Some, to their demise, have either ignored or waited too long to act while others, seizing a window of opportunity, have acknowledged the warning signs and responded both proactively and creatively.
There are two words that aptly summarise these responses: resistance and resilience.
Some congregations are resistant to the challenges. For some the favoured strategy is to ignore the data and stoically maintain their shrinking programs. Others, aware something is wrong, become angry and frustrated and blame someone or anyone for their plight. Rather than willingly facing up to the challenges, they resist any attempts address them creatively.
Some congregations adopt a different approach. Aware the church belongs to Jesus, and that it has survived nearly 2,000 years, they understand how the church has often done its best work when times were tough. Challenging times provide an opportunity where congregations can choose to be open to God doing a new thing. Their stance is characterised not by resistance but by resilience.
The dictionary defines resilience as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” In other words, resilience is the quality that enables those who are knocked down by life to come back stronger than before. Not surprisingly therefore, the opposite of resilience is inflexibility and rigidity. Resilient churches are those congregations that confront challenges with flexibility and a willingness that enables them to bounce back stronger than before.
A quick look across the world today helps us appreciate how in many different places and in many different ways congregations display resilience. The challenges faced by Australians are nowhere near as confronting as some of the hardship and persecution faced by brothers and sisters in other cultures. We can draw strength from their courage and faithfulness. Although our challenges are more internal than external and insidious than straightforward, we too are in the midst of a battle that demands resilience rather than resistance.
The challenges faced by the church in Australia are as true for Hobart Baptist Church, where I am the Senior Pastor, as any church. There is much work to be done. But we can take heart. The history of our congregation is full of moments when the church faced significant challenges. Those challenges were more often than not met with resilience rather than resistance. How do I know? The willingness of previous congregations to be flexible in the face of challenges is evidenced by the fact that there is still a congregation at Hobart Baptist today.
As the church faces the challenges of our time we have every reason to look forward in hope. Just like those who have gone before us, we too believe God inspires imagination, emboldens wills and fuels optimism. May God grant us all the grace to meet the challenges we face with the faith of our fathers and with ever increasing hope and flexibility.
Stephen L Baxter