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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The Australian outback is often described as harsh and unforgiving.
Many Christians would claim these words not only describe our land but also our spiritual environment.
Recently an acquaintance commented how friends of hers, newly emigrated from South Africa, were amazed at how ‘uncool’ it is to be a Christian in Australia and, further, how persistently the media engages in ‘church bashing’. In South Africa and many other nations, being a Christian does not have the stigma it carries in Australia.
Our cultural environment is unique. Anyone who aspires to be President of the United States must almost wear a badge which states, “I am a Christian”.
However, anyone who wants to be Prime Minister of Australia must hide their spirituality, saying, “It’s a private matter, so don’t ask me questions”. In fact, numbers of people who hold, or have held, positions of prominence in our country have related to me how the kingdom of God is often better served if they do not describe themselves as Christian.
That is not to say that our society is non-spiritual. Rather, it illustrates that spirituality, for Australians, is an embarrassing subject and that our culture has a limited range of images and metaphors it can use to express it. Even words such as ‘Christian’ and ‘church’ have all but lost their true usefulness and meaning; all they communicate are unhelpful stereotypes.
So how are believers responding to this uniquely hostile environment? Some act as if it is time to retreat into a ghetto – yet surely the appropriate response is to confront the challenge. This hostile Australian environment is as much a mission field as ever. The challenge we face is how to live as followers of Jesus in such a way that we communciate the gospel message to our fellow Australians.
To do this we need to live as missionaries within our own country. We need to adjust our mind-set, our language, our church lifestyles with its many forms and adapt to life in a hostile environment. It can be done. At different times throughout church history God’s people have worked hard in understanding their culture so that they can communicate the gospel to their communities.
Baptist churches across Greater Hobart have acknowledged the need to address these issues in a postive and proactive way. Our ‘2020 Vision’, to grow to 20 communities of faith with a total of 2000 people by 2020, is a way of expressing a hope that with God’s help we can transition into churches with mission, evangelism and church planting at the centre of all we do.
Will you pray that God will enable, not just Baptists to face these challenges with hope and courage, but Christians of all denominations throughout Hobart (and your locality)? Not only that, but will you pray that God raises up godly men and women to address these key issues and lead us through the necessary transitions?
Let’s look forward to seeing how God transforms his Church in Hobart and beyond!
Stephen L Baxter
Hospitality! When it’s done well it’s never noticed. When it is missing, it’s like a gaping hole in the universe. Welcoming another person and making them the centre of our attention, even if for a small time, is perhaps the greatest, yet hardest thing we do.
The basic definition of hospitality is “love of strangers”. In the ancient world it was highly valued and practiced and the best example is of course Jesus himself. Throughout the gospels, Jesus welcomes those that others find unwelcoming – the outcasts, the poor, sinners and children all find a place in the heart of Jesus.
Following his lead, the early church practiced hospitality as it continued to welcome new people into its ranks. As a result those in the community took notice and many joined as a result.
Yet, hospitality can fall into neglect. We find in the New Testament warnings not to let it slip (Heb 13:2) as well as encouragement to make sure we keep it up (Rom 12:13); and not just to believers by to strangers and aliens also (Heb 13:2; 1 Tim 5:10).
But why is hospitality so difficult? I wonder if it is because it causes us to be welcoming of those we find difficult, confronting or just plain uncomfortable. Hospitality asks us to move away from an ‘us’ and ‘them’ approach and to a more open mind. It calls us to dismantle any boundaries we might have that lead to an unwelcoming stance to others.
In this way hospitality asks questions of each of us. What does it mean for me to be proactive in dealing with any barriers there may be that would stop me making space for others?After all, this is what God has done for me. What am I willing to risk and give up in order that I share the love of God with all who come to me? What am I willing to give up in order to strengthen the life of the church so that all might find a place amongst us?
Hospitality isn’t just a nice thing to do if we can. It is central to the heart of God as so clearly displayed in and through Jesus. No wonder Jesus calls us to love others and make hospitality central to church life.
Hospitality is central to the heart of God as so clearly displayed in and through Jesus
Throughout history, whenever the church has faithfully practiced hospitality an indelible mark has been left on the lives of others and the church has grown as a result. Do we want all who come to us to know us as a welcoming church that shows the love of God by our hospitality? If so, why not pray that God shows you what it means for you in your local gathering of believers.
Stephen L Baxter