Mark Tibben recently attended our International Intensive training in New York

Here are his reflections.

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

In Mark 9, we meet a man whose son was horribly afflicted and oppressed by a demon. Jesus’ disciples who had been given supernatural authority to deal with this type of affliction were unable to cast the demon out this time. Strange. The disciples and the man were arguing about this situation.

I have often found myself relating to this man and his cry.

I’ve found myself here, arguing with myself, thinking about Gospel change in Wyndham, and about planting churches—what will it take? I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief!

What does it take to plant a church?

That was the question at the heart of the International Church Planting Intensive I attended in New York in September.

The great cities of the world are in City to City’s sights. A global church planting organisation and movement, City to City want to see global cities impacted with the gospel. These highly urbanised, and often secular cities are the culture generators of the world. Christians need to engage, speak into and influence cities for Jesus.

Starting out of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York, and particularly influenced by Tim Keller (who did his doctorate on ministry in global cities), City to City have been the primary resourcing and training organisation that myself, Andrew and Suburban have drawn from as we move towards a church plant.

Fourteen church planters and regional trainers from around the world came together. We represented five continents, and the group came from cities as disparate as Kigali, Rwanda; Álvaro, Portugal, Glasgow, Scotland; and Istanbul, Turkey.

Located in the City to City offices in Midtown Manhattan, we received great content and teaching from experienced trainers who have literally hundreds of years of church planting experience between them. Yes, Tim Keller led some sessions, but the real highlight was the diversity of voices teaching on a range of topics from contextualisation, core team dynamics and missional discipleship, to self-leadership, gospel spirituality and preaching.

Days were long. We left our apartment at 8:00am and often wouldn’t get home till 10:00pm. This was not only because of the formal teaching sessions, but because we received personal coaching times with City to City staff who willingly stayed in the office after hours to meet with us, and also because there was a wealth of experience and knowledge within the international contingent to mine.

The experience was not just intensive in terms of content; it was intensive in terms of relationship. Friendships were fast-tracked as we discussed, shared, argued, ate, drank, debriefed, laughed and cried with one another. It was a great blessing not just to network with planters and global trainers, but to call them friends.

A thing I love about City to City is a concept they call “Gospel Catholicity”. It’s the idea that one church can’t reach a city. In fact, not even one type of church can reach a city, nor a single denomination. We need various churches of various styles in various denominations and networks, striving together in the same direction for the cause of the gospel and the city.

It’s the vision we have for Wyndham and the Western Suburbs.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

So what does it take to plant a church?

It turns out it takes a great deal to plant a church in global cities like Melbourne. The failure rate is as high as small business and the dynamics of “startup” are not dissimilar.

But there is an aspect in which it is totally different. We can learn strategies, techniques and philosophies of church planting—and trust me, we have. We can always strive to be better, more professional, sharper operators—and trust me, we will. We can also be called, trained, released and “given authority” just like Jesus’ disciples in Mark 9—but the demon will just not come out! We want to see lives changed, the kingdom come, the church grown, but the evil will just not flee.

Why?

Because the business the local church is in is the business of changed hearts and lives.

It’s not just tough—it’s impossible. We can’t bring to an end the oppression and affliction in someone’s life.

But we can bring them to someone who can: Jesus, the great Saviour of the world.

I’ve learnt a great deal over the last months about the dynamics of church planting, and I’m extremely grateful, but most importantly I’ve been reminded about returning to the source of all power, freedom and truth.

Pray, church! That the kingdom will come, that His will is done.

There is no other way.

The Handmaid's Tale

I am really enjoying watching the second series of The Handmaid’s Tale, which if anything is even better than the first.

That might come as a surprise, since many reviewers have found it deeply critical of Christianity, whether Christian themselves or otherwise. But I would suggest that this is too thin a reading of the program.

The premise is fascinating and brilliant. For undisclosed reasons, the fertility rate of the human race declines dramatically, unable to be resolved using medical means. This represents an existential threat to the human race, which could possibly be removed from the face of the earth, unless …

And that is the point.

The ‘unless’ turns out to be ‘unless the government / state’ does something about it. And so the state intervenes, creating a system in which state coercive power - police, army, jail, death sentence - is harnessed to ensure that the maximum reproductive rate is achieved with those few - called Handmaids - who remain fertile.

What makes the premise so interesting is that it combines the most public and the most personal. The most personal in that the problem necessarily involves fundamental personal issues like parenthood, sexuality, and freedom. And at the same time, the most public, in the sense that nothing less than the survival of humanity is at stake. And the point is that there is no possible greater justification for state intervention into the personal lives of the population than the survival of humanity.

In other words, The Handmaids Tale is essentially cautionary - watch out for totalitarian state intervention when the stakes are high enough to seemingly justify it.

And it’s the totalitarianism that makes the skin crawl - the public executions, the arbitrary deprivation of freedom, the coerced surrogacy through ritualised rape, the absence of the rule of law and due process. Some of these depictions are deeply confronting, but I suspect that they are actually relatively tame in comparison with the reality which is endured under some tyrants in the world today.

This is the context in which to see the place of religion. That is, a totalitarian state will always use some form of religious ritual and language to justify - and deflect criticism of - its violent over-reach. The fascinating thing about the religious depictions in The Handmaid’s Tale is that no one believes the religion, it is just a series of tests of conformity to the state program. Or, as the Bible would put it, a form of state sponsored idolatry.

Which is why I’d suggest in the end, The Handmaid’s Tale - perhaps ironically - actually presents a deeply Christian vision, as I say, a cautionary tale, of the horrors of totalitarianism and its use of idolatrous forms of self-justification.

The question that the program should prompt for us is this: are there any current real-world existential threats to the human race, which could form the basis for justifying a totalitarian response? Because, what the Handmaid’s tale is showing us in grim detail is the nightmare of the violence of the state turned against its own people, even in the name of survival.

Launch of Southern Beaches Anglican Church, Tasmania

Sothern Beaches Anglican Church launched in February 2018 in partnership with City to City Australia, Soma Australia and the Bush Church aid Society.

Since then, SBAC Tasmania has been meeting weekly at the local school with an average of 42 adults and 8 children. During this short time, Jamie and his wife Claire have already seen lives transformed by the Gospel.

SBA’s Vision is to be a church for the southern beaches, making disciples of Jesus. Firstly: We want to listen to the community and serve the community. It is our vision to be a church that the community looks to as a place of positive cultural change. Secondly: it is our vision to make disciples who make disciples. Multiplying is the key of what we do because we want a city where everyone knows Jesus.

The vision statement tells the story of what this church plant is praying: “Love like family, live like missionaries, making disciples as servants of Jesus Christ”. Please pray this prayer with them.

You can check out their launch video here.

That ball tampering incident in South Africa.

It has been fascinating watching the ebb and flow of responses to the ball tampering incident in South Africa. (For those who have been in a media blackout or bushwalking in deepest darkest somewhere, a conspiracy involving the coach, captain, vice captain and a young, new member of the Australian cricket team were caught on camera, and through subsequent confession and investigation, cheating by attempting to alter the condition of a cricket ball.)

The response has been remarkable - outrage, letters pouring into the Australian Cricket Board demanding pretty much everyone’s heads roll, former captains and players opining, and the Prime Minister weighing in with significant finger wagging, whilst acknowledging that the members of the test cricket team are held in far higher regard than politicians!

Social and paid media commentary has been blanket level, and has see-sawed between initial contemptuous condemnation in the first day or two, to ‘chill out’ in the last couple of days.

It’s a microcosm of the moral confusion of our culture. Five observations / reflections.

First, it was wrong. Of course it was wrong, and cheating at cricket, whilst one of the smaller wrongs currently being perpetrated in our world, is a wrong.

2. The shrill self righteousness of much of the response has been ear-piercing. Journos - paid and self-appointed - were falling over themselves to raise the stakes as to the punishment - stand them down, sack them for a long time, sack them for ever! BURN THEIR BAGGY GREENS (I made that one up!) The moralising, judgmental, graceless, rigidity of the response is impossible to miss. Which leads to the third response.

3. Why? Why so over the top. My 2 cents worth. We live in a culture of crushing and confusing moral ambiguity. We aren't even sure about the rights and wrongs of having rights and wrongs in our lives. We don’t tell other people how to live, we never even think about telling other people’s kids how to live, and watch out if someone tells us how to live. In real life there are no heroes and villains. That’s one of the reasons why we watch the TV shows and movies we do - because we love it when there are. And so when a real life villain appears - a cheat, at cricket no less - then the touch paper of moral certainty is suddenly lit! At last, something to be clear about! But of course, there’s more to it than that.

4. You see, at the same time, there are plenty of moral rules we must not transgress. One of the most obvious is the necessity to ‘save the planet’. But for almost all of these rules, we find ourselves as villainous as heroic. My carbon footprint is not that much smaller than most, and at the same time, not that much bigger than my most ardently green friends. I’m half villain and half hero - well maybe less than half the latter. As a society, we are deeply uncertain about our own cultural righteousness. And so I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that part of the outrage is projection of our own half-guilty conscience, a form of atonement called scape-goating. At last I know I’m right, because I join the throng condemning the guilty.

5. Finally, for me one the the most curious things is that, on the whole, Christians have made an almost indistinguishable - and undistinguished - contribution. They have followed almost exactly these same contours (with the notable exception of Mike Baird’s post, and similarly Cricket with Miles). We have a different operating system at work - the grace of God which as appeared - and yet we seem unable to bring its resources to bear in the hurly-burly of real world issues. We know that we are ‘saved by grace’; we just don’t know how to apply that mode to this moment.

Which is a shame. This incident could have provided terrific opportunity, especially directly before Easter, to ask probing questions, both publicly and privately, that exposed some of the graceless dynamics at play here. But only if we actually knew the gospel well enough to have something different to say. Because beyond self righteous moralism on the one hand, and permissive ‘chill out’ on the other, there really is a third way to live, the way of grace in Christ.

Andrew

PS. Our conference, Saturate the City will include a focus on exactly the kind of gospel fluency that is needed in these moments.

Launch of Seed Church, Melbourne

Seed Church launched on the 21st January 2018 with the mission 'to make disciples who make disciples'.

Church Planter, Nat Clarke preached on Matt 13 and the Parable of the Mustard Seed. He spoke about "why we are called 'Seed Church'.  We want our church to be like the Kingdom/Mustard Seed:- it starts small and insignificant, but it grows steadily, quietly, but powerfully. It's a beautiful image of God's humble and multiplying ways, where small is big and slow is fast".

There were approximately 40 people at Balwyn Gospel Chapel and the team are thankful for God's provision of a building and welcoming elders. Please pray for Nat and the team as they:

  • continue to figure out what it looks like to be a team of missionaries sent to Melbourne and living out their identity as a family of missionaries making disciples;
  • thank Jesus for the amazing opportunity they have to serve him and for CVAT (Christian Community Churches); and
  • love that they are a part of what Tim Keller would describe as the 'R & D' department of the body of Christ. These are challenging times, but God is faithful!

Seed Church Melbourne is launching!

At 4pm this Sunday Seed Church Melbourne is officially launching!

Led by affiliated planter Nat Clarke, Seed Church has the mission 'to make disciples who make disciples'. It's their conviction that we need to get back to the basics of being disciples of Jesus. Not following some new program or way of doing church, but living out our identity as God’s people: a family of missionary servants making disciples. To that end they structure their church around Missional Communities, communities that love like family, serve like Jesus and live like missionaries.

Event Details:

Sunday 21 January 2018
4:00pm
Seed Church Melbourne
Balwyn Gospel Chapel
2 Leonard St, Deepdene VIC

Visit the Seed Church Melbourne website to find out more.

 

The Benedict Option: Book Review

The Benedict Option is a deeply disappointing book.

There are two reasons for that. First, it promises a lot, nothing less than a diagnosis of contemporary culture, and a prescription for Christian health, both individually and corporately. Delivering on that promise would be enormously helpful! Second, it has received wildly positive reviews in some quarters, most recently by Steve MacAlpine (whose blog article I will look at in a separate post) who suggested it might be the Christian book of the year for 2017!

I’m far from convinced.

The title expresses the central thesis of the book - that we have entered a new phase in cultural history (“darkening days … a time of decision”), that requires a new approach to discipleship, one that appropriates the monasticism of Benedictine for a modern age, adopting a lay equivalent of a “rule for living”. The first chapter lays out the texture of this cultural crisis, the second its history, the third the Benedictine alternative, and then the following 7 chapters spell out what that might look like in the 21st century.

It’s all sadly unconvincing.

The first chapter, ‘The great flood’, seeks to make the case that the depravity of the culture has reached a saturation point where Christians have little option but to “stop fighting the flood … and to build an ark in which to shelter until the water recedes”. Drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, the claim is made that we have entered a period of barbarism, where “Our scientists, our judges, our princes, our scholars, and our scribes - they are at work demolishing the faith, the family, gender, even what it means to be human”. Although there is a note of mission, (“be for the world as Christ meant us to be”), it is overwhelmed by the negativity, alarmism and separatism of the metaphor (“we are going to have to spend more time away from the world, in deep prayer and substantial spiritual training”).

With the help of Charles Taylor, the second chapter lays out an intellectual history of the problem, running through the late middle ages, renaissance and reformation, enlightenment, and industrial and sexual revolutions. The third chapter lays out the detail of life in the Monastery of St Benedict in Norcia, Italy, and the intent behind them.

This all seems to me to be a lament for Christendom, in which Dreher is so immersed that he doesn’t even realise it. What Dreher describes is new for the USA, or at least some parts of the USA, but is business as usual for us in Australia. It’s not a flood, just a standard change in the weather. Some scientists judges princes etc do use their professional power for what we might call culturally destructive outcomes, but others don’t. The sense of conspiracy and catastrophe is palpable.

Its also one-sided.

What Dreher doesn’t mention is the benefits of our current cultural situation (see for example, the stimulating Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The origins of Western Liberalism, on human rights); nor the theological roots of it. In his book Preaching, Tim Keller does a much better job of understanding and appropriating Charles Taylor. For example, he comments that the turn inwards to expressive individualism, which is so characteristic of our age, and which lies behind the sexual revolution and especially the LGBTI+ movement, is actually a product of Christian teaching - namely, that the core of a human being is the heart, not social status or role, not family or nation, not social expectation or conformity. It is out of the heart that sin - and faith, and holiness of life - proceed, and Jesus taught us that. And it is this duality - both the cultural decline and the cultural connection (or what is called common grace) that marks this moment as one for even more hopeful, as well as cunning, mission; not for panic and withdrawal.

Because being spooked is characteristic of Dreher’s project.

The chapter on a new kind of politics (ch 4) is especially strange to Australian ears, since it would never occur to most of us to think that “we could turn back the tide of aggressive 1960’s liberalism by voting for conservative Republicans” (or their local equivalent). Politics will only ever follow culture, not lead it. And if the political diagnosis is strange, the prescription - fight for religious freedom - is even stranger in a book which calls for a “radical new way of doing politics”.

Chapter 5 (“A church for all seasons”) is even shriller. The call is to “change your ways”, stop “being normal”. How? By “rediscovering the past, recovering liturgical worship and asceticism, centering our lives on the church community and tightening church discipline”, each of which then form a section of the chapter. This is all completely pedestrian. Similarly, the chapter on the idea of a Christian village enjoins us to turn our home into a “domestic monastery”, make sure your kids have a good peer group, and live close to other members of the church, because “church can’t just be the place you go on Sunday’s - it must become the centre of your life”, after which the Mormons are held up as a model of community living! It’s all a bit strange, even disturbing, and reflects an overdone, and essentially Roman Catholic ecclesiology, which ultimately runs the risk of entering on the church and de-centering Christ.

The focus on education (ch 7) naturally follows, along with the call that “it is time for all Christians to pull their children out of the public school system”, and turn to homeschooling, or start their own schools. What’s interesting is that the curriculum is to be classical Western Great Books based, because “Christianity emerged from the confluence of Hebrew religion, Greek philosophy and Roman law”. Mmmm, not quite sure about that!

The final three chapters - on work (Christians may have to do more manual, blue collar jobs because of conscience, but that’s OK, because work like that assists the “integration of body and soul”), on sex (which again, hankers for a pre-modern imagination in which “sex was filled with cosmic meaning” and calls for a fight on pornography as well as urging parents to take up more fully their responsibilities for the sex education of their kids) and technology (watch out for the internet, practice digital fasting and take smartphones away from kids, as though prohibition was ever the way towards maturity), rehearse the same themes.

The relentless fearfulness and hopelessness is the strangest, and most disappointing, thing. Yes, there are particular and pressing challenges to living in late modernity; yes, they impact on all the points at which culture and family intersect; but no, the Christian way has never been to either try to take over the culture through political power (the strategy that lies in the background of The Benedict Option) or to withdraw. It’s hard to “live such honourable lives among the pagans” when you’ve left the world behind, but that is always our calling.

Years ago a friend introduced me to the poem Said Hanrahan, a fabulous piece of Australian bush poetry by John O’Brien (the pen name of Roman Catholic priest, Patrick Joseph Hartigan). It is absolutely worth a read. It perfectly sums up the mood of The Benedict Option. We can do better.

Andrew Katay

(Originally published on Andrew Katay's Facebook page)

Associate Pastor for CityReach Oakden Adelaide

CityReach Oaken in Adelaide have a new position opening for an Associate Pastor – Real Life Groups and Newcomers.

CityReach exists to bring glory to God and Joy to the city by planting churches that make disciples who live out their new identity through community on mission.

The Associate Pastor of Real Life Groups and Newcomers will be passionate about seeing new people connect into the life of CityReach and grow in their faith towards maturity as a disciple of Jesus.

This person will have a genuine passion to develop a network of gospel centred communities that disciple our people to live out their new identity through community on mission, they will:

  • Support and champion the Reach 10 vision of the church
  • Lead, build and equip the CityReach small group ministry, which currently has approximately 26 small groups and needs to expand to meet the needs of the congregation.
  • Create, champion and lead the newcomer integration strategies of CityReach including the Starting Point ministry and follow up of visitors and new members.  

To enquire about the position, contact Nathan Webster at CityReach by email NathanW@CityReach.com.au or by phone on (08) 8369 1000.

International Intensive in New York City

Church planters from around the globe gathered in New York City in October this year for the International Intensive, City to City's training program for those starting churches in global cities.

This year City to City Australia sent Lawson and Marella Hannaford from Adelaide to take part and join with the other 22 participants from countries including Lebanon, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Kenya, Uganda, Scotland, Czech Republic and Italy.

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"Redeemer Presbyterian hosted the intensive at their shared offices with Redeemer City to City downtown on Manhattan Island. We were joined by church planters and their wives from all over the world including Africa, Europe, South and North America and the Middle East. My wife and I were so encouraged to see people with hearts for gospel movements across the world, held together by unity in Christ and passion to reach our cities through church planting. The intensive is magnified by its location in New York which seems like every culture and city in the world has come to live in one place, so you really begin to get the idea of how God loves cities and wants us to reach cities with news of His Son. We were also blown away by the quality of the training and the trainers, this truly is world class and yet emphasising that we take the gospel seriously in our own lives before we take it to the world. What a blessing! We are truly thankful to Christ and City to City for our time at the 2017 International Intensive."

– Lawson and Marella Hannaford. Planting in Adelaide, South Australia

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2017 also marks ten years since City to City's first International Intensive. When the training first began in 2007, no curriculum existed, and there was simply no easy way to get the training out into the field. So Al Barth, Vice President Global Catalyst at Redeemer City to City, had the idea to bring the global church planters to NYC. CTC would give them key ideas to help equip them to plant and sustain urban churches.

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Today, the Intensive consists of both off-site learning elements and classroom sessions led by Tim Keller, CTC staff and various New York City church planters. Mark Reynolds, Vice President Operations & Leadership Programs at Redeemer City to City says, “The Intensive is something we’ve continued to prioritize because of the impact it has had in the lives of these church planters—both on a personal level and in the kinds of churches they are planting.”