Forced Out, Sent Out

By Amber Livermore Photos by Kory Pence Video by Chris Whonsetler

“Plant or die.” These words are a mantra for Wesleyans in New Zealand.

Fresh start

“Movement momentum alone requires we keep planting,” said Rev. Brett Jones, assistant national superintendent of church development for the Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand (WMCNZ). Jones focuses on church planting, church health and leadership development. He is also founding pastor of cession|community launched from East City Wesleyan (ECW), Botany.

ECW is jokingly referred to as an “involuntary church plant.” ECW founding pastor and WMCNZ national superintendent, Dr. Richard Waugh, describes the history of his “involuntary church plant” in his article, “Planting a Church Planting Denomination.”

Reality for evangelical “Wesleyans” in New Zealand shifted dramatically in 1999-2000. Tumultuous changes took place in The Methodist Church of New Zealand. Due to controversial policy decisions catalyzed by compromises on biblical authority, evangelical Wesleyans felt forced out of their beloved denomination. Evangelical congregations lost their church properties, and pastors lost their salaries and retirements. However, God’s Spirit would transform a people forced out into a people sent out.

In 2000, five ordained ministers and five congregations of this ostracized evangelical group formed The Wesleyan Methodist Church of New Zealand (WMCNZ) as an indigenous church. It joined The International Wesleyan Church through a mission field partnership with the Wesleyan Methodist Church of Australia. From 2003-2008, the West Michigan District committed to partner with WMCNZ, and the vibrant church planting culture of this district strongly influenced WMCNZ through invaluable relationships, as well as ideological and financial resources.

New wave

WMCNZ cultivates its multiplication culture through annual celebrations of new church plants. The movement has expanded to 28 local churches. Church multiplication is prioritized on a structural level, and prayers for future plants are poured over strategic cities such as Wellington and Tauranga. These strategic plants require international partnerships, particularly in funding initial launches. For example, The Well in Christchurch of the South Island is led by Clint Ussher. Ussher and his wife, Jamie, and two daughters moved to New Zealand in 2012 to plant a church, with incredible financial support. Initially meeting in homes and a school hall, The Well dedicated its own building in 2017 with a desire to eventually send out more church planters for the South Island. Click to watch video.

Frank Ritchie experienced a call to ministry while attending cession|community and was ordained in 2012. He explored pastoring an existing WMCNZ church but the limited options in a young movement combined with the unique sort of church he felt called to pastor, made this unlikely. Feeling “forced out” of existing church paradigms, God relocated Ritchie and his family to Hamilton in 2017 to plant Commoners Wesleyan Community. Offering contemplative and discussion oriented services, Commoners provides a place of quiet exploration of faith in a noisy culture.

Rising property prices in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, cause many Wesleyans to consider moving elsewhere. Having experienced life in a church plant firsthand, these Wesleyans understand being “forced out and sent out.” Loyalty to the Wesleyan ethos is strong, so rather than finding a new church, these expats take WMCNZ with them.

These Wesleyans understand being “forced out and sent out."

Shore Grace, a strategic church plant on the North Shore of Auckland, ministered to a growing group of families who had moved 20 kilometers away to Millwater. This small group started a Sunday evening Bible study in a local school hall. Meanwhile in South Africa, Rev. Dr. John Bailie had been called to plant a church. Bailie stumbled across the WMCNZ website “by accident,” and he and his family moved to New Zealand in 2015. Millwater Wesleyan Church immediately started Sunday morning services with Bailie as their pastor. In June of 2017, WMCNZ celebrated its newest and most northern church plant in Whangarei, started by an expat pastor, Rev. Julia Vincent, and her husband.

Our future

Looking to the future, WMCNZ faces the challenge of reaching a third culture mission field. In New Zealand’s multicultural context, the second and third generation children of migrant families have a unique culture. Since many third culture Wesleyans of the next generation may feel forced out of their parents’ monoethnic churches, the movement hopes to send them out as church planters to reach the next generation.

Hope for the future is strong for Wesleyans in New Zealand, where a people forced out become a people sent out.