I am a missionary.
I heard God’s call and said, ‘Here I am, send me!’. And God said, ‘Okay then,
I will send you to Pakenham’.
Pakenham? A suburban satellite of Melbourne in the sprawling south-east of the city? That’s not a very exotic location for a missionary to be sent to, is it?
We can no longer consider Australia a ‘Christian country’, and we need people who will SOW THE GOSPEL in contextual ways in our secular, materialistic culture.
God has been shaping my life, my family, my calling, my community, and my church for many years, to bring
me to the point of being sent as a missionary.
My earliest years were cross-culturally shaped, as my dad and mum took our family to Tanzania when I was six months old. Dad worked with Lutheran World Service among refugees for four years. I grew up surrounded by African kids, and I spoke both Swahili and English.
As I grew older, I had a longing to be a pastor. Originally it was because I wanted to help people. But as my calling grew clearer, I knew that it was really because I wanted to share the life-giving, gracious news of Jesus with people. I’m an evangelist at heart. One of my greatest joys is communicating the gospel with people and seeing them ‘get it’, knowing that what God did through Jesus, he did for them.
Church planting and ‘mission to the West’ fascinate me. For almost 20 years I’ve researched, learnt, observed, and prayed about effective ways of making and multiplying disciples of Jesus. I recently completed a Masters of Arts in Theology, majoring in Missiology – the study of mission. My conviction has been steadily growing that we need ‘missionaries to the West’. We can no longer consider Australia a ‘Christian country’, and we need people who will sow the gospel in contextual ways in our secular, materialistic culture.
Sometimes I thought I wouldn’t find a call that would match my passion for church planting and mission within the church which nurtured my faith. So when the LCA developed a church-planting strategy through the Board for Local Mission (see breakout), I was very excited. Could my internal call to be a missionary possibly match God’s call through the church? And when a call as church-planting pastor and college pastor in Pakenham opened up, I knew that God was bringing things together. ‘Here I am, send me!’
But it’s not just me. God has been shaping my wife and family, too, to be missionaries and church planters along with me. ‘Here we are, send us!’
But it’s not just my family either. God has been preparing a committed group of his people in Pakenham for this church-planting and mission venture. In 2015 we have begun to learn how to live as missionaries in our local community. Who can we serve? How can we be family to each other? How can we learn to live and walk alongside the risen Jesus in everyday life? And how can we bring the good news of Jesus in natural, culturally appropriate ways to the people in our neighbourhoods so that they understand this is good news ‘for them’?
It’s a long journey, because many of us ‘established’ Christians don’t consider ourselves ‘missionaries’.
We have to learn new ways of being church and powerful ways of being community together. ‘Here is our Christian community – send us into our neighbourhood!’
What are we learning?
Mission is messy. It’s not linear. It involves both active servanthood and bold proclamation. It involves learning to configure our lives as a church community, not around ‘churchy stuff’ but around the gospel. We are doing this in Pakenham through groups called ‘Missional Communities’, or MCs. Our MCs meet weekly for a meal (or, in our case, dessert), to share God’s word and prayer, and to pray, think, plan and act in local mission. They are more than Bible study groups (which are great, but often focus on the growth and nurture of the Christians within them) because they have an intentionally outward mission and service focus. MCs are not just about us; they exist to be in mission to particular people around us.
In Pakenham some of us sense a call to be in mission to the families of Lakeside College, which connects with many people who may not yet be disciples of Jesus.
Some of us sense a call to be in mission to people who are suffering from mental illness, or their carers, or people who are victims of family violence.
The prayer, ‘Here I am, Lord, send me,’ is an important one – and one God loves to answer. The other prayer (from Luke 10), ‘Lord, send out labourers into your harvest’, is also one God loves to answer, and God has connected our fledgling church with many surprising people in answer to this prayer!
We’re also learning the reality of spiritual warfare in mission. This past 12 months have been the most difficult my family has ever faced. The enemy does not like people saying to God ‘Here I am, send me!’ and will do anything to try to derail the mission. Yet the presence of the risen Jesus with us gives us great hope and assures us of victory. The enemy is defeated by Jesus’ death and resurrection – the war is won, but the loser will not give up without a fight.
It’s been a great joy to our church community to see God bring growth and new life. Our first baptism was of a teacher from Lakeside College.
We hope and pray God will bring many more people to faith in him for the first time. We started with four core families, and now there are 12 families involved with our missional communities.
People are growing in a hunger for God’s word and in joy in community. Pakenham Lakeside Church now gathers twice a month for worship at Lakeside College, often with around 30 to 40 attending – half of whom are children. God is at work, shaping us, bringing us to the point where we can say, ‘Here I am, send me!’, and then sending us out – right where we live.
Mission to the West
Pastor Nathan Hedt calls himself a ‘missionary to the West’. That phrase seems unfamiliar to many of us in New Zealand and Australia, perhaps even a contradiction in terms. What does it mean? Is it even necessary?
To be a ‘missionary’ is to be a ‘sent one’. In John 20:19–23 the risen Jesus says to his disciples, ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you’. A careful reading of this text in the context of the chapter shows that Jesus said this to all his disciples, not just ‘the 12’. In this sense, every disciple of Jesus is a missionary, one who is sent by Jesus, and together we bear the life of the risen Jesus into a dying world that needs the good news. Unfortunately, we rarely think of ourselves as missionaries. That term seems to be reserved for people who ‘go’ to another country or language area to proclaim the gospel to people who have never heard it before. And because it’s not a core part of our self-identity, we often don’t act like missionaries either.
Australia and New Zealand have become highly secularised countries. A very small proportion of Aussies and Kiwis have a vibrant, growing faith in Jesus. Fewer than 10 per cent of Australians attend church regularly. Materialism and consumerism are often the twin idols of our culture, holding out false promises of hope, security and comfort. A growing number of people identify with either ‘no religion’, or a religion other than Christianity. Issues such as mental illness, family violence, and broken relationships show the effects of sin in our country. The truth is, New Zealanders and Australians need the gospel, and we are sent by Jesus as missionaries in our local context.
Jesus’ commission to his disciples in Acts 1:8 shows his mission strategy: to send people as his witnesses to local places like the cities where they live (‘you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem’); to the wider context of their own and neighbouring areas (‘in Judea and Samaria’); and to the whole world (‘and to the ends of the earth’). Mission begins where we are. Mission is being sent by Jesus, and finding ourselves with Jesus where he is – on the boundary between the Kingdom of God and the power of the evil one, bringing good news, hope and healing.
It takes time and effort to be a missionary, even a missionary to the West. It’s not easy to proclaim, live and embody the good news of Jesus. Mission is messy, and it’s hard work. But it is a joyful endeavour, done not in our own strength but with Jesus.
Pray about your mission field. God has sent you where you are. How can you live as a missionary to those around you?
A rapidly growing suburb, about 60 kilometres from the Melbourne CBD along the Monash freeway.
Up to seven new families move into the area per day. There are new housing estates popping up everywhere.
In recent years, Cardinia Shire and the neighbouring Casey Shire were the locations of a youth ‘suicide cluster’.
In the 2011 Australian census, 28 per cent of people in the Pakenham area claimed ‘no religious affiliation’, compared with 22 per cent of all Australians.
About Pakenham Lakeside Church and Lakeside College
Pakenham Lakeside Church has been supported financially by a church-planting grant from the LCA Board for Local Mission, the Victorian District, and Lakeside College, as well as local congregations and individuals.
You can find out more about Pakenham Lakeside Church at Pastor Nathan’s blog (www.emmausroadaustralia.blogspot.com), including signing up to receive a regular prayer letter, or financially supporting the church-planting mission (look for the ‘pray’ and ‘give’ tabs). ‘We would love your partnership in prayer or financial support, or for you to join us on our mission at Pakenham’, writes Pastor Nathan.
Lakeside College is a small P-12 college of the Lutheran Church of Australia, with about 370 students in 2016. It celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.
Nathan Hedt is the pastor of the Pakenham Lakeside Lutheran Church in Victoria. It is one of the first congregations to be established under the LCA Board for Local Mission’s church-planting initiative.
This feature story comes from The Lutheran February 2016. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.
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