Boom to Bust: Church Life Cycles

Back in the 1960s, our Hobart Baptist church building was full to capacity and overflowing on a weekly basis. There are a number of people still attending the church who remember it packed every Sunday with around 400 people. An all-aged Sunday School met at Elizabeth College next door because there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the church building.
A lot has happened in the past 50-60 years, both in the community and the church, and those days have long since gone. Yet, there is no reason why it can’t happen again at some time in the not too distant future.

Hobart Baptist Church
Hobart Baptist Church is one of the original ‘tabernacles’ built in Tasmania, Australia with help from Spurgeon’s grandson

Today Hobart Baptist Church is made up over 250 people. Whether people attend the 10am service, the Karen language service, the Church With No Walls ministry or our communities of faith meeting in homes, we are a sizable number. There is no doubt God is at work amongst us and there a signs of growing and healthy church. There are many reasons to be very encouraged.
As with all organisms, the church goes through times of growth . . . Read More >>>

Ebony and Ivory – Perfect Harmony?

Perhaps one of the more difficult things to do in our contemporary society is to take an opposing stand on any popular moral issue.

Conflict
“Such statements are not welcome today and are branded intolerant”

If you try to present an alternative view on a subject, such as same sex marriage or abortion, you find yourself on the end of strong criticism and being branded intolerant.
This makes life difficult for Christians and has great implications for the way we evangelise. When Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) he was making a bold claim. When he told his disciples to, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15–16), he was revealing the truth.
But such statements are not welcome today and are branded intolerant.
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Unity vs Diversity

Yesterday at  Hobart Baptist Church we had our monthly combined worship service. It’s called ‘combined’ because Hobart Baptist is in fact four distinct congregations with people of many different ages and racial backgrounds.

Halve Poverty_HBC_1Sept13
“Hobart Baptist is in fact four distinct congregations with people of many different ages and racial backgrounds”

After our service we continued our worship with lunch together, and if you had hung around for lunch you would have noticed that one of the striking features of this church is our diversity.
Hobart Baptist Church is a not only a multiracial church but a multicultural one as well. By multiracial I refer to a church with people from different ethnicities and languages but with a single common culture. By multicultural, on the other hand, I refer to a church not only of people from different backgrounds, cultures and languages, but they are encouraged to retain their cultural distinctives, resulting in more than one culture.
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The Intolerance of Tolerance

Jesus commands us to love others, even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44), and to grant them the respect and dignity we give ourselves. But that does not mean we have to agree with everything they say and do.

I can't bear it!
Despite acting with tolerance we are often branded intolerant and even bigoted

One of the most strongly held values in our society today is the notion of tolerance. We regularly read and hear how important it is to be tolerant of each other. As Christians we normally have no problems accepting this, and by and large the majority of us do act in tolerant ways. Yet, despite this we are often branded intolerant and even bigoted. But why? How is it that we can be tolerant but branded intolerant at the same time?
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Churches: Does Yours Speak Aussie?

At various times during the past 200 years, the church across Hobart has experienced times of strength and weakness, growth and decline. The past few decades have been a challenging time as the number of Hobartians attending church has significantly declined. The same is true of cities all across Australia.

Aussie Church
The church across Australia has experienced times of strength and weakness, growth and decline

While we all feel the effects of this decline, we are unsure as to why it has happened. Pressures from secularisation, rising individualism, consumerism, the increasing power of the state over the church, and urbanisation are no doubt all contributing factors. However, issues within the church itself are also important causes.
While we can despair at the state of the church locally, internationally there is reason for great celebration and hope. The church grew from small beginnings in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, yet today it has over 2 billion adherents worldwide. It continues to grow significantly in many places across the world even if in Australia, and most parts of the Western world, the opposite is true. A worldwide perspective encourages us to raise our expectations of what God can and is doing.
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Governments: there to solve all our problems?

A little over a week ago, Tasmanians voted resulting in a change of government. There were no military action, riots or bloodshed just a smooth transition, somewhat abnormal relative to the rest of the world. It is something we can celebrate about our country and be very grateful for.

yes - notepad & pen
Is there another way to respond?

However, many of us are not content or happy with some of the decisions and actions taken by our governments. In fact, there are things that distress us greatly such as abortion law reform and the treatment of asylum seekers. It is not difficult to become cynical, even bitter and then ultimately become prayerless for our government. Is there another way to respond?
Recently I’ve been pondering whether our disappointment and disdain is fuelled, at least in part, by an overly optimistic expectation of the potential and character of governments. Much of the commentary in the media operates with the presumption that governments should somehow solve all the problems of our society.
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Turning from and Waiting for

Over the past 50 to 60 years the church in Australia has certainly faced many challenges, and those challenges still persist today. We face growing scrutiny and increasing critique from many directions, even as our churches experience declining attendance and aging facilities. Often we are left bewildered and lost as to how we should live in this changing and challenging environment.

Map of Mcedonia, including Thessalonica
Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica relates well to the description of Paul’s ministry and movements in Acts 17-18.

Writing to the church in Thessalonica, Paul speaks encouragement from reports he had heard about them. He writes of “how [they] turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess. 1:9-10).
Paul praises them for two things: for no longer worshiping idols but only the Creator God; and for waiting for Jesus to rescue them from God’s impending judgement. I wonder if the example of the Thessalonians could be helpful for us in working out how we should live.
We don’t talk about idols much today, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
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Hope for the Church

There are many things that can cause us to despair the shape of the church today. Declining numbers, aging congregations and growing hostility can tempt us to think all is lost. However, there is reason to hope. 

child labour
The youngest workers  crawled underneath machines while in operation to gather up loose cotton. Many died when they got caught in the machinery.

In Britain – at the height of the Industrial Revolution in 1740 – poverty, social injustice, child labour, harsh living conditions and long working hours were rampant. Children aged five or six worked 14 to 16-hour days in mines, people were executed for petty crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread, drunkenness was rampant and gambling extensive. It lead philosopher Bishop Berkeley to lament that morality and religion had collapsed “to a degree that was never known in any Christian country.”[i] At St. Paul’s Cathedral London on Easter Sunday morning, 1740, only six people were in attendance for communion.
Jenny and I visited St Paul's Cathedral in 2012
Jenny and I visited St Paul’s Cathedral in 2012

It was in this context that God did a new thing: George Whitefield began to preach to coal miners in 1738. He in turn inspired the Wesley brothers, who turned Britain around.
Over the next five or so decades God transformed the lives of people and the society of Britain. Thousands upon thousands accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, slavery was abolished, child labour laws introduced, trade unions established, and prisons reformed.
Reflecting on the history of the church over a century later . . .
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[i] Introduction to the History of Christianity, Dowley, 2014

All Change!

MP900145505[1]
The “Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.”
Martin Van Buren
In 1829 the Governor of New York at the time, Martin Van Buren, wrote to the American President, Andrew Jackson, demanding his Federal government preserve the country’s system of water canals. He was fearful of “the spread of a new form of transportation known as ‘railroads’”. The result he said, would be “serious unemployment,” “boat builders would suffer,” and that “towline, whip and harness makers would be left destitute.”
The problem with the ‘railroad’ he said was that “carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of fifteen miles per hour.” This was frightening to women, children and livestock, and passengers’ lives were in danger. He concluded that the “Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.”
Change is never easy. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we tolerate it, sometimes it makes us angry, and sometimes it frightens us terribly. We can long for it and plan for it, yet at the same time we will fear it and even actively resist it.
Yet change is inevitable . . . Read more >>>

The Voting Dilemma

Parliament House Tas
Parliament House, Hobart

In Tasmania, we will soon be voting to elect a new State Parliament  on March 15. For some, if not many of us, this poses a dilemma. Sadly few on the list of candidates, or the parties they represent, endear themselves to us. We feel no matter how we vote, we will be forced into a compromise. We many even be tempted to cast an invalid vote.
But that too creates a dilemma. We are called to pray for our governing authorities and submit to them (1 Timothy 2:1-3, Romans 13:5-6), and if, as Paul writes, we are to give them respect, honour and pay taxes, then voting responsibly is part of our honouring.
Moreover, Jesus calls us to be like salt in our community. We are to be those who are called to make a difference in our world by witnessing to a loving God who seeks engagement with people across the world. How are we to vote as responsible salt-like followers of Jesus when our choice is a compromise to our values?
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