Short Term Missions – Thailand

Last Thursday a small team from Hobart Baptist flew out of Hobart on a short trip to Thailand.  We are visiting areas where our Karen folk (pronounced with emphasis on the 2nd syllable) have come from, and spend time with cross cultural workers Jan and Jit Yawan. The weather is good in Thailand just now. The wet season finished three weeks ago and the temperature hovers around 35 C (95 F) during the day. Yes, quite a bit warmer than Tasmania!
There are seven on the team: four of the Karen congregation, including their two leaders, all travelling on new Aussie passports; and  three Australian born participants including myself.

Back in June 2011 after a six month process of prayer, discussion and reflection, the church adopted a Strategic Directions paper for the following three years. It included a goal to organise a short term mission trip to areas where our Karen folk are from. It is exciting to see that now, less than two and a half years later, it has become a reality.
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Vis-a-Vis OR Face-to-Face

Dennis Pethers
Dennis Pethers

A few people from Hobart Baptist recently attended an excellent workshop with Dennis Pethers, an international evangelist based in the UK. Dennis is founder of Viz-A-Viz Ministries, International Director of “More to Life” and spends around seven months each year outside the UK equipping Christians, churches and church leaders.
There is a good chance that Dennis doesn’t fit your perception of an evangelist. He is quietly spoken, unassuming, humble and very down to earth. Although he has spoken at large rallies, he pointed out that the era of the big evangelistic rally is almost extinct in our contemporary Western community. Our society has changed and because people just don’t come like they did once.
One insight Dennis shared was . . .
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Your Church: Stone or Clay?

Resistance vs Malleability

Aging Facilities
“Many churches face issues regarding their short term futures”

It is no secret that in contemporary Australia the church faces significant challenges. While these include such issues as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse, the push for same sex marriage and the squawking of the New Atheists, there are many local congregations facing the tough question of their own sustainability.
Declining attendance, aging facilities and financial dependence on aging members are causing many churches to face issues regarding their short term, let alone their long term, futures. Over the past decades many churches have tackled the unenviable choice of closure, merger, or some form of radical change in their congregational life.
Some, to their demise . . .
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Through the Looking Glass: Looking out or Looking in?

Among the many tensions that exist at the heart of any church, it is my observation there is one that we often overlook.  A tension, I believe, is where we are pulled in two directions at the same time by two important truths.

Looking In
“This inward looking behaviour is important for any healthy church”

Another tension in the church has to do with the focus of its life. Should it be inward or outward looking? In any church there are forces at work causing it to focus inward on itself. This is not necessarily bad as God calls us to love and care for each other. This inward looking behaviour is important for any healthy church. It is the necessary work of maintaining our unity, nurturing new Christians and ensuring growth in maturity.
But there is also a force that moves us to focus outwardly to those around us, sending us out to the people outside the church . . .
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The Bible IS Relevant!

How important is the Bible in your life? Most Australians would say “it is pretty irrelevant” without realising the extent to which a biblical perspective underpins the foundations of Australian society.
Then there are many in our community who want to rid Australia of all biblical influence, suggesting it is dangerous and divisive and unfit for any nation. This is such a narrow worldview.MP900341566[1]
As I led the recent Tabor Bible College study tour of Israel during April/May this year, one of the many things students grew to appreciate was how central the Bible (Old Testament) is to the Jewish nation. Whether they are religious or secular, every Israeli citizen is not only surrounded by historical biblical sites but the Bible is embedded in their daily life.
Marriages, divorces and funerals are recognised only if they are performed by an official Israeli religious authority. Civilian marriages are sanctioned but only if they are performed abroad. To matriculate from High School . . .
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Christianity in Australia

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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Developing an Aussie Gospel

Making the gospel relevant to our unique Aussie culture

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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Dream Weaving

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.

Our dreams as a church can become
concrete if we plan well

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?

Everybody Knows Somebody

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.

An evangelism prgram
Every one of them already had a connection with the church in some way
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

Being Baptist – more than meets the eye

It was a privilege to have Nigel Wright as speaker at Engage Tasmania, our Baptist State Conference, last weekend. Nigel is principal of Spurgeon’s College, London, and with his wife Judy, journeyed to Hobart for the conference. It was a delight to have lunch with them last Monday and show them both around our buildings at Hobart Baptist. Given the influence of Spurgeon, and his son Thomas, in the early life of Hobart Baptist Church it was a great reminder of the profound heritage we have.
Under the conference theme “Back to the Future”, Nigel suggested a “church without a past is a Nigel G Wrightchurch without a future” and reminded us that historically, Baptists are the “radical Protestants.” Better described as a “movement of Christians” than a denomination, Baptists have often been at the pioneering edge in areas such as the abolition of the slave trade, issues of religious liberty and the ministry of women.
Nigel called us to revive the radical stance of our forebears and return to a New Testament vision of the church which is at the core of our Baptist Heritage: believers’ church, believers’ baptism, disavowing Constantinian influences and the separation of the powers of state and church. While acknowledging the positive and negative influences of tradition, he called for the ongoing transformation of our congregations to meet the challenges of our day.
All this reminded me of the great heritage we have here at Hobart Baptist Church. It was encouraging to remember that while the church faces significant challenges, those who have gone before us have travelled similar roads. They too faced challenges that at times seemed insurmountable, yet they persevered and God brought them through. Why can’t it be the same for us?
By recalling our radical roots we can be inspired. Taking time to look back at our history reminds us of where we have come from, and of the journey we are on with the Holy Spirit. Church can and should be an exciting place to be. It may be difficult at times, and increasingly difficult in the midst of an increasingly hostile environment, but the future need not be dark and glooming, but exciting.
God still loves his church, Jesus is still building his church, and the Holy Spirit is at work. Let us be encouraged and continue to ask God to enable the church, no matter what denomination, to be all that God desires it to be.
Stephen L Baxter
If you have some time, why not check out this 15-minute video put together by the Baptist Church in the UK, explaining some of the profound heritage of the Baptist Church >>>