Pastor's Piece

The Senior Pastor writes his Pastor's Piece each week to connect with the St Alban's Community and its Alumni. This section of the website contains the current and past editions.

The Hate Church

Sunday, March 30, 2014
You may have heard of Westboro Baptist Church and their aggressive protesting, most recently outside Kiwi singer Lordes’ concert in Kansas City.  The Westboro clan are an extremist and conservative Baptist Church – although this may be an unfair and inaccurate use of both the terms “Baptist” and “church”!
Their church was founded by Pastor Fred Phelps in 1955 and is comprised of his large extended family and others who have joined them.  They see themselves as God’s prophetic people, speaking judgment on American society for its sinfulness, especially sexual promiscuity and homosexuality.
Phelps believed any misfortune, especially the deaths of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, was God's punishment for society's tolerance of homosexuality, and so his church would protest at the funerals of military personnel with bright banners like, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers”, “You’re going to Hell” and “God Hates Fags”.
Westboro was known as “The Hate Church” and Fred Phelps died last week aged 84.  So how do we respond to the death of this distorted Christian witness who turned the love of God for sinners into hate??  How does this recent news which made it onto the major media networks relate to the Gospel's Good News?
Ed Stetzer, once a victim of Westboro’s protest, suggests that we consider three ways to respond.
“First, we should grieve for the deceived.
Sadly, the Phelps family members are deceived and the god they follow is not anything like the God who so loved the world that He sent Jesus.  They followed a false god who hated sinners, not the God who "proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!" (Romans 5:8).  As Anne Lamott once said, "You can safely assume you've created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do."
But let's be careful to avoid our own self-deception.  The Westboro clan is full of people that need Jesus just as we do.
Let's not be judgmental ourselves.  Pray that they find peace in Jesus and love as he has loved.
Second, we should take each moment to boldly and generously share God's love.
Let's do the opposite of what Fred Phelps did and tell someone today that God loves them; and let’s show God’s love to the people that we don't normally like.  Do it because the world will talk about a man who hated in the name of "God”.  Instead, let’s demonstrate the love of Jesus to hurting, troubled, difficult and lost people.
Third, don't hate the Phelps family.
Why hate those who are trapped in their hate?  Pray for them.  Show grace to them. Martin Luther King said, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."  There will be lots of hate spewed out toward the Phelps family but I will not join in.
Now, I believe, Fred Phelps has discovered that God is love.  Sadly, he did not know that in his life, making his death even more tragic.  May we love others as we know God loves us.”

Murray Robertson’s Visit

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Welcome to St Albans where we seek to support one another in our living for Jesus and engaging in his mission in our world.  I am away at the Levin Uniting Church this morning as an independent chair for their Congregational Meeting about the closing and sale of the Waitarere Presbyterian Church which is within their parish.  My thanks to Mike Clark and Rob Yule for their contributions this morning.

I’ve had very positive feedback from our people about the visit of Murray Robertson last weekend.  Those elders, staff & Ministry leaders who attended the Review Day (which was more of a seminar from Murray) found it very helpful.  And the Sunday congregations appreciated his message and challenge – Do we want to see St Albans as an agent of God’s Kingdom which will continue to grow?  or Do we want to grow old together?  Someone suggested they wanted both!

As Murray told us, growth is a by-product of any church being an intentional agent of God’s Kingdom in our community.  Growth in mission and numbers involves two aspects:  the Attitude of the congregation (leaders and members) and the Church Structures.  As a church grows, it needs to change its structures and ways of operation. 

Most NZ churches have less than 70 Sunday attenders; in fact most churches world-wide.  A small church can know everyone, make decisions together and the minister can do most of the ministry and pastoral care.  It will never grow bigger if it remains like this.  A larger church needs more staff, volunteers who are prepared to devote more time, and a leadership that empowers and equips others to do ministry and mission, and leaders who lead in an intentional way.  The senior minister/pastor needs to be a leader of leaders and not the provider of most of the pastoral care, welcoming and administration.  The church also needs to be more vision-led and continually asking How does this fit with our vision?

St Albans has been stalled for 13 years with around 200 adult Sunday attenders and with a falling number of children and young people.  We need to imagine what our life would be like if we had 400 regular adult attenders and to start structuring for the size now.  Murray gave us 11 keys to consider and the elders and staff will be considering these over the coming weeks.

These keys are about a movement in attitude and structure from:  Relationships to mission, Informality to intentionality, Pastoring to leading by minister, Simplicity to complexity, One minister/pastor to a team, Ministry and care by the pastor to ministry by small groups, Decision-making by the congregation to Decision-making by leaders, a Single service/one church mentality to multiple services, Volunteers to staff, Sunday is most important to being a seven-day church, Church buildings being small & personal to being large & impersonal places to gather, a Single-site church to multi-site church or church planting.

At the Church Council meeting this Tuesday night, our elders will be considering Murray’s seminar material and some reflections from those who attended.  Other written contributions are also welcome.


No Holiness without Praise

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Welcome to St Albans, one part of Christ’s body in our city, where we seek to support one another in our living for Jesus and engaging in his mission in our world. 

A warm welcome to our speaker today, Murray Robertson from Christchurch, who led our Church Review Day yesterday.  Murray was Senior Pastor of Spreydon Baptist Church in Christchurch for 40 years and after his retirement he and others established the Leadership Network NZ which aims “to encourage pastors, elders and other church leaders in the development of effective missional churches throughout New Zealand.”

Last Sunday in my sermon series on “Holiness – Holy Living”, I spoke about holiness being our response of gratitude to God.  Both the Bible passages from 1 Peter 1 and Romans 12 made this clear.  I summarised it in a quotation from scholar James Packer, “There is no holiness without praise.”

To be grateful to God however, we need to carry a clear vision or picture of what God has done for us and all humanity and of what God promises for us in His eternal future.

I asked, “Do you live with God’s future in mind?”

I concluded my sermon with an inspiring story from Max Lucado called “View from the High Country”.  Copies of my sermon, including Lucado’s story, are available on the Reception counter today.

Below is James Packer’s more theological vision of why we should be grateful and full of praise from his bookRediscovering Holiness’.

“God’s plan of salvation covers not only

the three-hour agony of Jesus on the cross, enduring Godforsakeness so that sinners like us would never have to endure it;

but also the permanently transforming bodily resurrection

of Jesus

and the permanently transforming heart regeneration of everyone who is saved –

[neither of which could be achieved by powers of this world.]

Finally, the plan reaches into the future, promising everyone a new, undying body.

In addition, it promises saved sinners like me, a new heaven and a new earth,

a vast perfected society,

and the visible presence of Jesus, to enjoy through that new body forever!


The Triune God of the plan is great –

transcendent and immutable in his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. 

He is eternal in his truthfulness and faithfulness,

wisdom and justice, severity and goodness –

and he must be praised and adored as such.

Praise of this kind is the foundation of human holiness,

which always starts here.

Just as there could be for Jesus no crown without the cross,

so there can be for us no holiness without the praise.”




Sunday, March 9, 2014

Welcome to worship at St Albans, where we encourage people to worship God in all areas of their lives.

Objections were raised this week to Christian Religious Education (CRE) at Milson School by one of their parents.  The mother wrote to the school Board of Trustees with the threat of taking the matter to the Human Rights Commission.  She was concerned that having a 30 minute class of religious education each Friday was against her conscience, reduced her son’s education time and put her son in an awkward position if she withdrew him from the class.

This was after a survey of parents last year indicated that 64% of those who responded were happy to have the 30 minute class within school time, which was one of the options offered to parents.  I don’t think it was wise of the school to offer the CRE class in school hours but now the Board has immediately rescheduled the CRE lesson for Friday mornings before school, from 8.20am to 8.50am.  That way children can opt in.

It seems sad that the Board gave in to this pressure as CRE has been allowed in primary schools by the Education Act 1877 which established “free, compulsory and secular” education for all children between 5 and 15 years.  The word “secular” here meant “non-sectarian” or “non-denominational”.  No single church’s doctrine was allowed to dominate but a general Christian perspective.

This Education Act allows primary schools to be legally closed for 30 minutes each week to receive Christian teaching.  During this time, often from 8.50am or 11.50am or 2.30pm, the pupils whose parents withdraw them can come to school late, go home early or be supervised by teachers for that time.  The CRE curriculum has developed to fit with the Ministry of Education’s curriculum and become more age appropriate and fun.

The rationale for CRE today is that our NZ society was founded and shaped by Christian faith in its Treaty of Waitangi, constitutional democracy, laws and values.  It is our Christian foundation that ensures freedom of speech, the press and religion by people of all faiths and none.  It is our Christian foundation that even allows the Milson School parent to object to CRE!  And the Christian faith is still the largest religious belief of New Zealanders (43%), ahead of those who claim no religion (39%) in the 2013 Census.  The next biggest religion is Hinduism at 2%.

Most importantly, the Tomorrow’s Schools Reform of 1989 requires School Boards to consult their communities and reflect their wishes in a range of matters.  This is what Milson School was doing.

I understand that the parent involved is part of The Secular Education Network, an organization with the goal of ‘Removing Religious Indoctrination from our State Primary Schools’.  CRE is educational not evangelistic.  They also argue that in our multi-religious society we should not limit religion in schools to Christian faith.  Parents of other religions are entitled to ask their School Board for such programmes.  They too would need the majority support of the school community.  Please pray for a fair discussion and the continuing CRE witness.


Mortgage Matters

Sunday, March 2, 2014
Welcome to St Albans, one part of Christ's body in our city, where we seek to support one another in our living for Jesus and engaging in his mission in our world.
Our church building mortgage stands at only $21,300 at February 28!
Ten years ago we took out a mortgage of $460,000 to build our new church complex which cost us $1.67 million.  We formally opened the building on July 25, 2004.  At the current rate of monthly repayments ($3280) the building will be paid off by the end of July.  This is possible thanks to your response to the 'Clear the Mortgage' Appeal launched one year ago.  We are very thankful to all who have contributed and enabled us to pay off our building within ten years, while continuing to support our church's mission here in Palmy and our nine overseas mission partners.
It would be very tidy to repay the mortgage before the end of our financial year of June 30th, and so begin the 2014-15 Financial Year without any mortgage.
We are conscious that some of our members have asked for an update on the Clear the Mortgage Appeal as they want to make a contribution before the end of this Tax Year on March 31st.  
I remind you that all donations made to St Albans, or any other NZ Charities, will qualify for a 33% rebate.  So if you give $300 you can apply to the IRD for $100 back.  If you give $900 you can claim $300 back.  And there is effectively no limit on the amount of donations that can be given.  So St Albans can get the benefit of the $300 or $900 but it will only cost the donor $200 or $600 respectively.
We look forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of our building and being debt-free in July!
We plan to commission our new Youth Pastor Murray Brown at next Sunday's 10am service.  We will also pray for all our children's and youth ministry leaders and helpers from Sonbeams to Element Youth at that service.
Our elders will hold a Church Review Day on Saturday March 15, from 9am to 3pm.  We have an Elders Retreat each year but this year we decided to invite Pastor Murray Robertson to lead our day and to preach on the Sunday morning.  Murray was the senior pastor at Spreydon Baptist Church in Christchurch for 40 years and co-foundered the Leadership Network NZ which has the vision to encourage pastors and other church leaders in the development of effective missional churches throughout New Zealand.  I have sent him much background material about St Albans so that he will be better prepared for his visit.
Last Thursday I spent the day in Auckland at the National Council of Presbyterian AFFIRM, "a network of evangelical Presbyterians with a passion for biblical faith, the transforming gospel and vibrant churches."”  I co-chair this network with Rev Dr Stuart Lange from Auckland.  The letters of 'AFFIRM' stand for a network of Action, Faith, Fellowship, Intercession, Renewal & Mission within the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ.

Youth Matters

Sunday, February 23, 2014

A Warm Welcome to St Albans, especially to any visitors.  Our Vision is to see people passionate for Jesus - growing in community and mission through experiencing Gods Love and Word, being led by the Holy Spirit in all of life.

We are especially thankful to God to have appointed a new youth pastor for this new year.  Our Search Team included youth leaders Jasmin, Ben and Jamilah plus Mike Clark, Ian Barnes, Jennifer Shaw and me.  We had five applicants including one from overseas and we interviewed three of them in January.  We worked carefully through the process in a prayerful way and were unanimous in our recommendation to the elders.  They too were unanimous in appointing Murray.

Murray first came to St Albans in 1997, after completing ten years as the youth pastor at Central Baptist here in Palmy, to be the youth pastor at St Albans for one year, which extended into two years!  He has been a member here ever since.  Also from 1995-98, Murray worked as the National Co-ordinator of Training for Baptist Youth Ministries and in 1999 founded his own national youth training ministry called YouthTRAIN (  Since then many youth workers and volunteer leaders from many denominations have been trained through YouthTRAIN, by distance learning, local workshops and through block courses Murray has taught at Carey Baptist College.

Murray is very experienced and well qualified with a Bachelor of Science, Youth Pastor Diploma, Certificate in Adult Teaching (Massey University) and a Graduate Diploma in Applied Theology (Carey Baptist College).  Murray married Maria in New York last May and they have five children between them.  Maria looks forward to being involved with our young people too.

Murrays position will be for 25 hours per week and Jasmin will be 10 hours per week as our Youth Intern.  Her Internship is a three-year degree through Laidlaw College and Presbyterian Youth Ministries.  Murray will be Jasmins internal supervisor and the Wellington Regional Youth Worker, Nga Larsen, will be her external supervisor.  Currently we do not have anyone being the 24-7 youth worker at Queen Elizabeth College as Jeff was for the past two years.

We believe that Murray is Gods person to be the youth pastor for our youth ministry at this time and we are delighted to have him.  We will commission him at a Sunday service soon!

Please pray for Murray and Maria and our young people that they will build good relationships, that our groups will continue to grow in discipleship and mission, and that our youth leaders will be well equipped in their roles.

Thank you for your generosity to our recent appeals for the awesome total given to our Christmas Appeal of $6,530, for the $1,200 farewell gift to the Odhiambos and for maintaining your offerings through the Christmas-January holiday season.  Our Christmas Appeal will be shared between our sister church in Israel since 1996, Beit Immanuel (a Jewish Christian community) and the Hope Project which will put a gospel booklet into every Kiwi home in this Bicentenary year.


Waitangi Wanderings

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Last week I trod where the Rev Samuel Marsden trod, on the shores of Oihi Bay in 1814!  No doubt the shore line has changed somewhat in 200 years!  The three of us who drove the 45 minutes from Paihia and walked down the one kilometre hill from the car park, stood in a huddle and prayed in front of the Marsden Cross.  We thanked God for Marsden and Ngapuhi Chief Ruatara who invited him, for the Gospel of Jesus coming to Aotearoa, for the missionaries (both European and Maori) who took the Gospel throughout this land, and for all those who have benefitted from that mission and come to know the Lord Jesus in Aotearoa.  We also prayed that many more, both Maori and other Kiwis, will come to faith in Jesus during this year.

I reflected on the three of us praying that day - one I knew a little and one I only met the day before.  One was an 86 year old Presbyterian minister who had gone from NZ and spent most of his adult life in Asia because of his passion for the Gospel.  He spent 20 years training ministers in India and another 35 establishing theological colleges throughout Asia.  He’s retiring from that when he turns 88!  Last year he was named the 2012 Distinguished Alumni of Princeton Theological Seminary for his work in developing theological education in Asia.  Princeton is the largest Presbyterian Theological College in the USA with a worldwide reputation.

The other man was a humble Kiwi Pentecostal Christian in his seventies, who is an evangelist with a passion for building relationships with Muslim people and sharing the Gospel of Jesus. 

And then there was me!  Three Kiwis saved by the Gospel of Jesus and sharing the Gospel of Jesus in multi-cultural NZ and in multi-religious Asia, because of Marsden, and 200 years after Marsden!  What a joy!  The people of Aotearoa still need the Gospel today as they did 200 years ago.

But as well as the Gospel, the early missionaries brought a sense of compassion and justice for the indigenous people.  They sought protection and fairness for Maori in the face of often greedy and unscrupulous European settlers and fishermen who wanted to acquire land and were often unruly.  25 years later, the missionaries and many Maori saw the Treaty of Waitangi as a sacred covenant made before God, drawn up by evangelical Christians in the Colonial Office in London.  It birthed a new beginning of respectful and peaceful co-existence between British settlers and Maori.  40 Maori Chiefs signed the Treaty on February 6, 1840, and another 500 signed in the following six months as the European and Maori missionaries took the Treaty around Aotearoa.

It was moving to visit the site on Waitangi Day, to join the political leaders as they each prayed in our national wharenui at 5am that morning with 300 others.  And to join the ecumenical church service at 10.30am with over 400 others and the leaders of many NZ denominations.  Let’s not stop praying that God will continue to bring Gospel life to Aotearoa.


“Abba – I belong to You”

Sunday, February 9, 2014

At the New Wine Summer Festival in Waikanae, I attended a workshop strangely titled “The Monk’s Walk - Charismatic Contemplation” led by Scottish Presbyterian Minister Howard Espie and his wife Charlotte. 

This practice is called a “Monk’s Walk” because in the 7th century, an English monk called Cuthbert began these walks to honour “the book of creation”, which speaks of all God has made.  A monk’s walk is conducted in silence, though at certain planned spots everyone gathers to share what God has been doing.  This is a time to learn the rhythms of prayer, to be “mindful”, to experience grace-filled contemplation.  Howard stressed that we are human beings but we behave as if we are human doings!

Check out Isaiah 37:14-20 and 2 Corinthians chapters1-4 – they point to Jesus taking our eternal restlessness.  We get our rest by going to Jesus.  Charlotte, Howard’s wife told us that as a busy GP, to remind herself to inject Sabbath rest into her work day she used coloured dots on her computer! She also explained that the area of the brain called amygdala, gets switched on when we feel stressed (eg. if we are surprised by a snake) but these days people have lost the art of switching it off!  So we did an amazing exercise to learn to switch off.

As we closed our eyes and breathed in, we said to ourselves, “Abba”.  Then as we breathed out we said, “I belong to You”.  This meant slowing and deepening my breathing to fit in all the second phrase.  I was soon very close to sleeping.  My friend said she felt totally bathed in the Father’s love.  We were reminded to “be strong in the grace of the Lord” – to draw God’s grace into our bodies. 

Howard suggested meditating on psalm 27:1-2 “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid.”  We can realize afresh we belong to Him, He light’s the Way and He is the stronghold of our lives, etc.

Then we set out on a silent walk through the Glen and along the forest path by the river.  Immediately I stepped out the door I looked up to the skyline (if I had been talking to someone I’m sure I would have missed it) and those famous verses came to mind, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills – from whence comes my help?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2).  The birds seemed more special as they danced overhead in the sky.  Creation was definitely showing off!




Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Below are four quotations (in italics) from Justice Eddie Durie in 1989, then Chief Judge of the Maori Land Court (1980-1998) and Chairperson of the Waitangi Tribunal (1980 - 2000), and a member of the Law Commission.  He is a Manawatu person from Rangitane, Ngati Kauwhata and Ngati Raukawa descent, the first Maori appointed as a Judge of the High Court, and a highly respected and moderate Maori leader. 

1. “During my travels in other countries, I have seen the blacks in the USA seeking equal rights, Indians seeking the rights of indigenous persons, other groups seeking to establish their own rights as a group.  I believe New Zealand is unique in seeking a racial solution based on partnership.  I have not heard that espoused elsewhere.”

The Treaty was an enlightened document for its time and remains unique among colonisers and indigenous peoples.  The British never came to Aotearoa to conquer the Maori by force but to establish a partnership.  There is good evidence that the early Christian missionaries of Northland, mainly Anglicans, first sought a treaty to protect and ensure justice for Maori because of their abuse by British whalers/sealers and settlers.

2. “The missionaries sold the Treaty to the Maori and it is important that they should sell it to the pakeha as their obligation.”

The Treaty was translated into Maori by missionary Henry Williams and missionaries strongly encouraged the northern chiefs to sign.  In the months following Waitangi Day 1840, it was primarily missionaries who travelled around Aotearoa encouraging other chiefs to sign.  As Christians today, I believe we have an obligation to see that Maori are protected and treated justly in the spirit of the Treaty which I’m sure our forebears saw as “loving their neighbours.” 

3. “If we Maori are tangata whenua, the original people of the land, then the ‘pakeha’ settlers are tangata tiriti, who belong to the land by right of the Treaty.  To honour our forebears, we as Maori must never challenge, never threaten, compromise or prejudice the rights of the ‘pakeha’ to be here.  We cannot claim our rights if we cannot respect the rights of others.”

4. “We cannot substitute the tyranny of the colonizers with the tyranny of Maori.  There has to be a balance.  Some Maori feel that we don’t live up to their expectations, but if their expectations are unreasonable, then we should not want to live up to them.  The Tribunal seeks a balance and a compromise, perhaps unacceptable to more radical groups.”

The Treaty is seen by many Maori as a founding covenant agreement with spiritual dimensions, both in 1840 and today.  It has been abused and dishonoured but can still be recognized and affirmed.  Past grievances need to be addressed and the Waitangi Tribunal has done this well, though needing more resources to process the backlog of claims.  This enables wounds to heal and mana (honour) to be restored, offering hope and opportunity to iwi, Maori tribes, throughout NZ.

There will be continuing debate about the application of The Treaty to contemporary issues but these debates can be healthy signs of exploring our partnership when conducted with goodwill and respect.


St Albans Update

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Welcome to St Albans as summer holidays end and the new school year begins.  We warmly welcome newcomers to join our church community, one part of Christ’s body in our city, as we support one another in our living for Jesus in 2014.

Much has happened throughout January: the Buzz Holiday Programme had around 60 children per day when it has been the smallest programme of the year with about 25-35 children per day.  Well done Russell, Michelle and team.  New Wine Summer Festivals had 1000 residents at Waikanae and Warkworth for the first time, including some of our people.  Babies were born to Phil & Anna Allen (Caris Joy Esme) in England on Dec 28th and to Sarah (nee Holleman) & Tolle Papageorgiou (Seth Anthony) in Wellington on Jan 13th.  And Tarnia Hodges was granted a PhD through Massey on Jan 15th on the subject of Wetland Ecology.

On the sad side: Serge Mambila’s mother died in Congo and David McCorkindale’s father died in Levin.  Joy Livingstone underwent surgery in Palmy as did 13 year old Grace Dean in Wellington Hospital.  Jenny Roberts and Bill Kingston have been recovering well from their pre-Christmas surgery and Andrea Holman remains positive through her treatment.

Thank you very much to those who have contributed to our Christmas Appeal for the Hope Project and our sister church in Israel Beit (house of) Immanuel.  They total is currently about $4,750.  We would love to pass last year’s total of $6,000.  If you still intend to contribute a Christmas gift, please use an appeal envelope from the Welcome Desk or any marked envelope and leave it in the Sunday offering, our church letterbox or in the office.  The Appeal will end on February 16th.

Thanks too to those who contributed to a farewell gift to the Odhiambos.  We gave them over $1200 plus the pounamu necklaces.  Jeff is currently in Kenya with his mother and brother and Alicia and the children moved to St John’s Theological College in Auckland last Thursday.  Jeff will return from Kenya directly to Auckland.

We have recently heard that the Hope Project will proceed on a smaller scale.  $1 million was required by December 31.  However only $800,000 was raised so the project will proceed prior to Christmas 2014, using television adverts to draw attention to the Bicentenary of the Gospel but only one booklet will be delivered to every home in NZ.  A website will also be established to which seekers can be referred to further explore faith matters and questions.  It is hoped that the other two booklets may be delivered to every home before Easter 2015 and 2016.

The Search Team for a new youth pastor has been busy selecting and interviewing applicants and praying and talking together about the right person to lead our youth ministry at this time.  No appointment has been made yet but we hope to have some news in the coming weeks.

Please keep these matters and people in your prayers, and those heading back to school!