“May you live in interesting times.” That statement is traditionally taken to be an ancient Chinese curse. It’s probably neither ancient nor Chinese. But it picks up on the common human preference for peace and calm over uncertainty and tumult.
Christianity in Australia is facing a time of uncertainty and tumult. Ongoing secularisation, the increase of people who explicitly claim “no religion”, the redefinition of marriage to include same-sex marriage, sexual scandals, hyper-sexualised self-identity, the rise of non-Christian religions – all of these mean we are living in “interesting times”.
Could it be, though, that these are times, not of threat, but of opportunity? Could we see all these pressures on Christian life and identity not as attacks to be defended against, but as opportunities to advance Christ’s gospel?
And apart from that, what new opportunities for ministry and mission might be arising in our times? After all, it’s not just the church. It feels like the whole world is going through a time of uncertainty. Globalisation, mass migration, global terrorism, climate change, the polarisation of US society because President Trump, China’s growing territorial ambitions, Brexit, Europe’s economic woes – the whole world is living in interesting times. How can we address these global dynamics, as they manifest here in Australia, from a distinctly Christian, gospel-centred perspective? In particular – how can classical Reformed theology and ministry practices help us do this?
With this in mind, I’ve approached ministry leaders all over Australia and asked them to give a brief answer to the question “what are the major challenges, and/or ministry opportunities, facing Australian churches in 2018?” Their answers are below, in alphabetical order. These are not “solutions” to your ministry issues. They are suggestions for the shape of faithfulness today. What does it mean to address the eternal, trans-cultural gospel to 21st century Australia? What does it mean to invite today’s Australians – in our contemporary globalised, secularised, sexualised, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious plurality – to put their trust in Christ as Lord, and to grow as his disciples?
These ideas should help us both hone our tools, and increase our skill as we use them to build God’s temple – 1 Cor 3:9-17. But “unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain” – Psalm 127:1. Let us pray that God’s Spirit works in and through our efforts, so that many people may find their great interest, in these interesting times, in Christ and his gospel.
Akos Balogh; Christine Brandson; David Burke; Murray Campbell; Murray Capill; Rachel Ciano; Simon Gillham; Tracey Gowing; Bruce Hall; Kara Hartley; Richard Hibbert; Peter Jensen; Peter Lin; Ed Loane; Campbell Markham; John McClean; Darren Middleton; Ken Noakes; Gary Millar; Peter Orr; Ben Pfahlert; Michael Prodigalidad; Kanishka Raffel; Phillip Scheepers; Dominic Steele; Tim Thorburn; Jane Tooher; Craig Tucker; Don West; Phil Wheeler; John Wilson; Lionel Windsor; Ying Yee; Kirk Zylstra
Akos is the executive director of The Gospel Coalition Australia.
We live in a post-Christian culture, where the moral assumptions and beliefs of wider Australia are increasingly different from Christianity. Sexuality is a prime example. This means that in 2018 we can expect Christian behaviour and beliefs to be seen as weird, and (in the case of sexual ethics), harmful. Christians will face growing pressure to at least stay silent about Christian views. I expect we will also be pressured to conform our views to contemporary culture, and if we don’t, we’ll face public mockery and possibly legal repercussions. And so, the challenge will be to keep trusting in the power and truth of gospel. This climate, however, presents a golden opportunity to show the difference and the goodness of the gospel, both through our lives and through our words.
Christine is a thoughtful millennial Christian who has engaged in youth ministry in Sydney’s multicultural south-west for many years. She heads the teenager’s ministry of the Equip women’s conference.
The unique challenges of ministering to millennials include their belief in self-actualisation, their dismissal of history and older wisdom, and the fall-out from being shaped as people who are also digital natives. They receive a daily barrage of online ideas, but usually lack the maturity to work through the noise (mind you, this is a problem for anyone engaging online, not just millennials). This plurality of ideas is exciting for a time, because it gives them options to experiment with. But when their self-constructed self-identity breaks down – as it inevitably does – they will need something to cling to. Sin manifests itself in a way that we are no longer familiar with, but the antidote is still the same: clear and faithful preaching from men and women who genuinely love those they are ministering to.
David lectures in pastoral ministry at Christ College Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney. He is Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of New South Wales. In the past he has ministered in churches in rural New South Wales, in Sydney, and in Singapore.
- Holding on to the historic, supernatural, exclusive nature of the gospel in a day of pluralism and relativism;
- Relating to modern Australia – figuring out how to do church as engaged exiles rather than being intimidated or angered about our vanishing social privileges;
- Reaching beyond the social elite – beyond those who are relatively wealthy, went to a private school, and hold a university degree;
- Doing church in a way that fosters and exhibits genuine multicultural unity;
- Outreach to groups who see church and Christianity as oppressive of their identity;
- Outreach to hard-to-reach communities such as Muslims, philosophical modernists, postmodernists;
- Engaging with the regional disparity between uber-resourced churches in Oz and under-resourced churches in the Asia-Pacific – and doing so in ways that engage the whole person: head, heart and hands.
The biggest issue for Australian Churches in 2018 is what it has always been: will churches keep believing, trusting, and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and let His Gospel shape our lives? Materialistic hedonism continually distracts Christians from Christ. Authoritarian secularism is likely to strengthen and broaden its tentacles. Theological liberalism will use this environment to advance a comfortably watered-down ‘Christianity’. These cultural forces will combine to put great pressure on churches to give up key Christian doctrines, and following Jesus will come with a greater personal and perhaps even financial cost. However, we must respond with neither defensive pride nor despair, but keep believing and telling a better story.
Murray is a native of New Zealand and has pastored churches there. He is now the Principal of the Reformed Theological College in Melbourne.
The greatest challenge facing the Australian church today is learning how to proclaim the gospel faithfully and winsomely in a post-Christian society. We face a whole world of new challenges because the church has largely lost its credibility, is regarded as largely irrelevant, and is, for the most part, not welcome to have a voice in the public square. We have to learn afresh how to articulate the gospel and a biblical worldview in a positive, humble, non-reactive, gracious way as we engage a world of great complexity. We need to be prepared for the persecution that may come. We need to ensure we don’t compromise in order to win a hearing. And we need to have utter confidence in the power of the gospel and in the sovereignty of God, so that we are excited by this challenge and not daunted by it.
In our current climate, the cost of publicly identifying as a Christian is both a challenge and opportunity. Throughout history, persecution has always brought out the best and the worst in the Church. Persecution inevitably leads to refinement and eventual growth of the Church. But it’s always heartbreaking to see those who fall, in various ways and to varying degrees, along the way.
Speaking of falling – we need to watch out for how leisure and lifestyle impact our decisions about the future. I have found more and more Christians making decisions about the future based on “lifestyle” rather than Christ’s values. We have an opportunity to go against the grain of the culture we live in. This will make us distinct as followers of Jesus, which is an opportunity for evangelism. It’s also an opportunity for the spiritual growth that comes from putting God at the centre of our decisions.
Simon is the head of the Department of Missions at Moore Theological College in Sydney.
I think the major challenge facing Australian churches today is coming to terms with being in a minority group in a culture that is moving away from us. The gospel is faring better amongst migrant groups in Australia than it is amongst white, Anglo, working class people. We need to do serious ‘cross-cultural’ work in order to reach this dominant demographic. There are many opportunities for gospel proclamation in a context of high anxiety, lack of hope, and lack of community/relationships – but our proclamation needs to demonstrate how the gospel addresses the sea of need around us.
Tracey is the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES) Specialist for Women. She has been involved in campus ministry for many years.
We could say the changing nature of our society is a threat. But I think we need to see that God, our ultimate ruler, is bringing about a different cultural situation that will in some way give him glory. So the challenge for us is the same as always – will we remember:
1. The goodness, power, and rule of God
We can easily forget that our Lord is good, powerful, and unstoppable. This is not an issue of ‘this age’ but has existed throughout the ages. The almighty and true God is our creator and master, to whom all will give an account. He rules over everyone and everything. He brings about all things for the growth of his kingdom and the good of his people.
If we believe this, then there is nothing to fear. All we need to do is joyfully watch and learn how the current unfolding situation is indeed for our good and for the extension of his reign. We’ll have plenty of opportunities to extend that reign. All we have to do is ‘watch and pray’ – to look out for opportunities.
2. The opposition of this world
Suffering in any form should not surprise us. There have always been social rules which try to get us to keep quiet about the Christian life and message. Previously, they were under the surface – unwritten codes of ‘polite’ behaviour. Now they’re becoming more public and may even become enshrined in law. Either way, the challenge has always been to love people enough to preach Christ to them and accept the suffering that will come to us as we do so, just as it came to our Lord. Have we forgotten this?
3. The judgment which is the cross
The cross is both the fragrance of hope and stench of death. There are people around us – family and friends and neighbours – who are trying to navigate their way through an increasingly complex, conflict-riddled society, and trying to live a purposeful life which make a difference to the world. In this context, the cross of Christ proclaims that we have a Father in heaven who is simultaneously kind and gracious, and impartial and just. The challenge to us is: will we believe that he knows us, and our situation in life, better than we know ourselves? Will we surrender our autonomy to his good rule? And will we declare this hidden privilege or keep it under cover?
Bruce leads the cross-cultural ministry of the Department of Evangelism and New Churches of the Sydney Anglican Diocese. Before taking up this role he pastored Anglican churches around Sydney for many years.
How do we reach the vast multitudes of people who are not coming to our churches and are far removed from Christian social networks? These people include new migrants and those Aussies who are several generations removed from Sunday School and other nominal church connections. In addition to doing ‘regular church’ well, we need new ways of reaching and gathering people around the gospel of Jesus. This is how the gospel is growing in other societies where ‘regular church’ is not able to meet the need.
Kara is the Archdeacon for Women of the Sydney Anglican Diocese. She has many years of ministry experience in churches in Sydney.
One challenge is holding on to the centrality of penal substitutionary atonement and the total depravity of humanity. Surely that’s something we’ll never lose, after all, these have been central tenets of Reformed theology for 500 years. Yet with the current language of ‘flourishing’ almost being the end point for Christians, we can easily fall into the trap of failing to call people to repent, and instead only preach a gospel of positivity. We can also fall into the trap of inadvertently adding our good works to his final work, in our efforts to ‘flourish’ and ‘be the person God wants us to be’.
The vast majority of Australians have no idea of the gospel. The Australian church’s major challenge is to evangelise and make disciples of this generation. To do this we, as Australian churches, must rediscover God’s heart for the lost, the imperative of the Great Commission, and a fresh confidence in the gospel. This can only come about as Christians give themselves unreservedly to God to use them however he wants to.
We need to thank God for blessing us so that there are more evangelical churches than ever which preach the gospel, and that our churches have now learned so much about suiting the Australian context. You may not see it, but from my long-term perspective, we have changed and been invigorated by the Spirit!
And we must pray that we will see many, many more evangelical churches with a mission to win souls and acting suitably to our Australian context. Pray that we will be more deliberate about reaching the unreached in our midst. Pray that we will continue to be changed and invigorated by the Spirit!
Peter is the Anglican Bishop of South-West Sydney. He has revitalised churches and spearheaded multicultural ministry in Sydney’s south-west for many years.
Here in Sydney’s south-west, we face unique challenges in having to evangelise and disciple across very diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, and we are having to develop our own tools to equip our church members for this work. Our region is vastly under-resourced and many who wish to minister here must rely upon fundraising efforts. Despite these challenges, the joys that come with it are great. The whole world has come to our city, and as such our people are developing a strong missionary mindset. We are also developing exciting opportunities for gospel partnerships between churches. There is a burgeoning network amongst churches in our region, and we are hoping to establish more partnerships with churches from outside of the region who wish to support this ministry.
Ed lectures in church history at Moore Theological College.
The fundamental challenges and opportunities that Australian churches face in 2018 are the same as what all churches have faced around the world at all times: holding onto the gospel of salvation and proclaiming it to the lost.
Our particular context, however, does have a peculiar flavour. We face greater social ostracism than what Christians have previously experienced in this country. Jesus called his followers to take up their cross. Our contemporary situation provides both the challenge to be faithful to our calling, as well as an opportunity to glorify God through our willingness to suffer for his sake.
Our biggest challenge is lukewarmness and materialism within the church, which makes the average church unable to properly care for and disciple more than a 2-3 seekers or new converts at a time, especially if they come with heavy burdens like financial debts, past neglect or violence, or substance abuse. The external “persecution” pressures are relatively light and not a big problem. It’s the internal weakness that we must most fear.
John is the Vice-Principal of Christ College Presbyterian Theological Centre in Sydney and the convener of the NSW Presbyterian Church’s Gospel, Society and Culture Committee. Before becoming a lecturer, he was engaged in ministry in rural New South Wales.
On the one hand, consumerism and individualism, the default settings of our culture, have a deep impact in churches. Every Christian in Australia faces the challenge of learning that life runs around God, not them. And every church faces the huge challenge of helping people know that and live it.
The other major challenge I see is the growing gap between mainstream Australian culture and Christianity. We are tempted to think the answer is giving more information, addressing biblical illiteracy. Information matters – but I think the more pressing points of engagement are ethics and aesthetics. The major obstacles to people considering the gospel are objections to Christian morality, or big questions about abuse and greed in churches. We have to get better at showing that the gospel is not only true, but good; and do that in way which engage the imagination. One practical challenge, and opportunity, flowing from this is the need for far more worked out Christians active in media and entertainment.
We need to understand and explain cultural changes, especially the effects of globalisation (which is replacing religion as a social force), so that our preaching, discipleship and witness are most effective. Increasingly, even Christians have been shaped by the dominant cultural themes of human flourishing. Much of our social architecture teaches us that consumption is redemption and sex is salvation. Therefore, one of the pressing issues facing us is equipping the church, via preaching and discipleship, for the gospel mission of making disciple-making disciples of the nations, all of which is grounded in prayer.
Despite our connected world, radical individualism, and the consumerism that has extended even into our relationships, we are increasingly disconnected, anxious, and lonely. This gives the church the opportunity to model an alternative view of human flourishing, marked out by deep relationships, selfless service, and love.
Gary is the principal of Queensland Theological College. He is a native of Northern Ireland, and has many years of ministry experience in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The sad reality is that many Australians think that we are not simply irrelevant but an obstacle to a fair and just society. As the church of the Lord Jesus, we need to gather again around the gospel, proclaim the gospel and live the gospel together if we are to counter these powerful currents. There is still space to do that, but we need to make use of the ‘space’ we have to do that while it lasts, confident that the message of the gospel continues to be the only way to real life, real peace and real justice in our land.
Ken is on the ministry team of Holy Trinity Church in Adelaide.
We face the continued challenge to be in the world but not of it. We want to love this world, because our God does – John 3:16 etc. But when we love the world, our love is based on God’s truth, as revealed in the Scriptures and centred in the scriptural Christ. And for us, one aspect of love is obedience to God’s will, again as revealed in the Scriptures and enacted by Christ.
The challenge for today is to proclaim this Christ to a world where love, truth, and obedience are all self-centred and fluid. Therefore, the world interprets our love as oppressive hate.
Christians are therefore caught in a dilemma. We don’t want to retreat into our nice safe Christian comfort zones and just shrug our shoulders while non-Christians hurtle headlong towards eternal destruction. But when we engage with the world, we’re constantly pressured, in various ways and to varying degrees, to do so in ways that compromise core Christian convictions. It’s a lose-lose-lose situation – we either:
- Stay silent, and feel guilty because we know we should speak up – the gospel, by its outward-oriented, redemptive nature, demands to be “preached”, “proclaimed”;
- Speak the truth, get slammed for being a bigot, and feel guilty for giving Christianity a bad name;
- Tell people what they want to hear, and feel guilty for letting Jesus down and confirming people in their rebellion against God.
Thankfully, we have the one who is divine truth and love incarnate, who perfectly obeyed the Father and established his will on earth. Even if we don’t have the answers, we know he does, and we can continue to trust and follow him.
Peter is a New Testament lecturer at Moore Theological College in Sydney. He is originally from Northern Ireland.
Biblical literacy in our churches is falling at the same time that the influence of social media is continuing to rise. People, it seems to me, are not immersed in the Bible but immerse themselves in social media. Social media is not bad in and of itself (in fact, it can be used for God’s glory). However, it seems that people in our churches are hearing the world’s agenda much more clearly, forcefully and persuasively than ever before without a deep counterbalancing correction from Scripture. As a result, Christians are slowly losing confidence in Christian teaching and particularly Christian ethics.
Ben is the Director of the Ministry Training Strategy (MTS).
Most senior ministers do not do any authentic evangelism (i.e. long term, low key, relational evangelism). Therefore, their example teaches their congregation that evangelism is not an important part of being a faithful, godly and committed Christian. I think Pastors primarily need to equip the saints for works of ministry – but they also need to be doing themselves what they want others to do in normal life.
Bible Study groups should be evangelistic platoons. But instead they’ve become places where already converted people go to “feed on God’s Word”. But that purpose of that feeding is to be strong enough to get out of the comfort zone of that Bible study group and get on with God’s mission out in the world. Otherwise, all we get is fat! People like David Pitt, Steve Covetz and Peter Bradbury are starting to see great fruit from resources like Life on Life Missional Discipleship groups.
Theological colleges need to train people how to engage with an oral culture that processes issues of the heart via Netflix and Youtube. People today think with their hearts, NOT their heads. Maybe we should try something like the 70:20:10 model of competency-based learning. And this means spending more time learning ministry “on the ground”, by dealing with real people facing real issues, through an on-the-job apprenticeship like MTS. No, I’m not just saying that because I work there – I work here because that’s what I believe!
Huge Opportunity #1: Christian Schools are the major mission field in the next 50 years. The media can peddle the message, “Christianity should be eradicated from schools” all they like, but the bottom line is that your average Aussie wants their kids to learn what it is that Christianity has to offer.
Huge Opportunity #2: Working Class evangelism. The working class of Australia are harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. They need the gospel. And they don’t have all the left-wing intelligentsia hang-ups we’re so intimidated by these days. 20 Schemes is an example of seeking to transform disadvantaged communities through church planting.
We need to maintain a biblical understanding of love. In recent days, love has been redefined by wider society as simply tolerance, acceptance and openness. It’s been reduced to a feeling and an emotion anchored in individualistic freedom. Christians have the challenge and opportunity to redirect others to biblical love which is anchored in the character of God. Biblical love is actively sacrificial toward those who are undeserving. That’s much more than passive tolerance. Christians have the opportunity to display such love, in both word and deed, to a society more openly opposed to them.
In light of that, we also need to maintain a steadfast hope in an unchanging God. The seismic cultural shifts of late have made many Christians question the relevance of our beliefs, ethics, and worldview. Christians must hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints. In times of constant change, a people holding steadfastly to God will stand out as those who possess something enduring. History shows that when God’s people have a gracious, firm, bold confidence in God and His word, we will be salt and light to a world groping around in darkness.
Kanishka is Anglican Dean of Sydney. He is of Sri Lankan background. In the past he has ministered in evangelical Anglican churches in Canberra and Perth.
I think we are facing a major discipleship challenge for churches. Owning up to being a Christian is fast becoming something at least vaguely suspicious, if not outright toxic, in light of societal changes around marriage and gender identity, and the findings of the Royal Commission. But for the same reasons, there are tremendous opportunities for exercising ministries of compassion and care!
The multicultural character of our major cities means there are people who are thoroughly ‘modern’ but maintain a religious world view. They present an opportunity for engagement which is quite different to the average Anglo Aussie.
Schools work has to be all the more sensitive to today’s pluralistic environment, and to the fact that young people can ‘fact check’ in an instant and smell inauthenticity at a hundred meters. But gracious, humble, servant-hearted Christianity is still incredibly attractive to a culture increasingly wearied by ‘spin’ and ‘spam’. We have a gospel to proclaim!
Phillip is originally from South Africa. He is Vice-Principal of the Reformed Theological College in Melbourne.
Coming to terms with living in a post-Christendom society is both a challenge and an opportunity. There are now no more illusions about the fact that wider society has decisively moved away from its Christian roots. This is obviously a challenge because it can cause us to become disheartened or insular. But it is also a massive opportunity because it will increasingly force us to think deeply about what it means to be missionaries to our own society.
Missionaries have long ministered within cultures that are actively hostile to them and their message, or at least where the Christian message is highly likely to be misunderstood. They have therefore had to work long and hard to bring the gospel in ways that profoundly connect with their target audience, and that addresses objections their audience raise. The fact that we will increasingly be forced to do the same kind of thinking is a positive, as far as I’m concerned. It will leave us in a better place to communicate the eternal Word in a rapidly changing world.
My concern about the mission of Jesus in the Australian church today is that more than any time in the twenty years since I finished theological college, I think we have tragically collectively lost focus on the priority of Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost. Across the board in Australia I feel we have lost the urgency of evangelism (with some wonderful pockets of exceptions).
I am profoundly concerned to see so (relatively) few evangelistic efforts, so little emphasis on evangelism in our conference agendas, so little priority on evangelism from our leaders, and such a heartbreaking mission progress report at our recent Sydney Anglican synod.
How can this have happened? I can only surmise that (like that frog in the water) perhaps we have gradually taken the focus off the cross, off the future of eternal life and are not focused enough on the horror of hell. And so we collectively fill our time with other good worthwhile things, but miss out on the best most important thing.
Tim is a staffworker of the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES) and has led the ministry team at University of Western Australia Christian Union for many years. He is the director of the Perth Gospel Partnership.
Our temptation, in the light of the legalisation of same-sex marriage and the wider secularisation of Australian culture, is to be ashamed of Christ and the gospel. So our challenge is to boldly and lovingly speak up about Jesus in what feels like a threatening context. We must not run for cover, but keep speaking up publicly and privately about Jesus, not just as an option, but as the Lord and Saviour we all need. We will be slandered and hated for doing it, so embracing suffering will be essential. I expect that loyalty to Jesus and his teaching on sexuality will soon involve the possibility of losing our jobs. This threat to personal economic prosperity will challenge the materialistic idolatry of many Christians.
Jane lectures in Ministry, Church History and New Testament at Moore Theological College and is Chair of The Gospel Coalition Australia’s Women’s Advisory Panel. Before joining the faculty of Moore she served in parish ministry in Sydney and London.
I think the biggest issue for the Australian church is to remember that we have been saved from our sin, only by grace, because of Jesus’ death on the cross. This will then lead us to trust God’s word – we will be convinced that his word is necessary, powerful, right, true and good. This will then motivate us to keep sharing Jesus with those who don’t yet know him as their Lord and Saviour, and be convinced that God’s Spirit is at work as we do.
This trust in God’s word will save us from believing Satan’s lies – like that some people could never be saved, or that God’s judgment is not coming. It will also shape how we think and speak about issues that our broader society is also dealing with, such as family, gender, sexuality, refugees, abuse, authority, work, money, the environment, and the value of all human life.
Craig is leading a start-up in the Sydney CBD know as Scots Church Sydney. Previously, he planted West Blacktown Presbyterian and renewed Drummoyne Presbyterian.
- It used to be hard to go into full time ministry, and easy to be a church-goer in a secular job. That’s inverted now. Full-time ministry is in some ways easier as there are fewer nominals and our views are distinctive. But it’s harder to be a Christian in the workplace and neighbourhood because society is more hostile.
- The death of relativism is an opportunity. People are believing in absolutes again, especially moral absolutes.
- Grace-filled gospel communities will look more and more appealing in a graceless culture.
- There are fantastic opportunities with newcomers to the culture (many conversions) but a hardening from white Aussies (very few converts).
- In an unchurched culture where many do not know any Christians firsthand, evangelism is a slower process that needs to assume less.
- The fragmentation of society – where I only have friends who share my world view – is a problem, because it means many people don’t know any Christians. This makes for less evangelistic opportunities and makes Christianity seem less plausible.
- There is a lack of quality ministry candidates.
- We are not reaching creative people and culture changers. Likewise, we are not sufficiently committed to reaching city centres, perhaps because we think it’s too hard.
- Overall, we are too pessimistic and a bunch of whingers about the net gains for gospel ministry in our culture.
Don is the Principal of Trinity Theological College, Perth.
We need to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to press on in prayer, bible teaching and evangelism. There is much faithful gospel work that goes on in churches and other contexts which does not produce headlines on popular Christian websites, but over which angels rejoice. Meanwhile, our adversary works overtime to sow the seeds of doubt and discouragement. So let’s keep reminding each other from the Scriptures of God’s love for us in Christ, and praying for people in our church or Bible study group, even when we are not at church or Bible study.
We also need to keep grounding everything in the scriptural gospel. I wonder if part of the reason we’re anxious about how Christianity addresses contemporary issues – like the role of religion in the public square, and the nature of identity and relationships in our society – is due to a lack of firm gospel foundations. Pastors and teachers need to take the time to reflect prayerfully and theologically on the texts of Scripture they expound. Application of God’s Word will be more pertinent and persuasive when it’s clearly grounded in the gospel of God’s saving love for us in Christ.
Phil is the Director of the Department of Evangelism and New Churches of the Sydney Anglican Diocese. He has ministered for many years in Anglican churches in Sydney.
Our major issues / imperative has to be reaching the lost. We are barely impacting our secularised culture, and the need is massive. The headwinds of opposition are stronger than ever, so it’s tempting to just go quiet and say nothing. The risk to stand up for Jesus in the public sphere and in the workplace is higher than in the past. That is both a problem and an opportunity.
However, sometimes the darkness is our friend. The light shines brighter in darkness. The distinctiveness of Christian living will be more apparent than ever. So there may well be times of great opportunity and harvest ahead if we will be bold warm hearted prophets to our community, with conviction, courage, and wisdom.
John is the Moderator-General of the national Presbyterian Church of Australia. He has many years of experience in pastoral ministry in Presbyterian churches in Victoria.
- We are losing touch with Mr & Mrs & Miss Average Oz because of the very thing that we hold to as foundational, i.e. word ministry. Our high view of the Bible commits us to teaching the Word, explaining the meaning of words, framing words in sermons etc. Meanwhile, our culture is relinquishing its commitment to words.
- We have in-house disputes that are debilitating to sort out and a poor witness to outsiders.
- We are tight with money, which leads to, amongst other things, poor giving for the support of gospel workers.
- There is still a general respect for the church. We’re still seen as a positive good for society. Therefore, we have openings to speak and act.
- There is tremendous talent for future leadership of the church amongst the youth in our churches and youth groups. We need to identify and nurture emerging leaders.
- There is plenty of scope for loving refugees, and helping new immigrants who need a friend to guide them into this English-speaking culture.
Lionel lectures in New Testament at Moore Theological College.
We need to be people who are so convinced of God’s love for us in Christ’s death, and so convinced of the security we have in the risen and exalted Christ, that we are follow through our convictions in every area of our lives: committed to prayer, putting sin to death daily, holding to the truth of God’s word even when it costs, and being so immersed in the truth of the Scriptures and so committed to loving our neighbours that when we speak the gospel, we’re not just parroting words but speaking from our own hearts to theirs.
Ying is on the pastoral team of Chinese Christian Church, Milson’s Point, Sydney. He has ministered amongst Chinese-Australian churches for many years.
Conflicts abound in all churches. Some of these disputes may be over deeply foundational theological issues. But if we’re honest with ourselves, the majority are ultimately cultural. We might be on the same page theologically, and have the same vision and mission. But we fight over how we express things, how we get achieve our goals, how long it takes, etc. etc.
All ministry is cross-cultural in nature. By this I mean more than just ethnicity. Cultural differences exist in almost every sphere of life. So we end up having fights about gender issues, communication styles, leadership styles, worship styles. We fight across the generation gap. There are difficulties and barriers involved in reaching particular vocations. There are barriers between the working class, middle class and upper class. The list goes on and on and on.
If we want to reach the broader community, we need to adapt a cross-cultural posture and distinguish very clearly between what is foundational and what is flexible. Otherwise we’ll find ourselves only ever ministering to an ever-shrinking group that diminishes to the very few people who are exactly like ME…!
Kirk is the pastor of Everton Park Presbyterian Reformed Church in Brisbane.
The major challenges and ministry opportunities facing Christians in Australia in 2018 are one and the same: how to respond to, and engage with, a world where Christian beliefs and ethics are no longer smiled upon (or at least ignored) but rather are scorned. This brings challenges, but as Christians thankfully we are more and more in the limelight. This brings great opportunity to winsomely present Christ.
This article was motivated by this Breakpoint post which assembles opinions on the challenges for churches in the USA. As I read it, I thought “I wonder what answers Australian church leaders would give to the same question?” Voila…