EFAC Australia

Church Leadership

Becoming a better reader of the Bible:
An approach to Bible Study preparation

We have about 4 different names for small group Bible studies at my church. I mostly call them
growth groups, and I regard them as the backbone of the congregations. What follows is part of
training I ran focussed on the core of the activity of such groups: helping others engage with what
the Bible says. Ben Underwood is Associate Minister at St Matthew’s Shenton Park.

Pastoring through helping others read the Bible well.

Since pastors teach the Bible as a central act of leadership, the best resource we have to be pastors and teachers, is the word of God written in the Bible. Thus we read in 2 Timothy 3:16-17:
16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

With the advent of same-sex marriage, churches are seeking to articulate with grace and truth a response to the various issues this presents. Stephen Hale has generously made available the pastoral guidelines that the St Hilary’s Network in Melbourne has developed. Reading and reflecting on their efforts might prove helpful to others engaged in similar tasks.

Stephen Hale is the Lead Minister in the St Hilary’s Network

We acknowledge that developing a theological and pastoral response related to human sexuality and sexual practice in our cultural setting is complex and challenging. We offer our full assurance for all who are same sex attracted that they are loved, valued and welcome in our church. Our identity as believers is founded in the new life we live as God’s children. We are all one in Christ Jesus regardless of ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. 

As a church, we uphold the formularies of the Anglican Church of Australia, which are grounded in the Bible’s teaching. The Christian rite of marriage is between a man and a woman. Both Jesus in Matthew 19:4-5, and St Paul affirm what God has instituted across all ages in the words of Genesis 2:24: ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ The introduction to the Anglican Marriage Service (APBA Order 2) classically states it this way,

Why that book about ministry burn-out you’re reading may be doing more harm than good

Jonathan Holt

There is an expanding section at your local Christian bookshop dedicated to helping pastors to avoid or recover from burn out. I have read a few of these myself, but with a growing sense of disquiet. I began to notice a certain pattern to these books: firstly, they were written by someone who had experienced burn-out themselves. We respond to this experience-based knowledge, and you’ll often find the opening chapters of the book tell the story. You get to hear about the wide-eyed ministry novice, brimming with confidence and ready to see the world changed for Jesus. But the story soon spirals downward and the crash at the bottom is terrible. And yet there is hope, because the author learns hard truths about themselves, they find the mistakes and miscalculations. The slow and determined work of repair and rebuilding then unfolds. They grow into a new phase of ministry: sharing what they have learned, to help others.

Our trouble with church buildings

Bishop Stephen Hale is the Lead Minister of the St Hilary’s Network, and Chair of EFAC, Australia.

In 2017 I had a curious experience. My mother had passed away and the funeral was held at the church of my childhood and youth. The ministry and pastoral concern of the church was faultless and the service went incredibly well. Why was it curious? The facilities were more or less the same as when I last regularly attended nearly 40 years ago.

I’ve been at St Hilary’s for 8 and half years and we are just in the process of lodging plans for the redevelopment of the Kew Site in our Network of three sites. It has been a slow and at points painful process to get to this point. Our facilities have had very heavy usage over an extended period of time and it’s a joy that we have at last reached this point with strong support. Along the way we have had people leave because they in conscience can’t support a capital program.

These two stories illustrate the tension evangelical Anglican churches seem to have with renewing their facilities. For a range of reasons we seem to baulk in this area. We all know that the church is the people and the building is there to keep the rain off and we could easily do church in a rented space. Yet we have hundreds of buildings and they each are a statement or testimony to who we are and what we value. It strikes me that to visit many of our churches is increasingly a discontinuous experience for many non-churchgoers. Everywhere else they go in their life they go to fresh contemporary spaces that are fit for purpose and easily accessible. When they come to our churches they will often come to places that look tired and dated and are freezing in winter and an oven in summer. It is said that independent schools renew their facilities every 25 to 30 years. For churches it is seemingly every 50 or more years.

In one sense I’ve been spoilt, as I was Curate in a brand new church complex at Castle Hill and Vicar at a near new renewal at Diamond Creek. This shapes you. As Bishop I was involved in several processes that led to the closure and sale of some churches. Leading services of deconsecrating a church is a challenging experience.

If we want to connect in the contemporary era we need to give careful and active consideration to what sort of facilities we currently have and the best way we can renew and refresh them. Most of us do that in our own homes, why not the church? Most of us have leveraged off the generosity of previous generations for many years yet are reluctant to commit to the renewal of those facilities. Many churches have had ministers who were involved in the deferral of maintenance from one generation to the next and the cost of catching up is now considerable.

Perhaps we have a theological problem here? Perhaps our theology of church has flaws. In every generation the church has been involved in building buildings to meet in and we marvel at the best examples of these when we play tourist in many parts of the world. Would any of us be bold enough to build something grand and dynamic in our day? Visiting Barcelona a few years ago it was striking the impact on the waves of tourists entering the Sagrada Familia Basilica. They almost all fell silent and were awed and touched by being in that remarkable space.

Why should children participate in dynamic and interesting spaces at their school and then rattle around in dreary halls on Sunday? Do we need to reflect on how we think abut buildings in more than just functional terms. Are they in fact special spaces that enable worship, community and outreach? I’ve always said that it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re hyper-liberal or hyper-reformed people seem to have an emotional attachment to their church and it’s buildings. Equally it doesn’t seem to matter if the building looks like a Telstra sub station built in the 1960’s or a beautiful gothic building built in the 1860’s people are still attached to the spaces.

In the new mission era we’re in we need facilities that are open and accessible. Facilities that can be used for all sorts of activities in all sorts of ways. Worship spaces that are flexible yet retain a sense of the sacred. We need a new culture of openness and generosity to enable our existing facilities to be refreshed and renewed as a matter of course rather than deferring it to the next generation. We need to refresh our theology of buildings.

Peter Adam pays tribute to a great mentor of his. A shorter version of this tribute was first published in The Melbourne Anglican, September 2018.

Peter Adam is Vicar Emeritus of St Jude’s Carleton, Vic.

Harrie Scott Simmons, 5th September 1918 – 4th May 1999.HarryScottSimmons

Harrie was born in Melbourne, attended Scotch College, and was converted through the Crusaders movement by Baden Gilbert, who ministered at Montague (South Melbourne). It was a slum parish, and some of the Crusaders helped with ministry in the parish, and paid for a women’s worker to assist in ministry there. Harrie also joined CMS League of Youth. He trained for the ministry at Ridley College, when Bishop Baker was the Principal, and benefitted from his Biblical preaching and emphasis on the devotional life.

Bishop Stephen Hale sees small groups as poised to revolutionise 7church life again. Stephen Hale is the Chair of EFAC Australia

Way back in the 1980s a revolution started in thinking about small groups in the life of the church. The late John Mallison (my mentor for many years) wrote a classic book called Growing the Church through Small Groups. The whole focus was on growing disciples of Jesus through meeting in small groups to read God’s word together, to pray and to minister to one another. This was about a revolution in how pastoral care was expressed. It was a discovery of the power and potential of mutual care. St Hilary’s Kew was in the vanguard of this movement and offered significant leadership in this area. Steve Webster writes about this era in the book published last year Excellence in Leadership: essays in honour of Peter and Merrill Corney. At the book launch he told what a massive cultural shift it was back in the 1980s and 1990s to get people involved in small groups.

At present another revolution in small group ministry is taking place. This is a fresh discovery of the mission of God and how we participate in it together. At the heart of this is unlocking the mission potential of small groups. This is about growing in discipleship. This is sometimes captured in the ‘Up’ the ‘In’ and the ‘Out’. ‘Up’ is reading God’s word, listening and responding to him. ‘In’ is sharing each other’s lives and praying together. ‘Out’ is sharing in mission together both as a group and as we support each other to live out our faith in all of our lives.
In our church we have renamed small groups as Connect Groups, as they are about connecting with God, connecting with each other and connecting in mission together. While continuing to study God’s word and pray together, groups in the St Hilary’s Network increasingly participate in some sort of missional endeavour in some real and tangible way. This may be an outreach or social justice activity, it may be linked to the everyday activities of your lives. It is about connecting with real people and sharing the love of God and inviting people to consider the Christian faith. Groups are not told what to do but supported to discover together the mission God wants them to participate in. We recognise this as a significant shift and expect it will take time to become a reality. We hope over time all groups will embrace an outward focus.

It is true to say that growth in maturity increases dramatically, when you get your sleeves rolled up and have to do something for others in some way. This is about seeking God’s kingdom together and about us being a part of something bigger for the sake of others. I think we all know the sense of buzz that comes when we do that. For us this is about a revolution in how we see church and community. For us, this is about making our newly agreed mission (making, maturing and mobilising disciples of Jesus Christ) and vision (to transform lives and communities as we share the love of God through the love of God’s people) a reality.

This is a topsy turvey view of mission. It isn’t top down and program centred. It is releasing the whole people of God to share in the whole mission of God and to do it in the whole of God’s world. That might seem a bit pretentious! But this is a vision for all God’s people to share in God’s mission in God’s world and to share in it both when we’re together and when we’re apart. This is a vision for everyone and not just some people. This is for children and families as well as mature adults. This is about releasing the gifts of the people of God in the mission of God. This is about having a vision for church being a visible alternative community. This is about what Mark Zuckerberg recently called helping others to discover a sense of purpose (in God) for themselves.

This is also about each of us supporting and praying for each other as we seek to be kingdom people in all of our lives—at home, at work, in our street, in our communities, with our Mission partners—this is both local and global. If you think about the number of people in Connect Groups (or the equivalent in your church) and think about the number of places where we each hang out and share our lives, then you have tens of thousands of people that we have kingdom connections with. If we see this as part of the mission of God that we each share in together, then, as St Paul puts it: ‘then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.’ (Philippians 2:15)