May is “Mission Month” of Global Interaction (GIA) the cross-cultural mission of Australian Baptists. For many years Baptist churches across Australia have joined together during the month of May in celebration of global mission. GIA (or Australian Baptist Missionary Society as it used to be known) came into existence because a group of people had concern for those who are the poorest, most marginalised, and least-reached overseas communities. This passion led them to work in communities across Asia, Africa and outback Australia where people not only struggle with poverty, social issues and injustice, but most importantly, do not know about Jesus and are spiritually powerless and lost. Such passion is born in the heart of God. Not only is God a god of justice, mercy and compassion, God is also a “sending” God who ventures into the world because of that compassion. Sending is as much a part of the nature, character and essence of God as love and peace. In other words, God is a “missionary” God. The Bible explains that in the beginning God “sent forth” breath and it created; firstly the universe, and ultimately humanity. Humanity, we are told, is made in the image of God, so it is not surprising to read that as soon as man and woman were created God “sends” them into the world to care (rule) over it. What we discover here is that not only is God a “sending (missioning)” God, we are to be a “missioning” people Even after the rebellion of Adam and Eve, (often called ‘the fall’) God continues to “send” himself into the world. Despite the effects of sin, God interacts with the people he has made and embarks on a rescue mission. This mission culminates with the sending of the Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save it. Being Sent The obedience that led Jesus to die on a Roman cross, releases humanity from the curse of the fall and calls men and women back to their original purpose. In John 20, Jesus states, “Just as the father sent me, I send you.” The outcome of the sending of Jesus to restore humanity is the creation of a “sent” people. The church of Jesus Christ is a “sent” people; sent into the world to continue the mission of Jesus. And this is at the heart of what it is to be God’s church.
“God calls us to be salt and light and witnesses to his grace”
Sadly, however, the church can sometimes lose its “sentness.” Frequently, we are known for our congregating rather than our sending. We can get comfortable and begin to “settle” rather than move on. We make “sending” or “mission” . . . into one of our programs and leave it for others to do, rather than embrace the reality that it is meant to be at the very core of our reason and purpose for being. But things are changing. The challenges of our contemporary world are causing us to review our understanding of church and what it is that God calls us to be. We are (re)discovering that God calls each one of us to be “missionaries,” sometimes even in our own families. Being salt and light So as we celebrate all God is doing through his people as part of GIA, and stop to honour those who have responded to God’s sending and have ventured out, let us remember that each one of us is sent by God. As part of God’s church we are included in those Jesus sent into the world to continue the work of Jesus. While most of us won’t go overseas, we are still sent – whether that is into our families, our communities, our workplaces, our schools. It is here that God calls us to be salt and light and witnesses to his grace. May God help each one of us individually, and as the Church as a whole, to continue to embrace what it means to be the “sent” people of God. I’d love to know where God has sent you. Can you tell me in a few words where you have been sent? Stephen L Baxter
When you think of ‘church’ what comes to your mind? A building, an institution, a local congregation or a multitude of believers spanning the world? Your perspective of the church will have a great influence on how you view her future. If you believe all you hear in the media, you could conclude the church is ineffective, irrelevant and a dying institution. However, nothing could be further from the truth. While the church in the Western world is facing challenges, the demise of the Christian faith is a long way from an actuality. Try suggesting the church is dying to Christians in Seoul or Nairobi . . . they would wholeheartedly disagree with you! Throughout Africa, Asiaand Latin America, the church is experiencing tremendous growth. At the start of the 1900s about nine per cent of Africa was Christian. During the 1960s, the proportion of Christians surpassed that of Muslims for the first time, and today about 50 per cent of all Africans are Christian. This amazing growth in different parts of the world is bringing a shift to the demographic centre of Christianity. Since the Day of Pentecost the centre of the church has resided in the northern hemisphere, but soon the centre of influence will move from the northern hemisphere and places like Rome, Paris, London and New York, to the south and cities like Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, Seoul and Nairobi. This move south will bring changes in the way Christians express their faith. Some Christians in these developing countries express their faith in different ways to our traditions and their faith can look strange to our Western eyes. Yet, despite these differences, many who make up the church in the southern hemisphere are quite biblical, sometimes more so than we are. They take the supernatural – prophecy, spiritual healing, dreams and visions – seriously, and they are enthusiastic and charismatic. In fact, projections suggest that by 2040 the number of Pentecostal Christians will exceed one billion. How should we respond One of the most important things we should do is to choose to look at the bigger picture of what God is doing rather than just our immediate context. God is at work in the world, there is no doubt about that. The questions is, are we aware of it? If we believed the media reports that the church in Australia is backward, archaic and in danger of falling over, we can easily be left feeling despondent and despairing. However, looking at the bigger picture of what God is doing around the world can change all that. Despair is replaced with hope and we’re strengthened. We begin to see our context within God’s overall strategy. It gives us the strength and will to persevere and stand against the false images and expectations the media serves us. Jesus said he would build his church and the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. (Matt 16:18) Despite the challenges we face, this remains true and the growth of the church across the world proves it. So let us not lose hope with our current situation, but be encouraged and spurred on by all God is doing around the world. What are your reflections on the nature of church growth in Australia? Stephen L Baxter Global Statistics for all Religions, 2001
Recently multiculturalism has reappeared in public and media debate after years on the sidelines. Except for our indigenous people and unlike European countries, Australia is a nation of immigrants built on mass migration. The cultural diversity of those who have arrived over the past couple of centuries have shape our adopted homeland. We are a nation of different skin tones, religions and languages – few countries are as culturally diverse and cosmopolitan as modern Australia. Over the past couple of years a number of leaders of European countries, including Britain and Germany, have declared multiculturalism a failure, yet in Australia many are now suggesting that it is one of our greatest strengths and successes. They cite the relative lack of violence in Australia as evidence of the willingness of residents to be changed by the new arrivals, and the willingness of migrants to adapt to a new life. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Australia has one of the highest rates of inter-cultural marriage in the world. It is normal On a recent visit to Hobart Alan Marr, Director of Ministries for the Baptist Union of Victoria, explained how almost all Baptist churches across Melbourne are seeing increased ethnicity in their churches. New immigrants either arrived as Christians, or are more open to the gospel than long term resident Australians. It is good to know that some of the issues facing us here at Hobart Baptist Church are not uncommon and that what we are experiencing is a nation-wide trend. In fact recent reports suggest that right across Western countries the multiethnic church is becoming the normal and natural picture of Christianity.
Christ destroyed the dividing walls and hostilities between ethnic groups
We shouldn’t be surprised. Although we have become used to churches that are relatively mono-cultural, the church didn’t start that way. Jesus left his followers with the command to go and reach all nations. Through his death on the cross, Christ destroyed the dividing walls and hostilities between ethnic groups, enabling people of all races to unite (Ephesians 2:14). And once the Holy Spirit demonstrated that the gospel was for Jew and Gentile alike (see the story of Peter in Acts 10 and 11) congregations of faith in Antioch and Ephesus were very multiethnic in flavour. In Revelation 7, John describes a vision of heaven where people are gathered from every nation, tribes and tongue and united together in worship before the throne of God. Challenge and diversity So God is at work among us as he brings a diverse group of people together as Hobart Baptist Church – a multiethnic community of faith. But having said that doesn’t mean the journey is or will be easy. Our Karen* folk have not only had a difficult journey coming to Australia they are now learning a new language, navigating our welfare system and endeavouring to understand a different culture. For the rest of us who do not face these challenges, the task of welcoming and accepting our Karen folk takes us beyond our comfort zones, our abilities, and our experiences. God has an exciting future for us in Hobart, but that does not mean the journey will be plain sailing, in fact it probably means the opposite. But it is in meeting these challenges together in all of our diversity that we will grow together to become all that he has called us to be. What’s happening at your church? Is there a trend toward a mulitethnic congregation? If so, I’d be interested to know how is everyone tracking – your comments are welcome!
Stephen L Baxter *Over the last three years Hobart Baptist Church has gathered a significant number of Karen refugee families who have settled in Hobart from Burma.