Giving thanks!

Grumbling. It’s in vogue right now. It seems that many people, particularly in developed nations, have got a grumble about something or someone. Don’t believe me? Turn on the TV, read the comments section of Youtube, listen to how people on their lunch break talk about others. We’re a pretty restless and discontented people.

But Christians are meant to be different. Those who follow Jesus Christ have much to be thankful for. In a personal relationship with our Creator, we have a way of seeing things in the bigger perspective of life and eternity. We know that God is working to a good plan. We know he blesses us in so many ways. We know he’ll bring justice and healing to this world. And we know his grace and love, because they’ve been proven at the cross of Jesus.

We know that there are more and better reasons to be thankful than to be grumbling. Which is why in many places in the Bible we are encouraged to be thankful:

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18)

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever!” (Psalm 136:1)

“Do everything without grumbling or complaining so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky” (Philippians 2:13-14)

During the month of September, our church tried something different. We called it “30 Days of Thankfulness”. We spent a whole month trying to focus on things we can be thankful for. Every Sunday we heard from 3 people who spoke from the front of church about what they are thankful for. We heard stories about passed loved ones, the joy of family, the privileges of being in the church, and the life-changing reality of the gospel. We even heard a Trinitarian hymn sung in Samoan! There were smiles, tears, and nods of the head. It was a joy.

We also provided laminated cards on the wall of the church so that people could write down what they’re thankful for, for all to see.

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Here are some of the things that were written down:

“Salvation through Jesus Christ”

“The lovely friends and families that you have given us XOXO”

“Our church and Matt and all the elders that run the church!”

“The man who led me to Jesus”

“My cat”

“Our Samoan friends”

“KATIE!” [note: Katie is our hard-working pastoral assistant who blesses our church in so many ways]

“Access to the Bible and literacy – things many others don’t have”

“The friend who walked in when others walked out!”

“John 3:16”

“Yummy food”

“Free Wi-Fi”

“The loving Lord & the love of the Christian community”

“Matt and his Bible-based preaching”

“Our children and the fun times we have with them”

“Scottie T” [note: Scott is a musician in our church and an all-round great bloke]

“My family, friends, the beauty of God’s creations and the gifts he continues to give me daily”

There were also many other things written down or shared that I haven’t mentioned.

The bottom line is this whole month was a huge blessing to our church and a reminder that we actually have so much to be thankful for.

Our prayer is that you don’t stop thinking of reasons to be thankful! Every day, look around you and you’ll see things to be thankful for. And don’t just focus on the good gifts of life – look up to your loving gift-giver!

 

Soli Deo gloria.

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Reasons people don’t go to church (part 2)

Nearly 18 months ago I began grappling with reasons why most (around 90%) of Australians don’t go to church. I settled on 13 key reasons why I think this is the case. Here’s where you can find the first 7 reasons. Below are the other 6.

Again, I want to clarify that I’m not trying to judge people who don’t go to church. I am trying to think hard and wide about why they don’t. And I’m not trying to be negative about the church either. I love the church. I love my church. And I’d love to think how the church can respond to the challenges it faces. I’ll get to that in a future post. But here are the final reasons I offer. Make of them what you will:

  1. IT’S OFFENSIVE

There are many churches which have watered down the radical claims of the Bible to accommodate contemporary hang-ups about Christianity. These churches go to great efforts to attract people with a very warm and ‘positive’ message that is careful not to offend.

But it’s hard to avoid the fact that the average person who lives in our post-enlightenment, post-modern world, will find many biblical teachings offensive.

The Bible teaches that all people are sinful and under the condemnation of God. It teaches that trusting and following Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. Lying, fornicating, lusting, adultery, greed, and gay sex are sinful. Hell is real. God’s in charge, and you’re not.

Offended yet? Many people are. That’s one reason they don’t go to church.

  1. A CROWDED MARKETPLACE

The world is a very connected, global community where a huge variety of ideas are shared and believed. Nearly every idea imaginable is on the menu now. There are all the religious options – Catholicism, varieties of Protestantism, Mormonism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and a fistful of Eastern religious/philosophical systems. There are also many political views, and views about what ‘the good life’ looks like.

It’s all there. It’s legion. And in the middle of this marketplace of ideas is a group that believes a Palestinian Jewish Rabbi died, was raised to life, and now rules over the world from the heavenly realms. That’s all fine. But what about all these other ideas?

I’m not saying that Christianity isn’t rational. It’s just that the church is trying to communicate some big, complicated stuff in a massive marketplace of ideas. The product, in my view, is good. But the market is flooded.

  1. MAJORITY RULES

A few years back my wife and I were looking for a nice Indian restaurant in West End, Brisbane. We found two. One was dead empty, even though they were open and the lights were on. The other was 75% full. We went there. Why? Because seeing how many people had made the choice to eat there suggested to us that while we didn’t really know much about either restaurant, this busier one must be a little better. Maybe a lot better.

When it comes to church, most people don’t know many (or any) people who regularly go to church. It’s just not a ‘restaurant’ that they or anyone they know ‘eats at.’ But the all-pervasive individualistic pursuit of happiness and prosperity is something their friends are into. That restaurant is packed.

They see the church, with its hymns and rules and expectations. It meets on a Sunday morning – a time when they’re not very cognizant. And it’s just not attractive.

But there’s a coffee shop just down the road that’s open on a Sunday morning.

Let’s eat there, honey.

  1. ANTI-SCIENCE THINKING

Science is amazing. It’s a search for the truth of the physical universe. And Christians should be people who love and hunger for truth, wherever it is. But that’s not how some Christians think.

I know that science (like most things in this world) is influenced by all sorts of societal, political, and financial pressures. But sometimes there seems to be a wholesale rejection of anything that comes out of the mouths of scientists. It’s a kind of grand conspiracy theory – as if the scientific establishment is trying to pull the wool over our eyes and lead us to child sacrifice and devil worship.

Ironically, when these same Christians who are hyper-sceptical about science get sick, they turn to medical science very quickly.

If the church is even remotely anti-science, most educated, thinking people in the West are simply going to shake their head and laugh.

  1. HONESTY

That’s right. One reason people don’t go to church is honesty.

What I mean is, once upon a time here in Australia lots of people went to church because they felt it was the ‘right thing to do.’ They wanted to be seen as a good responsible person, and that was once associated with church attendance.

But not anymore.

Declining church numbers in the West is partly the result of people realizing that you can be a pretty decent person without going to church. And if you really don’t believe in resurrections and angels and Holy Spirits, it’s probably a good idea to not pretend you do. Hence, many people who don’t attend church are simply being honest. They don’t believe it. So they won’t act like they do.

  1. ME

One reason I’m pretty sure that a few people don’t go to church is actually . . . me.  Since I became a Christian in my late teens I have said and done some pretty stupid stuff. Offensive, ignorant, insensitive stuff. Not to deliberately annoy people or put them off. But I did.

On the off-chance you’re one of those people, I’m sorry. Really.

I need to do some deep reflection on myself and my life. I need to daily focus on Jesus, who is my life-giving Lord. He’s my master and my model. I need God’s grace and help to be more like him, and less like the insensitive buffoon I have often been.

And all Christians need to examine themselves along these lines. We need to be realistic about ourselves. The reason that some people don’t go to church is simply that they’ve known a ‘Christian’ who was really unpleasant or rude or uncaring in some way.

Often the reasons for dwindling church attendance is not ‘out there’, but within the church itself. Within us. Within me.

Let’s pray that God shakes up his church moves us to a confidently humble faith that is equipped to face the complex challenges of our time. Pray that we’ll not compromise on the truth, but live as authentic communities of redeemed sinners who are learning what it means to follow our loving, living Lord.

Let’s pray that the church will get better at proclaiming the good news about Jesus. And let’s pray that by the Holy Spirit’s power working through his people and their gospel witness, that our churches fill up. Let’s pray these tired buildings will be packed to the brim.

 

Grace and peace,

Pastor Matt

Reasons people don’t go to church (part 1)

The number of people regularly attending church in Australia is declining. On any given Sunday somewhere between 7-10% of the population attends church. Have you ever wondered why this figure is so low? Why don’t more people go to church?

As with most things in today’s world the answer is probably quite complex. There are a number of reasons, and combinations of reasons, why people don’t attend church. I thought it might be a helpful exercise to briefly sketch out a few of them.

I want to clarify that I’m not trying to judge those who don’t go to church. I want to understand their reasons for being part of the 90+% who don’t have much to do with church. I genuinely want to understand where they’re coming from. And I’m not trying to be negative about the church either. I love the church. Perhaps in future posts we can explore these issues and consider what the church can do to address them. Either way, it’s worth reflecting on.

Here are 7 reasons (in no particular order) why Aussies don’t go to church. I’ll give you 7 more reasons in a future post.

  1. IGNORANCE

The reality is that most people in Australia don’t know much about Christianity. They know a few things (gleaned from movies, books, and funerals), but really don’t know what the Bible’s all about. They don’t understand the doctrine of the Trinity. They don’t understand where Jesus really fits in to things, and why he matters.  They don’t know how the Old and New Testaments are meant to relate to each other. They are largely ignorant of most of the basics of Christianity. So why go to church when you don’t know anything about it?

Furthermore, few people in our society are friends with a Bible-believing, church-attending, Jesus-loving Christian. So they have little convenient access to information about Christianity and the church.

  1. WORLD WAR 1

As the social commentator Roy Williams points out, a key reason why many people don’t go to church is grounded in the experience of the First World War.

In the lead up to World War 1 most church leaders strongly supported the war. They prayed for the destruction of the enemy. They encouraged that men sign up and nobly fight for freedom.

When our ‘diggers’ came back, many of them had changed their views about church and the God they thought they believed in. After the horrors they’d seen – and knowing the church had supported it- the church lost any real moral authority in the minds of a lot of the men. They were hurt, confused, and jaded. So were their sons, and their sons after them.

  1. SCIENTISM

Scientism is essentially the belief that only scientifically-proven knowledge is worth believing. If you can prove something through an experiment, or via direct observation, it’s worth believing. Nothing else.

In a way this seems very appealing. Many of the great advances in medicine and technology are due to scientific inquiry. Science ‘works’.

So when people hear about ‘faith’ and ‘miracles’ and ‘divine revelation’, it all sounds a bit subjective and uncertain. You can cure polio with science. But what about ‘faith’? You can send a spacecraft to the edge of the Solar System with science. What about the church?

When your loved one has a broken arm, you don’t take them down to the local Anglican Church. You take them to hospital.

The present efficacy of the sciences seems to suggest that scientifically-derived knowledge is worth your time. And church? Scriptures? Sermons? Not so much.

  1. PROSPERITY

We have it so good here in Australia. This is one of the most prosperous nations in the world. Naturally, not all of us have it good – take aboriginal Australians for example. They experience disparate social and economic circumstances which are the consequence of past disadvantages forced upon them.

But overall Australia is generally a beautiful, free, safe, and prosperous place. It’s a place where you can put most of your deepest existential questions on permanent hiatus. It’s where you can enjoy most of the best things that life has to offer. It’s the land of “she’ll be right, mate”.

When you live in heaven right now, why worry about a heaven above the clouds?

You can keep your pews, hymns, and collection plates – we’re doing just fine thanks very much.

  1. BAD PRESS

Turn on the TV and what do you hear? Nearly every day you hear the words “scandal” “abuse” and “church” all put together. They’re not talking about the Presbyterian Church of Australia – the denomination of which our church is a part. But people hear those words: “scandal” “abuse” and “church”. And an automatic word association forms.

People will drive past a church and in the back of their minds they’ll be putting those three words together: “scandal” “abuse”, “church”. It all sounds a bit risky. Dodgy.

Futhermore, our largely anti-religious media will often showcase the latest ‘scholar’ or author who will assert – with all the scholarly confidence one has when you’re not accountable to the actual facts of the matter – that Christianity is all bogus. It will be on Prime Time TV . . .. we’ve just worked it out: the Bible’s garbage, Jesus never existed, Jesus was married, Jesus was gay, Jesus was…. anything BUT what he himself claimed to be (the whole ‘Lord and Saviour’ thing).

If the word “church” or “Christianity” was a brand name, the manufacturer would have rebranded this product years ago. Bad press is one of most powerful factors undermining the influence of the church, and in destroying any semblance of moral or intellectual legitimacy in the eyes of many.

  1. BOREDOM

This one needs little explanation. We all know that people (including many professing Christians) think church is boring.

For far too long church has seemed like a dry, dull, dutiful thing. A place of serious faces, guilt trips, weird songs, and long droning sermons.

Who wants to be bored? No thanks.

  1. IT’S COMPLICATED

In our day and age, simplicity and convenience are paramount. If a restaurant, for example, is hard to locate, people will more likely choose equivalent options that are easier to find. That’s why McDonald’s is so successful. They make it as easy as possible. Their restaurants are easy to find. What they offer is easy to understand. Easy to order. Easy to eat. That’s how we like it.

So along comes Christianity. And like most religions or philosophical systems of thought, it’s a little complicated. Firstly, there’s all the doctrine – the Trinity, justification, sanctification, inerrancy, inspiration, adoption, ecclesiology, anthropology, and more.

Not to mention that when you get to church, usually there are  rules, traditions, rituals, expectations, unstated dress codes, strange buildings, long meetings, and a fist full of religious jargon.

There’s that. Or, a burger and fries.

We want things to be simple. And on the face of it, Christianity (and it’s “churchy” expressions) seems complex and difficult to understand.

That’s one reason most people shy away from it. They’d rather something easier to understand.

Big Mac anyone?

 

Growing a Christ-centered Community?

In addition to our formal ‘vision statement’, our church has a little motto which sums up what we’re on about:

“growing a Christ-centered community”

But what does that mean? It means a whole lot. But there are key three things intended by those few words:

1. It expresses what we are now. Though we’re not a big church and have plenty of areas to work on, by God’s grace we are already a church that seeks to put Jesus Christ at the centre of everything we say and do. It’s reflected in our church logo, our vision statement, our Sunday meetings, our Bible Study Groups, and our prayers. We are – despite our imperfections – a growing community of everyday people who have Christ in our midst!

2. It expresses what we prayerfully hope to be. As the Spirit works through our prayers and witness, we hope to be growing in every way into the future: growing in number, growing in love and fellowship, growing in discipleship, and growing in spiritual maturity.

3. It expresses what we want to see around us. As we grow and witness to the community around us in word and deed, we hope to see more people in the area come to know Christ as their King. Thus, we hope that our community – one heart at a time – would become more Christ-centered.

It’s a simple little statement that’s loaded with meaning! We pray that God would help us as we seek to be ‘growing a Christ-centered community’.

Matt (pastor)