On this coming Sunday morning, February 13th, a new local church is being birthed on the northside of the sunshine state’s capital, Brisbane. Grace Church is the result of much prayer, thinking, hard work, and above all, God’s perfect will and timing.
But for some who have been keeping an eye on the statistics describing the Australian religious scenario over the last few years, it may sound counterintuitive to discuss the need to start new local churches. With a constantly increasing number of Australians claiming to be irreligious, with more and more churches closing their doors only to see their buildings become entertainment venues or something else, isn’t such an initiative bound to fail? One thinking according to the flesh would probably feel tempted to ask, “why open an ice-cream shop when people are eating less and less ice cream?”
Looking on the surface, such questions make sense, but obviously, I haven’t decided to write an article about church planting to tell people they shouldn’t be thinking about planting churches. The very opposite is true in this case. I believe Australia is currently a fertile ground for new faithful churches. I believe that if, in their hearts, congregations aspire to be nothing else but a gathering of people that are faithful to Jesus and his word, who are hungry to worship the Father in spirit and in truth, who are eager to see the lost come home instead of being interested in playing the political games and feeding the entertainment cravings of carnal believers, those churches will see people flock to them.
For church planters out there and for those, like me, who have been thinking about planting a church for a while now, I would like to encourage you to pray and think seriously if this could not, perhaps, be the season for God to use you to establish a new faith community in Australia for his glory and the glory of his Christ.
But maybe you are wondering ‘why in the world is this guy saying all of this? What is he seeing?’ I am saying all of this because I firmly believe we certainly have some serious unexpected and expected challenges ahead of us as the church of Jesus Christ in Australia. In addition to that, I also believe that church planting may well come to play an important part in overcoming some of those challenges for at least two reasons (the second reason will be explored in a future article).
A Leadership Crisis and the Reshuffle Inside
Last week, an article published by the US-based media channel, Daily Wire, entitled “How the Federal Government used evangelical leaders to spread Covid propaganda to churches” sent shockwaves through much of the evangelical world. Whilst many may feel tempted to describe the above as an American phenomenon, websites and blogs such as Eternity News (see here and here) and The Gospel Coalition Australia are but a couple of examples that clearly display the influence of the American propaganda machine Down Under.
I have previously written at length about the failure of the evangelical leadership in the face of this pandemic so it is not my intention to repeat myself, but it is important to point out that we are only starting to witness the effects of such catastrophic leadership in times of crisis.
In October last year, Caldron Pool published the results of a survey conducted among Australians designed to find out how people’s lives were being affected by the pandemic and what they were thinking about it all. Among the many issues addressed, the issue of vaccine passports produced some interesting results, and I quote:
When asked their opinion of a church which divides its fellowship based on vaccination, 25% of vaccinated survey respondents expressed that this would be right; 16% because churches should be “Covid safe” and 9% because churches should obey government rulings. On the other hand, 65% of vaccinated individuals believed that division would be wrong, and more than one third (35%) said it would undermine gospel unity and cause them to lose confidence in the church’s leadership. Of those who are not intending to be vaccinated, 80% said it would cause them to lose confidence in leadership.
When you take those results above and put it against the backdrop of the general apathetic, if not warm, reaction of evangelical leaders towards vaccine mandates for church attendance, you can, with a small amount of discernment, know this situation is a timing bomb.
Take the Ezekiel Declaration for example, which was penned by three Queensland Baptist Pastors and signed by around 30K Christians from all over the country. Through an official media release, the Baptist leadership in Queensland not only declared that they didn’t endorse the declaration, but they also ended up, perhaps unintentionally by completely distancing themselves from it, sidelining not only those three pastors but also around seven hundred other members of their own churches who also signed the declaration. This is quite remarkable since Queensland Baptists was the largest denominational body represented by the individuals who signed the Ezekiel Declaration. Being a Baptist pastor myself and one who loves my association and the people in it, this grieves me profoundly.
But the Baptists were not alone in that. Quite the opposite. It has been hard to find church leaders responding to many of the current challenges with a solid biblical understanding stemming from a robust theology, especially ecclesiology.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege to participate in an event called “Obey him”–videos from speakers here– and the single most asked question people threw at me in the one-on-one conversations I had after the event was “where has the church been all this time?”
It is clear that the tide is now turning, and, with that, some important voices are starting to show a change of heart, but I am still not convinced this is the full-blown contrition that is needed to keep this clear crack from becoming an irreparable fracture. I am praying, but I am not sure if many will ever get to that point. Whilst division is never something Christians should seek or desire, the history of the church has proven this is sometimes inevitable and, perhaps, in some cases, even necessary, as the apostle Paul himself states in 1 Corinthians 11:18-19.
New faithful churches are needed, that’s a fact. There’s a huge demand for them. Caldron Pool, for example, has been receiving constant messages from genuine believers seeking a place to worship the Lord without any hindrances and according to his word. Moments of trial like this might make it look like church leaders were caught off guard and didn’t have much time to think, but I dare say this is not true in most cases. The major response coming from pulpits about all things Coronavirus wasn’t a momentary lapse. Church leaders were not forced to become what they were not, but they were rather tested by the Lord and their basic default was exposed for all to see. As a fellow Caldron Pool writer stated in the title of one of his articles: “The church weighed, measured, and found wanting”
I long for healing and restoration. I really do, but I think the path ahead of us is not a short one. A big internal reshuffle in the ecclesiastical world has already begun whether we like it or not, and, I believe, this trend will continue for the next little while. Now is the time to plant faithful biblical churches to provide options for many who are seeking a faithful church family to worship the Lord.
Church planter, is the Lord perhaps calling you to the task? Is the Lord, once again, looking at his sheep and having compassion on them because they are feeling lost like sheep without a shepherd? The Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of the sheep will always provide for his flock and, much of that, he does so through the under-shepherds he calls and gifts to his church.
There is much work to do, fellow shepherds and planters. Whilst we wait for the Lord to deal, hopefully in kindness and gentleness, with those who betrayed their calling by compromising in the face of adversity or by simply cowering in the corner, waiting for the storm to pass, others need to step up and take on the job of caring for those who are hurt, confuse, and feeling lost.
Is it with you that the Lord is speaking today? Can you hear his invitation? If you can hear his calling, if you feel strangely bothered by the scenario described above and wish to do something about it, maybe it is time to start praying more intentionally to the Lord about that and then, maybe start taking some intentional steps towards the path Jesus might be placing in front of you.