During the last week of August and the first weekends of September, more than 180 pastors, church leaders, active and potential church planters, and others gathered for the New Horizons and SENT conferences.
The events, held in two Adelaide Hills locations and in Brisbane, were organised by the New and Renewing Churches Department of the Lutheran Church of Australia and the Lutheran Church of New Zealand (LCA/NZ).
‘There’s a new movement underway in the LCA/NZ’, says Rev Dr Noel Due, LCA Pastor for New and Renewing Churches. ‘It involves churches, pastors and parishes from every district. It started small, but it is gaining momentum. And it is the future. It is church planting and the renewal the Lord brings through it.
‘It’s not rocket science. It is simply built around the belief that the Lord delights to see new people come to faith in Jesus and to be formed into communities of worshippers in the Word and Spirit.’
The Spirit Led Leader was the theme for New Horizons 2019. About 80 people gathered at Nunyara Conference Centre in Belair in the Adelaide Hills for nearly three days of Bible teaching, prayer, networking and development work. Attendees came from every district except New Zealand, and they represented a wide mix of ages and experience.
‘Some have been working in the church-planting space for a number of years. Others are just beginning’, said Dr Due. ‘Together, they are embarking on the journey that will increasingly become the norm among our churches: learning what it means to be a healthy, mission-shaped, multiplying and sending church.’
Jennifer Cruz from St Philip’s Tarneit, Victoria, said it was encouraging to be together with others who are ‘reaching out to the lost, through relationships, in the leading of the Holy Spirit and the formation of communities’. The SENT conference had confirmed the role she and her husband Thadeus have ‘in this “new” way of reaching out to those who do not know God or his love’.
The Spirit Led Mission was the theme of the two SENT conferences at Hahndorf, in the Adelaide Hills, and at Rochedale, Brisbane. At Hahndorf, approximately 50 people gathered for a Friday night and Saturday conference, and about 55 in Rochedale. There was a mix of pastors, leaders and emerging church planters, ‘who drew great heart from the Bible teaching, networking and prayer’, Dr Due said.
Both events were built around the release of the new book, Spirit Filled: Normal Christian Living by Lutheran pastors Rev Dr Steen Olsen and Dr Due.
Here’s what some participants said.
PASTOR MARK HAMPEL, Chinchilla Qld
By and large it seems our LCA has forgotten how to evangelise and bring people to Christ. We have the worst conversion rate of any church! New Horizons reminded us that intentional, relational evangelism is such a good and natural way to bring people to Christ. It’s not rocket science; it’s kind of common sense. But it’s not really been as focused and integral a part of the life and practice of our LCA faith communities as it could have been. Jesus, on the other hand, was very deliberate and intentional in the time and attention he gave to a few people, his disciples.
Our institutionalised approach (build a school, aged-care facility, childcare centre, camping ministry) to spreading the kingdom is really not working. The sowing, sowing, sowing of the gospel, without any thought to the gathering of the new believers into Christian community, is really not faithful to the New Testament.
There is a big culture gap between the way our faith communities worship and what people exploring the Christian faith are comfortable with. Go to the people, where they are at. Spend time with them in conversation. Be focused and intentional about it, not letting churchly duties crowd this time out of your life. Be there for them and point them to Christ along the way, as the Spirit leads, and you discern when the time is right. This journey takes time. Much time.
The energy margins are vitally important. If a person is so busy with keeping the church-going, there is little or no energy left to be with the ‘not yet believer’. We need to offload churchly duties from at least some people so that they can move into this missional space.
JACOB AND KATE TRAEGER, Woden Valley ACT
It was enormously encouraging to be part of a group with such a sense of unity, openness to the Spirit’s leading, and a deep sense that the good news of Christ compels us to be witnesses to him and see lives transformed. We loved being able to hear what God’s Spirit is doing in other parts of the LCA, and to be able to share notes with other leaders and missionaries about what is working or not working in their contexts.
JENNIFER CRUZ, Tarneit Vic
It was such a blessing to be included in New Horizons this year. I found it to be a time of refreshment in the current atmosphere of change that has been slowly developing in the Lutheran Church. Being together with brothers and sisters who are looking to be part of reaching out to the lost in relationship, in the leading of the Holy Spirit and the formation of communities as we participate in God’s mission has been so encouraging and has further confirmed our role in this ‘new’ way of reaching out to those who do not know God or his love.
There was a great focus on the working of the Holy Spirit, which is something we haven’t seen much of in the 10 years that we have been part of the Lutheran denomination. Yes, he is mentioned quite frequently, but not often the main focus. One way this was regularly practised was at the start of each session where time was spent dwelling in the Word and sharing what the Spirit was speaking to us in the passage being read. One of the things that most stood out to me was that as we are participating in God’s mission, he has already given us the gifts we need to do the work he has planned for us. How encouraging is that!
We are very thankful to Noel, Dean, and Steen for the work they have done in the content presented, as well as to Derek from Geneva Push, who was able to provide some eye-opening statistics and helped me to realise the importance of having support for marriages while actively involved in ministries such as church plants and missional communities.
It was so amazing to be in the beautiful hilltop surroundings at Nunyara Conference Centre, which had amazing views and such a lovely setting, to be away from the normal everyday routines and just be with brothers and sisters, most of whom we’d only just met, and be able to spend time together learning about our Lord and Saviour and being a part of the vision he has for his church. We are tremendously grateful to have been there and are already looking forward to being at next year’s New Horizons.
THADEUS CRUZ, Tarneit Vic
I was truly blessed with my experience at the New Horizons and SENT conferences in South Australia. I felt that God’s presence was in both events and the Holy Spirit was really moving the attendees, stirring our hearts and excitement on the possibilities for planting churches and missional communities across Australia.
At both events, Jennifer and felt welcomed by pastors, lay workers and the current and future church planters. Noel Due and Dean Eaton were, as always, warm and welcoming. We were privileged to have some time with them, even though they were busy with the activity of both events. Having a guest speaker such as Derek Hanna giving an outside point of view regarding the issues of church attendance within existing churches was an eye-opener of how serious the matter of reaching out to the unchurched is at this present time. It is critical to ensure these events happen on a regular basis, to keep raising awareness. It also highlighted to me the importance of sharing testimonies regarding the church plant and missional communities to the Lutheran churches across Australia.
It was really good to hear from everyone- their insights, struggles, frustrations and encouragement, regarding the church planting and missional community venture. Having a time to worship together and pray together for God’s harvest was such a blessing and we left both events both encouraged and excited knowing that we have met brothers and sisters in Christ who are on the same journey together in both Australia and New Zealand.
Jennifer and I have been truly blessed. We felt God’s love and Holy Spirit through the people during that time. We are looking forward to attending the next New Horizons conference and being reunited with the brothers and sisters we met over the two conferences.