07 April 2021
Engage Breakfast with Jim McInnes
At our latest Laidlaw Centre for Church Leadership Engage breakfast we had the privilege of hearing from Laidlaw MTh graduate Jim McInnes. He returned to New Zealand after six years on staff with The Vine Church in Hong Kong as associate pastor, and shares his reflections...
Hong Kong: The Challenges of Ministering Amidst Political Turmoil
How do you open a seven-week sermon series on justice in a church in Hong Kong when you know that six days ago protesters stormed the local government legislative chambers in anger at a government they saw as unresponsive to the public and a puppet of Beijing? Do you issue a public statement as a church when the central government then imposes a draconian National Security Law on Hong Kong in order to suppress political dissent, knowing that such a statement may have repercussions for the church and its members? These were just two of many difficult questions that faced us as a church leadership team as we sought to minister courageously and authentically into a deeply-divided political context.
That seven-week sermon series touched repeatedly on current events. How could it not? We called on those in authority to govern with mercy, righteousness and justice. We also reiterated the disturbing command of Jesus to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Those words took on new meaning in the midst of weekly clashes between protesters and police. One local young adult approached me a week after I had challenged those fighting for justice not to take up the tools of the enemy. “Your sermon made me so angry,” he said. “I felt hatred for the police. But God convicted me this week. Please keep preaching the truth pastor Jim. We need to hear it.” There was gratitude and desperation in his voice. I was humbled and reminded of why we preach. I was also conscious that local young people were fighting for precious freedoms that were slipping from their grasp. We did issue a public statement as a church leadership in response to the National Security Law.
The role of a pastor in the midst of political turmoil is complex. To do or say nothing is an abdication of Christian leadership, as one denomination learned when thirty youth leaders resigned together in protest at the tactical silence of their senior leadership. However, even if you speak up you certainly can’t please everyone. We had to quickly come to terms with the fact that we would offend some church members regardless of how sensitive, balanced and biblically faithful we strove to be. We also had to learn to hold together pastoral and prophetic functions: we had a duty on the one hand to pastor sensitively, including helping keep believers in loving communion with one another across an angry divide; while on the other hand prophetically speaking truth to power and naming the issues of public justice.
New Zealand may not be facing the kind of political crisis that is unfolding in Hong Kong, but there is no shortage of divisive issues down-under that polarise people, even believers. To preach and pastor is a privilege that carries with it the responsibility to wrestle with real-world issues that test Christian character and convictions. May God give us all the wisdom, courage and the grace needed to comfort, challenge and walk faithfully with those who look to us for leadership, love and truth.