Summer in Stockholm is just about as nice as it gets. The temperature is mild, the sky is blue and the days are long; so different than my last visit to Sweden nearly six years ago in bitterly cold and dark December.
As the inaugural cover article for the new Horizons magazine, the story of the Webster family moving to Stockholm as TEAM’s first missionaries to Scandinavia chronicled New Life Church, a vibrant and growing congregation in Stockholm with a desire to reverse the downward spiral in evangelical Christianity.
The Websters are still serving joyfully in the ministry, and New Life Church remains at the forefront of spiritual renewal in Sweden. Stewart and Beth had to make adjustments for work in Sweden after years of missionary work in France. Learning a new language and culture, fitting into the leadership structure of New Life Church, and seeing their older children go away to college and careers in Germany and California are all part of the life transitions.
The church, New Life Stockholm, has moved to two services on Sunday to accommodate their growing numbers, and in March 2012 they moved a few subway stops down the line to their own building in Alvik. Several congregations within the congregation have formed to minister directly to needs and cultural expressions of particular ethnic groups, mostly immigrants that have found a home in New Life. A new church has been planted in Göteborg, Sweden’s second largest city, and another church is beginning in Västerås. Ongoing ministries such as Stället and Footprints are growing. Stället provides spiritual support and discipleship training for people on the margins of society including criminals, addicts, and the homeless. Footprints is a program of deeper Bible study building new leaders for the church. Short and long-term missionaries have arrived, (Amy left Gothenburg to marry a Swede and now lives in Stockholm) including the Anderberg family now with TEAM in Stockholm. A perusal of New Life’s website (http://www.newlife.nu) or the blog of Pastor John van Dinther (johnvandinther.org) is well worth the time of readers interested in knowing more about all the wonderful aspects of the work at New Life Church.
One of the goals in the New Life network of churches is to start 20 new churches by the year 2020 just in the Stockholm area. John van Dinther notes with urgency that this is the minimum growth necessary just to maintain the already small percentage of Christians in the city as the population influx swells daily. In order to reach that goal, Stewart believes that New Life will need to adapt new expressions of church that are relevant to the variety of communities and groups fueling the growth and bringing changes to the city’s makeup. Two historic churches whose dwindling congregation could no longer manage their facility have opened their doors to a re-planting effort from New Life. Both Fridhemskyrkan, meeting in Kungsholms Baptist Church, and New Life Hässelby, meeting in Bergskyrkan, are creating locally relevant expressions of Christ’s body for today’s Stockholmers.
New missionaries, Blake and Rachel Anderberg, discovered ministry opportunities in Sweden while reading the first Horizons article published back in 2005. The Anderbergs were attracted to the vision at New Life. “The whole world seems to be represented in one congregation, and people from so many different social backgrounds are welcomed,” Blake said. “People don’t get hung up on particular styles of worship, clothing, or many of the things that can cause division in churches. The pastors are gifted preachers who are faithful to God’s word, give sacrificially of themselves to the people of the church, and who are focused on multiplication.”
“I love teaching and also have a passion for people who are hurting, need someone to talk to, or just need a friend,” Rachel said. They have found opportunities to fulfill their passions working with the Acts Bible and Ministry School and working with the Welcome Team in New Life.
It is clear that the Webster and Anderberg families love their ministries in Stockholm, but if Sweden already has a vibrant and evangelistic church, why do missionaries need to come?
One obvious answer is the statistics. Swedish Christians are outnumbered and overwhelmed. The task of reaching secular Swedes is daunting in itself – coupled with the challenges of reaching out to the burgeoning immigrant population, many of which, are considered unreached peoples in their home countries. What the leaders of Interact (the Swedish denomination with which TEAM partners) and the New Life network of churches say is one of the greatest needs from missionaries is simply mentoring Swedish believers, growing leadership capacity and strong disciples of Christ who can stand up in a society that ridicules or just ignores their faith as outmoded. Beth sees this as her primary calling. “Since coming to New Life, I have been working in a mentoring role with the younger generation(s) and have opportunity to teach Biblical truth in various contexts,” Beth said. “Most recently God has led Stewart and me to a ministry to couples through the Alpha Marriage Course, and we have a vision that this tool can be used to reach further into Swedish society where loneliness, alienation, and broken relationships are serious problems.”
-Written by Ray Scott
-Photography by Robert Johnson
[Originally published in TEAMHorizons, March 2011; Updated November 2012 by Beth Webster]
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