Promoting Christ-centred Biblical Ministry

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Reflections on Recreating Australia May 2004
by Steve Abbott

reprinted from the Winter 2004 edition of Essentials


   What do a Presbyterian Pastor from Country NSW, a near retirement age Anglican minister from Adelaide, a retired Uniting Church lay couple from Ballarat, a lecturer at a Theological College and a Pentecostal Street preacher from Melbourne have in common? There could be many possible answers to this question but the one I know is accurate is they all had such a love for Jesus that they wanted to be more effective in proclaiming the good news about his death and resurrection! I was among these people who attended the Evangelistic Preaching Track at the May Recreating Australia (RA) Conference held in Melbourne.  Steve Abbott works part-time for EFAC Victoria as Training Officer, and part-time at Ridley College


   This group reflected something of the genius of this and other such conferences: they bring together the rich diversity of the one flock of Jesus Christ (John 10:16). Without denying the denominational and theological differences amongst us we chose to gather to discuss one thing we all agree on: the 'Missio Dei' (the mission of God, Matthew 28:19-20, Acts 1:8). We agree that Australians of all races, genders, sexual orientations, generations, socio-economic stations and spiritualities without Christ are lost and bound for judgement (Acts 17:31). We are convinced that the gospel of the sinless dying and rising Christ is what the world needs. And we understand that it is the privilege and responsibility of those who already know Jesus to communicate this gospel to those who don't! Surely this is at least one aspect of the oneness, the unity in the gospel and witness, which the Lord Jesus prayed for the subsequent believing generations (John 17:20-23).
   We were reminded right up front by our own beloved, ever passionate Chappo (John Chapman) that gospel ministry is very hard work and especially so in Australia. Yet throughout the RA conference we were also provided with some timely reminders of important and encouraging biblical truths that can fade or be forgotten as we war against the devil's schemes (Ephesians 6:11-12) in our own little patch:   
   • The gospel is still powerful to save (Romans 1:16-17). It works! There were stories shared of people who had come to faith and of local churches which were making significant impact in their communities for Christ.
• I, my local church and my denomination are not alone in the disciple-making mission of God within Australia. The task is not as overwhelming as I sometimes think it is. The Holy Spirit is at work across the rich kaleidoscopic spectrum of communities of faith – God is building his church on the one foundation of Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2,11).
• There are many ways to build bridges to reach the unchurched diverse people groups (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). People are different and so I, along with all Christians, need to listen and learn from others who serve across the length and breadth of our incredible vast and diverse national social landscape.
• It is important to test the prophets and carefully examine our own theological frameworks and practices of ministry. It is one thing to share a common foundation in Christ Jesus but it is crucial to watch how we build and with what materials we build on that foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). On one occasion I was challenged to come alongside the lost to spread my arms around them and invite them to come and walk in my Christian world through an introducing God course, while on another I was pushed to walk with the lost in their world seeking opportunities to whisper gospel realities into their lives. I needed to process these different models and determine whether they were contrasting or complementary.
   I came away from the conference re-energised for gospel ministry within the particular context the Lord has placed me. In addition to the truths already stated the following elements of the conference contributed to this outcome:   
  • Several of the organising committee, track facilitators and platform presenters were EFAC members! What an encouragement to see so clearly that our evangelical Anglican tradition has a significant contribution to make to the building of the one church of Jesus Christ.
  • The networking with new and old colleagues in gospel ministry, people in their seventies and twenties, who are constrained by the love of Christ to keep on keeping on, what a joy! I recall one memorable lunch with a former parishioner Ian Barnett, who is now ordained and serving as an evangelist for a large church in Sydney. It was rich in mutual sharing, stimulation and personal encouragement. I saw the great Harry Dibley from Sydney who is still gospelling Aussie blokes after many years of evangelistic enterprise. Then there was one of our own Ridley Students Anika Parker, one of the new and enthusiastic younger generation whose love of Christ and Aussies lead her, even on the brink of first semester exams, to attend because the gospel sets her priorities.
  • Joining an old mate, Steve Hinks from Moore College days in a conversation on the cold concrete stairs at Federation Square with two young well educated Hindu students, both a challenge and a joy. It took me from the theory of my evangelism lectures within the academy to the realities of the cut and thrust of intellectual debate, to listen and then respond with gentleness, testifying courageously to the gospel of Christ.

Other Observations and Impressions

   During the workplace forum on the platform it became clear that the non-white collar segment of the community (namely working and welfare classes) were not represented. It fell to John Buchanan to draw this to our attention and humorously but genuinely admonish us. I may be wrong but I think this observation was true of most of the conference: the non-professional, non-university educated segments of Australian society were under represented. Julie-Anne Laird1 also comments:   
   "It (RA) made me wonder how we are encouraging the worldly 'unsuccessful' people who are Christians who may have jobs in a factory and have a solid faith but aren't articulate."   
   The church generally struggles with this area and doesn't resource it well. For example the energy we put into University ministry contrasts starkly with the efforts focused on TAFE Colleges. I'm grateful for the Craig Blackets of our country who strive to reach TAFE students. May the Lord raise up a mighty army of them and may our churches and denominations resource them generously! It is my prayer that the church as a whole will be very careful about the cultural blindness that this issue raises.   
   I think Julie-anne Laird's impressions are just great:   
   "My first impression was that there was an overwhelming amount of MEN at the conference. I hadn't expected this as my Church experience has been women who are more actively involved in evangelism. So I was actually very encouraged to see that there were a lot of men thinking about evangelism and wanting to be practically involved. My second impression was realising that we're all so ordinary! However we're ordinary people doing an exciting job!   
   The conference had an immediate practical impact on Gavin Ward's2 ministry:   
   "Friday morning's panel session was very helpful for me in reminding me of my responsibility as a "pastor" to equip, challenge, support and encourage those who spend much of their time in the secular workforce. They have important ministries in their workplace and I was reminded to pray for them, to help them see what "mission" possibilities exist in their workplace and to encourage them to pray for their colleagues, clients, customers and management.  I have sent at least one text message of encouragement to a worker this past week and am in the process of organising a morning service that will seek to acknowledge, encourage and pray for all those in the congregation who "work with their hands."   
   Julie-anne was also challenged by this dimension of the conference:   
   "I also came away really thinking about the workers in our congregation and how am I encouraging them in their workplace?"   
   Meanwhile Simon Koefoed3 found RA a real shot in the arm:   
   "Overall I was very encouraged by simply gathering with hundreds of others who were committed to evangelism as a primary aspect of their faith and ministry. Already in 3 months of ministry I have felt myself becoming distracted from this core motivation for my getting into full-time ministry in the first place. The conference gave me the opportunity to realign on evangelism as a core aspect of my philosophy of ministry. A real highlight for me was the constant resurfacing of the theme of the relational aspects of front-line evangelism. Both of the major presentations in my focus group (Local Church Evangelism) were weighted away from events, crusades, evangelistic missions etc, and towards deliberate relationships at both an individual and corporate level. Some went so far as to say that there has been a paradigm shift in the last 10 years in the way society communicates and therefore in the way we should be communicating the Gospel today."   

Post Script

   Before closing I am prompted to make a brief suggestion about the mindset we ought to embrace as we come to such a conference where the rich diversity of the Australian Christian landscape is represented both in participants but more especially on the platform. This flows from some of the critical comments I heard, overheard and echoed in my own head as the conference proceeded. Let me suggest 3 simple elements for a constructive mindset for participating in an Across the Church conference:   
  1. Be Generous – Reflect on Mark 9:39-41 and the reasonably gentle rebuke to John, who had curtailed the ministry of a believer in Jesus because "he was not one of us." Memorise v.40 "whoever is not against us is for us."
  2. Be Teachable – Reflect on Romans 1:11-12 where the great Apostle Paul writes about his hopes for his visit to the church, "that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith." Add to this 1 Cor 12:7: "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good." Whenever we gather as that community, which is headed and gifted by the ascended Christ, let us come with an expectation that the Lord will be able to minister to us in a new and fresh way through gifts of people who might not even be part of my particular Christian tribe.
  3. Be Discerning – Finally reflect on 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 where we are reminded there is one foundation, Jesus Christ but many resources and methodologies for building upon him. Some of these are quality marked by durability, others substandard marked by superficiality. We always need to keep our minds switched on and be discerning about what we take on board since our own ministry construction work will be assessed.
   I'm sure you could come up with several other constructive mindsets to embrace when attending a conference like Recreating Australia so that our response to the presentations is godly and wise. But I'd be happy if we at least started with these three.   

1 Julie-Anne Laird is an AFES worker at Latrobe University, Bundoora Campus and mother of 4 who attends All Saints' Anglican Church Greensborough.

2 Gavin Ward is the Associate Minister at St John's, Diamond Creek, father of two and a one-eyed Bombers supporter.

3 Simon Koefoed is first year Associate Minister in the Parish of Brimbank and father of a brand new son.



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