Dear Friends,

Welcome to 2017. Each year we have opportunities as a family of churches to dream, explore and contemplate what lies ahead. As a Fresh Hope team, we are working hard to make some strategic changes in readiness to serve our movement towards 2050. We will inform you of these in the lead up to our Fresh Hope Collective in May.

The impacts of seismic changes on society and culture, means that the church must constantly assess and re-assess its’ capacity and capability to present the gospel in relevant ways to a changing Australian community.

While it’s difficult to ascertain what a future Australia might look like in 2050, we believe there are some key theological themes that will enable the church to flourish provided leadership communities have the courage to embrace their future trusting wholeheartedly in the Word of God.   

I like how Peter expresses our posture and the promise we have in 1 Peter 1:3-4:

“What a God we have! And how fortunate we are to have him, this Father of our Master Jesus! Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven – and the future starts now!” (The Message)

As you begin the year, the following themes might be useful for your team as you engage in planning for the year. I offer them in the hope that you might review how you spend your time and resources in the work of mission and ministry.

Spiritual Leadership Communities

Church leadership would be a safe undertaking if we only faced problems with our known solutions. However, the Christian life by necessity is a ‘faith-filled’ and ‘faith-fuelled’ ongoing encounter. We are moving beyond the era of certainty and pragmatics to an era of absolute trust and dependence on a Sovereign God where there may not be obvious answers to the challenges before us. For this reason, I am convinced that church leadership is best collaborated as ‘spiritual community’ where leaders intentionally take time to pray, reflect and listen together prior to acting. How does your team prioritise prayer, deep collaboration around God’s Word and discernment as preparation for your planning into 2017 and beyond?

Transformational Living

When was the last time you seriously contemplated the implications of being a representative or ambassador for Jesus? Paul reminded the Corinthian church that this was how we now live:

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”  (2 Corinthians 5:18-20 NLT)

Our lives are so valuable to God, that he has commissioned each of us to be His agents of transformation in our communities, workplaces, families and networks. No longer is it simply feasible to presume that our Christian lives are contained within Sunday-centric church practice. We are each called to live in wherever we find ourselves. This is the essence of discipleship, to live as transformational agents for Jesus and His cause. To what extent do leaders and church members model this in your context and how do you encourage church attenders to proactively grow in their discipleship?

Kingdom Mind-set

There is an important conversation that every church and every leader needs to address when considering the role of the church in the context of God’s Kingdom. We constantly are reminded that Jesus didn’t call people to repent because the church was at hand. His message as evidenced through his teaching, parables and leadership centred powerfully on the next phase of God’s kingdom and the importance of seeking God’s Kingdom.

Family systems theorist Edwin Friedman claimed that the key to the kingdom is getting past the resistance and sabotage. Our human comfort sometimes impedes our willingness to surrender all (not once but repeatedly) into God’s reign and rule. The Kingdom of God is the range of God’s effective will. With mind-set, the Kingdom takes priority and precedence when we choose to follow Jesus.

Perhaps we should constantly remind one another of the importance and priority of the Kingdom and do all within our abilities to call people as servants into the Kingdom way. How does your church teach and prioritise Kingdom living and mindsets? What does it mean to seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness?

Relevant Gospel-Shaped Mission

Christian Scholar Scot McKnight suggests:
“The gospel we preach is explosively disruptive”.

There is an old benchmark that asks – if your church were to cease, who in your broader community would care or notice? How we respond, depends on the extent to which the church engages those to whom we are called to serve and reach. From the outset, the gospel or good news of Jesus profoundly disrupted and disturbed the piety and serenity of the religious elite. The same gospel calls us to disturb the dysfunctions, abuses, irregularities, cultural trends and social conventions that prop our man-made systems rather than promote the breath-taking reality of a timeless wonderful Creator. We are called to lay aside our petty preoccupations and as missionaries extend the unrelenting love and grace of God to a culture bereft of God’s presence and promises.

How do you decide what community engagement looks like (if any) and what would it look like for your faith community to proclaim the gospel (outside your church facilities) in relevant ways?

Soul Strength and Adventure

For a couple of years now we have been resoundingly calling our network and family of churches to be adventurous and to go beyond the harbour of normality. I realise that such a journey requires courage and strength that can only be mustered by time spent in the creator’s presence.

This year we have discerned our theme to be ‘soul strength’. In order to execute a new strategy to propel the church into a new era (let’s call that adventurous) we each need to ensure that our time spent in the Master’s presence is genuine and deliberate. A failure to do so will either impede any strategic impetus or damage the sustainability of what we might achieve.

So we remind one another, be still, listen and wait patiently for God’s promptings.

“Your planet is very beautiful,” he said. “Does it have any Oceans?”
“I couldn’t say,” said the geographer.
“Oh!” The little princess was disappointed.
“And cities and rivers and deserts?”
“I couldn’t tell you that, either,” the geographer said.
“But you’re a geographer!”

“That’s right” said the geographer, “but I’m not an explorer.” (Antoinede Saint-Exupery – The Little Prince)

How does your church recognise and champion a generation of ‘explorers’ who will take new territory for God and His Kingdom? Do you have a budget item for exploration or innovation of new projects?

What time is planned personally and corporately to feed your soul and strengthen your resolve?

May God strengthen your soul to embrace the challenges before you. May He empower your team with His presence, and may you be motivated by His promises to sustain and equip you as an explorer for the journey ahead.

We hope to join you on that quest.

Dr Andrew Ball