From the Mission Director
Our Next Step in the Journey
Mission Director Stephen Baxter reflects on the past 11 years, and suggests Tasmanian Baptists can move forward with patience and innovation.
Back in September 2020 I wrote, "Tasmania is now a mission field, and that should change the way we think about church and do church."
Tasmania is now a mission field, and that should change the way we think about church and do church
It was part of a framing statement for our Tas Baptist staff as we prepared to engage in the annual review of our Strategic Plan. A number of people noted it and I've found myself quoting it a number of times since. Some find it motivating, some read it and more on, some are disappointed asking, 'when wasn't Tasmania a mission field?"
Time to move on
In the past, churches have habitually outsourced their mission and evangelism to "para-church" organisations. But that's changing. My statement reflects something of the realisation that it is in fact, our job. It captures something of the motivation behind the heart for change and transition, and the need for innovation at work within and across Tasmanian Baptists.
In the 12 years since Ivan James presented his review to the 2009 midyear Assembly we have been on a journey. Ivan noted how Tasmanian Baptist had reached a "crisis point" and more was needed than just "to rearrange the deckchairs for the comfort of the passengers on the SS Tasmanian Baptist as we sail in ignorance toward the fatal icebergs of cultural and generational gaps."
Prophetically Ivan wrote,
"We are called to be servants of the God of mission, which means, every one of us should be a missionary reaching out to the generations in this State that we have failed to reach to date. To do this, we must be intentional, innovative, relational, caring and involved in the community and not isolated and aloof from the people around us."
It is time for us to move on from that story, to the one that acknowledges that the church is a mission organisation, and we are getting on with it.
Trust for the unknown future
Over the past few years our annual themes have focussed on Abraham leaving Ur behind and trusting for a future unknown to him but promised by God. It is a story that has helped us understand the moment we are in.
We could have taken other Old Testament stories like God taking the Israelites out of Egypt towards the promised land, or the journey of the Israelites out of their exile in Babylon. In each of these stories, God promised a new future and called the people to trust. In each of the stories the fulfilment and timeframes were much longer than either Abraham, Moses, Nehemiah or the Israelites expected.
It took months to get Israel out of Egypt, but years to get Egypt out of Israel.
I'm encouraged by these stories. They remind me that the timing of things is God's, not ours. While we would like to see quick adaptation and rapid change across our churches, my reading of scripture and my experience over the past 11 years, suggests God has a longer game plan. While we feel the discomfort and grief of a church that is seemingly ineffective in its mission, we must not allow that to be a key motivation factor.
Rather, like the Israelites, we are trusting in God's long-term strategy and work at being aligned with that. It takes courage and faith to hold on to "the faith we profess" and "run the race before us with perseverance" (Heb 4:14; 2:1, 2). Which is exactly what generations of faithful people who have gone before us have done.
Both encouraged AND excited
I'm encouraged by how far we have come, and yet excited by how far we still have to go. The recent Pastors' and Leaders' Muster with Richard Sharp from Adelaide illustrated the point. There was a clear consensus amongst those who attended of the need to change and innovate. Yet we all have difficulty in conceiving what that might look like outside the experience of what we know.
It reminded me how we are moving out from Ur, Egypt or Babylon, not quite sure where we are going. Yet, we are trusting God to lead us.
We are now entering a new phase in that journey. It may be taking longer that we'd expected, or what we would like, but God goes before us and we need to allow God to set our pace.
May God grant us the grace, and the patience, to move together with God into all that the Spirit is doing in our community and in our churches and in our world.
Stephen Baxter serves as the Mission Director of Tasmanian Baptists, and is the Senior Pastor of Hobart Baptist Church.