The Inward Drift

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.

Missional-Church-2

Jesus called his disciples to go and make disciples. We are all called to be missionaries.

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 . . .
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Jesus : Church : Unity

In his longest recorded prayer as found in John 17, Jesus not only prays for his immediate 12 disciples, but for the many who would believe their message. And what was his prayer? Over and over and again he prays for their unity.john-17-20-26

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23).

What would happen in our churches if we all joined Jesus in his prayer? What would it mean for Hobart and Tasmania (or your town and region) if all churches, despite our differences, operated with the unity Jesus prayed for?

The heartfelt nature of Jesus’ prayer calls attention to the reality that genuine fellowship among Christians is one of the most powerful tools for evangelism.

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“Silence those Christians!”

Events in Australia over the past couple of weeks give one cause to wonder . . . will Australia remain a safe place for Christians to publicly express our views, especially when they are contrary to what some people want to hear?free speech

American Troy Newman, head of the anti-abortion organisation “Operation Rescue” was due to speak at events run by Right to Life Australia. However, Newman had his visa revoked at the last minute because of fears his visit would “pose a risk to the community”. Some of what Newman has said may be provocative, however, he is on the board of “The Centre for Medical Progress” which recently accused the America organization, “Planned Parenthood”, of selling organs of aborted foetuses in the US.

In addition, Tasmania’s Catholic Archbishop, Julian Porteous, will face the anti-discrimination commission for distributing a booklet to the parents of children in Catholic schools. The booklet asserted marriage should be between one man and one woman – a position of marriage which was, until a few years ago, was the policy of all our major political parties. When the Labor/Greens government introduced new anti-discrimination legislation in 2012, it specifically said they would not inhibit discussion about same-sex marriage. Yet it is being used here to attempt to do just that.

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Christians: The new non-believers

At the Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast last week I had the opportunity to provide a short introduction to this annual event. I thought you might like to read a transcript of my speech as many attendees were very encouraged by what I said:

As we gather in the name and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, we do so in the midst of great cultural turmoil. Within our community are forces at work endeavouring to overturn century-old norms and practices around key moments in life – at birth, marriage, and death. I speak, of course, about abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

Outback Cross

“Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history . . . to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal.”

In that maelstrom of competing voices and visions of the future, many find the very notion of a ‘prayer’ breakfast somewhat strange, antiquated and even dangerous.

Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history, and despite its ongoing contributions, to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal. Christians are often painted as intolerant, naive, superstitious, and even backward. It is not uncommon to hear Christians put down, not only in casual conversation, but across social and mainstream media.

This caricature, I suggest, is quite false. It falls a long way short of many Christians who join with others to care for millions of Australians in homeless shelters, refuges, aged care facilities, disability services, soup kitchens, detox facilities etc. The contrast between them and the Christianity portrayed is quite striking.

But why? Why such a contrast?

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Church: There for us? OR There for others . . .

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.

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For decades we sent missionaries overseas to various tribal groups

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.

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Map It!

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“Maps have proven to be one of the clearest forms of communication ever”

Across countries, cultures and time, maps have proven to be one of the clearest forms of communication ever developed. They are most efficient and effective when it comes to recording, storing and transferring information, even when complex ideas need to be passed on, with simplicity accuracy and readability.

Maps take many forms. We are most familiar with geographic maps that locate mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and so on, in spatial relationship. We use them to locate our current position so we can plan where we want to go, and how to get there.

Maps are also used to communicate information in such areas as population, economic, and weather patterns. We also have tools such as mind maps, cognitive maps and conversational maps. They too are aids for navigation whether the terrain is geographic, demographic or psychographic.

Martin Robinson

Robinson says, “It is necessary for the church to rethink its stance entirely”

It is also helpful to picture history as a map. History is never a re-creation of past events but a tool to understand the past in ways that help us recognise who we are, where we are and where we might be headed.

Nearly 20 years ago Martin Robinson, previously director of Mission and Theology at the Bible Society in Britain and now principal at Springdale College, wrote in his book To Win the West, “It is necessary for the church to rethink its stance entirely and to become a missionary church within the West.”

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Finding the Australian Way

It is relatively only recently that the Australian church has seriously begun to look at what it means to present the gospel to Australians in an Australian way.

For many years our approach was decidedly British given our colonial roots. Then after WWII in an era when Australians were infatuated with everything American, our evangelism was heavily influenced by American revivalism and the visits of Billy Graham.

Billy Graham

Billy Graham

Today we are still influenced by American church leaders, American programs and American materials yet there are signs the tide is turning.

Michael Frost

Michael Frost

Work over the past decade or so by the likes of Michael Frost (Morling College), Alan Hirsch (Forge), Philip Hughes (Christian Research Association) and more recently books from the likes of Tim Foster (Ridley College), Simon Holt (Collins Street Baptist), and Darren Cronshaw (Baptist Union of Victoria), reflect the growing awareness of the need to develop a more Aussie approach.

God has given us a job to do, to find a way to convey the gospel with meaning and sense to everyday Australians.

In his open letter to Tasmanian Baptists back in July 2009 Ivan James asked, “why is it that Australian Baptists in foreign mission are intentional, relational, adaptive and creative in their expressions of evangelism – but at home we seem to be ad hoc, constrained by our existing socio-economic circles, and rigid in our expressions of worship and witness?” I’m not sure he was ever given an answer.

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Looking Back to Look Forward

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“There existed a broad consensus . . . under-girded by a Christian worldview”

Once upon a time, not very long ago, Australian society was very different to what it is now.

Then there existed a broad consensus across social, cultural, intellectual, ethical, political and religious spheres under-girded by a Christian world view. Not that everyone believed, in fact the majority didn’t, yet society by and large operated as if it were true. Both formally and officially we lived in a ‘Christian’ country and the church had a central and influential place.

Christendom had existed in some shape or form across Europe from the conversion of the Roman Empire. By the time Europeans arrived in Tasmania the signs of its disintegration were already evident and it reached a tipping point midway through the 20th Century.

This broad consensus no longer exists, and Australian society no longer considers itself Christian. The church as a result no longer occupies a central position. In fact, most people have little or no knowledge of how it was, and those that do often do so with derision and contempt

By contrast many Christians look back with a certain fondness. Read more >>>

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.

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“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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