As we enter the fading Twilight of 2017, all indicators are that the gospel influence on Australian society similarly fades as a rising tide of godless darkness consumes the erstwhile Christianized landscape. The metrics of this tide are well documented: the now well entrenched missional failure and the consequential decades-long chronic trend of decline in the number of ‘Newcomers’ in our congregations, the aging of attendees, a rapidly widening gap between attendance numbers and population growth, and the number of Christianity-acknowledging Australians falling to 50%. The inevitable result of this means that the ‘Gospel salt’, the ‘God’ influence is spread ever more thinly over society, as clearly indicated in the recent Same Sex Marriage debate.
So, how to respond?
It is not a matter of argument that how people behave is to a large extent controlled by how they think, or by their world view, their mental mind map. If a person thinks something is of prime importance then they are likely to pursue it, even if it means a costly change to their behaviour in order to achieve their goal.
This analysis of behaviour drivers applies also to how a person approaches ministry and mission. If the winning of disciples for Jesus is more important than maintaining the longstanding forms of church and missional methods they have become used to, are comfortable with and even been trained for, then they will be willing to change those forms and their behaviour to achieve that goal, difficult though that may be. On the other hand, if maintaining the status quo regarding their model of church life and missional strategy is their priority, then they will continue behaving in the same way regarding such things.
This tension, between the ‘old church’ mindset with its associated missional strategies, and the new mindset required for fruitful mission in a Kaleidoscope world of rapidly changing cultural universes, is I believe at the heart of our missional malaise.
Generally, the leaders of our churches do not apply their training to the creation of, not just new, but alternative forms of church that would have much greater potential for missional fruit. However, it is long past time to break from the thinking that keeps expressions of church and missional strategies in a spiritual bondage to a Mindset that clings to the anachronistic Christendom forms of another, now faded age. It is time to set the New Testament free and break the chains with which we have bound it!
What might be called a new “Babylonian Captivity of the Church” manifests itself in a ‘Mindset’, in both leadership and congregational members, that makes the ‘form’ of church more important than the gospel imperative. While many church members are happy for ‘outreach’ activities to be organised (increasingly on their non-participatory behalf), it is on the basis that they themselves are not required to change the way they ‘do church’. If changes are pursued to ‘unbind’ the church from the form they are comfortable with for the sake of the lost, then frequently ‘all hell will break loose’ literally.
It is this bondage that prevents the ability and or willingness to Re-imagine what the ‘church’ should look like in post-Christian Australia; that is in a kaleidoscope of sociological, cultural and spiritual universes constantly in flux, the places where non- Christians live, universes parallel to, disconnected from and in fact alien to the one the ‘church’ is in. Could it be in part, that the national church decline and the ‘Barbarian conquest’ in train, is actually God’s judgment, another ‘Glory of God leaving His people’ event as we see in Ezekiel 10, because of our bondage to our preferred but increasingly missionally ineffective ‘forms’ of church and mission?
It is this bondage that prevents the ability and or willingness to Re-imagine
what the ‘church’ should look like in post-Christian Australia
This is a dire time, a time to heed the ancient Prophetic voice saying, ”if only my people will hear my voice”, and repent of our bondage to the resource-consuming ‘god of form’. It is from this ‘Babylonian bondage’ to the ‘god of church form’, that the church needs to be ‘unbound’; to express the ‘Divine Freedom’ of the New Testament-voiced principles for Christian community in a multitude of ways; to develop forms of ‘unbounded church’, missional communities embedded in the ever-morphing kaleidoscope of cultural ‘universes’.
Mindset is the main driver of behaviour. In the current fading spiritual twilight, with the ‘Barbarians at the Gates’, it is essential that we break free from our ‘Babylonian Captivity’ to the ‘god’ of our existing church Mindset. This, if we are to see any significantly increased missional fruit in the winning of the burgeoning legions of those stumbling along the dark road to hell.
May it be so.
4 thoughts on “A New Babylonian Captivity”
For some time now I have been reflecting with folks that we are becoming a “remnant ” and need to be living very faithfully as that remnant even though we are captives as it were in our own country. Thank you Martin for your continuing wise words that are a challenge to us all
Thanks for your comment.
Yes we are increasingly living in different times, to which we have to respond. The Remnant motif is an appropriate image for our time. The encouragement is that the Remnant was God’s Remnant whom he set apart to continue his purpose.
I think, sadly, that you are right as usual, in your analysis of the situation we are in. Finding a way (or ways) forward is another thing. A few thoughts come to mind …..
1. While our theological, training and Bible colleges train ministers to preach sermons from pulpits in churches, it is going to be hard to change.
2. While it is young people attracted to the form of ministry where they are up the front, preaching sermons from pulpits in churches, it is going to be hard to change.
3. While we do church planting (and have many church planting umbrella groups) rather than mission planting, it will be hard to change.
4. And while ministers’ success, in their own eyes at least, is based on bums on seats while they preach sermons from the pulpit, it is going to be difficult for them to try new ways that convert people without sitting them in front of the pulpit.
5. Finally, while parishioners are consumers more than ministers, kept passive by sitting through hundreds of monologue sermons from pulpits through their lives, they are unlikely to change either.
So change will more likely come from non-ministerial people with a Holy Spirit gift, or the rare trained minister (like you) who can see beyond their training and their self esteem, and see the real end goal, not bums on seats but disciples of Jesus who follow and endure through to the end doing ministry in the place where God has placed them.
End of this sermon without a pulpit! 🙂
Your points are well taken and all highlight the radical ‘Mindshift’ required that is my main point.
Sadly there is virtually no sign of that in the mainstream churches. There seems to be virtually no awareness among congregations or leadership that we now face a missional context not seen in western countries for over 1600 years, and so business as usual will just not cut it.
Some encouragement is that renewal nearly always comes from those outside the system, and there are some of those slowly emerging.
Thanks for your ‘sermon’!!