According to their website, Shore Community Church is a church which began in 1996 with a team of church planters from the US. Their stated purpose is “Loving God, Loving Each Other, Loving the World.” They are a “faith community that is grounded in Scripture, centred on Jesus, shaped by the gospel, devoted to one another, conversant with our culture, engaged in our communities and led [sic.] by the Spirit of God.” Reuben here shares some of his story, his passions, and his challenges.
Stimulus: Who are you and, what can you tell us about the special people in your life?
Reuben: I’m married to Anna and we have three boys—8, 6 and 4—so it’s a busy, full life! Anna and I started dating as teenagers and now I’m almost 40 so we’ve done a lot of life together. She is a wonderful partner in ministry with me and she definitely makes me a better pastor (like by reminding me of people’s birthdays so I can take the credit for remembering!). Our boys are a lot of fun and they make me a better pastor too, by asking curly theological questions. We live on the North Shore in Auckland and are part of Shore Community Church, which has lots of young families, so we feel very supported in that community.
Stimulus: Can you give us a brief account of how you came to Christ?
Reuben: I grew up in a Christian family and because of the supportive faith environment I was raised in, the process of coming to Christ was a natural journey, not a moment in time for me. Sometime between about the ages of 11-13 I grew into a relationship with Jesus and was baptised at 14. My home church at the time, Northcote Baptist, played a big part in that, and I’m sure the prayers of my Gran had something to do with it too!
Stimulus: How is it that you came into senior pastoral leadership?
Reuben: After joining Shore Community Church in 2000, I began to sense a call into pastoral leadership as a vocation (I was studying part-time at Laidlaw College, then BCNZ). The Senior Pastor of the church took a gamble on me and invited me on staff at the church as an Associate Pastor to give me some ministry experience. From there Anna and I headed to the U.S. for two years for further theological study, then returned to the same church where I took up a role as Teaching Pastor. In 2008 I transitioned into the Senior Pastor role, which I’ve held since. Coming through the church internally as a leader has been a great advantage, and has convinced me of the importance of leadership development in the local church.
Stimulus: What are your greatest passions and joys?
Reuben: I am passionate about addressing the increasing rate of biblical illiteracy in the modern world among Christians. Most Christians are simply not reading their Bibles, or when they do read them, not reading them well. I am passionate about seeing people engage deeply and regularly with Scripture, both individually and in community, and grow in their love and knowledge of God’s Word as they learn to read it for all its worth. Connecting people to the meta-narrative of Scripture is a big part of that, as well as learning to read texts devotionally, study them deeply and understand how the different genres of the Bible work. As we learn to read Scripture well, our lives become re-narrated by the biblical narrative and we become shaped by its story, leading to life transformation.
Stimulus: What are the greatest challenges you face as a Senior Pastor?
Reuben: Leading a church in Auckland. We have a great city, but people’s lives here are insanely busy, many are stressed out, overworked, and time poor. Add to that Auckland house prices and you have a financial squeeze that results in many double-income families with precious little time to devote to each other, let alone the church. It can be tough figuring out what it means to live faithfully as the People of God in this context.
Stimulus: You have quite a reputation as a preacher, how do you understand the task of preaching—preparation, process, and purpose?
Reuben: I love John Stott’s quote that preaching is not about mastering certain methods but being mastered by certain convictions. For me, the most important of these convictions is that preaching itself is an act of new creation. The very task of proclaiming Scripture participates in God’s mission of reconciliation. When I stand up to preach I am not just “explaining the Bible;” I am participating in the Spirit’s work of renewing, redeeming, and restoring all things. Knowing this gives me a compelling vision of preaching as one of the ways God is fulfilling his redemptive work on earth. Without that I’m just someone teaching the Bible. But with that vision, I can trust that through preaching the Spirit is truly at work bringing about the kingdom of God in our midst.
Stimulus: You are also clearly in love with the Scriptures and biblical theology—how did you develop this and how do you nurture it?
Reuben: I remember as a teenager listening to some cassette tapes my parents had which contained expository teaching messages through Romans. I was enthralled. That was a catalyst God used to ignite in me a love for his Word, which he has continued to develop over the years. Then I encountered biblical theology through Laidlaw College and that added a new dimension to my view of Scripture. I’ve primarily nurtured this through trying to spend regular time in God’s Word, apart from sermon preparation. Old school practices like memorising Scripture, and verse-by-verse study have helped immerse me in the biblical story. And the more I grow in my knowledge of Scripture, the more it comes alive to me as I notice more connections between passages I hadn’t seen before, which adds to the tapestry of the whole.
Stimulus: After starting relatively young, you have survived a number of years in senior pastoral leadership—what is your advice to other Christian leaders concerning the best ways to care for themselves to ensure they can faithfully fulfil their call to ministry?
Reuben: Find a wise mentor outside of your immediate leadership context who can provide encouragement, support, and counsel. Take regular time out for spiritual retreats to be alone with God and Scripture, allowing him to restore your soul. Give up the illusion of control and recognise that you can’t make your church thrive, only God can. He calls you to faithfulness, not success or greatness. Don’t think it’s all about you. Don’t see the church as a machine that will work perfectly if you pull the right levers. Instead think of it as a garden, as your role as a gardener, cultivating those things that are growing. Look for where the Spirit is moving and join him. Continue to find new ways to remind yourself that your identity is not in your leadership, or any other aspect of your ministry, but as the beloved son or daughter of God.
Stimulus: In your experience of ministry in NZ, what do you see as the greatest challenges we face as we seek to faithfully fulfil our call as God’s people.
Reuben: Like the rest of the western world, we are tempted to capitulate to the dominant narratives of our secular age, like individualism and consumerism. We are so conditioned by these stories we don’t even notice it, and we often lead churches and participate in church life the same way. We need to consider how the cross tells a different story, a story in which the way up is down and those who want to be first need to become humble servants.
Stimulus: Can you point us in the direction of any great writers that can help us come to better come to grips with the challenges we as God’s people face in NZ today?
Reuben: I’ve appreciated the work of James K.A. Smith, who re-imagines what discipleship looks like in Desiring the Kingdom and You are What You Love. James Davison Hunter’s To Change The World is a helpful guide to thinking through mission and cultural engagement, and this has been fleshed out practically by David Fitch in Faithful Presence. Scot McKnight’s A Community Called Atonement is a rich picture of what a community shaped by the cross looks like. And for Christian leaders, Eugene Peterson is always a good source of encouragement and a reminder of what true biblical leadership involves.