Top Ten Obstacles to Becoming a Christian

Earlier this month Olive Tree Media, led by Karl Faase pastor of Gymea Baptist in Sydney, launched the results from their Australian Communities Report conducted by McCrindle Research. The aim of the research was to discover what Australians really think of Christian faith, Christians and the Church.
It found that “Church abuse” is the number one obstacle to Australians believing in Christianity with more than three-quarters of the people surveyed (76%) saying church abuse was a “massive” or “significant” negative influence on them. The report goes on to list further top 10 “belief blockers” for Christianity as hypocrisy, “judging others”, religious wars, suffering, issues around money, that the church is “outdated”, Hell and condemnation, homosexuality, exclusivity and celebrity endorsement of Christianity.
The results are based on a national online survey of over 1000 people who were subsequently followed up in three focus groups made up of non-Christians. Although a small number were used in the survey, it used standard processes that can be extended to the broader population.
Further findings in the report suggests that just over half of the population (51%) are “not open at all” to changing their religious world view, while parents and families are by far the biggest influence on their attitudes to Christianity and the church (67%). Interestingly 80% believe Jesus died on a cross and 52% believe he rose from the dead, 42% said Jesus was just a man who with no divine powers while only 17% said he did not exist at all.
As a sample of the Australian, and Hobartian, population the report is a valuable resource for us in that it helps us appreciate what the average person in the street thinks. Sydney’s Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen said at the launch, “The first thing I noticed as a communicator is how ill-informed the audience is. My expectation of what people know is far higher than what, in fact, the research has indicated.”
This is important for us. It is easy for those of us who live mostly in Christian circles to assume we understand what people think. However, religion, Christianity and church are often no-go areas and so we never get the chance to talk about them.
Despite the fact that the report’s findings are a real challenge for us, we should not be discouraged. In fact, as Archbishop Jensen suggests, the findings should help us “translate the faith in a way which will be heard by the real people we deal with, and not the imaginary people that I think we ought to be dealing with.”
If you would like a copy of the summary of the report Click Here
Stephen L Baxter
PS Apologies for the late upload this week. I’ve been away in Melbourne.

The Church – not to be written off

Many people in Australia, including some news media and sociologists, have predicted the death of the Church in Australia. Sure we Geoffrey Blaineyhave some problems and the “good old days” of 1950s and 60s will never return, but one should never write off the Church.
In his recent book, A Short History of Christianity, veteran Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey, suggests that while Christianity is in decline across Europe, such a “decline cannot yet be viewed as permanent.” In fact he writes, “A conclusion of this book is that Christianity has repeatedly been reinvented. Every religious revival is a reflection of a previous state of decline; but no revival and perhaps no decline is permanent.” So despite what some people may have hoped, his book is not an obituary of the church, quite the contrary.Keith Suter
Dr Keith Suter, economic commentator, author and foreign policy analyst for Sky TV agrees and suggests there are many indicators why the Church will not die. Firstly, the decline is not uniform. There are many places where churches are not declining but are experiencing significant growth.  This is as true in Australia as it is across Europe. Secondly, denominational loyalty, which was a major issue in Australia in the past, is now virtually meaningless. Today people feel free to move around from church to church until they find what they want. While this is threatening to some, it is also a window of opportunity for churches willing to think and act flexibly.
Thirdly, churches have a monopoly over death. Death still haunts people. So while there is no law saying you have to be buried via a church, most Australians are buried via some form of a religious service.
Not surprisingly Suter concludes that despite the fact that Australia is often thought of as one of the world’s most materialist countries, spirituality has never disappeared and people continue to wonder where they might spend eternity.
He is not suggesting that people will suddenly start pouring back into churches. Yet there is much in our society upon which churches can enter into a dialogue with those who are seeking. Here we have the opportunity to present to them the gospels but in ways they can engage with. His one condition is that churches need to learn to be flexible and accommodating.
Let us continue to pray that God will enable us to be flexible and accommodating as instruments of his purposes in your locality.
Stephen L Baxter

Can we have Unity in our Diversity?

A number of years ago in a television interview, Billy Graham was asked, “If you could wave your hand and make one problem in this world go away, what would that be?”

Billy Graham Most admired man 4% (statistical tie)
Billy Graham

Without hesitation he quickly replied, “Racial division and strife.” Across the world racial problems continue to be a major cause of death, hunger and wars.
Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, and although there are ethnic tensions, on the whole our communities are quite peaceful especially when compared to other parts of the world. Sadly, however, the vast majority of our church communities are homogeneous and do not reflect the diversity of our cities. Within most denominations there are many churches that maintain their  particular ethnicity and/or language.
Yet, there are other churches whose worship and witness is multiethnic and are multicultural fellowships of believers in Jesus Christ. Despite the different backgrounds, languages and ethnicity of the people, they unite as one church. Hobart Baptist is one such church, with Karen refugees providing a vibrant edge to our fellowship. Perhaps more by God’s design than ours we are a church with people from various ethnic backgrounds. Such a church is close to heart of God.
On the night before he died, Jesus prayed for those who will believe in him through the message of the disciples (John 17:20-23). His prayer was for unity across his church so that the world will know God’s love and believe. Through his obedience and willingness to die on a cross, Jesus was “reconciling the world to himself” and his prayer is for his church as it continues that reconciling work. The Church is God’s answer to the separation we see at work in the world. Our churches are to be a demonstration to the world of ethnic and racial reconciliation expressed through our unity.

A biblical example

In the book of Acts, Luke tells the story of the birth and growth of the early church. He traces its early beginnings in Jerusalem and its movement from there across Asia and on to Rome. In one city Antioch, Luke gives us a glimpse of the type of church it was (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1ff). Antioch was an urban and ethnically diverse community with a population of one million people and the church reflected this. Its leadership team included Barnabas from Cyprus, a Hellenistic Jew; Simeon (nicknamed Niger, meaning he was black) most likely from North Africa; Lucius from Cyrene, an African; Manaen from Palestine who was most likely Greek, and Saul from Tarsus, a Jew and a Pharisee. From this impressive list we can deduce that the church in Antioch was an ethnically diverse congregation that brought together Asians, Greeks, Middle-Easterners (Arabs, Jews), and North Africans.
Here, in Antioch, we see an answer to Jesus’ prayer, a church demonstrating unity to the watching world. And I believe what we see at work here at Hobart Baptist is also, however small, an answer to Jesus’ prayer. That is not say it is easy. The fact Jesus prayed for us suggests it is a difficult task, yet the reality of his prayer demonstrates how it important it is.

It’s a spiritual problem

When Billy Graham put the eradication of racial division and strife at the top of his wish list, I sense he understood that this is a spiritual problem. And until our hearts are reconciled to the eternal God who loves all men and women equally, there will be no motivation to love those who are different than us.
May God continue to inspire and motivate us to be the church Jesus prayed we would be, by celebrating our diversity and working to maintain our unity.
Stephen L Baxter

How Does Your Church Garden Grow? By planting of course!

Last weekend, as part of 2020 Vision of the Baptist Churches of Hobart, Grant Morrison from the Hunter District (Newcastle region, NSW) led a training workshop in church planting and evangelism.Hunter Valley, NSW
Grant is involved with the Baptist churches of the Hunter region and their vision is to grow to 100 healthy churches by 2030. This is not dissimilar to the vision of the Baptist churches of Hobart to grow to 2,000 people, attending 20 communities of faith by the year 2020.
When we think of church planting we often think of buildings, programs, budgets and staff, but these were far from the mind of Jesus and the disciples (except perhaps Judas). The early church met in homes and small groups and there is no historical evidence of church buildings until after 300 AD. So when it comes to church planting as part of our 2020 Vision the concept needs to include a wide variety of churches, some meeting in settings we are familiar with and some meeting in different ways.
An example from the Chinese Church
The training program last weekend was based on Mark 4:26, the parable of the growing seed, and introduced a simple way for believers to meet together in homes with a focus on the important issues of evangelism, discipleship and leadership development.
Coming out of the experience of the church in places Chinese House Churchlike China our training taught how such meetings can be effective in engaging people who are presently far away from God. Christians in China are often forced to meet in their homes due to persecution, yet in this format the church is growing rapidly. The training took what the Chinese have learnt in their situation, adopting and adapting to our situation.
Saying ‘Yes’
One exciting aspect of our training over the weekend was the way it brought together evangelism, discipleship, church planting and equipping leaders all into one process. More often than not the pattern of churches in Australia is to have a series of programs for evangelism, discipleship etc. but here they are part of the sYES!imple process. Each person is discipled, trained and equipped, by being taken on a journey of saying “yes”—yes to listening to the gospel, yes to following Jesus, yes to baptism, yes to becoming church, yes to witnessing to others, and so on.
As part of our 2020 Vision we are praying we will see a new era of church planting emerge where new communities of faith are established across Hobart. Last weekend’s training was another small step in the process with a focus on building desire, capacity and capability of our churches in evangelism and mission.
Will you also pray we will see people in Hoabrt come to know Jesus? Remaining motivated and focussed – these will make the diference to church growth in Hobart, no matter what denomination!