August 16, 2011
Alison's series, the labour of love, begins next week. Because we've already interviewed her (here), we've asked her some other questions about life and ministry. We hope you enjoy her answers which we'll share with you over the week. Readers from overseas might find this Australian perspective interesting. It would be interesting to hear how things compare in your part of the world!
What do you think are the significant challenges facing the church in Australia at the moment?
I've been thinking about this question a lot lately - it's a question you start asking when you realise that you're older than many of the people around you! I have four, in no particular order -
1. The Challenge To Be "Strangers and Aliens"
There was a time, around maybe the 50's, 60's and early 70's, when, although what Christians believed was distinctly different to unbelievers, a large proportion of the unbelieving population were still hanging on to a "Christianised" lifestyle, at least outwardly.
Those days are long gone. Christians from children through to teenagers, adults and seniors, are finding that we really do march to the beat of a different drum in Australian society. Every age group in the Church family is discovering that, to live an authentic transparently Christian life, with a concern for the salvation of others, means we will feel odd, out of step, alien, uncomfortable, paddling upstream, against the tide of contemporary Australian society.
And I'm sensing that some families are feeling very uncomfortable about this. Out of a concern to preserve their Christian "standards" some are retreating from engagement with non Christians. I see more and more families retreating into the Christian ghetto or the family burrow, because it's just too much effort to teach, train and equip the family to live authentic Christian lives in the community and to engage with unbelievers without compromising the Lordship of Jesus. in the community. I see other families identifying themselves as Christians, but secular society, rather than the Scriptures, seem to be shaping their beliefs and moulding their lifestyle. I fear they may not even identify themselves as Christians in another decade. Doesn't that sound like the parable of the seed that fell among thorns?
It seems to me that, to be transparently and genuinely Christian in 21st century Australia, our families and our churches will need to be investing a lot of time, energy and emotional investment, in our adults and children, to equip and support each other to shine like stars in the dark universe.
2. The Challenge of Deliberate Discipleship
This challenge flows from the point above. I fully expect that, in his mercy, by his Spirit, through his Word, God will be at work, bringing people to faith in Christ. But many new believers, men, women and children, will have very little prior knowledge or experience of what a Christ honouring lifestyle looks like. A Christian lifestyle will be so new and unfamiliar for many. We can also expect many to be emotionally and relationally damaged and hurt. So the challenge will be to to disciple these young believers, helping them to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. This will take time, patience, energy and a large team of disciple makers. We may need to jettison or modify some of our group activities, so as to free disciples to invest deeply in people's lives, teaching and modelling a life lived for Christ.
3. The Challenge To Commit for the Long Haul, Through Rough Times
I think this is already a challenge for the church but I suspect it'll get harder. Australians (make that "humans"!) aren't good at persevering and remaining committed to either people or activities - especially when people or things are hard, unsatisfying, unfruitful, costly or uninspiring. We're constantly looking for new experiences. And that attitude infects the Christian church. I wonder if, amongst Christians, we'll see an increasing pattern of unwillingness to commit to marriages, parenting, ministries, Bible study groups, church, especially if we feel we, or our family don't get a buzz out of it, or we "aren't getting anything out of it". Aren't you thankful God doesn't treat us like that!
4. The Challenge of Gender and Humanity.
I fully expect it will be increasingly problematic for Christian churches to maintain a Biblical stand on gender, sexuality, what constitutes life, what it means to be human and made in the image of God. I'm thinking we'll find ourselves increasingly marginalised as we seek to serve the community and uphold our values and beliefs in our schools, the health, social welfare and aged care services. Sadly, I think the community will want us to keep providing our services in the healthcare and education sector, but they'll want to legislate the content and practice of our care and teaching. In politics, business and industry I think we'll find it increasingly hard to convince business and government to put people (especially the marginalised, disabled, vulnerable and refugees) ahead of politics and profits.