Slowly, subtly, and almost unnoticed it happens to the best of churches. It is detectable in churches in the Bible; it is found in churches across Australia.
Quietly we drift away from our core calling. Rather than focusing outwardly into the world of the lost, the lonely and the broken, we gaze inwardly at each other. Rather than caring and praying for those who don’t know Jesus, we spend our time and money caring for ourselves. Church members and church buildings become our focus. Jesus called his disciples to go and make disciples. We are all called to be missionaries. Wherever we live or work or go to school that is the focus of our mission. For those of us who live in Australia, that means being a missionary right here.
Here in Tasmania, and within the denomination of which I am a part, regaining a healthy mission focus in our churches is the heart of Tasmanian Baptists’ desire to be a “mission shaped movement”.
It’s not as easy as it might sound. Once a church has become inwardly focused, there is a tendency to cling to the traditional ways of doing things and change becomes difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible. Quite often the process of refocusing a church outwardly, and bringing mission to its heart, is a very painful process. The tension between adopting new strategies for mission and maintaining . . . Read More >>>
I think we sometimes forget God has entrusted us with the task of bringing the good news of his love, as demonstrated in Christ, to our local community – wherever it iswe are.
We can so easily be tempted and fall into the trap of believing the church exists only for us, and conveniently ignore God’s desires. In recent years here are Hobart Baptist where I am the Senior Pastor, we have reaffirmed we want to be a mission-oriented church and we are steadily moving more and more in that direction.
To be faithful to our task we not only need a renewed and refreshed understanding of the Gospel, we need to have an insightful understanding into Australian culture. Without it we repeat the mistakes of the past and fail to understand the changing nature of our community.
For decades we sent missionaries overseas to various tribal groups armed with the task of carefully and painstakingly exploring and documenting the cultural narratives and history of their people group with the aim of discovering how best to bring the Gospel to them. Read More >>>
There is a lot to be encouraged by in Jesus’ words to his disciples, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
Jesus says “my” church, which reminds us the church is not ours but his. He also says that he is building his church, underlining again that the task is his, not ours. Not that we are passive, mind you, we still have work to do, but Jesus makes clear where the authority and responsibility for the church really lies.
All this is heartening. Despite the challenges we face in the church in Australia today, Jesus is taking the lead and it is not all up to us. The church will prevail not because of our hard work or intelligence, but because of Jesus and that “the gates of Hades” cannot stop it.
Despite what we might feel, there is ample evidence from around the world that affirms this reality. In a recent interview in Christianity Today, Dave Garrison talks about his new book, A Wind in the House of Islam. His book describes how around the world Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ and it is believers from Muslim backgrounds who are leading these Muslims to Christ in increasing numbers. Most of this is taking place in Muslim-majority nations rather than the West and almost completely under the radar. Read More >>>
Perhaps one of the more difficult things to do in our contemporary society is to take an opposing stand on any popular moral issue.
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. Read More >>>
Last Thursday a small team from Hobart Baptist flew out of Hobart on a short trip to Thailand. We are visiting areas where our Karen folk (pronounced with emphasis on the 2nd syllable) have come from, and spend time with cross cultural workers Jan and Jit Yawan. The weather is good in Thailand just now. The wet season finished three weeks ago and the temperature hovers around 35 C (95 F) during the day. Yes, quite a bit warmer than Tasmania!
There are seven on the team: four of the Karen congregation, including their two leaders, all travelling on new Aussie passports; and three Australian born participants including myself.
Back in June 2011 after a six month process of prayer, discussion and reflection, the church adopted a Strategic Directions paper for the following three years. It included a goal to organise a short term mission trip to areas where our Karen folk are from. It is exciting to see that now, less than two and a half years later, it has become a reality. Read More >>>
As Hobart becomes more and more multicultural city we shouldn’t be surprised to see significant changes in many churches as they too become multicultural. It’s been our experience here at Hobart Baptist Church; we also are on a journey becoming more and more a multicultural church.
So what does it mean to be a multicultural church? Obviously, it means we are a church with many nationalities represented. Our church is made up of people from quite a number of European nations, and . . . Read More >>>
At the recent engageHOBART conference, Jenny and I led a workshop on Developing an Aussie Gospel. In our workshop we explored what we might be able to do to make the gospel message more meaningful in our Australian culture.
This is no easy task. Our community has changed so much over the past 50 years, and recently we have witnessed a growing criticism of the church that is increasingly hostile. Although we are called by Jesus to be messengers of the “good news” of the Kingdom there are many who in no way believe our message is “good” news at all.
In addition to exploring new ways of doing ‘church’ and revisiting some of our many treasured forms, we also need to learn how best to communicate the gospel to Australians. Read More >>>
Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, the day Christians traditionally celebrate the birthday of the Church. It was on this day nearly 2000 years ago that Jesus completed his mission on earth with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The celebration of Pentecost is one of the three pilgrim festivals of the nation of Israel and falls 50 days after the Passover. It is a holiday celebrating the firstfruits of the harvest which declared God’s ownership of the land and God’s grace in that the land produced food. Read More >>>
There is always a sense of excitement when we see evidence of God at work in our lives and in our church. We are now a month into the New Year and our summer school holidays have finished with most schools starting back today.
Our Sunday morning children’s programs begin next week and Double Edge (youth group) starts on Friday, along with ‘Meet n Make’ and Boy’s Brigade starting soon. But even as we begin these programs, Fairground Café, an initiative focused on Elizabeth College, the Yr 11/12 College next door, is already up and running. It was, for many of us, a very moving moment when around 40 people gathered to pray for the Café and declare it open last Monday.
Despite the doom and gloom some in our community have towards the Church, the truth is Jesus is still building his church and he won’t be thwarted. I am confident that as we move into 2013 we can expect Jesus to continue his work amongst us and through us. In fact we have every reason to be confident and hopeful. It is Jesus who is “the cornerstone that holds all the parts together” (Eph. 2:21) so we can expect it will prevail.
Yet, that doesn’t mean we can sit back and just let things happen, God calls us to be partners in the work of the gospel.
Over the past month or so as I’ve prayed and reflected on our church and God’s plans for us, a question formed in my mind as to what sort of church will the City of Hobart need in, say, five or six years; and what would it take for us to be one of those churches.
Over the past 100 years or so, Hobart Baptist has been, to varying degrees at different times, a bright beacon of the gospel in the city of Hobart. There was a time when the pastor of Hobart Baptist Church wrote the editorial for The Mercury, (F. W. Boreham) and on Sunday evenings not only was our building in Elizabeth Street full, but immediately afterwards a second service was held in a packed City Hall. There was a time when the all aged Sunday school was so large, with over 400 attending, that it used rooms in Elizabeth College next door. What would it mean for Hobart Baptist church to experience similar things again? Obviously times have changed, and so there would be profound differences, but the gospel has not changed. How do we faithfully present this gospel, in all its richness, to the particular culture that is the City of Hobart today? What would it mean to tweak our church life – our worship services, our programs, our outreaches, toward them? What would it mean for us to focus not on what we would like our church to be, but what our city needs our church to be?
This is the task before us. Fairground Café is exciting initiative but it is just one thing among many that we can and will be called to do. As we move into 2013 it would be good for everyone to ponder these questions – whether part of HBC or not – what would it take for you to be the church in your city/town/region that God wants you to be? Yes! God is at work. I look forward to hearing what God reveals to you as you explore these questions.
Late last year Olive Tree Media (lead by Karl Faase from Gymea Baptist Church, Sydney) released survey results that inquired into attitudes among Australians toward Christianity and why Aussies don’t readily accept Christian faith.
Results show that despite 61% of Australians calling themselves Christian at the last census (2011), 60% say they don’t in fact know a Christian. This seems to confirm the hunch that many tick the “Christian” box even though they no longer, if ever, have taken it seriously. Not surprisingly, the survey reveals that half of the Australian population have fixed ideas and are not at all open to exploring or investigating other religious views and practices. Karl Faase concludes that this leaves only 20% of the Australian community who genuinely “are open to spirituality and the idea of the existence of God.”
However, this 20% still struggles to connect with the Christian church or faith. The survey found that even among those who consider themselves ‘spiritually open’ there are blockages in “attitudes and beliefs that they hold towards the church and Christianity.” These include questions of science, the existence of suffering, a perceived hypocrisy in the church, and the perceived failure of Christian leaders. Faase suggests these “belief blockers are creating an almost impenetrable wall to faith.”
My guess is that you find nothing new in these survey results. Like me, your experience confirms there are many among our acquaintances, families, and friends for whom discussions about faith, belief, church and Christianity are no-go areas. You too have felt the “impenetrable wall” and like me are somewhat surprised when someone is willing and wanting to have an open discussion.
How do we respond? Over the past months each Sunday at Hobart Baptist we have been making our way through the Book of Acts. We have been observing the church in its infancy as it learnt what it meant to be the church in response to the continuing work of Jesus in the world. In many ways we are just like those early Christians. They too lived in a society of “impenetrable walls.” They too experienced a community where most did not want to explore or engage in conversation. And just like them, we too are learning what it means to be church.
“We too are learning what it means to be church . . .
Although we live in a different part of the world, at a different time and in different circumstances, it is still the same Jesus we follow, and it is this Jesus that is still at work in the world. In our exploration of Acts, we have seen time and again how the journey of the early church was an ongoing response to what God was doing. Whether it was on the day of Pentecost, Ananias and Sapphira’s demise, persecution of the believers, the conversion of Saul, or Peter’s experience with the centurion Cornelius, the early church had a job of keeping up with the actions of the Holy Spirit around them.
In asking “how do we respond?” to the challenges we face in our day, we can turn to Acts and see that the answer lies in seeing where God is already at work in our world. When Jesus was challenged for healing a cripple on the Sabbath he responded saying he only does what he sees his Father doing (John 5:19). Jesus’ example is helpful for us. It gives us a model as to how we can respond to the challenges we face today. The Olive Tree Media survey suggests that only one in five people are genuinely open to listen . . . So may God grant us the grace and insight to know what it is God is doing in our Aussie communities and to lead us to those whose attitudes are open to Christian things; may he grant us the courage to be bold; and give us the wisdom and strength to respond just as Jesus would.
Stephen L Baxter