29 Mar 2015

Bringing a creative vision to the church experience

From Spiritual Outlook, 5:00 pm on 29 March 2015

Elim Church
Elim Chuch, image courtesy of Jasmine Robbins

"We're not here to reach God, God has reached us... we're here to reach people, and most people have a bad image of the church"

Thirty-six-year-old pastor Joshua Robbins at Elim Church in Rotorua and his wife Jasmine Robbins have arts related backgrounds and studied at bible college after completing their degrees. Bringing their creative eyes and ears to their contemporary services is instinctive, and they both had a long-time vision for the kind of services and experiences that they wanted to create. All-in-all it seems to have struck a chord with the local Rotorua community. 

"We don't want it to come off like a rock concert. We want people to feel like people they are coming to church and meeting with God, but, we also do want it to be done in a relevant way," says Joshua, who adds that he never connected with organ music. "People want to have their faith meet them in an authentic way."   

Previously pastoring a church of around 1000 members, when they arrived at Elim in Rotorua there was a membership of 30, which, over the past five years has risen dramatically to 300 members. For the non-church-goer the service is unexpected; with a lighting and sound crew adding to the modern feel and atmosphere, they also utilise the talents of their membership and include a 'filmed' weekly newsletter, featuring a young host speaking to camera with a lively script, that plays out on a big screen. With Jasmine handing out chocolates at the beginning of the service, it all feels like a fun, family environment rather than a church service. 

Of course, they do talk about God... that's the giveaway, and the reason that hundreds of people are singing along from the rows of seats, some standing, and waving with their hands in the air, drawing ever closer to God. 

Joshua and Jasmine are all about maintaining an authentic presence in their services, which filters through to the community. They don't hide their love of retro kitsch furniture and decor and have tried to true to themselves, a draw card for many of the members in the multicultural audience—young and old. Neither Joshua or Jasmine had ever attended a church service prior to university, nor had either of them grown up in Christian families.

"We went to quite a student church actually, says Josh. "There were a couple hundred skaters and snowboarders and it was really relevant for me."

Jasmine says that heading along to an Elim Church in Christchurch with a friend felt right at the time: "I found something that resonated with me... it really transformed my life, and I want to help other people find the same thing." 

Since pastoring the church, the pair have set up an art gallery – a dream they had shared since university. The gallery sits in the foyer of the church and is accessible to the community during the week, featuring a host of artists from around New Zealand and there is no prerequisite for artists coming from  a Christian background.

"We wanted to do something that looked great for Rotorua [because] there are not many dealer galleries left in Rotorua," says Jasmine, who has a marketing degree and manages the gallery. 

For Jasmine and Joshua, pastoring the church is about bringing people to meet and have a relationship with God, and in part they want to challenge the way in which people on the outside view the church.

"We want the church to be portrayed in way that reflects what it really is... the church is humming. It's something beautiful. It's not dry and stale and boring – it's vibrant and alive."

Top left: Jasmine and Joshua Robbins and family. Top right: Elim Church Gallery
Bottom: Joshua (left) takes to the stage, image courtesy of Elim Church Rotorua