It’s most likely true that everyone has at least one physical scar that with a good story behind it. Do you? For some of us, those who are a little bit older, there are more scars and more stories to share.
Our scars are often the result of accidents, and are noticeable because of the marks in the skin where it is a bit tougher than it used to be and doesn’t bend as easily as undamaged tissue. Yet, despite this, scars are God’s plan and part of our body’s healing response. They are part of life, part of God’s design and we all carry them.
Not all our scars are visible. Some are covered because of their location while others are covered because we don’t want them seen. Neither do all scars carry a good story . . .
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As Hobart becomes more and more multicultural city we shouldn’t be surprised to see significant changes in many churches as they too become multicultural. It’s been our experience here at Hobart Baptist Church; we also are on a journey becoming more and more a multicultural church.
So what does it mean to be a multicultural church? Obviously, it means we are a church with many nationalities represented. Our church is made up of people from quite a number of European nations, and . . .
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Despite what you read in the newspaper, Christianity is far from dead in Australia.
The last census figures released last year showed that the numbers calling themselves Christian have grown from 12.8 million in 2001 to 13.1 million in 2011. While the percentage of Christians declined from 66% to 61% it is significant overall numbers increased. Being a Christian may no longer have the social status it once had, however, these figures show us it is far from abnormal.
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At the recent engageHOBART conference, Jenny and I led a workshop on Developing an Aussie Gospel. In our workshop we explored what we might be able to do to make the gospel message more meaningful in our Australian culture.
This is no easy task. Our community has changed so much over the past 50 years, and recently we have witnessed a growing criticism of the church that is increasingly hostile. Although we are called by Jesus to be messengers of the “good news” of the Kingdom there are many who in no way believe our message is “good” news at all.
In addition to exploring new ways of doing ‘church’ and revisiting some of our many treasured forms, we also need to learn how best to communicate the gospel to Australians.
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When the first convicts stepped onto Australian soil they faced the harsh realities of a strange land far from the familiarities of home. Dispossessed and disinherited this disparate and unlikely collection of soldiers and convicts met these unwelcomed challenges by doing all they could to dampen their effects.
Gambling, alcohol, sport and illicit sex became standard obsessions, becoming the foundation of a new nation that slowly grew out of the penal settlement. The “pursuit of pleasure” had “become the highest value and the avoidance of suffering the most vital of stratagems, in Australian life” (Ronald Conway, The Great Australian Stupor, 1985).
Given the beginnings of white settlement in Australia it is not hard to see why following Jesus has never been attractive in our country. “The greatest happiness of the greatest number” is the axiom we live by. As Ronald Conway puts it, “Material Wealth = Pleasure = Happiness = Reason for Living.”
So despite the lament many Christians voice over the decline of Christianity in Australia the reality is there was never much of any size to decline from. While the winds of culture may throw up great numbers of “Sunday Christians” from time to time there is little evidence to suggest a deep and practical faith has been in practice by more than a small minority.
The majority of Australians practice a form of “utilitarianism.” It proposes that in any situation the worth of an action is to be determined by its outcome, and the outcome is measured in maximising happiness and reducing suffering. Australians are not unique in this, in fact utilitarianism is the default moral position in the Western world, but it does take on a rugged and confident form within Australian culture which is often the envy of many across the world.
Given the strength of these elements in Australian culture it is no wonder that the Christian way of life has always been seen as somewhat irrelevant and inhibiting. The caricature of the church is that it declares evil all those things Australians desire for pleasure. Its concern is not conversion, but conformity. As a result the church has been pushed to the periphery, declared out of touch, and discarded as a dangerous relic from the past.
While Pontius Pilate asks, “what is truth?”, Australians ask, “will it work?”
Here is a clash of world views. While Pontius Pilate asks, “what is truth?”, Australians ask, “will it work?”, and we Christians will ask, “what is faithful?” We are called to be witnesses to the love of God and the compassion of Jesus. We are called to the task of reconciliation (2 Cor 4). However, as we endeavour to do this it is not surprising we have to reject the Australian pursuit of happiness as the main goal and objective of our lives; despite how tempting and attractive it might look for us Australians.
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed that we are to be in the world we are but not of it (Jn 17:15, 16). Our task is to live a ‘counter’ cultural life. We do not look to the world for suggestions as to how we are to be the church; we look to Jesus and the work of his Spirit. We are not surprised when the world around us finds us strange and threatening. That is not to say that we give up trying to relate. Rather that we do not ask the question of others “will it work?” but switch to asking, “what is faithful?”
May God grant to us his church the strength, grace and will that Jesus had; and the ability to live fully in this world as his witnesses even when our communities, work colleagues, school mates and even family members struggle to understand us.
Stephen L Baxter
There is always a sense of excitement when we see evidence of God at work in our lives and in our church. We are now a month into the New Year and our summer school holidays have finished with most schools starting back today.
Our Sunday morning children’s programs begin next week and Double Edge (youth group) starts on Friday, along with ‘Meet n Make’ and Boy’s Brigade starting soon. But even as we begin these programs, Fairground Café, an initiative focused on Elizabeth College, the Yr 11/12 College next door, is already up and running. It was, for many of us, a very moving moment when around 40 people gathered to pray for the Café and declare it open last Monday.
Despite the doom and gloom some in our community have towards the Church, the truth is Jesus is still building his church and he won’t be thwarted. I am confident that as we move into 2013 we can expect Jesus to continue his work amongst us and through us. In fact we have every reason to be confident and hopeful. It is Jesus who is “the cornerstone that holds all the parts together” (Eph. 2:21) so we can expect it will prevail.
Yet, that doesn’t mean we can sit back and just let things happen, God calls us to be partners in the work of the gospel.
Over the past month or so as I’ve prayed and reflected on our church and God’s plans for us, a question formed in my mind as to what sort of church will the City of Hobart need in, say, five or six years; and what would it take for us to be one of those churches.
Over the past 100 years or so, Hobart Baptist has been, to varying degrees at different times, a bright beacon of the gospel in the city of Hobart. There was a time when the pastor of Hobart Baptist Church wrote the editorial for The Mercury, (F. W. Boreham) and on Sunday evenings not only was our building in Elizabeth Street full, but immediately afterwards a second service was held in a packed City Hall. There was a time when the all aged Sunday school was so large, with over 400 attending, that it used rooms in Elizabeth College next door.
What would it mean for Hobart Baptist church to experience similar things again? Obviously times have changed, and so there would be profound differences, but the gospel has not changed. How do we faithfully present this gospel, in all its richness, to the particular culture that is the City of Hobart today? What would it mean to tweak our church life – our worship services, our programs, our outreaches, toward them? What would it mean for us to focus not on what we would like our church to be, but what our city needs our church to be?
This is the task before us. Fairground Café is exciting initiative but it is just one thing among many that we can and will be called to do.
As we move into 2013 it would be good for everyone to ponder these questions – whether part of HBC or not – what would it take for you to be the church in your city/town/region that God wants you to be? Yes! God is at work. I look forward to hearing what God reveals to you as you explore these questions.
Last Saturday many of the leaders from Hobart Baptist Church took the opportunity to join with David Jones from Baptist Rural Support Services to dream and plan together about the ongoing work of God in and through the church.
One of the most important questions we can ask about our church is this: What kind of church do we want to be, or importantly, what kind of church does God want us to be? Answering such a question requires prayer and reflection, and over the past two years while I’ve been part of the church, we’ve done this on a number of occasions. Not that we can ever plan exactly what we will do, there are always interesting and different things God brings that change our best laid plans.
Despite these contingencies and changes there is one thing we can be clear of, we are called to be a church that witnesses to the good news of Jesus in the area God has placed us—Hobart. But what does it mean for us to be witnesses here in this location?
In thinking about this I’m reminded of Jesus’ prayer that we be “in” the world, but not of “it” (John 17:14-15). This is important. Some churches are so “in” the culture and embrace it so strongly that they lose their distinctiveness. Others are so “against” the culture that in their opposition they lose their relevance. Still others are so “above” the culture that they “super-spiritualise” life and lose all points of contact in the culture. When Jesus prays that we live “in” our culture he is not expecting us to be lost in it, he is praying that we be “for” our culture and engage it with a view to seeing it transformed.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, suggests that to be “for” a culture, a church should commit to a number of key principles. Here are two of them I believe are important for us at Hobart Baptist Church to reflect upon.
The first principle is that we commit to learn and speak the language of our culture. This means we avoid using “Christian-ese” or in-house jargon. We don’t use technical theological terms unless we explain them, and we never use any “we-them” language always aiming to be inclusive. Our desire is that we never want a non-Christian to be “lost” in our language or feel alienated.
A commitment to always talk as if non-Christians were present would mean we treat each other with respect, we would be humbly willing to admit our weaknesses and failures, yet we’d always be joyful about the difference the Gospel makes.
Being mindful of our language leads to a second commitment where we resolve to listen to people and to their “stories”. By treating each person as unique with a story to tell treats them with respect. By sincerely endeavouring to listen, understand, love and respect them unconditionally we honour them and yet will be willing to demonstrate how the Gospel of Jesus will meet their deepest longings.
“Jesus is the only one who can fulfil their greatest desire
To understand their deepest longings we would need to take time to gain knowledge and appreciation of their culture as it is encountered in the movies they see, the books they read and the music they play and so on. In understanding these hopes, dreams, stories, and fears, we look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate how Jesus is the only one who can fulfil their greatest desires.
What would happen to your church if you committed together to follow these simple principles? What do you think? Would you like to give it a go?
Early on in our marriage Jenny and I committed to making a priority of meeting with a small group of fellow Christians during the week.
We have hosted weekly small group meetings in our home in since that time. They have been variously been called home groups, small groups, growth groups, cell groups, bible studies, life studies and so on, and yet have generally retained the same key components – time to share life together over a meal, a Bible study and prayer.
I believe these informal get togethers have been one of the keys to the ongoing stability of our marriage, our family, our ministry and our lives. By sharing our lives with others over the years we have learnt and grown, laughed and cried and seen many answers to prayer. Our children were an integral part to our times too; they contributed and learnt the faith not only from us, their parents, but from other significant adults. The adults in turn were enriched by their presence.
These weekly gatherings have become so much a part of the rhythm of our lives as Christians it’s hard to imagine life without them. It’s hardly surprising that, as a pastor, it would be my preference that every Christian is part of one, whether it is a weekly Bible study, home group, small group, prayer group, mission group, or a task focussed group.
There is ample research to show that effective small groups are the backbone of growing, healthy congregations and the glue that holds them together. They are the place where people experience deeper levels of community, acceptance and accountability. They are the place where people learn from each other’s wisdom and experiences. Here trust can grow and vulnerabilities be shared. Here one can lean on another through times of trial and growth. Small groups are the place where personal care of each other deepens at a practical, prayerful and personal level.
One of the surprises Jenny and I received when we first started being part of Hobart Baptist Church was how few small groups and Bible studies there are. I’ve often wondered why this is the case.
One reason is perhaps that in the past many found their primary small group was Sunday School, but with the decline of the all-age Sunday school over recent decades, they didn’t move onto new forms. For others, perhaps, the idea of a Bible study may be threatening. For others the thought of small group may look too intimate and personal, still for others the possibility of being asked to contribute or read out loud might be daunting and for others the idea of going out at night could be a problem.
What is more, being a city church makes it difficult to have home groups. We are so scattered across the suburbs of Hobart that it is difficult to easily organise ourselves into groups. However, I don’t believe this shouldn’t stop us from trying. After all, if we want to be a thriving, growing, healthy church, Bible study groups will need to be part of who we are. Ultimately I would love to see everyone who is capable having the opportunity to be a member of a small group whether that be in a home or at our church during the week, even on the weekend whether it be during the day or the evening.
“If we want to be a thriving, growing, healthy church, Bible study groups will need to be part of who we are.
The early church culture we read about in the New Testament is one where Christians are praying together, studying God’s word together, and caring for one another. For Jenny and me, our experience is that small groups are the simplest and easiest structure to allow us to do this.
I believe every practicing Christian should be part of a small group of some description, and if you are not already, then I encourage you to seriously consider it. Look up the pastor in your local expression of the church, and ask him or her what groups you can join in your gepgraphical area. Costly though it may be, one day you will be very glad you did!
Stephen L Baxter
Yesterday at Hobart Baptist we had our sceond Combined Service. It’s a time when the three different congregations making up Hobart Baptist Church came together to worship at one service and celebrate our diversity. The children did not leave for their programs in the middle of the service, but remained with us for the entire time; and later we continued our worship by sharing a meal together.
Why would we do something like this? Why expend all this effort to change our normal pattern?
In Galatians 3:28 Paul says we are “all one in Christ,” “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.” He reminds us that God does not see his people as the world sees them. God does not operate in categories of ethnicity, status or gender, but is in relationship with each person in the same way. When we gather together in our diversity we are reflecting something of the way God regards each one of us. Making room for each other and treating each other in the reality of that “oneness” becomes of itself an act of worship.
Throughout the Bible, from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament letters, there is a theme of the promise of God of a New Creation – a world where everything is set right. In it, God’s Spirit fills everyone regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, or class. It is a place where that same Spirit gifts everyone for the common good of all. It is a place where broken lives and relationships are healed.
That’s why Jesus commanded us to be in unity. John records him saying (13:34-35), “A new commandment I give to you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Being in unity despite our differences is a command of Jesus.
From this passage, the American theologian Francis Schaeffer concluded that according to Jesus, the world has the right to decide whether we are true Christians based on the love we show to other Christians. So when Jesus said we are to love on another he was talking about something real and observable, something that needs work, yet it is something that is at the heart of what it means to follow him.
That’s why we take being together seriously and why we make the effort to worship God in all our wonderful diversity. It was an enjoyable time together yesterday. For some there may have been things that happened that were not exactly to their taste and therefore a little uncomfortable. I encouraged those people to, as an act of worship, move past the discomfort and choose to celebrate the diversity God has blessed us with.
Perhaps you too find it difficult to embrace all God’s wonderful diversity and choose to stay in an environment where you are safe and comfortable. Let me encourage you too, to look past these things as your act of worship.
Stephen L Baxter
Back in 1981 when Wesleyan Heritage Church of Rock Island, Illinois numbered 80 people they began focusing on the importance of seeing people coming to know Jesus.
They embarked on an evangelism program that saw 17 people receive Jesus as Saviour in the first four months. Every one of them already had a connection with the church in some way it was just that they had never been asked. Today, just over 20 years later, the church numbers over 2,800 people across four locations.
Four years ago their pastor John Bray challenged the church to never go another week without someone coming to Christ through the activity of the church or its members. They installed lights on crosses at all four locations and lit them when someone comes to faith. They have now been lit for 188 consecutive weeks.
Beginning in 1973 with a church of just 24 Bray says, “Our growth was slow for a long time, it took 20 years to get to 200. Nobody in town really knew we were here but we just kept focusing on reaching people for Jesus. I’m convinced that every church is surrounded by people who need Christ, so every church can grow… We’re a large church and should have regular professions of faith but that challenge sharpened our focus. Smaller churches might not be able to celebrate a decision every week but why not every month? Everybody knows somebody who needs Jesus.”
“Everybody knows somebody who needs Jesus
That’s what’s behind our Reach One strategy at Hobart Baptist. It aims to encourage each one of us, no matter how young or how old, to befriend at least one person who does not know Jesus and reach out to them in love, service, and prayer. It is not a program but a journey, where we each develop a relationship with them as we pray that they may receive a chance to hear the good news about Jesus.
It is not a new idea. It’s been at the centre of church life from the beginning, as recorded in Luke’s story of the early church we call the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Then when writing to the Corinthian church Paul reminds them, “God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, The Message).
It’s encouraging to hear what happened at Heritage Church when they accepted the challenge to take evangelism seriously. I wonder what we would see if we did the same here at Hobart Baptist, or even what you would see with you and those in your fellowship.
I’m sure we all know someone, or there is someone in our wider networks of friends, neighbours, family or acquaintances that we could pray for and could get to know with the hope that we’ll be able to share our personal experience of Jesus. Ultimately, whether a person accepts Jesus is out of our hands – it’s in God’s hands and theirs. And while there are no magic formulas or special techniques that ensures church growth, a commitment to share Jesus with others is critical not only because we are called to but because many people have never been asked.
If you have already begun praying for a person as you seek to Reach One, let me encourage you to continue in patience and perseverance. If you have not started yet, I encourage you to ask God whom you could be praying for and start now.
Stephen L Baxter