Last Saturday many of the leaders from Hobart Baptist Church took the opportunity to join with David Jones from Baptist Rural Support Services to dream and plan together about the ongoing work of God in and through the church.
One of the most important questions we can ask about our church is this: What kind of church do we want to be, or importantly, what kind of church does God want us to be? Answering such a question requires prayer and reflection, and over the past two years while I’ve been part of the church, we’ve done this on a number of occasions. Not that we can ever plan exactly what we will do, there are always interesting and different things God brings that change our best laid plans.
Despite these contingencies and changes there is one thing we can be clear of, we are called to be a church that witnesses to the good news of Jesus in the area God has placed us—Hobart. But what does it mean for us to be witnesses here in this location?
In thinking about this I’m reminded of Jesus’ prayer that we be “in” the world, but not of “it” (John 17:14-15). This is important. Some churches are so “in” the culture and embrace it so strongly that they lose their distinctiveness. Others are so “against” the culture that in their opposition they lose their relevance. Still others are so “above” the culture that they “super-spiritualise” life and lose all points of contact in the culture. When Jesus prays that we live “in” our culture he is not expecting us to be lost in it, he is praying that we be “for” our culture and engage it with a view to seeing it transformed.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, suggests that to be “for” a culture, a church should commit to a number of key principles. Here are two of them I believe are important for us at Hobart Baptist Church to reflect upon.
The first principle is that we commit to learn and speak the language of our culture. This means we avoid using “Christian-ese” or in-house jargon. We don’t use technical theological terms unless we explain them, and we never use any “we-them” language always aiming to be inclusive. Our desire is that we never want a non-Christian to be “lost” in our language or feel alienated.
A commitment to always talk as if non-Christians were present would mean we treat each other with respect, we would be humbly willing to admit our weaknesses and failures, yet we’d always be joyful about the difference the Gospel makes.
Being mindful of our language leads to a second commitment where we resolve to listen to people and to their “stories”. By treating each person as unique with a story to tell treats them with respect. By sincerely endeavouring to listen, understand, love and respect them unconditionally we honour them and yet will be willing to demonstrate how the Gospel of Jesus will meet their deepest longings.
“Jesus is the only one who can fulfil their greatest desire
To understand their deepest longings we would need to take time to gain knowledge and appreciation of their culture as it is encountered in the movies they see, the books they read and the music they play and so on. In understanding these hopes, dreams, stories, and fears, we look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate how Jesus is the only one who can fulfil their greatest desires.
What would happen to your church if you committed together to follow these simple principles? What do you think? Would you like to give it a go?