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Complacency has no part in future Pasifika ministry

While Tongan, Samoan, and Fijian congregations in the Methodist Church of New Zealand do not have declining numbers and ageing congregations like their Pakeha counterparts, they must do some serious thinking if they are to avoid a similar fate.

This is the opinion of director of Tauiwi Pasifika ministry Rev Aso Samoa Saleupolu.

“At this point in time Pacific congregations are still growing, some faster than others. Faith is quite strong and evangelical among Pacific people, and there is a strong cultural aspect to it.

“The Church is part of out way of life. It has strong community support and helps us be secure and keep together here in this land of Aotearoa.”

Neither is there a shortage of Pacific people putting themselves forward for ministry in the MCNZ. For many it is a privilege to be a minister, something to strive for.

Despite this positive outlook, it would be a mistake to fall into complacency, Aso says.

“Some of our young people are in church only to be with their parents and families. Some have even made the deliberate choice to attend a Pentecostal church or other church where there is a more flexible style of worship.

“At this point in time Pacific Island congregations are prospering and growing but if we don’t address the needs of our young people, we could end up with smaller, older congregations.”

Aso says currently the training Pasifika presbyters receive gives them a good grounding in theology but does not necessarily prepare them to be leaders in Pacific congregations. Newly trained presbyters do not always have the cultural understandings to manage the hierarchical nature of Pacific congregations. After their training they face the choice conforming or taking risks to create change.

“Some of the young presbyters show a lack of wisdom when it comes to holding onto the values they inherit from their own cultures. To an extent, this is a legacy from the early missionaries, who introduced us to what they thought was the right theology at the expense of our own cultural values.

“Students must have a solid understanding of their own culture to make sense of their training here in Aotearoa New Zealand. It would help if our training programmes had Pacific theologians who are aware of Pacific life in Aotearoa.”

Something Aso thinks Pacific congregation could learn from Pakeha ministry is how to be more flexible and aware of the gifts and talents of lay people. While there are active stewards and lay people in Pacific congregations, much more authority and responsibility is vested in the ordained leaders.

Another dilemma for the future of Pacific ministry in the MCNZ is self-supporting ministry. Aso says ordaining ministers who are not itinerant was a quick way to provide presbyters to meet the needs of growing congregations but it is a model that has run its course.

“Because of our cultural contexts many of those people will be in their congregations for their entire lives. This creates barriers to new people.”