Re-Inventing The Church in Australia


Some people love the Church, some are suspicious of the Church and still others hate it with a vengeance!But which Church do they love or hate? Is it the greying, largely traditional Church; the aggressive, contemporary mega or regional Church; or the almost hidden (no buildings) emerging Church? And which Church needs to change?

The pundits are predicting the demise of many of the established congregations over the next 20 years due to their failure to attract young adults. This happened in the UK amongst the Methodists two decades ago and out of the closures of many Churches there arose a whole new vibrant Church planting movement which successfully engaged people with the Gospel.

It is a foolish thing to write off the Church when Christ said He Himself would build it! Individual congregations may become non-viable but the Church will always be with us in some form or another.

The question many Church leaders are asking is, “How can the Church in Australia re-invent itself in order to get back on message and fulfil Christ’s mission in the world?”

This question implies there are certain non-negotiables that are presumably sacrosanct due to Biblical constraints.

I am fairly certain there has not been enough homework done on these issues to date. For this reason we may have made the mistake of calling some emerging models ‘Churches’, when in fact they do not fulfil the basic functions according to the Bible.

The question also implies it is possible re-invent the Church in any age. There is a need for clear contextualisation here.

If we can determine the difference between what is obviously Biblical and valid in all cultures, and what is clearly cultural in the Australian Church, then it will be possible for a new Church to emerge that is clothed in the Australian culture yet challenging to those aspects that defy the Bible.

Eddie Gibbs in Church Next declared our Churches can display one of three attitudes towards the world around them.

Firstly, we can display an attitude of judgmental isolation. This head-in-the sand attitude ignores the fact that complete isolation is impossible because most of our people have to cope with the pressures of the world on a daily basis.

Secondly, we may display an attitude of protective separation. This attitude involves engagement with the world, but it also demands that individuals who wish to enter the Church must clean up their lives first and undergo cultural indoctrination and initiation.

The third attitude is one of missionary engagement according to Gibbs. In this case, the Church recognises its distinctive identity in the Gospel but also its calling within a specific culture.

In this preferred third alternative, The Church goes into the world with the same degree of dependence as Jesus demonstrated towards His Heavenly Father, and also with humility and repentance in communicating its message. This third attitude best describes where the Church should be.

The primary challenge facing the Australian Church is not the challenge of re-inventing itself, but the challenge of re-connecting with people who have a different worldview so as to present the Gospel in a way that makes sense to them.

This challenge necessitates a missionary mindset and demands all the skills employed by cross-cultural missionaries overseas.

Three of us who minister together out of this missionary conviction are embarking on a journey together. I (John Tanner) am a missiologist, Colin Stoodley is a Church planter and the training director of The Pines Training Centre, and Dean Thomas is a pastor evangelist. We also represent three generations. Were not sure where our journey will take us because we know we don’t have all the answers. We need input from others that we meet on the road.

[John] During the years when the influence of Christendom was pervasive within Australian culture, people connected with the Church as a relevant and necessary part of their community. Now Australia is a multi-cultural nation in a post-Christian phase. We shouldn’t allow the high profile of a few mega Churches to hide this fact from us.

We are correct to view Australia as a mission field that requires us to re-connect with various sectors of our society in redemptive ways.

[Dean] John’s point regarding the decline of influence of Christendom within Australian society can no longer be argued against. For some within the Church, this has been a frightening development causing all sorts of negative reactions detrimental to the cause of winning Aussies for Christ.

Some Churches are now so disconnected to society that unless a miracle occurs the Church will continue to be, at best, irrelevant or at worst, counter-productive to reaching the unsaved.

[John] The first step in the journey to re-connection is preparation. Everyone knows the key to a successful journey lies in being properly prepared. Our preparation involves: understanding the worldview of the people were trying to reach determining what is to be contextualised, and identifying appropriate ministry models

1. Understanding Worldview We can think of worldview in three general categories. The surface category is the cognitive dimension dealing with what people know, the way they think logically and how they view wisdom. The intermediate level of worldview is the affective dimension which deals with feelings and aesthetics. The deepest level of worldview is the evaluative dimension which is comprised of beliefs, values and allegiances. In order to reach people with the Gospel, we must first understand and appreciate their worldview.

The worldview of the Baby Boomer is radically different from that of the Gen Xer. Similarly, recent immigrants from Hong Kong will have a different worldview from third generation Australian Chinese. Unless the Gospel penetrates deep down to the level of beliefs and values, true conversion is not possible.

One of the greatest challenges facing the Australian Church is to understand and appreciate the worldview of people under thirty-five years of age in order to re-connect with them and to introduce them to Jesus.

2. Contextualisation [John] The second task in preparing ourselves to re-invent the Church is the work of contextualisation. Because Jesus commanded us to preach the Gospel to all the people groups, we may safely assume that the Gospel will fit within every sub-culture on the planet. One problem we have is that we constantly fail to distinguish between what is Biblical in the Church and what is cultural.

Whenever we move across cultures we must be careful to leave behind the “cultural garments of our home Church and to plant relevant Biblical truth and practices within a whole new garment indigenous to the new culture. It is necessary for us to determine the Biblical nature and functions of the Church; the essence of the Gospel; the character of true conversion; the responsibilities of discipleship and the descriptors of spiritual maturity to begin with.

In our Churches we have added much to basic Biblical Christianity that is cultural. If we are to share the Gospel in redemptive ways to another culture or generation we had better understand what the message is, how it relates and what are the implications of conversion within that culture.

[Colin] The point John makes about contextualisation is absolutely vital. When I began ministry as a planter in the early 1980s there was no discussion about this among planters in Australia. Now it is rightly becoming a rigorous part of our preparation and ministry as planters.

As well as this, with regards to describing Australia as post-Christian I also like to think of Australia as pre-Christian because this helps me see the opportunity just as seeing us as a post-Christian nation helps me see the challenges realistically. This is a great day for us if we will accept the challenge. We must not be intimidated but release the creative elements of our lives to the task.

But seeing ourselves rightly also involves accepting the reality of what we have added to the Gospel by way of western enculturalisation. This involves examining our message and methods to discern what must be stripped away. This will be a painful process but among new Churches being planted there is a natural and amazing opportunity to do this without major dislocation. In planting new Churches we can not only do evangelism better but we can complete the reformation of the Church quicker.

[Dean] There are several emerging grassroots movements which have identified the need for careful contextualization in the preparation stage and have created a community of faith amongst those who understand evangelism is no longer an event but a process in context. The Engell scale (of evangelism) has become second nature to these people. The Engell scale, by nature, forces God’s people to contextualise. Succesful evangelism is no longer about getting the kill, it is working at moving people along the process from completely unaware of religion through to a conversion experience and on to becoming replicating followers of Christ.

With this in mind evangelism is no longer just the realm of the evangelist. It is now the responsibility of the whole Church! Once again the power is in the hands of the Church, not a select few.

3. Appropriate ministry models [John] Possibly the easiest task of the preparation stage is discovering and developing appropriate models of ministry. Note that I was careful to say ministry and not Church. Today there are experimental models that I would call ministries which do not qualify Biblically to be called Churches. I applaud those who have the courage to experiment and cheer them on to complete the task God has called them to do.

The appropriateness of the models will be determined by the worldview of the people we are seeking to reach. For example, anyone seeking to reach people under thirty-five must adopt a model that has a strong relational base because this generation relates to friends more than to family.

Church leaders tell us that the Mega Church model based on marketing techniques is no longer the preferred option. In some Denominations this policy shift will create a vacuum. There are many possible models, but we must be discerning in our choices.

[Colin] The models of our ministries will look different. We are already seeing that and, I believe, accepting that as a fact. But there are some very big picture things that we must somehow never lose sight of.

What underpins this three stage process that John presents is that we retain the element of God’s Spirit in a continuous process of transformation. Even if we understand worldview, do our contextualisation and change our ministry models, we must not lose what God Himself brings to the table. Being people of the Spirit and prayer cannot be replaced.

My great concern is that we will become clever but not consecrated.

When I was a planter the first time around, I attended a conference on the new thing at that time Church growth. For a while I think we lost the deep transforming work of the Spirit and became quick to analyse and adapt but not quick to yield. My prayer would be that what John is calling for will be adopted in lives that resound to the person and work of God the Holy Spirit. My sense as a Church Planter is that this dimension gives energy and vitality and effect to the disciplines we must adopt.

[Dean] I can also see a change regarding ministry models happening amongst my evangelist friends. The evangelists of the past who have been so successful in times gone by are no longer reaping the same size harvest in Australia. As a result, some of them are looking for someone to blame (eg lack of pre-crusade preparation on behalf of the Churches). This in turn increases the gap between Church leaders and evangelists.

These old models of evangelism won’t be successful in this postmodern culture. Modern evangelists (as opposed to those who operate within the current postmodern context) are looking for harvest fields in which they can once again see dramatic numeric results. So many are turning to other countries. The decline of the big time Evangelists hey-day has well and truly started and it won’t be long before it is complete.

Now I know this sounds dark and gloomy, but the story doesn’t end there. I believe the Scriptures and “not even the gates of hell shall prevail”! Before our very eyes we are witnessing grass roots movements that are changing the way Churches and evangelists work together to re-connect with everyday Australians in order to bring in the harvest. I for one am very hopeful.

[John] This is just the start of the discussion. If you would like to join us in the journey we would welcome your presence and comments. Together we may discover some principles that will help to shape the mission of the Church in the next five years.

~ John Tanner (Minister at large, Southern Cross Institute and Missiologist) ~ Colin Stoodley (Training Director, The Pines Training Centre) ~ Dean Thomas (Pastor/evangelist and pioneer in internet evangelism)

Play of the day…


So many of us are under-estimated in life! Have you ever felt that people just can’t see what you know is inside you?… or at least what you hope is there? I had this experience this week, someone I spend time with thinks I’m a drop kick. Now I know at times I act like a drop kick, but not to the degree that person thinks I am.

I remember as a young kid standing in line on the edge of the soccer field as two of my primary school mates picked the day’s lunch time soccer teams. Without fail, I was the last to be picked for soccer (not so with rugby, but soccer was a sad sad story for me).

I never understood the rules, in fact I couldn’t figure out why would soccer need rules. I mean how boring – no tackling, no pushing, no fending… may as well as play cards.

Even when I was on the field in the team playing no one would pass me the ball. So many times I remember thinking… ‘Man look at this, no one is in front of me, kick it to me! I’m completely open!’ I think I was so bad no one bothered to mark me.

If only they could have seen what I thought was in me – the ability to go the length of the field and score. If only they could see my hidden capacity, my hidden potential… But sadly, when the rare occasion came and I was given the chance to shine and make the play of the day… I never quite managed to kick that goal.

One time I was given the shot, the perfect opportunity, no one around me for a mile. The only person in front of me was the goalie. I lined it up… took an almighty swing at the ball… my foot connected… and it landed directly into the waiting arms of the goalie. He didn’t even have to move. It was, in effect, the perfect pass to the opposition.

I was so mad and frustrated I proceeded to run up to the goalie and attempted to kick the ball out of his hands. It wasn’t fair! Why should he be allowed to stand there and block my shot? Why should he be allowed to use his hands when I am not? Why did he have to ruin my chance of the play of the day?

Most of us might have only that small window of opportunity to show our potential. You might get a shot because your team is so far behind (or in front), that it doesn’t really matter, so the coach sends you out. Perhaps the coach is so mad at the team that he turns to you, and he might even call you by the wrong name and point or gesture for you to run on and give it a go. Therefore, you are getting your one brief chance to save the day.

Unfortunately in my childhood soccer career I never capitalised on my opportunities. I never really achieved the outcome I dreamed of.

But here is the thing… most of us have gone our whole Christian life not really living up to the potential inside of us. We’ve never been given the chance to step up and take that one shot. We have never even had the chance to take the risk.

Now I know some of you reading this have had an entire lifetime of ‘taking the shot’. Some of you are doing that right now, and to you people I am very thankful because you have taught me a vaulable lesson. Life is all about seizing those divine moments. You have taught me to take every opportunity because who knows if that next opportunity to step up will be the last one I get?

Wouldn’t it be horrible to be sitting in a pew on the sidelines and miss the calling from the great coach telling us to get in the game, and to take the shot regardless of how unlikely it might be!

Some of you might be also be thinking that you are seizing the opportunity… you are taking that shot, but you’re missing the mark. Well it is to you that I’m writing. I hear and feel your concern. Nothing is more frustrating than sensing God is calling you up to make some major play, but when the chance arises you are not kicking a goal but more like passing the ball to the opposition!

You know if Jesus is the greatest leader who ever lived, (which I am certain he is) then every single individual who enters into a relationship with God, has the leadership potential of Jesus inside of them. Every single person has the opportunity to lead her or his side in scoring!

Think about that for a moment. No matter who you are!

We are funny people – we like to do endless self-assessments to examine character, personality, gifts, energy levels, blah blah blah… and what nearly always ends up happening is we compare ourselves with others. We end up saying, ‘Well I can never be like them’. But what I want you to realise is that it doesn’t matter how you are crafted or what shape you are or what your personality is, what your strengths are, no matter what is the sum total of all the information you have about yourself, if Jesus Christ lives within you, you have leadership potential waiting to be unleashed within your personality, your spirit, your life.

Have a look at Matthew Chapter 5:13-16

13“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Remember the backdrop: Jesus is speaking to thousands of people, and amongst those thousands of people we find they really did not have a lot to do. They weren’t at work, when it was time to eat they did not have any food, so one can assume the crowd consisted of mainly the homeless, the unemployed, the outcast.

The first thing I want to draw your attention to is Jesus’ capacity for casting and creating vision.

How do I get that from this passage? Just bear with me for a minute or two.

According to Webster’s dictionary ‘vision’ is the ‘power of seeing’, the ability to ‘foresee and to perceive’.

The Old Testament tribe of ‘Issacar’ was a very small tribe, but it was recorded of them as being able to ‘understand the times and know what to do’.

They could perceive and they could forsee. It is one thing to be kind of a visionary who just casts a huge picture of what the future should be like, get people all rallied together and get them all on the same common course. I could name many Christian leaders just like that. But this is not really what Jesus does here.

He doesn’t really paint the big picture of the Kingdom of God here. He doesn’t paint the huge picture of the entirety or heaven or hell or whatever else you might think he would do. He doesn’t even paint the picture of what his kingdom, his personal influence will be. He looks at the multitude and instead of saying to them ‘this is what I can do if you will join me’, he looks at them and says ‘this is what you can do if you will trust me’.

I love this – Jesus goes beyond being a vision castor to a vision creator. He goes beyond just being a visionary to creating a vision environment. He looks at the multitude and says, ‘You are the light of the world’, ‘You are the salt of the earth’. Remember who he’s talking too. He is not talking to the cream of the crop, he is talking to those who are the under-estimated, the ones thrown into the game because everything else is hopeless or because they just make up the numbers.

No normal person would ever have looked at these people and said, ‘Oh yeah, these are the salt of the earth’, ‘Yeah these people are the light of the world’.

Let’s not forget that Jesus didn’t have a microphone in those days and he’s probably sitting and in a very conversational approach, they had to pass this conversation down from person to person, group to group (no microphones), and in my mind I could kind of see this happening. One turning to another, ‘You are the salt of the earth’, I can imagine and hear and see the scene.

Person after person passing on the information ‘You are the salt of the earth’. People turning to the next huge ”fragrant” fisherman – ugly, smelly, toothless, bearded – and saying, ‘You’re the salt of the earth’. By the time it gets right to the very back of the crowd, the message is probably ‘I think he said you assaulted someone on earth’.

Because that is not what they were expecting to hear. But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘Everyone else wants to throw you out, but I’m telling you there is something extraordinary in you. If you live up to your God-given potential, like salt, you will be the ones who preserve the values and beauty and essence of humanity’.

And he goes on, ‘You are the light of the world’, and says, look when you have a light you aren’t supposed to hide it under something, you’re supposed to set it up on the hill.

You know as well as I do that when you have the refuse of the world, the homeless, the hopeless, the troublemakers, the criminals, that you don’t want to go and highlight those people.

When we were in LA we did the usual open top bus tour. Actually it was a flat bed truck, the bus seats were just bolted on top! You feel like a real tourist, sitting up there on the back of the truck looking at everything (to make it worse I think we were the only ones on the truck).

Not at any stage did the driver (make that the recorded message) point out the homeless, the ghettos, the under-estimated. It pointed out the homes of the rich and famous, the recording studios, the hollywood sets and the like.

Jesus looked at these unloved and unvalued people and said, others may underestimate you, may never pick you, but I am telling you that there is God-given potential that should be on a hill! For all to see!

And if you would just shine you would bring light into an incredibly dark world.

What would happen if all of us in normal fashion stopped trying to pursue our dream, our visions, our goals and our lives, made our dominant vision gift ‘seeing greatness in other people’.

What would happen if every day we began looking at other people through the eyes of God and began to see their value? What if we began to look at the people around us who irritate us and drive us crazy, and saw them as ‘the salt of the earth’. That person is the light of love.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation surrounded by people, and when you walked away you thought less of yourself? These people are vision blood suckers. The moment you think you can, they remind you that you can’t! ‘Have you looked in the mirror? Do you know who you are?’

And so they have all the facts! Because all of us are flawed enough for anyone at look at us and say, ‘Are you kidding? You….. don’t you remember who you are?’

I think that’s why a lot of us struggle going back home to parents and family. Do you have an extended family who don’t like to let you change? They still see you the way you were. And you have worked so hard all year long to go on a diet and loose 5 kilos, you get your hair done, you just do everything you can to look younger and healthier, and you’re trying to change, and maybe it is real change.

You used to be selfish, but now you’re generous. You used to be proud but now there is a genuine humility in you. You used to be so many other things, but you know you have worked so hard to change, but you visit them and they just keep telling you who you were.

What’s so good about Jesus is that he not only exemplified the best things about humanity, but he also sees it in us, and he calls it out from within us!

Have you ever been around a group of people or an individual, that when you leave them you see yourself with greater potential than you ever did before?

We should be a people who, when we cross paths with others, they begin to see their life in a new way.

Look I am going to stop there, because I don’t think we need convincing. It’s plain and simple. It’s time we started being that visionary people Jesus called us to be. Not just people who say, ‘Come and join us, and see what we can do’. But, ‘Come and trust in God, and watch what He does with you’.

It is time we started to let go of all the things which hold us back as the people we used to be and let go of all that restrains us from reaching our potential.

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