I was privileged to have the great David Bosch as my professor of missiology. He had just published his book “Transforming Mission” in which he points out all the wrong ways in which we have done mission and how we somehow find our way back. In part, he explains that “the church apparently needs a crisis in order to become more fully alive.”
I remember a time at a student retreat in Hammanskraal when he spoke about this, and I particularly remember him telling us around the braai (BBQ, for the Aussies) on Saturday evening that the Japanese characters for ‘crisis’ were a combination of the characters for “danger” and ‘opportunity’ (危機).
At that retreat we had two Jewish socialites who were doing some theology courses to pass the time in their apparently boring lives. On Sunday morning when we gathered for Communion, those two ladies had gone out into the bush in the early morning to gather wild flowers and grasses with which they had beautifully decorated the chapel. They spoke at that service – in which they took communion for the first time – of the profound impact that this idea had on them where crisis was both danger and opportunity. They had sat up all night talking with each other and by daybreak they had realised that their lives were in a crisis, not going anywhere, and that they needed to do something about it. They took the plunge and made a choice to follow Jesus, accepting the salvation He offered, acknowledging Him as Lord of their life and committed themselves to follow His teaching.
We are in a crisis in the church today. We are at the space between the danger of insignificance and the opportunity to be the church that Jesus wants us to be. To do nothing is to sink into that insignificance. But this is also an opportunity to become more fully alive. We need to reshape many things if we are to rise to the challenges of a disinterested people, aging congregations and financial limitations. We need to be clear about who we are and where we are going.
I have been meeting with Cheryl Edwardes, a former Attorney-General for Western Australia and Minister for the Environment. In her role as Senior Advisor, Strategic Communications, at FTI Consulting, she will lead a workshop for the General Council and Resources Board together with chairs of our various committees. In a nutshell, we are asking her to help us to face up to our crisis and give us the tools to find a way forward. I have enjoyed working with her because as a member of the Church she understands exactly what the crisis is. She also knows that she doesn’t have the answers.
A significant part of our crisis is that we think we have the answers but don’t actually know what the problem is. I have met with a number of congregations recently who for various reasons find themselves in a crisis. They don’t understand why, they are doing all the right things but nothing happens. They have tried new programs and approaches but nothing has happened. They just get tired and as members pass on, they become fewer and poorer. That’s not their dream, it’s not God’s plan either. In our conversations I have found that the “they” is confined to a small leadership group and that the congregation at large (even though quite small) is quite unaware of the crisis. I have challenged each of these congregations to share the crisis, to explain that they don’t have enough money to pay the minister, and to be open about everything.
It is in facing the crisis that we may well find the opportunity by discovering God’s intention.
Rev David de Kock
General Secretary, Uniting Church WA