The Australian outback is often described as harsh and unforgiving.
Recently an acquaintance commented how friends of hers, newly emigrated from South Africa, were amazed at how ‘uncool’ it is to be a Christian in Australia and, further, how persistently the media engages in ‘church bashing’. In South Africa and many other nations, being a Christian does not have the stigma it carries in Australia.
Our cultural environment is unique. Anyone who aspires to be President of the United States must almost wear a badge which states, “I am a Christian”.
However, anyone who wants to be Prime Minister of Australia must hide their spirituality, saying, “It’s a private matter, so don’t ask me questions”. In fact, numbers of people who hold, or have held, positions of prominence in our country have related to me how the kingdom of God is often better served if they do not describe themselves as Christian.
That is not to say that our society is non-spiritual. Rather, it illustrates that spirituality, for Australians, is an embarrassing subject and that our culture has a limited range of images and metaphors it can use to express it. Even words such as ‘Christian’ and ‘church’ have all but lost their true usefulness and meaning; all they communicate are unhelpful stereotypes.
So how are believers responding to this uniquely hostile environment? Some act as if it is time to retreat into a ghetto – yet surely the appropriate response is to confront the challenge. This hostile Australian environment is as much a mission field as ever. The challenge we face is how to live as followers of Jesus in such a way that we communciate the gospel message to our fellow Australians.
To do this we need to live as missionaries within our own country. We need to adjust our mind-set, our language, our church lifestyles with its many forms and adapt to life in a hostile environment. It can be done. At different times throughout church history God’s people have worked hard in understanding their culture so that they can communicate the gospel to their communities.
Baptist churches across Greater Hobart have acknowledged the need to address these issues in a postive and proactive way. Our ‘2020 Vision’, to grow to 20 communities of faith with a total of 2000 people by 2020, is a way of expressing a hope that with God’s help we can transition into churches with mission, evangelism and church planting at the centre of all we do.
Will you pray that God will enable, not just Baptists to face these challenges with hope and courage, but Christians of all denominations throughout Hobart (and your locality)? Not only that, but will you pray that God raises up godly men and women to address these key issues and lead us through the necessary transitions?
Let’s look forward to seeing how God transforms his Church in Hobart and beyond!
Stephen L Baxter