By Josh Gibbon
As we opened this series called Engaging the Issues in 2022, we began by reflecting on how easy it is to get lost in unfamiliar terrain when constantly negotiating where to put your foot next.
A navigation tip I learnt in my bushwalking training is when you’re lost, the worst thing you can do is blindly continue onwards. The best thing you can do is stop, rest, and find a higher vantage point to get a better perspective.
As the Church emerges from the dense, disorientating brush of the pandemic, we may need to stop, reorientate, and find our bearings again, taking stock of some major landmarks in this cultural terrain.
To this end, we asked the reorientating question in this series, “God, what is on your heart for your Church to move towards this year?”
We spoke with some leaders who live just outside of the ‘pastoral ministry’ setting. Interestingly, a few common landmarks loom large from their unique vantage points.
Tim Costello, Brooke Prentis, and John Gilmore shared what they saw as some major issues the Australian Church must address and contend with this year. Ashley Fell from McCrindle shared some social research that impacts ministry this year.
As I listened to these men and women share their perspectives, some key learnings materialised for me about what may be on God’s heart for his Church this year.
Firstly, the Gospel’s theme of justice remains, and we cannot shy away from it in our country this year.
In a time of widespread pain in our world, God is doing exciting things in our country through his Church to take a stand on refugee rights, Indigenous rights, environmental care, and domestic violence. For example, at the beginning of this series, Tim Costello shared Micah’s campaign to see Australia receive 20,000 Afghan refugees. Hundreds of churches rallied this year, and now 16,500 additional refugees (bringing the total to 31,500 over four years) have been approved to enter Australia.
Tim, Brooke, and John all highlighted the enormous opportunity for our churches to lead social justice initiatives this year. Brooke reminded us the first step towards this is choosing a social justice issue and hosting an intentional conversation about it in your community this year. We need to bring these justice issues to the front of our community’s attention and empower them to make a difference in these areas for the Kingdom. These social justice issues cannot remain optional extras in pastoral ministry – we must help our churches see them as the very work Jesus left for us to participate in.
Secondly, we must intentionally choose to venture beyond the comfort of our Christian communities this year.
Brooke and John echoed each other about the risk of our social isolation if we continue to emphasise Christian gatherings over our going this year, particularly after two years of lockdown. Brooke asked us to look for invitations in our local community to have conversations with people from other religious, social, and economic spheres to our church’s demographic. John asked us to encourage our members to simply find social activities that are not connected to your church. If we allow churches to remain comfortable in their uniformity, we enable a church that is removed from the world Christ sent us into.
Finally, our people need the grace of God in our leadership more than ever before.
Ashley highlighted the enormous amount of change we have experienced over the past two years and the toll this is taking on people’s mental health and lifestyle choices. As people adapt in this post-pandemic world, our rules of the form and style of our gatherings and the expectations we put on our teams and volunteers may need to subside. We may need to embrace a great capacity for grace and adjust our expectations, both of ourselves as leaders and our volunteers.
How can the church be the place of grace, mercy, and love that people need as their worlds have altered, rather than another place of work and uncertainty? How can we prioritise making spaces in which people can ask the big questions of life and God as they reorientate the axis of their vocation this year?
For the past two years, we have been forced to venture beyond our well-worn tracks of Sunday services and quarterly programs. We’ve had to become comfortable in the uncomfortable and unknown. It would be easy to return to the familiarity of our well-worn tracks now that we can, but what might we miss if we do this?
What if, as we emerge slowly from the pandemic brush, we were to stop, rest, and reconsider the direction God is leading our communities this year? How do the landmarks of social justice, combatting cultural isolation, and being leaders in grace affect the direction of our pastoral leadership this year?
As you chart your course with God this year for your community, I invite you to heed the vantage points of these men and women and be brave in trusting God’s direction on unfamiliar paths.
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