Howard Webb caught up with Lindsay Jones, senior pastor at the Baptist Tabernacle in Auckland (affectionately known as 'The Tab'). He admits that pastoring a high-profile inner city church has made him revise some of his preconceptions about what effective evangelism looks like.
A surprising discovery - the Tab's tale
'Old-fashioned' ideas still work in the city
16 April 2015
“The ethnic makeup of those living within about two kilometres of the immediate centre is nearly 70 per cent Asian. My experience in coming to the Tab is that those circles of people are extremely open, especially the younger ones such as students who have come to study English as a second language.
“They are looking for community. They will readily respond to invitations. They will come and connect with the Gospel, because it is culturally unfamiliar and interesting for them to explore as part of their coming to see the Western world, especially those out of mainland China, but plenty of other places as well. So while in the suburbs it is vitally important that the church live out its faith where the people are rather than expect them to come to church, the dynamic in the inner city is a little different.
“Here at the Tab we have four congregations, although you could just as easily talk about them as communities. Two of them in particular spend most of Sunday together and so a worship service is only part of what they do. They share meals. They share Bible studies. They share doing life together in that context.
“The global community that gathers at 10:30 meets upstairs around tables. Last Sunday there were about 150 people present. Fifteen of them were there for the first time. Six people had come directly from Shanghai and arrived in the country only the day before. Two of them had arrived that very morning, and had been advised by their non-Christian contacts to go to a church 'because they will take care of you and look after you while you're in New Zealand.'”
So what does outreach look like in this surprising context, a community intrigued by church?
“One of the Tab's key outreaches is the 4J dance team, a multi-cultural dance group which dances out the words to Christian songs. These dances are performed on a regular basis on the Atrium Plaza area right at the top of Queen Street. Intermingled with the dances are testimonies.
“Many people walk past because they live in the apartments in the area and are out and about on foot – many do not own vehicles. They will stop and look especially when they see other people of similar ethnicity to themselves. They will readily accept invitations to come as a result of those outreaches. Often in those outreaches the Gospel is told in a very straight forward way, in a way that would turn people off if it was being told like that, standing on a street corner, to regular Kiwis.
“There is an intrigue about the Western world and its value system, and its success in recent history - economically and politically and in military strength and so on - together with a recognition of the fact that it is the Christian framework and its values that has enabled that to happen. The Eastern world in particular is saying we are open to hearing what that message is.
“In their willingness to come and explore that Western mindset and those values, they have absolutely no hesitation to come into church buildings, to engage with the scriptures, and to ask questions around who Jesus is.
“It has definitely shifted my paradigms of thinking – recognising the opportunity for mission that now sits on our doorstep. We are finding particularly Chinese the most open, but they are not the only ones. We are about to host six evenings of English conversation classes for Japanese, who are often considered very closed, but there is equally some element of willingness to come and engage with Kiwi Christians.
“Another area of interest is work amongst Muslims. Many do not wish to be identified with a physical church building, but we currently have a group of approximately 40 who meet regularly, about 35 of whom are believers. Five of those have become believers in the last two years from being in this group, and there are always four of five or more who are simply seeking. These are people from across the spectrum of Muslim backgrounds, from Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey - quite a wide range. An interesting thing about the group is that the key leader is Korean and the rest of the team are Chinese and Japanese!”