Hope Amidst Uncertain Times
How Times Have Changed!
By Stephen Baxter
Tas Baptists Mission Director
The world has changed since our first Mission Leadership Summit back in 2013. Seven years ago, none of us could have anticipated the worldwide upheaval brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. It would have been almost impossible to believe that churches would not gather for Easter, and Pentecost, due to government restrictions.
Yet, here we are in a new world, still trying to understand and appreciate what we are living through. Tasmania, relative to much of the world, is a good place to be for now. But that could change quickly, as the resurgence in Victoria demonstrates. And economic, social and mental impacts of the lockdown are yet to be realised. We will be dealing with them for years, if not decades, to come.
Thankfully, there is a basis to be full of hope.
There is no doubt we are experiencing a moment of great anxiety, not only for our communities, but for our churches as well. There are questions around meaning and purpose. And, "Why do we do what we do?" These questions, and many others, rise to the surface as we face a very uncertain future.
Thankfully, there is a basis to be full of hope. This hope is not in ourselves. Or in our human capabilities. But in the Living God, who has promised to look after both the Church and the world, even despite our rebellion and sinfulness.
Attendees at the Mission Leadership Summit July 28, 2020
Hope within uncertainty
It is in this unique context that we held this year's Mission Leadership Summit at Riverlands on July 28. There was a very real and palpable delight in seeing each other face-to-face, a luxury by Victorian standards, but we are still getting used to sitting socially distanced.
Despite the toll recent events and restrictions has placed upon our churches, I was humbled to be in a room with such a passionate, capable and united bunch of church leaders. It was greatly encouraging to feel and see the enthusiasm, hope, and willingness to trust God and have a go even in, and despite, our current unpredictable environment.
It caused me to reminisce about our first summit, so, I looked up our brochure. Back then we said:
In mid-2009 in an open letter to pastors and congregations, Ivan James (the then chair of Tasmanian Baptists) noted how,
"we have reached a crisis point" where "many Tasmanian Baptist churches could die within 10 years".
He called us to "recognise that Tasmania is still a mission field" and asked why we shouldn't "focus on being intentional missionaries and planting new faith communities throughout Tasmania." To achieve our aim of transitioning to missional movement we need to gather those with a heart for mission across our denomination.
This is the purpose of the Summit--to bring together, from across Tasmanian Baptists--those who have a missional heart with the hope that we will be inspired, equipped, challenge and recharged. The goal is that it provides a context where networking and idea swapping takes place, and we will see an increase in missional focus and momentum across our churches.
Reading those words now, I'm reminded how far we have come in terms of "momentum" and "idea swapping". For many years we brought it speakers/facilitators to help build that momentum. More recently, we've had more than enough of our own momentum and ideas to encourage, challenge and inspire each other.
As I looked across the room, I was moved. I visualised our churches from Marrawah, across to George Town, and down to Hobart, and thought of all we have endured over the past months. Those months are full of prayers, care, perseverance and hard work. I noted what a diverse assortment of leaders and churches make up Tasmanian Baptists, and was excited to remember all those who have joined the team in the past seven years--a significant majority of us--and thankful for all they are bringing to our movement with experience, fresh ideas, and passion.
We are not sure what the future will bring. But I am convinced we are so much better prepared for mission than we were seven years ago. As I've said a few times in the past three years, we might be "fragile", but we are "agile". I have a sneaky suspicion God might have been preparing us for a moment such as this. In fact, I'm pretty convinced of it.
My prayer is that we will continue to be challenged and inspired us as we lean into God's love and grace, and into the opportunities this unique moment in history gives us.
Mission Director, Tasmanian Baptists
Please note Stephen is on leave until August 28, 2020