Bishop Paul’s letter

Rev Paul Smith
Bishop, Lutheran Church of
Australia and New Zealand

At the beginning of this century, I was called to serve as pastor for the people of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in the rural Queensland city of Toowoomba. This congregation of our Lutheran Church was a place full of passion for the mission of God. The congregation’s ministries included an outreach kids club for local families. The congregation supported Concordia Lutheran Primary and Salem Lutheran Aged Care.

Good Shepherd also had all your standard Lutheran congregational things such as Sunday school, confirmation, women’s guild, fellowship groups, a parish worker, youth group, ‘shut-in’ ministry and support for the wider church. When I arrived in 2001, Good Shepherd had grown to be one of the largest congregations in our church in Queensland.

I share this with you to point to a key part of the congregation’s history. Less than 50 years before I arrived as pastor, under the ministry of Pastor A H Koehler, Good Shepherd had been started as a church plant in what was originally an industrial transport hall in the growing southwest part of Toowoomba. With the opening service in 1964 with sermons from pastors K Marquart and N Habel, this new church was ‘planted’ by its neighbouring congregation, Redeemer.

Our history in the LCANZ is a history of church planting. From Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Hermannsburg Northern Territory to St Martins in Marton, New Zealand; from St John’s in Hopevale, Queensland, to Hope in Geraldton, Western Australia, to St Andrews in Nightcliff NT and St Peters Hobart in Tasmania, we Lutherans have been busily church planting for generations.

This is our heritage because this is our Lord’s command and promise. When we learn Martin Luther’s catechism, we are given Matthew 28 to memorise. ‘Go to all nations’, commands our Lord Jesus. ‘I will be with you always!’, he promises.

In June this year, I was privileged to be the guest preacher for the 150th anniversary of Trinity Lutheran congregation, just outside of Appila in South Australia’s Mid North. Their Scripture reading for the Sunday service was Matthew 28. This was most fitting for the occasion. For 150 years this congregation has had an extraordinary impact on the life of our Lutheran Church, especially in the formation of many church workers who have served at home and abroad.

It is significant that the text of Matthew 28 tells of the risen Lord sending ‘doubters’. Verse 17 reads, ‘When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted’. But our Lord does not divide the disciples into the ‘doubters’ and ‘the rest’ so that he can avoid sending the doubters. Verse 17 is followed by the command we know as the Great Commission, spoken to both the doubters and the rest.

The Lord gathers us into his mission with all our struggles and uncertainties. The people of Trinity Appila would gladly acknowledge that they are ordinary people caught up in the extraordinary mission of God.

In our modern Lutheran Church in New Zealand and Australia, we are seeing significant changes. Like many congregations, both Trinity Appila and Good Shepherd Toowoomba are no longer the size they were at the turn of this century. But this change in demography must not distract God’s people from the Great Commission. The mission field may have changed but the mission has not.

Matthew 28 commands us to go to all nations, making disciples and teaching them to obey everything that our Lord commanded. In our contemporary communities in New Zealand and Australia, we study Scripture with fervour and purpose, to discern what the Lord wants us to ‘teach’ in his name.

Matthew 28 commands us to go to all nations, making disciples and baptising. In our contemporary communities, we are called to cherish baptism in our own lives and in the lives of others. In public media and online, we rarely hear of the precious gift of baptism. We who are baptised into Christ declare to the world, with St Paul, that we were buried with Christ by baptism into his death and raised to walk in newness of life.

‘Go to all nations’, commands our risen Lord Jesus.

In Christ,

Lord Jesus, we belong to you,
you live in us, we live in you;
we live and work for you –
because we bear your name.

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