Reforming church, culture and our city

Reforming church, culture and our city

Archive for July 2008

Coffee musings: God & Godlessness …

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Was sitting in a coffee shop at Rhodes on my day off reading Bernard Salt’s The Big Picture: Life, Work and Relationships In The 21st Century. This is definitely a must read for those wanting to reach our city, engage culture and plant churches. Bernard Salt, if you aren’t aware is an Australian economist who advises corporate Australia on consumer, cultural and demographic trends.

One of the things he points out is that Australia is not the god-fearing nation it once was. In the 1901 census, less than 1% of Aussie’s said that they had ‘no religion’. 100 years later that has risen to 18%. I looked up the recent 2006 census at the ABS, which points out that 3,706,550 people said that they had ‘no religion’ out of a total population of 19,855,288. That’s 18.6% of the Australian population who believe in absolutely nothing. The number could be actually be higher given that an additional 2,223,957 people state that they have no religious affiliation, and most people unthinkingly tick the census box that aligns with their childhood religious affiliations. At the very least 30% or one-third of the Australian population have no religion. Personally I believe it’s higher as the vast majority of people who call themselves ‘Christians’ don’t actually belong or go to church on any given Sunday.

Take the Anglican church as an example from the 2001 NCLS survey on church attendance. Only 177,700 (11.7%) of those calling themselves Anglicans in Australia actually attend church on a weekly basis, even though 1,341,103 people called themselves Anglican. In fact, the NCLS survey points out that weekly attendance in 2001 would be about 1,660,000 for Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches. This equates to 8.8% of a population of 18,769,249. As I have often said, we live in a post-Christian culture.

Bernard raises the question of “what do you think happens when a society moves over 100 years from a position where almost everyone is a ‘believer’ to a position where the majority believe in nothing?” His answer is simple and honest. If the majority of people are no longer convinced of life after death, or if they no longer believe in divine accountability or judgment, they will begin to focus on the present, and live for the here and now. He says that, “the interests – and pleasures – of the individual would rise and replace the interests and well being of the broader community, which he points out has been the story of the second half of the 20th century in Australia. In other words, in our culture there has been a move towards an individualism that doesn’t just focus on the now, but is primarily concerned with our own personal pleasures and comfort, or as Bernard puts it, the flourishing of a culture of ‘high consumerism and self-gratification’.

I love the way he puts it,

“By 1987, Hollywood would deliver unto us a philosopher who encapsulated a bold new way of thinking. The messianic Gordon Gekko was a champion of, rather than an apologist for, a virginally pure and commercial form of hedonism. Gekko’s message was simple, ‘Greed is good.’ In less than a decade, Gekko would send forth four of his finest female New York disciples, to advance the noble cause of wantonness, in Sex and the City. And verily they did gather up the poor, the lonely, the downtrodden, those in desperate need of designer shoes, and offer then hope and a way forward” p.47

Hedonism he points out is the new religion in our cities which places self and lifestyle above everything else. It is living by the mantra that says, ‘if it feels good do it’. And Hedonist seek relief from their inner torment in those dens of self-gratification – our shopping malls, our luxury good stores, our “bulky goods stores, where you can hear wailing and gnashing of teeth, ‘I want that apartment and I want it fully furnished right now.’ And after they are spent, they rest.

Living in post-Christian Sydney, it’s important for us to realize as missionaries in our city, that this is our mission field.

Generation Next …

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Last last week I stumbled upon a useful report titled, “How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics: A PORTRAIT OF “GENERATION NEXT”. Put out by the PEW Research Center for People and the Press last year in the US, I think it’s a must read not just for those of us in Youth ministry, but those of us who pastor churches if we are to be missional in reaching people. While the survey was done in the US, it would be fair to say that youth culture in Sydney is not far behind. Living in post-Christian Sydney (where 4 in every 100 people are Bible believing Christians), unless we understand the tribes we are trying to reach for Jesus, we will not speak their language or or engage them in culturally relevant ways.

Here are some of the report’s finding’s of this particular tribe … ‘Generation Next’. You can download the detailed report by clicking on the link above.

Generation Next is made up of 18-25 year-olds (born between 1981 and 1988).

  • They use technology and the internet to connect with people in new and distinctive ways. Text messaging, instant messaging and email keep them in constant contact with friends. About half say they sent or received a text message over the phone in the past day, approximately double the proportion of those ages 26-40.
  • They are the “Look at Me” generation. Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and MyYearbook allow individuals to post a personal profile complete with photos and descriptions of interests and hobbies. A majority of Gen Nexters have used one of these social networking sites, and more than four-in-ten have created a personal profile.
  • Their embrace of new technology has made them uniquely aware of its advantages and disadvantages. They are more likely than older adults to say these cyber-tools make it easier for them to make new friends and help them to stay close to old friends and family. But more than eight-in-ten also acknowledge that these tools “make people lazier.
  • They maintain close contact with parents and family. Roughly eight-in-ten say they talked to their parents in the past day. Nearly three-in-four see their parents at least once a week, and half say they see their parents daily. One reason: money. About three-quarters of Gen Nexters say their parents have helped them financially in the past year.
  • One-in-five members of Generation Next say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s. And just 4% of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life
  • Asked about the life goals of those in their age group, most Gen Nexters say their generation’s top goals are fortune and fame. Roughly eight-in-ten say people in their generation think getting rich is either the most important, or second most important, goal in their lives. About half say that becoming famous also is valued highly by fellow Gen Nexters.

Written by eugenehor

July 28, 2008 at 3:59 am

I was encouraged at RICEvolution!

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I was encouraged seeing the face of the next generation of ABC (Australian Born Chinese) Christians at RICEvolution on Saturday. The challenge was for them to start a seeing the great need for Jesus in their high schools, and to see themselves as missionaries for Jesus reaching those they school with.

In my preparations to speak to this group of young and enthusiastic group of high schoolers from Chinese churches across our city I discovered looking through the ABS on ‘schools’, that there are 491,000 young people in our High Schools in NSW (just over 3,100 schools). Given that only 96% of the population are unreached, it would be fair to say the same for those in our high schools. That would mean 471,000 young people in our high schools are lost to Jesus. To put this in perspective, on average only 4 out of every 100 young people in our high schools school are Bible believing, Jesus love Christians. We need to encourage the planting of missional kingdom communities for Jesus in our high schools led by Bible believing, Jesus loving high school students! I believe these young people are the generation who can and will radically transform our high schools and city for Jesus!

Pray for those who came to RICEvolution, that from this group will come great things for Jesus in our city and schools. More than anything else pray that from this group will come young people who will give their very lives to serving Jesus and his mission.

Pax Facebook

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A good friend of mine Jason Lau has put down his thoughts on the challenges of globalization as we compare our world to the 1st C Roman world. Check out his thoughts on “Pax Facebook – A new global world order on an iPhone

Have just realized that some of you can’t get to his note if you’re not his friend on Facebook and have reproduced Jason’s note here – my guest blogger, Jason Lau on Pax Facebook 🙂

Globalisation and a new world order on an iPhone, how did we get here? And what does it all mean?

I had a good discussion with our church leaders and pastor tonight about growing the church, and how we can live out Jesus’ command and mission for the church in a global, urban and post-secular world.

The conversation also got me thinking although we live in a very different world to 1st Century A.D. Rome, how similar the different times are. The paradigm gets bigger as our world gets smaller. Globalisation has made this all possible.

In a lot of ways, we are like Rome was. Rome controlled the ancient civilised world and established its ‘Pax Romana’. The Roman Empire lived in a time of ‘relative peace’ between 27 B.C. and 180 A.D. Using its military power connected by it’s famous Roman roads to make sure it was able to stamp it’s authority and control. These same roads connected cultures and economies. People of different nations were able to intermingle, different ethnic cultures were crossing boundaries, and it became a flourishing cosmopolitan economy. It also was a time when it was accepted that it was a pluralist society.

Similiarly to Rome, we live in a very cosmopolitan city, or even global , where there is ‘relative peace’ among a pluralistic society. Our global networks pave roads which connect our cultures and economies. The world economy ‘controls’ this world through it’s global financial networks. Now we see a massive shift in people of different nations who are able to intermingle instantly across the globe. Different ethnic cultures are blurring boundaries and creating fusion sub cultures, and it became a flourishing cosmopolitan economy. We are also in a time when it is accepted as a result of the infusion of cultures, that we live in a pluralist society.

In the 20th Century, there were other lesser instances of this historical model. Firstly the the UK established its ‘Pax Britannica” through global colonisation, then the United States established it’s ‘Pax Americana’ through spreading its influence through its massive defence network. Furthermore, the US established its form of democracy as its template and using both as a net to establish its economic power. Both models were much more ‘uniform’ than the Roman model.

However, the US also spawned the Internet from a defence network called ARPA in the 1960-60s. The late 20th Century also saw the growth of the international air travel network. These two factors I believe are the two key foundations of making true globalisation possible.

We are seeing a 21st Century resurgence of the Roman model on a global scale. These days our countries connect and control people and economies using the new roads, based on our global networks.

The scariest feeling I had of globalisation was my first experience of using my Blackberry overseas. The fact that I could step off a plane in Singapore, and talk to someone in Sydney to continue my job and check my e-mails as if I had never left. The feeling was eerie.

And that’s why I say the Smartphone in my hand is a symbol of globalisation.

However, in a lot of ways, the ‘global village’ is more like a set of global hubs where they are so connected, physical boundaries don’t matter much any more. Urban hubs and lifelines of our networks are focussed on the key life lines of the economy, like New York, Tokyo, Singapore, London, Sydney etc. And ironically by far, these cities in a lot of ways are far more connected to each other in the new global world much more than even to some major cities in the countries themselves!

So it’s no wonder that we might laugh about regional Australia, but it is actually a big problem not having them connected with the new roads properly. They become global back waters. Longer term they will be severely disadvantaged and more disconnected from this new world order.

Anyway, some thoughts I thought I was share. I actually haven’t fully absorbed how a more connected ‘global urban village’ on Facebook that I can connect to on my Windows Mobile Smartphone (unfortunately no iPhone for me) really means yet, but guess that’s a story for another day… Jason Lau (guest blogger)

Written by eugenehor

July 24, 2008 at 2:36 pm

What Will It Mean For Us To Grow The Gospel In Our City?

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Just this week our cell group leaders and I spent some time looking at a strategy for ministry in the New Testament raising the question, “what will it mean for us to grow the gospel of Jesus in our city?” Presently there are 4,100,000 in our city, out of which 3,850,000 are unreached. We live in a city where 96% of people are unreached. To put that in perspective, only 3 in every 100 people in our city are Bible believing Christians. On any given Sunday, less than 15,000 Chinese are at church. Currently there are just over 292,000 Chinese in our city, out of which 277,000 are unreached. We live in a city where 95% of Chinese are unreached. To put that in perspective, only 5 in every 100 Chinese people in our city are Bible believing Christians. The reality that we need to realize as a church is that we live in a secular city that desperately needs more mission minded Christians and churches planted.

In fact, when you turn to the New Testatment you discover that part of the strategy for reaching people in the cities was church multiplication. As you read Acts 14:21-28, you discover that church planting was part of the dna of the early church. It was part of the normal practice and life of the church. Wherever Paul went, he evangelised, he discipled and he started churches. Often, he was sent by other churches to do just that (Acts 13:1-3) The tendency for churches today is to focus on preaching, teaching, evangelism, discipleship, prayer, and to see church planting as the optional extra that we pursue when we run out of space. Tim Keller in his article on church multiplication points out that you see in Paul a strategy of Christian formation and Church formation wherever he went.

You discover as you look at Paul’s ministry in this passage that wherever he went he engaged in evangelism, where he ‘preached’ the gospel to that city (v.21). He doesn’t use the word ‘kerusso’ – preach, but the world ‘evangelizdomenoi’ i.e he ‘gospeled’ the city. Paul ‘gospelled’ the gospel to that city, which was more than just preaching sermons. He goes out and takes the gospel to people. The movement is always to take the gospel out to people where they are at. When you look at Acts you often see Paul gospelling in many different settings: in synagogues (Acts 17:1-2), in small groups (Acts 20:7ff; 16:32), in the market-places (Acts 17:17), in rented halls (Acts 19:9), or even just talking to people one on one (Acts 20:20-21). He saw himself as a missionary and wherever he went that was his mission field. You also discover that wherever he went he also instructed, where he ‘strengthened and encouraged’ new believers in the faith (v.21b-22). He taught them and grounded them in the Christian faith i.e. he spent time discipling them. It’s interesting to note that what Paul does here is consistent with Jesus’ great commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

Having done this you see that whenever believers are gospeled and instructed in these cities, you also find that they are gathered together (Acts 14:27; 15:30) to be the church. You effectively see the formation of new churches wherever evangelism and instruction takes place. You also see leaders picked and set apart to lead those churches (v.23). Paul we are told appoints elders to lead who take on the role of teaching and shepherding that particular group of gathered people. He didn’t start a denomination, but instead empowered them for ministry and mission, and committed them to Jesus. They had their own leadership, and were responsible for their own ministry. When Paul started with them they were “disciples” (v.22), but when he left them, they were “churches” (v.23).

This was the consistent pattern of ministry that you discover in the New Testament. We go out to gospel the unreached in our city wherever God sends us and wherever they are: in the café, in the shopping malls, in our workplaces, in our universities, at the hairdresser, at home. You and I are missionaries in this city. And when people come to know Jesus, we are to spend time discipling them, grounding them in the Christian faith teaching them to follow and trust the words and work of Jesus. And where we see people saved across our city, we are to gather them to be the church, whether in new small groups where they live, whether in new Sunday worship services we plant, or whether in existing churches around them.

What Do You Do When You Disagree With Your Church Leaders?

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Every so often I get asked by people about what they should do if they disagree with their church’s leadership (or deacons or elders whatever tradition you come out from). One very useful way to approach this is to take an open hand/closed hand approach.

You have to work out what is an open hand issue and a closed hand issue for yourself. Open hand issues are those things which are negotiable and are a matter of style, preference and wisdom. Closed hand issues are those things which are not negotiable and are issues of biblical authority. That being said, whether an issue falls into one of these categories also depends on a church’s leadership and beliefs (even tradition in some churches) … and also an individual believers beliefs. In our church, there are several things which we consider closed hand issues which you’ll see below – which under God we believe is Biblically faithful. Whether those who church with us accept that is another matter – but as I have been saying these days in our baptism/confirmation/membership class – this is where our English senior leadership sits Biblically on these issues, so if people want to church with us, serve with us, then they have to at the very least be comfortable with our leaderships position on these closed hand issues, which we believe are faithful Biblically (if you can’t agree with it, then you’re better of churching in another place where you’re more comfortable).

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That being said, in our church we allow for differences in how we give expression to what we believe to be the Biblical teaching on issues such as women in leadership e.g. we affirm male headship and we believe that Jesus’ senior leaders/elders should be men, but that doesn’t mean that women cannot publicly teach or lead, because even as they do that, they are doing this under the visible headship of those of us in senior leadership consistent with 1 Cor.11.

We are a church governed by the Word, united/centered on Jesus & his atoning work, led by Jesus’’ senior leaders who are men, equipping all God’s people for His ministry and mission. Some matters for me are closed hand issues and others are open hand issues in leading our church. But as believers we also need to work out personally under God as we study the Scriptures what are closed/open hand issues for ourselves.

So in answering the question, I think whether a person stays and continues in ministry with a church would depend on whether having studied the Scriptures themselves and sought counsel on an issue, they can agree with their church’s position on the issue or issues in question. If you are wondering whether you should leave your church, you have to work out whether you consider it a closed hand or an open hand issue. My take is that if it’s a closed hand issue for you, then it’s highly unlikely you should stay as it will lead to you working against your conscience Biblically, and it will also eventually lead to a disrespect for your church’s leadership. Instead of working with them, you’ll end up working against them.

Luther at the Diet of Worms

Luther at the Diet of Worms

As Luther would say when confronted and challenged – “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do nothing else. God help me.” Ultimately our supreme standard and authority is the Word of God – and I would ask nothing more of believers than their obedience to it, which means that after carefully study of the issues in question they have to decide whether it will be a closed hand or open hand issue for them, and act accordingly. Submission to a church’s leadership does not mean by passing the authority of the Scriptures because ultimately a church’s leadership is to be submitted to as long as they are faithful to the Scriptures.

It’s always important to remember that our unity must be around God’’s revealed truth: closed hand vs. open hand; some issues are a matter of conscience and preference, so we need to be discerning and generous in our relationships; we need to always let the Scriptures speak and inform our decision making when it comes to issues at church and how we do church.

World Youth Day in Sydney

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World Youth Day 08 has raised the question of what’s the difference between our church and the Roman Catholic church. The difference lies in how the following question is answered: ‘how does God justify or make right sinful men and women?’ This was the question that split the church in the 16th century that today sets apart Protestants from Roman Catholics. As Bible believing Christians we believe that sinful men and women are made right with God by faith alone in the atoning death of Jesus alone for their sins. Church tradition, religious practices or good works in any form cannot and will not make you right with God. In Galatians 2:15-16 we’re told that our works cannot make us right with God, but faith in the work of Jesus alone that makes us right with God. To be ‘justified’ is to be declared right with God, and there Paul tells us that, ‘a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ.’

You and I Paul says are declared right with God because of what Jesus alone has done. What has he done for us? Earlier on in Galatians 1:4 we’re told that he died for our sins i.e. he died to pay the penalty for our failure to perfectly obey God’s law; he bears the consequences for our rebellion towards God; he takes the punishment for our sin. Basically what happens in justification, is that you and I stand in God’s court of law before him under his judgment, but in justifying you, God rules in your favour and acquits you. God declares that you are now right with him. And God is able to do this because Jesus substitutes for you i.e. at the cross where he died he took your place; he took your guilty sentence; he bore the consequences of your sins; he died for you so that you and I might go free. He died in your place so that you might be forgiven and declared in a right relationship with God. And all we are asked to do is to trust or have faith in what Jesus alone has done and completed in his atoning death to be justified or made right with God.

When Roman Catholics speak of justification or being made right with God, they believe that it’s a process rather than a once off work that Jesus has completed. They believe that God infuses grace into you that begins a spiritual or moral change, and that over your lifetime as you co-operate with God you will be justified. Being made right with God is one where you contribute to this process, which is why for Roman Catholics the sacraments (certain church practices) are essential, because the sacraments such as baptism, communion, penance are all means to more grace that will help you along the way towards justification. Being right with God for a Roman Catholic depends on their continued obedience. Instead of trusting in the work of Jesus alone, you end up trusting in Jesus and your work to be right with God.

What divides Biblical Christianity from Roman Catholicism is in that little word ‘alone’. Because ultimately it comes down to whether we are trusting in the finished work of Jesus alone to save us, or whether we are trusting in Jesus and our works to save us. We are justified or declared right with God by God’s grace alone, through faith alone in the death of Jesus alone for our sins (Eph.2:1-10; Phil.3:1-9; Rom.3:21-26)

Written by eugenehor

July 16, 2008 at 3:44 pm