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EFAC Australia

Church Leadership

Plenty of Anglican parishes are in need of ministers. Getting ordained may seem ordinary compared to church planting or mission work, but in an environment of denominational decline, will we raise up the clergy we need just to sustain ministry in existing parishes? Marc Dale has been busy rising to the challenge, and he shares his experience with us here.
Marc is Rector of St Alban’s Highgate, WA and Chair of EFAC WA.

What does the future look like where you are, in terms of people offering themselves to be prepared for Anglican ordination? In my home diocese, there are a growing number of parishes who could be open to evangelical ministry, but we are very short of ordained evangelicals.

In various dioceses around the country there are great opportunities for fresh gospel ministry in parishes, but will there be the people to meet those needs?

Bible Study Groups, Gospel Groups, Growth Groups, Life Groups, Cell Groups—call them what you will, they have proved to be a powerful part of what it means to belong to a church for many people, for many years. Here are three personal accounts of what it has meant to belong to small groups based around Bible discussion and prayer.

JosieMurrayJOSIE MURRAY, WA

Crossing the country on my own to embark on new and challenging work in a place where I knew next to no-one and had never been, I was sure I wanted to be a part of a growth group. I had no idea then how established I would become in this group, or just how important this growth group would be to me. That was 6 years ago. I joined up to a mixed night-time group that met weekly, and I relished the familiarity of faces and format that welcomed me. I noticed that these were the people that were becoming my ‘family’ here: people not chosen by me, but given to me, to know more closely, for me to love and care for, and who loved and cared for me.

The emphasis in the group, it seemed to me, was a love for God’s Word, honouring Jesus as Lord, and a commitment to each other. This would be a place to grow.

In a time of great disruption and change, how is Jesus calling all Christians to engage with our wider cultural context? Peter Corney provides a renewed vision of Christian responsibility and working for the common good. Peter Corney OAM is the Vicar Emeritus at St Hilary’s Kew, author, and these days a mentor to young ministers and Christian leaders.

The current ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests, particularly as demonstrated in the US media, jolted me into a fresh consideration of the role of Christians in social and cultural transformation. While I deeply sympathise with the core concern of the protest and the majority of the protestors, it was disturbing to see the level of violence and disorder and the reactions of Donald Trump. For those of us who witnessed the civil rights demonstrations in the sixties under the leadership of the Rev. Martin Luther King and other Christian leaders with their insistence on non-violent action, the comparison was a disturbing commentary on the present changes in our culture, its moral leadership and the source of its ethical motivation. I was reminded of lines from W. B. Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’, written in 1919 at the end of WW1 and at the outbreak of the great flu pandemic. The seeds of Europe’s social, political and economic fragmentation in the 1930s and 1940s were sowed at this time. The bitter harvest of those seeds were the Great Depression, Fascism and the destruction wrought by WW2:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood dimmed tide is loosed and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

DominicSteeleIn this article, taken from the EFAC/Peter Corney Training Centre online conference, Dominic Steele explains why Australian pastors need to make a strategic shift in their thinking. Dominic is the Lead Pastor of Village Church, Sydney.

Australian church leaders need to make a philosophical shift across the board, away from leading for recovery and towards planning to lead for endurance.

We need to start using the catch-cry, “Not recovery, but endurance”, in order to set our people’s expectations right.

Back in May, the Australian Prime Minister announced that he expected we would be at meetings of up to 100 by the end of July. Across the board, the reaction of church leaders was pretty much, “Wow, that’s faster than we thought.” And then various state governments fell over themselves to announce the easing of restrictions in late June as quickly as they could. And we started to plan for recovery. But since then, so much has changed. Among pastors, there are now two different mindsets. Some pastors still have in their heads a plan of a trajectory towards recovery. They are thinking, “How can we get back to what we were?” But the other, wiser position is to plan for endurance. The big virus outbreak in Victoria has caused a rethink. Government rhetoric has changed. The language coming out of the National Cabinet is explicitly promoting the strategy of suppression rather than elimination. That means recovery is not in sight. Back to normal is not going to happen anytime soon. We, as church leaders, should be planning for a continuation of the virus in the community—and for an ongoing level of anxiety in both our church members and the wider community.

DIFFERENT CHOICES

In my own situation, we expect this will work out as some people wanting to meet physically in the church building, some being unwilling to meet in anything larger than home group sizes, and some wanting to remain at home. Some of that caution is going to be very reasonable. People in high-risk groups, or those exhibiting symptoms, or those with sick kids will rightly choose to stick with the online option. And we should expect the percentage of our membership which will choose to go either way will vary depending on the prevalence of the virus, their own risk status, or the risk status of someone close to them, and just general anxiety levels. But that’s the reality of ministry for the next 18+ months. And we need to make strategic and budget decisions in line with at.

There’s not going to be a single moment soon when we go back to live church and the streaming nightmare is over.

PARALLEL MINISTRIES

In light of this, a wise strategy will be to create smaller public meetings and parallel live streaming ministries. This will require us to invest in technology and develop new gifts. For example, teachers will need to work out how to simultaneously relate to those in the room and to the broadcast audience. (Incidentally, I recommend doing the broadcast of the live service, rather than pre-record on the one hand because of cost. Pre-recorded work takes so much longer, and live programming makes viewers feel so much more part of it.) The choices I think are easier in the kids’ ministry, because the schools set the lead. If the schools are on physically then it makes sense for the kids’ ministries to be physical. If schools are online, then the kids’ ministries should be online. If a parent doesn’t want to come to church, but schools are operating, we can suggest that parents use a school-style drop-off and pick-up after the service. Unfortunately, we don’t have that choice in the adult ministry.

DEALING WITH REALITY

Now, having said all that, I don’t like it. Theologically, any time a Christian can’t gather with their brothers or sisters is a spiritual tragedy. We are the body of Christ together. It’s not good to be alone. We are connected to each other and to our head, Christ. And we can’t be the church if we aren’t connected. And we can’t truly be connected if we don’t gather. Nor do I like it pragmatically. We have a world going to hell and its only hope is the clear proclamation of the Lord Jesus. The best online ministry it is not as effective as an in person ministry. Nevertheless this is the reality we live in. Here are some recommendations to help us respond to it.

1. Restart Sunday physical meetings as soon as you are able to, within the Health Department guidelines. Don’t wait for a better day. Note that not everyone will come on the first day. The physical restart will be raggedy. Don’t worry about overcrowding. Don’t be disappointed when it isn’t as good as you hoped. And don’t look at photos from last year of everyone gathered happily together. Don’t wait for the perfect day. It’s either never going to come or it’s a long long way down the track. So as soon as the health department guidelines allow, just start.

The physical restart will be raggedy. Don’t  be disappointed when it isn’t as good as you hoped.

2. Plan for a parallel physical and online structure with ebbs and flows in between. We’ve been going for 5-6 weeks now in Sydney. I am praising God, actually, that our evening church physical attendance is back to pre-COVID levels. And, surprisingly, as we have gone back physically our evening online audience has only dropped by a third. Sunday morning physical attendance is 50-60 percent of what it was. We started higher, with around 66 percent. But, as the anxiety levels have gone up in NSW the last five weeks, attendance has slipped back. My hunch is that there are 20 percent of our people whom we won’t see in the building for 18 months—perhaps longer. And there’s another 20-30 percent who are going to ebb and flow between the online and the physical. Potentially, physically, those staying home are safer. But spiritually they are worse off. And they will be spiritually worse off the longer they stay online. We know it’s true. We need to warn our members of the spiritual risks (the Health Dept is doing a great job of warning of the physical risks).

3. Plan for parallel Bible study/pastoral care groups with some groups meeting physically, some online. The churches with the most highly developed pastoral care structures with the highest percentages of members in Bible study/community groups before COVID, who are able to continue to roll out pastoral care along the pre-existing lines, seem to be weathering this best. In our area, the sense I am getting is that for many churches evening church and Bible study/community groups have restarted meeting physically, whereas the groups linked to morning congregations, are perhaps meeting 50% online and 50% physically. And we went through the morning church community group roll and realised that there are some members in each group that meets physically who would prefer to be online and some members who are in online groups who would prefer to be physically present. And if this isn’t going to go for three months and we are not planning for recovery, but are planning for 18 months, for endurance, we need to talk to those members who would rather a physical group, but who belong to groups where the others want to meet online, about changing groups (and vice versa).

4. Work out strategies for continuing to connect online with new people while you are restarting your physical connection ministries. If your goal was recovery and you were reopening physically then you would wind back a few of the support structures for the online ministries. But if your goal is endurance you want to continue to work on strategies for connecting online with new people. I checked with our membership connection pastor and she said that 194 new people have given us their contact details since March 18 through our online ministry. And we have, since the start of July, seen eight of those people make it along to physical church and into our weekday community groups. And for the face-toface Introducing God course that starts next week for us most of the 15 people expected are people have started watching during COVID-19 and we have connected with them, and they have come to physical church at least once since the start of July and are now going to do that course.

5. Develop a culture after church where it’s not widespread mingling, but rather going deeper with a few. It seems like the advice of the health department for pubs, clubs and cafes is for a maximum group size of ten. This has implications for churches. After morning church we want to ask people to grab a coffee from the coffee person and then go and sit and talk with a group rather than standing around flitting between large numbers of people. Or, on Sunday nights after church, we are serving takeaway and then, rather than sitting in big groups of 20, we are setting up tables and putting six chairs per table. So the ethos is to go deep with a small group. I have been surprised at how quickly we have been able to change our post-church community culture. And it has meant people are staying around for the 60 minutes after evening church, and 45 mins after morning church, that we want them to. Remember, as you restart physical after-church community, that you will need a new parallel team to take a lead in the Online Community structures, whether that is a post-church zoom group or something else. We made a mistake here. As our leadership’s attention was on restarting physical church, we at first neglected the online community that we had spent all those months creating. This was to our detriment.

SPIRITUAL HEALTH RISKS

Finally, there are lots of people warning of the physical health risks. But the spiritual health risks are even more significant. There are some who are in high-risk groups and others for whom anxiety levels are sky-high. But for some, there is a spiritual war going on which is undiagnosed and it’s presenting as physical. The devil has sold the lie to some of our people, ‘Don’t go to the place where the word of God is—that will kill you!’ We need to pray for our people that they resist the devil and where necessary we need to pastor them. To call that lie what it is, and to warn them that “If you go on for 18 months on the trajectory you are following then, humanly speaking, there’s every chance you won’t be standing at the end.”

The content of this article has also been published at www.thepastorsheart.net and at au.thegospelcoalition.org. Republished here with the author’s permission.

ChaseKuhnChase R. Kuhn lectures in theology and ethics at Moore College. This article was first published online by The Gospel Coalition Australia and is republished with their permission and that of Dr. Kuhn.

The current situation with COVID-19 has raised many questions, and amongst them are important theological questions about what we believe the church is, and whether the church continues when we are commanded not to ‘gather’. Throughout the Bible the people of God are depicted as the people called into a covenant relationship with God. One of the key identifiers of this people is the fact that they meet together with one another, in the presence of God, to hear from God’s word. This is what the Bible teaches is the ‘church’: the gathering of God’s people. God called the Israelites to be his people, and he assembled them (gathered them) together in his presence to receive his word (Deut 4:10). It was at this assembly, in the first instance, that God established his covenant with the people (Ex 19:4-6). Likewise, new covenant believers are charged to continue meeting (Heb 10:23-25). Historically, the distinctive marks of the church are the word preached and the sacraments duly administered—these sacraments being signs of the new covenant in Christ. But if gathering together is something so crucial for the people of God, what are we to do—and believe—in times such as these, where meeting together physically is not possible? I want to consider four abiding theological truths about the church, before turning to four practical implications for our lives today.

1. OUR IDENTITY IS PRIMARILY IN CHRIST

It is Christ who establishes us as a people. This statement is important because of its ordering. Our identity as the church is to be a collection of God’s people, brought together because of our union with Christ. This union is what is celebrated in the sacraments. But the union is not dissolved because of our inability to gather. Rather, we gather because of a union that transcends time and space. This should be deeply reassuring to Christians: your identity isn’t fundamentally as a church member, but as a person united to Jesus. Right now—in this very moment—you are part of the people of God. And it is precisely because you are one of God’s people by faith—not insignificantly, a faith given to you by the Spirit (Gal. 4:6)—that you meet with other Christians regularly.

2. OUR LIFE IS DEFINED BY THE WORD

The definitive marker of our life together is hearing God’s word—the word that saves us and tells us who we are by the grace and mercy of God. In Scripture, God communicates rich truth about who he is, the way he has made for us to relate to him, and what it means to live in that relationship. The word of God transcends the inestimable chasm between God’s transcendent, infinite holiness and our fallenness and finitude.

3. CHRIST’S PROMISED PRESENCE

God promises his presence amongst us when we gather together. In Matthew 18:20, Jesus made it clear that he is with believers whenever two or more are gathered. This is intended to reassure us of Christ’s abiding presence with us corporately, even in the tiniest gathering. Furthermore, the apostle John tells us that though no one has ever seen God, he is manifested to us in our love for one another in the Spirit (1 John 4:12-13). This means that life-together presents us with more than may initially meet the eye: God’s presence is known through the presence of others, as we demonstrate mutual love for one another.

4. MUTUAL DEPENDENCE

Our Christian growth and maturity depends upon our relationships with others. We don’t simply grow through receiving from others, but also giving—by assuming our proper place in the body. Put simply, the Christian life requires both active and passive participation: other people need you, and you need others. God’s plans for the church are illustrated wonderfully in several of the key metaphors used in the New Testament for the church. The temple (Eph. 2:21-23) depicts a place where God’s presence dwells, and a place that is being built of many different pieces (people). This image highlights how we are being constructed together, and the wonderful promise of the presence of God in the midst of our life together. The body (1 Cor. 12:12-26; Rom. 12:3-8; Eph. 4:11- 16) depicts a unity of purpose and mutual dependence on one another. There is an interconnectedness that is indispensable. There is a building and developing as we ‘grow up together’ into Christ our head.

FOUR PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS FOR CHRISTIANS TODAY

First, don’t despair that you can’t meet as usual. You are still in Christ! But precisely because you are in Christ, seek out ways to ‘meet’ with others. We have unprecedented opportunities to gather virtually as a church. So, even in days like these, we should not forsake coming together. In fact, especially in days like these we should be all the more diligent to seek out opportunities to meet together. Because the times demand change for us, we must be patient and persistent.

And we must remember that there is great promise even in few numbers; even where two or three are gathered, for Christ has promised us his presence.

Second, when you ‘meet’ with others, don’t forsake the significance of hearing from God’s word. The word of God is the richest thing we can offer to someone. We should find ways to mutually encourage one another from the truth, especially when the world seems turned upside down. Helping brothers and sisters to fix their eyes on Christ once more will prove to be an anchor in the midst of much turbulence. Third, recognise how important we are to one another. On our worst usual Sundays together, we allow church to be a passive experience for the majority of the congregation. Now more than ever we are in danger of only receiving. But in the midst of change, we should expect different people to exercise gifts that may otherwise lie dormant in church life. We must prayerfully consider the needs of others and how we might serve our brothers and sisters. In particular, we should be mindful of those in our churches who will be most needy in times of isolation. In times of forced seclusion, there is a temptation to turn inward and only think about our individual needs in the confines of our own bubble. But we must pursue a thoughtful awareness of others. This will be an opportunity for us to be appropriately counter-cultural, rejecting the panic-hoarding of the world around us, and turning instead to think of our neighbours. And, as people serve us, we should be prepared to offer them encouragement and gratitude. But we also should consider how we can help others be more aware of needs. People will both need to seek others out, but also communicate openly when they are struggling and have practical requirements.

Finally, we should not lose hope. Though things look, feel, and certainly are very different during this pandemic, we must remember the promise that Christ gave us: he is building his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.

Even if we are unable to physically gather, we can still ‘gather’ together under the word.

As we do, even then as we meet virtually or in few number, Christ has promised to be with us. And, when we meet under the word of God, in the presence of Christ, we can be assured that he is maturing us as his people.

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