Out of my own journey of discovering my identity as a child of God, I’ve become a proponent of helping others find their identity in God; it’s a mark of my preaching and becomes central in any discussions I have with people who are struggling in life. I feel like it took me quite a while to get there, so I do all I can to help younger people discover this truth, so they don’t waste as much time as I did in discovering my worth is not found in the things of this world. I do acknowledge it’s a hard lesson to learn tough, and experience is normally our teacher.
The bigger identity
I’ve also learnt that as important as it is to find our own personal identity in God, it’s equally as important to find our identity within a body of God’s people as it was never God’s intention that we would journey alone. The trinitarian nature of God ably displays this truth; God himself is three-in-one, relationally connected in a mysterious but profound way. In our creation we were created in the image of God, thus being relationally connected to others is integral to being human.
For us who live in Aotearoa this has always been the case for our nation. The old Maori proverb says, Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi. Engari, he toa takitini … My strength is not the strength of one, it is the strength of many.
The bigger identity: Baptist
I was born into a Baptist family, my grandparents on my fathers side planted a Baptist church in Wellington, they were leaders in our Baptist whanau (family) and this has been the church community that has shaped my theology and worldview. But it’s only over time that I’ve discovered the unique characteristics of Baptist communities that now don’t only shape but provide my sense of community within the wide communities of God’s people.
There are four characteristics that provide Baptist communities their uniqueness within the larger Body of Christ:
1. Discipleship. We walk together as a committed community
Baptists emerged in 1609 and in their earliest years would enter into a written covenant with God and with one another where they would promise to walk together in the ways of the Lord and watch over one another in love, whatever it might cost them. And it cost them a lot; many Baptists fell victim to persecution that cost them their lives because of their convictions.
A commitment to community that lives out all the one another’s we see in the New Testament flies in the face of today’s individualist world that places our needs before those of others. I’ve learnt that that staying together is the harder road, but it also produces more fruit of the Spirit that any other road. It’s worth it.
2. Leadership. We listen together as a community
As a Senior Pastor of a large Baptist faith community I know that servant leadership is inherently a Baptist foundation stone. My role is to be part of a community and be the chief shepherd in guiding our community to hear the voice of the risen Christ in our midst.
My voice is no more important than that of those at the edges, and those at the edges need to have a voice. Becoming a listening community that values the perspectives of all and discerning God’s voice in the middle of that diversity is a powerfully Baptist.
I love that we’re so diverse; in that place Christ is glorified, and developing a discerning spirit takes time and patience; spiritual practices are so pertinent.
3. Worship: We’re a biblical community
The earliest records we have of Baptist communities shows that they would meet from 8am to 6pm, listening to up to eight people speak on one or two biblical passages, the opportunity for interjections and interactions afterwards. It was very inclusive, and very long!
Scripture was of paramount importance, but many voices contributed to its interpretation and application; there was not one person who held authority over what was said and what it meant; again community was central to hearing the voice of God. Thus worship becomes a community exercise and in the language we use in the church I pastor, we’re better together.
4. Mission: We witness together as a gospel community.
Many church traditions tend to focus on either evangelism or justice. Baptists insist on both. We believe that no one can enter the church without first hearing the call of Christ in the gospel, and so evangelism is an absolutely imperative and this has created the opportunity for dynamic and fluid mission opportunities that are both creative and entrepreneurial in response to the needs we see around us.
It is these four distinct aspects of being a follower of Jesus that continue to bring influence over how I live my life in a community of others who inspire me to keep growing and to keep persevering in the challenges of diverse communities that resist the modern view of consumerist Christianity.
I wish I could say it was easy. It’s not. It’s uncomfortable and challenging and is well outside my comfort zone, but let’s be honest, the greatest miracles always happen outside our comfort zones.
I hope we all embrace the opportunity to develop a bigger identity outside our individual frameworks; in that place the church is seen as being different to the rhythms of our world, and people will be drawn to the God who orchestrates the work of his Kingdom.
Grant Harris is a reformed banker who has been the Senior Pastor of Windsor Park Baptist Church in Auckland, New Zealand, for eleven years. Grant’s passionate about seeing people catch a glimpse of who they are in Christ and living out the difference that makes. He’s tried living according to the patterns of this world and found that those patterns came up short. He’s still a work-in-progress and always will be. You can contact Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.