Grace Along the K’Road: Church Planting in Auckland, New Zealand
by Rick Matt
Like many of our alumni, Travis Scott (MDiv ’06)—who came to Covenant Seminary after graduating from Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and doing social work with juvenile offenders—found his direction and purpose for ministry radically altered by the Lord during his time here. Though originally he had no desire to be a pastor or to do overseas mission work, he eventually found himself heading up a church plant, City Presbyterian Church, on Karangahape Road in the highly secularized urban core of Auckland, New Zealand.
Known by Aucklanders as “the K’Road,” this formerly successful commercial center turned rough-and-tumble red-light district has been making a slow comeback in recent decades as more and more young professionals begin to make their homes in the area. Though the people are friendly and laid back, few are open to the gospel and many have profound misconceptions about the church and Christianity. Through the work at City Pres, the ongoing development of its parent denomination (Grace Presbyterian Church of New Zealand), the efforts of the related Grace Theological College, and burgeoning partnership efforts with professors at Covenant Seminary, Travis is beginning to see the Lord’s grace bring hints of light and hope to an area long steeped in darkness. Here is some of his story.
When I first came to Covenant Seminary, I didn’t know much about Francis Schaeffer, but as I discovered more about him and his approach to the gospel, I thought, “Yes! Yes!” It basically verbalized what I had been thinking with regard to ministry, but had not been able to articulate properly. I did not want to be a pastor in the traditional sense of being the CEO of a church. Prof. Jerram Barrs was a big influence on me in this regard. He challenged me to think about what ministry could look like as I struggled with relating theology to the real issues of life. I served as an intern at the Schaeffer Institute during seminary and did some work there after graduation as well. This helped me understand better how to meet people where they are in terms of presenting the gospel.
This preparation proved vital when it became obvious (through a long series of events) that I would end up planting a church in Auckland. People here generally keep their distance from “religion.” Pastors are often looked down upon, rather like used car salesmen. One man I used to see at a café where I hang out, when he learned I was a pastor, teased and joked and taunted me for a year and a half before he finally thought I was trustworthy.
When we first started City Pres, my family and I were the church. We didn’t even have a team. We had to build the team. We met in my home for a long time, then as we slowly grew, we’d meet in other people’s living rooms. We became a house church in January 2010. Our format was to be fairly informal, like a small group setting, with lots of discussion, along with some preaching and the administration of the Lord’s Supper. Though we’re still small (23 members), we now meet in a traditional Samoan meeting hall in the Samoan Consulate building. We average 40–60 people for a Sunday service. I would describe our style as “relaxed liturgical.” I would say nine out of ten churches here are more charismatic in style; compared to them we’re more “contemplative.” That seemed to appeal to the non-Christians here, especially the young people age 25 or so who make up most of our membership.
The reputation of the K’Road is very scandalous, but more and more young professionals and university students are starting to live here now. On any given Sunday we’ll have some believers, some beginners in the faith, some non-Christians, and some new Christians with us. We get a lot of de-churched people who are coming back to the church after a period of rebellion; they’re probably our largest group. Every six weeks we have a scaled back worship service to allow for a period of open discussion. We talk about all the hot issues of the day. The same-sex marriage debate is big here now, just as it is in the States. Our ministry right now consists mainly of the worship service, along with me doing some discipling, counseling, and building relationships in the community.
We did hold a City Pres Conference recently to help reach out to the pastors here, most of whom are bi-vocational and don’t have a lot of training. We brought Jerram Barrs over here to speak on leadership and discipling. Six or seven denominations were represented, with 20 or 25 congregations, from all over New Zealand. Jerram also did a public Friday Nights @ the Institute-style talk on the topic “Is God a Misogynist?”—which is what many people here really think. He was also able to lecture at Grace Theological College, where I have done some teaching as an adjunct too, on modern challenges to Christianity, and he preached and led discussions for our presbytery. We’ve seen some good fruit from this experience. Many people heard some things they’d not been exposed to before. We hope to do another such conference at some point, and hope to develop more of a partnership with Covenant Seminary along these lines.
Our church and denomination are small but the need here is great. We need more workers to help harvest what is being planted. We’d love to see some partnerships develop that would provide opportunities for interns or graduates to come and help with the work. Covenant Seminary’s focus on the pastor/scholar, on grace, and on winsome engagement with the culture produces the right kind of workers. They are sorely needed here.
NOTE: See the Winter 2012–Spring 2013 issue of Covenant magazine for more stories about how the Seminary’s students and graduates are training for and becoming involved in Kingdom-expanding opportunities both locally and globally.
Rick Matt is Associate Director of Print Communications for Covenant Seminary.