John Gilmore of GMP calls the Church in Australia to recognise our privilege, combat cultural isolation, and prioritise stepping outside of our Christian communities in 2022.

By Josh Gibbon

John Gilmore, EO of Global Mission Partners, shared with Churches of Christ in NSW that we need to address the privilege of our churches again.

“We’ve got to recognise that we are amongst the most privileged countries on earth. Full stop,” John said. 

“At so many levels, we have access to medical care, COVID vaccinations. We have the freedom to disagree with the government to challenge government decisions.”

As the oversight of mission and development programs in more than 10 developing nations, such as South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Vanuatu, Vietnam, India, and Indonesia, John has a unique perspective on the global condition of the Church. 

“Vaccination is not a common luxury amongst GMP’s partners,” John continued. “Today, I’ve been on the phone with our leaders in Papua New Guinea, and the vaccination rate there is less than two per cent.”

“The rumours of the evils of vaccines are massive in their impact, and there’s not enough ability in PNG or capacity in the media to actually challenge that.

“So how do you help and support a country that is just so vulnerable to COVID? It’s just the scariest thing I can think of.”

John also reminded us that the privilege of the Church in Australia not only stands in stark contrast to overseas nations but also to the Indigenous nations within our borders.  

“The second really big issue is the place of Australia’s First Peoples in the heart of Churches of Christ,” John said. 

“We (GMP) have an Indigenous program, working with Indigenous communities, and we are dealing with the impact of historical child sexual abuse in the former Aboriginal mission settings. 

“Australia is not going to have deep, heart integrity until we have resolved some of the matters that distance Indigenous people from the non-Indigenous communities in Australia. 

“Part of our prophetic ministry is to ask, ‘How do we develop strategies and ways of healing and a new life for our Indigenous sisters and brothers? How do we acknowledge the dispossession of their land, and how do we build a healed heart in Australia now?”

While GMP facilitates incredible programs for Churches of Christ to partner in supporting overseas churches and raising up Indigenous leaders in Australia, John simply didn’t ask us to pass the tithes and offerings buckets around more in 2022. 

Instead, John’s primary challenge is to ask ourselves, how will we step outside of our church communities this year? 

“It happens through relationships,” John said. “It happens through all of us recognising that we gather on Sundays to be resourced. So, we live well as Christ’s disciples the rest of the week.”

At this moment in which physical church attendance has been disrupted, John’s prompt to reassess the focus and purpose of our Sunday gatherings is a healthy reorientation.

John warned of the tendency in church life to revolve around Sunday gatherings rather than our weekly ‘goings’. 

He reminded us that the answer to our cultural isolation is as simple as participating in communities outside of church, building friendships there, and having open conversations. 

“Just getting involved in a group because it’s an interest you share with others without an agenda, just to be a people together,” John said. 

“If we have no relationships with people other than those in the Church, we are actually not of useful engagement in God’s world.”

John shared that last year GMP gave a young couple who live and minister in Mumbai’s slums financial aid to assist local communities during the pandemic. 

As the couple considered what to do with this, they realised another slum community nearby had no outside support. 

They decided to ask the community’s leaders for permission to provide them with food and hygiene packs; however, the community leaders were very resistant and didn’t trust the couple. 

It turned out this slum was a transgender community, and these people were not only some of the poorest but also some of the most socially rejected in the culturally conservative city of Mumbai. 

“This young couple are conservative Christians,” John explained. “But they’re not conservative in compassion, are they? They’re not conservative in grace and taking risks. 

“I can assure you they are still conservative Christians, but they’ve actually won a level of trust and acceptance in this community that very few others have.

“Now, we come back to the old saying, ‘What would Jesus do?’ The answer to that question is he’d be across the street in the community no one wanted to walk into.”

John used this story to encourage us to ‘walk across the street into other communities’ that are unlike our own.

“I think all of us need to be honest about the ease with which we become culturally isolated or irrelevant by being too far in the middle of the Church.”

As our pews grow warmer again and we reassess the purpose and focus of our Sunday gatherings this year, let’s hear John’s exhortation about the Church’s ‘goings’ being the purpose of its ‘gatherings’. 

How can we cast a vision for our churches that their presence in other communities is the fulfilment of their calling from Jesus? 

Read Engaging the Issues 2022 with Josh Gibbon

Read Engaging the Issues 2022 with Tim Costello, AO

Read Engaging the Issues 2022 with Brooke Prentis

Read more stories of Fresh Hope HERE