Church planters in Australia and New Zealand have prayed and labored for a strong foundation in their church plants so they would one day mature into church-planting churches. By God’s grace, they’re seeing new churches launched as qualified planters are raised up and sent out.
One area where church-planting momentum is building is Japan. Church planters from these three regions are partnering together to make disciples in one of the most unreached parts of the world.
Adam Ramsey joins me on the podcast today to give a church-planting update for his side of the world. Adam is the Acts 29 network director for Australia and New Zealand, and the lead pastor of Liberti Church, a gospel-centered family of churches on the Gold Coast. He loves being married to Kristina, wrestling his five kids, and equipping church planters.
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Tony Merida: Welcome to Churches Planting Churches, a podcast on the theology and practice of church planting. I’m your host, Tony Merida.
Acts 29 Australia and New Zealand began with a focus on laying a strong foundation in their church plants so that they would one day mature into church-planting churches and by God’s grace they’re seeing new churches launched as qualified planters are raised up and sent out. They’re seeing continued momentum as they attract both church planters and existing churches who desire to mature into a multiplying church and also recently included the country of Japan into their network rhythms as they give themselves to partnerships in Southeast Asia.
With me on the podcast today to give an update on church planting in Australia, New Zealand and Japan is my good friend, Adam Ramsay. Adam is the network director for Australia and New Zealand. I am lead pastor of Liberty Church, a gospel centered family of churches on the gold coast in Australia. He loves being married to Christina, wrestling has five kids and equipping church planters. Adam, welcome back to the podcast. My friend.
Adam Ramsey: Thank you, Dr. Merida. Good to be with you. It’s always a joy.
Tony: This is actually two weeks in a row. I’ve got to see you, man.
Adam: I know this feels like a treat. I’m loving July. I mean, 2020 has been a mess, but July feels better.
Tony: But it’s cold there. Like explain the weather for our listeners because we don’t think frost on the ground over here in July.
Adam: So we’re down near the South pole, man, so we got Windsor happening right now and so where I live in the part of Australia, it gets down to a chilly, you know, 60 degrees Fahrenheit. So we’re suffering, it’s pretty brutal and we really could use your prayers.
Tony: Adam and I got to be together last what was it February, February or March, right before COVID, before the lockdown, right before the world blew up. We were in Paris for meetings and had to make emergency flight arrangements. And I remember I came downstairs. It was like four in the morning and Adam was outside. He was trying to get a flight home, but we made it.
Adam: That was crazy. We were all running out of France trying to get home before they locked the borders down on us. And I ended up having to get to the Paris airport. It was all Americans like, every American was at Paris airport because Donald Trump made some announcement about closing the borders. And so all the flights were booked up. I had to take a train from the Paris airport to London and try and get out of the continent that way. And got home, locked down as I know you did. And here we are five months in.
Tony: Wild man. So Adam, important question. How excited are you that the NBA is starting back?
Adam: A little excited because my team’s not playing right now. Okay. So I’m a Golden State Warriors guy. Don’t hate on me. My wife’s from the Bay area. Okay. We go back and they don’t, they’re not really playing right now. You know what I mean? So we’re waiting for a good draft pick and the next season, and then my heart is going to just be…
Tony: I just realized that.
Adam: …like a young calf leaping with exuberance out of its stall. But until then I will enjoy, I will enjoy the NBA. It’s good to have some ball back.
Tony: Yeah, man, I’ve been thrilled that baseball is back and it’s never felt so good to be so frustrated. It’s good to be frustrated again because my team is a social distancing from victories right now.
Adam: Yeah. Because if there’s one thing we haven’t had enough of this year, Tony, it’s being frustrated. We could really use some more of that.
Tony: Man, every pastor I’ve talked to is losing people over two or three big issues over here. I would love to hear what it’s like shepherding during this time in your neck of the woods. But it’s the COVID restrictions, it’s the mask it’s people making this a civil disobedience issue related to gatherings. It’s racial tensions. Guys are getting, they’re getting hurt out there, man. What’s it like over there?
Adam: Yeah. So, I mean, we’re watching all that play out in America and I think, you know, the United States is unique in some of those though, certainly not all of those. And as we watch that I mean, we certainly feel it. I mean, my wife’s from America where we lived in the States for 10 years, we’ve got lots of family over there still and some great friends over there that we’re just lamenting with whatever’s happening in the U.S. Continues to play out. So we have some of those tensions. We don’t have the masks tension. We’ve been pretty serious lockdown since March. And so they’ve been easing back restrictions in our country. It looks like there’s one or two hotspots that are getting a second wave of the outbreak there, were previously, we were able to pretty much contain it.
And we were kind of trying to get back to some sort of sense of normalcy. So as far as churches go where I am in my state, so it’s a little different where we are. It’s state to state, it’s going to be a different set of regulations and borders are going to be different between those states. And so my state, Queensland, we’ve actually just been able to stop gathering with social distancing in place and with four square meters per person building capacity. So just a quarter of what you can have in the venue. We had our first service back this last Sunday night, and it was just a taste of heaven on earth. Oh my goodness. I had missed preaching to real human beings in the room. Just being able to sing together, Hear God’s people say amen to the scriptures. There was a sense of rejoicing and a forward lean that was honestly just, magnificent.
So that’s a little bit where we are but as far as watching some of those things play out in the States for many of us we’re navigating some of the same tensions, pastoring people through it where there’s a lot of hostility. There’s a lot of anger. People, I don’t know if we’ve ever been as angry as we are, especially when we have the convenience of a keyboard in front of us, rather than a face to face, encounter with someone who is meant to be a brother or sister in Christ. And so, we’ve had that, we’ve had people leave our church, because of statements that I’ve made online, affirming the [inaudible] day of black men and women, particularly in the USA. And you know, I think there’s just a really tragic sense of constant outrage. And so more and more in this time, I’m trying to lean into voices that are both clear, but gentle. And just that sense of gentleness and how important that is both for us as leaders, but then for us to then call forth from our people as this is a non-negotiable, when it comes to the way we treat each other as the family of God.
Tony: Yeah, yeah, absolutely, man. Keeping churches unified. It’s a real challenge right now. Adam, one of the things I’ve always admired about you and your leadership is your sense of joy. Would you talk to the listeners about how you cultivate that? Is it because you married Christina, is it because of the wrestling your five kids or your Alligators Outback Steakhouse over there? I mean, what is it that cultivates that sense of joy?
Adam: That’s good, man. Look, I mean, for me, it’s coming back to, I feel like I can laugh a lot because I really do believe the gospel is true. And if the gospel is true, then it means we can take Jesus seriously. We can take the Bible seriously and we can be perpetually laughing mainly at ourselves. And so I feel like I’m laughing at myself a lot because I’m an idiot and I need Jesus. And then people around me…
Tony: I laugh when I think about you.
Adam: See you know, I’m just trying to help just bring them some laughter and some hope and laughter that’s what we all need during this time. And so I think when we really do have a heart that is at rest in Jesus, then we can face anything. I mean, that’s the Philippians 4 and kind of, I mean, it’s more contentment in that sense there what Paul’s talking about in Philippians 4, but we can actually face any kind of abundance where everything’s going well or lack, plenty, or need through Christ who gives us the strength to do so.
And so yes, to all the things you said I feel a sense of joy and let me say this joy, I wouldn’t say joy so much as an emotion. I think joy can I think it was Roy Ortman who said that joy exists in the moral category and it’s why Paul commands it. Right. Rejoice in the Lord. And again, I say rejoice, and we’ll get this call over and over again to rejoice and we can do so because that sense of rejoicing isn’t in our circumstances, certainly isn’t in, what’s playing out online. But it’s in the Lord who does not change, who is good and who loves us and is for us. And if our joy is placed there, then we really can face anything. And joy can even sit underneath other emotions and expressions like anger, like lament, like disappointment, like frustration, but sitting underneath that, like a steady base note we can have this joy that just is driving through and oozing out of the rest of our lives because it’s in Christ.
Tony: Another quality of your leadership that I’ve admired has been you’re always learning, always reading you know, taking these personal retreats that you do in the beautiful Scotland Highlands. Tell us maybe a book or two that’s been impactful. It may be even during COVID and then I want to talk about the book you’re writing.
Adam: Oh man. So, two books in particular on a similar thing that I alluded to just a little bit earlier that have really struck me this year one is Scott Sauls, “A Gentle Answer” that Just came out and the other one is Dane Ortlund Gentle and Lowly.” My goodness. I mean, both exceptional. Dane’s book, particularly, I’m putting that in my category of maybe the best book I’ve read written in the 21st century. It is just absolutely remarkable in how it draws your heart to Jesus and shows who Jesus is in present tense right now for His people in really succinct short chapters and in ways that just made me worship. And we need that during this time is theological accuracy and reflections that make our hearts sing. And so I really found that in that book, I would just encourage it to anyone who can get their hands on it. That is worth a read.
Tony: I concur, recommend both. I’m going to have Scott on the podcast in a couple of weeks. Actually. We’ll talk about his, I need to get to get Dane on. So you’re writing right now, a book on the attributes of God. Is that correct?
Adam: Yeah, that’s right. Well, so think of like a primer on the attributes of God. So right now working with the title “Living Theology.” Nearly finished with the first draft. So just a few more chapters to go. I’m hoping to wrap that up in the next few weeks with that coming out through the Good Book company next year. So, looking at…you, haven’t in a lot of Western Christianity at least, kind of two tribes, two teams that seem to play out in the church. You’ve got the theologically inclined, the thinkers, us reformed guys might find ourselves in this category. We like our doctrine, systematized and our ducks in a row. And to kind of know what we need to know, and that’s good. Like, I don’t want to minimize that.
Like let’s have biblical literacy and think rightly about God. And so that’s where the attributes of God play into this book and kind of give it some structure, but then you have this other tribe who I’d call the feelers. And this is those who would seek to experience God there’s a lot of joy in their lives. They sing louder than a lot of the reformed people do. There’s a forward lean of passion in their devotional life. And you look at that and I feel like through a lot of my ministry, I’ve been trying to, because this has been my own journey, I’ve been trying to get the thinkers to rejoice and to feel to feel rightly and thinking rightly. And I’ve been trying to get feelers to think to think theologically, to think biblically, to think with a gospel lens.
And so I’ve written something that walks through the various attributes of God, but then the experience, which is where the main thrust of the book is the experience of normal Christianity, that attribute, is meant to lead us into. So like for example, as I think deeply and rightly about the sovereignty of God, that attribute, the felt experience in my day to day Christianity ought to be one of assurance. I can rest in that as I think about the attributes of God’s omnipotence God’s unrivaledness it should lead me to an experience where I’m okay to embrace weakness. Because He’s the one who is almighty. As I think about the fact that God is faithful. He’s never late in his timing. I can experience patience deepening in my own life. And so I’ve worked for 12 of those attributes and the experience that they lead us into and man, I’m having a lot of fun doing it.
Tony: I love it, man. If the listeners don’t know, Adam is one of our top writers at the Gospel Coalition Acts 29 page, he’s written several times for us, and I’m very excited about this book.
Adam: Thanks, man.
Tony: Well, let’s talk a little bit about what’s happening in Australia, New Zealand and a bit about Japan. That seems very exciting. Give us a little update on the network there.
Adam: So we’re at about 41 churches now across our network here in Australia, New Zealand and Japan. And so with members and candidates and we had…we’ve had that really strange kind of feeling of everything slowing down, like many have around the world over the last few months and just trying to work out, how do we connect well, relate well in a space where we can’t see each other gathered together. And so there’s been a lot of online trainings we’ve been doing with all of our church planters and church leaders and inviting them into a space where… Like we had you just the other day, do a training with us around conflict in a Christ-centered way from your latest book, which was just so helpful to our guys and just having different people coming in and doing trainings with us.
And now as we start to have restrictions lift in different parts of our network that there’s a little bit more relational pieces starting to play out again, which we just we’ve missed that official. But even as we’ve kind of like slowed down in one sense, and I do see God’s hand in that I do see God’s hand disrupting our flow of ministry in the Western world, especially, and our pace of ministry to help us maybe reset some important things. As we’ve done that the mission’s still going forward. And so we’re still seeing church planters walking through the assessment process. We still have several existing churches coming up later this year that are planning to roll into our network with the goal of maturing towards being church planting churches themselves. And Japan has been one of the most, really remarkable and beautiful kind of stories for our network over these last couple of years and we’re just really excited about what’s playing out there.
Tony: That’s exciting, man. So talk to us maybe about some existing plants or some, any examples that kind of excites you when you think about your network.
Adam: Yeah. So, take Japan, for example, it’s probably where right now I’m just really seeing a lot of good momentum and the Lord’s hand. We had the guys… there was about four Acts 29 churches in Japan. We met them, we helped the emerging regions part of our [inaudible] global family pull off our first Acts 29 Asia training event. And so that was in 2018 and we all met in Thailand and had people from Vietnam and China and Japan and Nepal and a few other places I’m forgetting right now. I think Vietnam, I don’t know if I said that. And had three really wonderful days together. And from that I really built a relationship with the guys from Japan. And so about a year later, I get an email from all of the Japan members asking “Hey, could Australia and New Zealand, could we, as a network adopt them temporarily just for a short season of time into our network rhythms and include them?”
They were feeling isolated they were feeling that sense of, I mean, Japan is just… What an amazing place, but what a difficult place it has been for the last few centuries for the gospel to penetrate. And so one of the most unreached places on the planet, I believe the second most unreached place on the planet as far as people groups go. And so we got that email and thought, wow, what a privilege, what a privilege to even be asked to come alongside these brothers and sisters and just help any way that we could in any way that they found helpful. And so over the next little while we worked out a plan with the emerging regions and with Acts 29 and started to include those churches into our network rhythms, brought them over to our network conference traveled over there a number of times and helped with regional training events and retreats and things like that.
And what I’ve been most blessed by is the willingness to partner across denominational lines and across even church planting networks in Japan and really seeing a camaraderie there because it is so hard and the critical mass of Christians there is so small, and I just didn’t get any major vibes of network tribalism or denominational tribalism even where they disagreed on secondary issues. I saw a really beautiful partnership in the gospel. And so that just blessed me to watch that playing out and just this year, we were able to assess another church planter in Japan and have the Japan members of A29 do that assessment and we were just kind of in the background hanging out coaching and we’ve also just completed getting entire Acts 29 assessment process translated into Japanese so that now you don’t need to have English as a language to be able to go through it, which is a major bottleneck. Now we can have Japanese planters assessing Japanese planters. There’s just a lot of built up momentum we’re seeing there of church planting couples wanting to go through the process and just join a network that’s all about Jesus and all about church planning.
Tony: Man, that is so exciting. And it’s some pioneer work man, some important work that you’re doing. How have the guys in Australia, New Zealand, have they been able to interact with some of these guys? I know as a network director, you’re interacting, but what’s their experience been?
Adam: Yeah, so we had some of our network, maybe a third of our network who were at the last global gathering. We got to have the Japan guys join us in our network rhythms at that global gathering. And so there was, we were able to have some face to face introductions and some time just getting to know each other during that space. But the best one was at our network conference at the beginning of this year we were able to fly all of those pastors and wives over to Sydney where we had our network conference and just include them in everything we were doing. And just, I saw our network just love these guys and welcomed them in and taking them out for meals and looking to build partnerships there where there’s a relational and prayerful and financial support that is playing out and genuinely one of the best moments, maybe the best moments of the whole conference was we had Yoshi who’s one of our church planners over there pastors a church called Somafucci, and he preached one of the main sessions of the conference for us in Japanese and had Cooney [SP], another pastor translate for him into English.
And it was a chance for a massively predominantly group of English speakers to hear the gospel winsomely and truly preached in the Japanese tongue, with passion and with power. And man, I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it because it was one of those little foretaste moments where you remember really clearly that the family of Jesus is so much bigger. Totally not white, totally not English speaking and it’s going to be beautiful around the throne when Revelation 7 becomes a reality. So that was really cool watching that play out at our last network conference and seeing those face to face interactions grow.
Tony: I love it, man. So what are future plans? Will they become their own network in time? Is that…
Adam: Yeah, that’s the hope. So the hope is for us to lend a, what God’s doing in our network, some of our structure, some of our finances some of that training and rhythms to Japan as a smaller developing network, their hope is to become Acts 29 Japan as a network there that really is just, we’re praying takes off over the coming decades. And I believe it will because if church history shows us anything, it’s so far there hasn’t been many from Japan who have come to know Jesus as their Lord and friend and savior. And if, like I said, Revelation 7 before, that’s going to be a big crowd of people from every people group in every tongue around the throne. And I don’t know, I could be wrong, but it just seems to me like there’s not enough Japanese yet that have come into the family of God. And so I feel like Japan’s greatest renewal and awakening perhaps is a better word is still on the horizon. And so if we can just play a little part in helping some momentum of church planters there, that event training and assessing of the church planters there. And if we can just lend some of our structure and strength for a period of time to birth a network, what a privilege that would be.
Tony: That’s beautiful, man. It’s powerful. So I’m just having this mental picture in my mind of Japanese pastors and leaders and church member with Aussies. What’s the cultural interaction? Because you guys like to make fun of people, you like to joke, right? You’re like the better British people, right? I mean they sent you to prison down there on the island, which I think you guys got the better end of the deal on that.
Adam: I feel like the punishment didn’t work. It just made us kind of cheeky. It’s like, you know, we’re going to send you down to the colonies. Also welcome to the beach. It’s kind of like, well, alright.
Tony: Meanwhile, they stayed in the gray skies of the UK. I think you guys won that one. But has the fellowship been fun or what?
Adam: It has been so much fun. I’ve had to learn a ton I mean really learn a ton. And lots of cultural nuances and man, our Japanese brothers and sisters are so gracious, just helping me learn and just being so patient with me in the right way to greet, in the right way to interact and the right decibel level in the crowd and all those things. I mean Japan is just such a better functioning, harmonious you know, developed society that you just, you go there and you just sort of have your breath taken away of how well everything runs as far as the civil side of things. And that’s not to say it’s not broken, it’s incredibly broken in its own unique ways. And so I think we have, getting to know those guys, we have had some of our idols of individualism exposed as we’ve watched a culture that has got a high collective component to it, play itself out.
And at the same time, we’ve been able to see some of the idols of a highly collective and communal culture, like the Japanese culture play out where, you know, when you don’t feel like you fit in a culture like that there really doesn’t seem to be much purpose to life. And so that’s where some of the suicide rates that are the highest in the world are found in Japan. And again, there’s the beautiful side and the dark side of the different cultures that we have in the world around us. And so just learning that I’ll give you one way that they helped me learn my Western over-individualized bent on life. And it had to do with, you know rubbish, right, trash. And so you look around the streets in Japan and I just couldn’t see any trash.
I mean, it was just a clean, like you would not believe. And at the same time, I couldn’t find any trash cans. There’s no rubber spins anywhere. And so I’m like, what is this sorcery? Like, how do they keep this so clean and there’s not even any way to put this stuff and there was a sense there. Was someone that pointed it out to me because I made a comment about it. And they said, “Well, when you’re in Australia” and they’d lived in Australia, so they understood When you’re in Australia and if you have a receipt or a bit of trash in your hand you think to yourself, I have a burden in my hand that I would like to be relieved of, and I have a right to relieve myself of that burden, I’ve every right.”
And so if I can’t see a trashcan within viewing distance from where I am right now, I have a right to litter. And to put them… We don’t say that out loud, right, but that’s just kind of the way a brain processes. I have a right to be not carrying around this candy bar wrapper or whatever it is or this empty coffee cup. And it explained some about our culture, with our individualistic bent. In Japan they taught me that the way most Japanese people would see that same situation is “I have created a burden in this empty coffee cup. It is my responsibility to not extend this burden out onto the wider society. Therefore I will carry it around with me for the rest of the day, if need be until I get back to my home and dispose of it in the proper container.”
And just a totally different way of thinking about others around us. So, again, there’s some really beautiful things that we can learn from that as far as thoughtfulness and the sense of the, you know, the collective and the greater good. And there’s some things that we can also see in places like Japan where there is much depression and much despair and much loneliness, even with all the efficiency there that they need Jesus and they need the good news of the gospel to turn, you know, civically-minded neighbors into brothers and sisters and family.
Tony: Amen. If you’re listening to podcasts, I would just ask you to pray for this work, pray for those brothers and sisters in Japan. Time flies when I’m talking to you brother. One final question. I just… A practical question. Church planting, resources, books and speaking about conferencing and training and those kinds of things we’ve got a lot of aspiring planters who tune in if you could give them a little short list, what would you recommend and it may not be a book, maybe an audio.
Adam: As far as resources, I mean, I’m just trying to learn as much as I can from everyone I can. And I find myself gleaning different things from different people. And so I genuinely get a lot of really practical help from some of the TGC Acts 29 church planting blogs that come out. I find those wonderful, and they’re written by practitioners from all over the world and the speak into varying levels of church planting that stuff on a practical level has been a huge help to me. And then when I’m looking at, you know, some of the stuff happening in culture right now in Western culture, at least I’m really loving Mark Saves and his voice there, and other Australian well-known throughout America brilliant mind as far as just a cultural expert in understanding what’s actually happening in the world around us.
And so I found myself learning from him. And then I’m looking at guys like, you know, older guys in the faith that are father figures in the faith like Ray Ortland just showing a Jesus seedness of life and a winsomeness of speech in the way they conduct themselves, both privately and online and, man, that’s what I want my voice to sound like in the midst of an angry culture is one that is absolutely true and clear and it’s convictions, but gentle in its tone. We need more of that. And I think those are probably three of the big ones, as far as practical church planting cultural understanding personal just soul development as a leader with still, Lord willing, decades to go I want to finish well and I think that comes by watching guys right now who are finishing well and there’s number of guys like that like Ray that are in our network and beyond our network that I’m just really grateful for.
Tony: Yeah, man, very good. And that’s a really good framework as well. Always a pleasure, my friend chatting with you and super exciting to hear what’s happening in Japan. So thanks for taking some time to be with us.
Adam: Thanks brother. I always enjoy it. Thanks for having me on.
Tony Merida is the founding pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, Vice President for Planter Development for the SEND Network and a Board member of The Gospel Coalition. He is the author of a number of books, including The Christ-Centered Expositor, Ordinary,and Orphanology. He and his wife, Kimberly, have five adopted children.