Andrew Reyngoud is pastor at Flaxmere Baptist Church. Last Saturday he graduated from Carey Baptist College with a Master of Applied Theology.

There they lie, heading towards the horizon, two railway rails lying parallel with each other, equidistant, secured in place, and together forming a railway track. Whenever I see this image, I recall a simile about what life is like for us as followers of Jesus. One of those rails represents the pain, the suffering, and the challenges that are part of living in a broken, fallen world. The other rail represents the joy, the hope, and the light from God.

Our role as followers of Jesus is to hold a rail in each of our hands, like a cross. Holding them together and in balance, not ignoring either rail but bringing God’s light and strength into pain and darkness.

This is the message we recall at Easter when we remember the uncertainty and betrayal of Good Friday as well as celebrating the resurrection joy of Easter Sunday. We need to celebrate both days and to hold them together.

This is also a theme that resonates throughout the stories of Jesus, as Jesus brought life and light into situations where people were full of despair. Jesus went on to say: Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also (John 12:26). Our call is to follow Jesus, being God’s hands and feet into those places of brokenness.

These are pictures of what it is like to hold onto those railway rails of pain and hope together.

I have recently completed my Masters Thesis at Carey, which can be downloaded by clicking this link: New Zealand Baptist churches in a time of change (1989-2019) : an analysis of the changes and variations in demographics and their implication - Carey Baptist College Theses - (oclc.org)  

I used quantitative analysis within an overarching theological framework. Before pastoring, I had a career in engineering and science. I care a lot about the local church and its future, as well as feeling at home in the world of statistics and data.

To examine the 30-year period between 1989 and 2019, I used our own Baptist Union of New Zealand annual church statistics data alongside New Zealand census data. This enabled me to see what was happening in New Zealand and to see what was happening in our churches over that 30-year period.

This research has found that there has been a wave of Baptist-specific demographic change coinciding with a wave of nationwide demographic change. As I carried out this research, I found trends that surprised and shocked me. As Baptists, we are facing the reality of numerous simultaneous challenges. While these can feel overwhelming, they cannot be ignored. Instead, these challenges need to be held onto like one of those railway rails while at the same time holding onto the railway rail of resurrection hope. God is at work, and God will continue to be at work.

Now that I have graduated, I hope my research will be used in ways that will help us, as Baptists, to make sense of the demographic changes that have been occurring over the last few decades in New Zealand and, therefore, within our churches. I plan to write some articles and do a few interviews to help unpack my thesis work. I am motivated by change and renewal happening in people’s lives, and I am reminded of the words of the prophet Jeremiah, who, in hard times, trusted in God to be faithful for the future:

But this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning:

great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:21-23)

 


Photo by Andrew Reyngoud

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