Cover Photo: “At The Blue Hole” by Duncan Robinson, painted following Collective 22. Inspired by Jack Reese’s message and book, Duncan said, “I wanted to capture the idea of being close to the life-giving water of Jesus and how that brings new growth; the idea of streams bringing life to hot barren desert.”
By Duncan Robinson
Two weeks ago I had the good pleasure of joining a team of fellow pastors at a conference. Pretty much my favourite conference of the year. Albeit the only conference I’ve attended for years. Being in a room with co–workers leading various ministries all over NSW was seriously good. The thing that kept stirring in my heart, though, was a word. Perhaps for me, and perhaps for the movement.
I got a sense that there were a number of nomads coming in from a rough and tumultuous season – one of great challenge and difficulty.
Numbers are down … check.
Church feels like it’s in flux … check.
I feel at the end of my tether … check.
We drifted down to Stanwell Park, many of us battered and bruised and in need of some healing. Lord Jesus, please bring me some healing in Stanwell Park! I felt it too.
I’m sure if we made a list, many of the common struggles we face would be shared across the movement. I feel it too. I took a moment to look up a definition for nomads: “A member of a people or tribe that has no permanent abode but moves about from place to place, usually seasonally and often following a traditional route or circuit according to the state of the pasturage or food supply.”
I wonder if, with all this movement, unrest and profoundly anxious season, we have forgotten our home. Church has closed, and people have moved on, which has led us to question the permanence of our place, which has led to a great tension.
Where am I supposed to be?
What am I supposed to do?
Is God closing the doors to this church?
From the bottom of my heart, you were always a nomad.
Our treasure, that wonderful saving knowledge of Jesus, was put into a clay pot which is a temporary structure (2 Cor 4:7).
Or perhaps a more Nomadic accommodation, that of a tent – which both Peter (2 Peter 1:13) and Paul (2 Cor 5:4) allude to as our present form. If we assume that the ‘gig’ of pastoring is a permanent thing, then we might forget the bold intentions from which we should lead.
Photo: Duncan’s digital graphic expression of his painting, “At The Blue Hole”.
What if this great moment, this blue hole that Jack Reese writes about, is an inspiration to work from the tent, moving toward the pastures? Nomads don’t stay in one place – perhaps the church is too much of a refuge in which we hide out.
The lamp placed on a stand isn’t the church on the corner, it’s you going to the pasture to be salt, to be light.
Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Gal 6:9)
Sweet merciful Jesus, this has been my verse for like two years. It moved from a tearful cry for help to a battle cry to persevere. But it doesn’t start in the church with a program. It begins in the pastures of your community beyond the walls of the building.
The harvest to reap was never in the church to begin with.
I’ve had to reframe what we are trying to accomplish in our church. It’s officially a replant in our community. What I have been blessed with is 40-50 faithful believers and a facility to operate out of. If you offered that to any would-be church planter, they would be beyond excited at the opportunity that holds.
But that isn’t the solution.
All God things seem to start with a rag-tag group of unlikely believers who faithfully walk in step with Jesus despite the unreasonable odds. More likely, insurmountable or impossible odds. Something requires to be so far-fetched that the only impossible way for it to happen is God. Honestly, that’s a pretty liberating thought.
I’ve been most inspired by this old tale …
A young girl was walking along a beach upon which thousands of starfish had been washed up during a terrible storm. When she came to each starfish, she would pick it up and throw it back into the ocean. People watched her with amusement.
She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”
The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied,
“Well, I made a difference for that one!”
The old man looked at the girl inquisitively and thought about what she had done and said. Inspired, he joined the little girl in throwing starfish back into the sea. Soon others joined, and all the starfish were saved.
It isn’t a Christian parable; it’s written by Loren Eiseley in a book called The Unexpected Universe. He was a naturalist looking to renew hope in the world in the 1960s. Awkwardly, though, he has captured the nature of salvation. It matters to that one person.
That one person’s life has been radically transformed by an encounter with Jesus. When that happens in the presence of others, it gives us just enough motivation to do the same. Suddenly we’ve got two people believing in the power of Jesus.
So, dare to believe again, my nomad friend, that we might bring the goodness of Jesus to just one person in our community. That it might inspire someone else to believe they can do the same. It’s almost like mustard seed-sized faith, isn’t it?
Those starfish need some mustard seed faith to move into the ocean so we can move those mountains. A cacophony of metaphors …
Ok … I just confused myself.
The rally point probably isn’t the church anymore. It’s the coffee shop, the mall, the pub, club, sporting club, f45, MMA gym … but we’re not the centre anymore.
The church is the last point of contact these days. Venture out my nomad buddies and befriend the neighbourhood. They need the peace of God more than ever. The hope of Jesus without the constraints of institutional religious hurdles. Real community, real connection and real love. We have the gifts and knowledge to share.
It all starts with one person. That may be the inspiration to give another person the courage to join in.
Duncan Robinson is pastor of Northgate Church in Belrose, a church of Christ. He is also a stand up comedian, podcaster, author, and artist.
Read more stories from churches of Christ in NSW & ACT HERE