Being a Christian Community for Everyone

The first case study I was exposed to at Business School was the very famous 1960’s study by Theodore Levitt called Marketing Myopia. He points out that “the history of every dead and dying ‘growth’ industry shows a self-deceiving cycle of bountiful expansion and undetected decay.” He uses the illustration of the railroad business which was failing because they thought they were in the railroad business rather than the transportation business. They kept their eyes on locomotives and rail tracks rather than the needs of the changing market – they were product oriented rather than customer oriented. Their view was short-sighted and they failed to see developments in road vehicles, airplanes and other modes of transport.

It can be the same with the church. Are we too short-sighted in our planning?

Is it enough to swing open the doors on Sunday and hope people will attend the worship service? We’ve being doing that for a really long time with consistent results. Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”

The church has become really good at preaching to the choir – trying to convince the already convinced. We focus almost exclusively on ourselves – though we might possibly have a sign outside the church building inviting others to join us, if they can pluck up the courage to enter a room full of strangers who already know each other fairly well.

For some years as a Church Growth Consultant, I would visit congregations incognito, a bit like an undercover food critic. There was usually a lively hubbub as everyone caught up with each other, but I was mostly ignored. I would take a look at the notice board and the publications table. A lot was out of date and mostly it was about themselves in a language that would have been strange for an outsider.

The church however, in the words of some unknown and wise author, is the one institution which should exist exclusively for the benefit of the non-members. The reality is that we exist for ourselves, the same as every other club or group.

I have been working on a Vision Statement for the Uniting Church in Western Australia. If you have read the previous blogs, I wrote about our core values first, and followed that with a preliminary mission statement – Growing communities of Christ followers uniting in God’s mission to the world.

A vision statement declares what you want to become, and with the warning about not being myopic we might ask how we see ourselves in the future. I tested a number of thoughts on a lot of different people and the conversations always ended up with the thought that heart of the Uniting Church is for uniting people under the Lordship of Jesus. In fact, we are seeing the “Uniting Church. Uniting People” by-line appearing everywhere now.

At the launch of the Uniting Church, 40 years ago, the intention was to be a uniting movement, rather than a denomination. The hope was to be an inclusive community of Christ followers who shrugged off the constraints of tradition, customs and various practices which have historically separated Christian denominations. That does make us rather different – we are open to all and everyone who seeks to follow the journey of Christian faith. In practice, this is not always true, but at least it is our intention. We want to be a Christian community for everyone.

The trick to achieving this is that we must do more than simply open the door on a Sunday morning.

Rev David de Kock
General Secretary

The Mocking of Easter

I love humour.

Our sad and melancholic world needs more of it. Laughter is a therapy and one of God’s great gifts. I am told that Orthodox priests often begin the Easter Sunday worship service with a joke, seeking to underline the joy of Easter morning, the movement from sadness to celebration, death to life. We cross the line however when we move from mirth to mocking. Luke’s gospel tells us that the Easter story begins with scorn and ridicule.

En route to the cross Jesus endures insults from three different groups of people who had almost nothing in common with each other.

The first group was religious leaders. They sneered at Jesus saying “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is God’s Messiah”. (Luke 23 v 35). Their mocking was a rejection of the claims Jesus made about his identity and purpose. Somehow that could not fathom that God’s Messiah could be God’s “suffering servant”. A messiah, they conjected, would powerfully win and not end up on a cursed cross. They thought Jesus was a bad joke. Spiked on a Roman cross, Jesus certainly looked powerless. They missed that in a paradoxical way there on the cross was the creator God became the suffering God.

The Roman soldiers were next in line to knock Jesus. From a military point of view only losers ended up on crosses. In the only piece of writing we know of from Jesus’ time (New Testament writers wrote a decade or two later) they gave their verdict as they scribed the words “King of the Jews”. They didn’t seriously believe Jesus was a king, so they thought they would just have a bit of fun at Jesus’ expense. There was no crown of jewels only a crown of thorns. Jesus was another Galilean tragic who was the object of their fun. They could not have conceived that Jesus was more than King of the Jews, he was and is King of the Universe.

And then there was a terrorist, probably a guerrilla fighter or murderous bandit who from his own cross joined in the taunts and hurled insults at Jesus. If Jesus was a revolutionary it was a revolution of love. If Jesus was subversive, it was because of his counter cultural gospel. If Jesus had weapons they were the sword of the Spirit and the breastplate of salvation. Jesus seemed like a failure, a lost cause and therefore someone to make fun of. God however has a way of getting the last laugh. On Easter Sunday the ridiculed one was the risen Lord. The mocked one was the majestic Lord triumphing over death. The one who faced mirth with words of forgiveness now offered new life, eternal life, life to the full, to those who would follow and be part of his Resurrection community.

Is Jesus still mocked today?   

Rev Steve Francis
Moderator

What are we meant to be doing?

The church lives in a changing culture and in the post Christendom era, we are being challenged by declining and aging congregations, and a struggle to find relevance in this new world. In this environment the Synod is working on the development of the strategic plan for the Uniting Church WA. Last time, I wrote about our Core Values and for ease of reference, I repeat them below:

  1.  To follow Jesus through life, death and resurrection
  2. Being community which safely embraces people beyond gender, cultural, economic, national and racial boundaries
  3. To act with God alongside the oppressed, the hurting and the poor
  4. To encourage wisdom and faithfulness in the use of the finite resources of the earth
  5. To exercise wisdom and faithfulness in the use of God-given gifts, talents and skills
  6. To live a creative, adventurous life of faith, characterised by openness, flexibility, hope and joy.

These are values stated 40 years ago at the inception of the Uniting Church, and which, I would hope, remain relevant today, even in our rapidly changing world. From these values, we can begin to build towards a mission statement.

Many authors, including Aubrey Malphurs, author of the book Advanced Strategic Planning for Churches and Ministry Leaders, talks about the need to define purpose (why we are here) and mission (what we are supposed to be doing). By and large, they agree that we are here to glorify God and we are meant to be making disciples, or helping people to be followers of Jesus.

I particularly like the choice of the word ‘glorify’. I have appreciated John Marsh’s definition of this in his commentary, Saint John. He speaks of ‘glory’ meaning “the manifest presence of God in the ordinary.” Thus, throughout John’s gospel, the apostle writes of such things as “my glory is not yet revealed,” “he thus revealed his glory” and “the Son of Man has been glorified”. So, if our purpose is to glorify God, this definition means that we are being called to reveal the presence of God in the ordinariness of our life, in all the things we do and say.

So let’s now go to the Scriptures and look at the commissions of Christ recorded for us by the gospel writers. “Go and make disciples”(Matthew 28:19), “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel” (Mark 16:15), “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), “These things are written that you may know that I am the Christ” (John 20:31).

Clearly there is a sending forth and a teaching or sharing of what we know of Christ.

But the church is more than that. We are also a community – a community which loves one another and the world, and which shares hope in Christ with this world and the next. The church is both a resourcing and a sending community. It is a community in action seeking to be actively involved in Missio Deo, the mission of God.

With that background, we can begin to derive a mission statement, which embraces those sentiments and gives some definition to our mission and purpose. This is then our preliminary mission statement: growing communities of Christ followers uniting in God’s mission to the world.

Some questions we may ask are: Is it short enough to remember easily? Does it embrace all of who we are – congregations, schools, agencies, social justice or Uniting World?

One final and crucial question: Is this what we are actually meant to be doing?

Rev David de Kock

General Secretary

God a drummer?

I am unashamedly a baby boomer. I was brought up on a diet of rock and roll, rhythm and blues.

Some of my friends aspired to form bands. Their hope was to make music and take their place in a culture where guitars, vocals and drums could be a ticket to celebrity status. Perhaps surprisingly the urge to form a rock band with these basic instruments lives on.

As the sixties musical revolution began I felt a little sorry for the drummer. He or she would play a metre or two behind the main singers and guitarists. They were further from the audience and often undervalued. Slowly however, the role of the drummer was appreciated. Paul McCartney (ex Beatle) once said when their new drummer Ringo Starr joined the band’s quality took a step up. Then came Phil Collins and other drummers who became the centrepiece of the band rather than the background contributor. Drumming came out of the shadows.

In churches, which are often slow to embrace musical changes, we began to see that drumming was not of the devil. First guitars and then drums began to appear in sanctuaries and in worship. At first they were ‘too loud’, but eventually some Christian worshippers began to value the place of drums in Christian worship. Drumming essentially is a way of catching and carrying the beat of the music and the beat of life.

In one of his poems Hafiz has a line that says “A father’s toes lifting a child’s in dance causes God to pull out a drum”.

Is God a drummer? Creative drumming not only captures the pace that already is, it sets the beat for what is yet to be. Drumming can be an invigorating and compelling beat that calls forth life. Jesus in his ministry called people to march and dance to the beat of different drum. He came to bring life in all its fullness (John 10 v10), to be open to the rhythms of the Spirit and the beat of love. I have a feeling there will be more than harps in heaven, especially if God is a drummer. May we see more of them on earth and in our sanctuaries.

Blessings

Rev Steve Francis
Moderator

Why Voting is a Complex Issue

Welcome to my first blog post of the year. It is a brand new month, season and I hope everyone has been well.

For this post, I will be focusing on our upcoming WA elections. Every day in this pre-election phase we are being bombarded with messages about who to vote for and why.

For Christian people thinking carefully about who to give their vote to is an important issue. I am reminded that perhaps the best known theologian of the twentieth century Karl Barth as a young pastor was appalled when he learned that many of his theological mentors at the beginning of the First World War had sided with the Kaiser and the war strategy. It led Barth to seriously question their ethics and theology.

It is possible to back the wrong party.

At election time, we need to ask lots of questions of our politicians and political parties. Several questions readily come to mind. How do your policies look after the most vulnerable in our society, the elderly, the unemployed, the First peoples, asylum seekers, those with disabilities and those on low incomes? Jesus clearly had a “bias” towards the poor, so should we?

Another question might be about the environment. How does your party care for our fragile, beautiful and sacred environment?

Last week I attended a gathering at St George’s Anglican Cathedral where farmers, scientists, environmentalists and a moral theologian spoke of the potential environmental damage that fracking can do. They called for a five year moratorium so that more independent consultations and science based reviews can be conducted before we plunge headlong into this industry. It made a lot of sense to me. Where does your preferred party sit on this issue?

Last week I also had the opportunity to attend a Youth Care meeting. I learnt more about the great work over 400 school chaplains are doing in our WA schools. They do not proselytise but rather they fill an important gap in the pastoral care of students, teachers and parents.  To do this work they rely on a combination of church, school, state and federal funding. It is important to ask if your preferred political party is supporting this much needed program.

Politics is a complex business and probably no party ticks all the boxes we Christians would like them to. In any congregation there will be a diversity of political opinions. The Uniting Church will never tell you how to vote, but hopefully we will help each other to ask good questions of those who seek to be part of our state’s governance.

Like the prophet Jeremiah said, we are to seek the prosperity of all our citizens and like Jesus we are to seek that God’s will be done on earth as in heaven.

May God give us wisdom, understanding and insight to this end.

Steve Francis
Moderator 

First Post of 2017: Core Values, Strategic Plans and our 40th Anniversary

This is my first update on our blog for 2017, and I hope that everyone has had a great and joyous start to the year.  

For the past couple of months, I have been working with several people on developing a Strategic Plan for the Synod of Western Australia. Interestingly, a similar exercise has been taking place in the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia. The Assembly also collated a list of the Strategic Plans of the other Synods (which saved us from having to undertake that work ourselves).

The results of all the work so far is revealing: possibly because we are referencing the same or similar source documents and almost certainly because, as a Christian community across Australia, we have a common bond of faith, a desire to be an embracing community and a concern for the oppressed.

Our common source documents are the Bible, The Basis of Union, the Constitution, and the Declaration to the Nation made in the founding of this movement which is the Uniting Church in Australia. The Assembly also conducted a nationwide survey on perceptions of the Uniting Church, an understanding of its responsibilities and a review of its strengths and weaknesses. 

From all of this background we have provisionally identified the following as our Core Values.

CORE VALUES

  1. To follow Jesus through life, death and resurrection;
  2. Being community which safely embraces people beyond gender, cultural, economic, national and racial boundaries;
  3. To act with God alongside the oppressed, the hurting and the poor;
  4. To encourage wisdom and faithfulness in the use of the finite resources of the earth;
  5. To exercise wisdom and faithfulness in the use of God-given gifts, talents and skills; and
  6. To live a creative, adventurous life of faith, characterised by openness, flexibility, hope and joy.

Following Jesus is at the core of our being. It is for this reason that we gather and move forward as a pilgrim community, joined together on this journey through life, death and resurrection.

We are also a community which values the life and faith which we share. We are not bound by the things which so easily divide us in the secular sense. In our journey we support each other, encourage one another and lead one another.

But our focus is not on us alone. We also have concerns for the oppressed, the hurting and the poor. And we seek to be wise stewards of the earth’s resources.

In our journey we also recognise that we each have different gifts. No man is an island, and we seek to use our individual gifts, talents and skills to serve God, each other and the world with all wisdom and faithfulness.

CELEBRATING OUR 40TH ANNIVERSARY

Finally, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Uniting Church in Australia this year, we reflect on the 40 year journey of the pilgrim people of God from Egypt to the Promised Land. That journey was often hard, frequently troublesome and spiced with conflict within and without.

We do not want our journey as the Uniting Church in Western Australia to be like that – core to our being is that we will be creative and adventurous in our life of faith, always open with each other, flexible in circumstances and full of hope and joy!

In my next post, I will share our provisional mission statement.

Rev David de Kock
General Secretary

Monthly Mail February 2017

 

News and Notes February 2017

Perth Theological Hall Commencement Service

2017 Women’s Weekend Away flyer

Ecumenical and Inter-faith 2017 Awards flyer

Summer Spirit 2017 brochure and registration

First Third’s KCO NOW 2017 flyer

Good Samaritan Industries’ Newsletter

UnitingCare West News

About FACE – for more information contact Janine McDonald, First Third Officer at the Uniting Church WA, on 9260 9800 or email janine.mcdonald@wa.uca.org.au.

Uniting Church WA Election Resources