a bit flea-bitten, a bit ragged around the edges, and a bit of bite, a bit of attitude.

Its years since that time and yet I remember it well, just like I remember and am still at times haunted by hearing Charles Hewlett’s voice echoing in my head “be a calm leader, be a calm leader”. Good try Charles! I’ve lost touch with the college of late – I wonder if they’re just training pedigrees? Or is there still room for the odd mongrel? The retiree lamented that our movement didn’t have enuff mongrels as pastors.

I know another mongrel. He doesn’t fit the ‘I’ll be a good Baptist pastor’ mould either. He’s a bit ruff round the edges, a bit flea-bitten by life, a bit of mongrel in him. And He’s doing a fantastic job at what God has called him to. I celebrate him! And lament that the struggle of planting a new church is still a rough road to take with lack of resources and sometimes personnel. He’s a good kiwi bloke. He fishes, he chainsaws, he even at times lends his stuff. He let me borrow his log splitter (once), don’t tell him what I did to it! We yarn over coffee, we encourage each other, we tell stories with that particular gift of exaggeration that mongrels seem to possess. But this is what I really like about him – his heart. Even though he killed my ram that he’d borrowed to service his hoggets.

For the sake of this article I’ll call him Stew. Not mutton or beef stew, just stew. Although he’s a ‘been there, done that’ sort bloke with a comfortable job, and since I’ve known him he’s also had this growing sense that God was calling him to be a pastor. I know he’s had the ‘yeah nah’ response from some but this calling was a flea in his ear. He was given encouragement to give it a crack, so he applied to a ‘job for sale’ for a pastor at a church close-ish to his home. He got the Dear John letter. Someone else got the job. Someone not better nor worse than Stew, just a different bloke. So in the turmoil of rejection was found fertile soil for a seed to be planted. What about a church pant! What about starting from scratch? What about starting in a Baptist building that had not housed a Baptist congregation for 15/20 years? And the seed germinated. Stew and his wife kicked things off in Ngāruawāhia just before Christmas. A growing church! Sunday morning growing to be 30ish. A pre-teen youth group has started with seven! A men’s group with five. A mid-week study group learning to hear the voice of God with 7 or 8 attending… an R18 service on Wednesday nights (I won’t elaborate on this, keep you guessing what that might look like).

Some churches have given some help, the local association giving part-time financial support. Is it enough? Yeah-nah. It’s tuff watching him put all his time and effort into what God has asked of him and yet still struggle with financial support. The thing about church plants is that you have no option but to reach out in evangelism. I love that word – evangelism! If you don’t reach out, you die. What a mongrel!

As I sit writing in the comfort of my church office, knowing I’ll get paid next week in full... Do we as a movement of churches support these most exciting of endeavours to the utmost? Or are they side issues for those dumb enough to be called to participate in them, to carry and battle through? Do we just leave the mongrels to do the hard yards and just celebrate those that really ‘fit the mould’ of Baptist respectability? Do we hold to the fringes the mongrels in our own congregations coz they are a bit different, a bit ruff round the edges, flip they might bite!

How should we be supporting new initiatives when they’re born out of ‘call’ and don’t have the support from a big flash church? Mmmm time for coffee!

Photos: header image: Kevin's legs with his gumboots and chainsaw. Dog: supplied by Kevin Robertson.

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