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Monday, April 12, 2010

Connect '09 - Was God Listening?

Faithfulness brings its reward.

Recently, I was blessed to see the Lord our God at work in the lives of believers. But first, understand where I had to come from to experience that blessing.

My mind for a couple of years has been occupied with the buzz of promotional activities rallying the troops of Sydney Anglican Diocese toward Connect 09. The year 2008 saw encouragement after encouragement from organizers of Connect 09 to be praying and preparing for the big event the next year. This was to be the event crucial to getting 10% of the public within the region into bible believing churches by year 2012. That 10% were not to all enter those churches in 2009 but 2009 was the year the big connection was to be made from which would flow exponential growth in church numbers.

While unbelievers were celebrating the introduction of the New Year at 00:01am on January 1 2009 the organization team for Connect '09 were undoubtedly filled with excitement in anticipation of what the year would bring. Here was the largest evangelical Anglican Diocese in the universe about to, well, evangelize. But this was no ad hoc isolated exercise, it was to be a unified campaign where ideas would be shared. The Diocesan Newspaper would be the medium for encouraging parishes to adopt the initiatives of others. That same newspaper would carry constant motivational urgings from the Archbishop.

Well, year 2009 came and went but not without a flurry of activity albeit some parishes more active than others. Contacts were made, this cannot be denied. Some people who were not attending church decided to go to church. The name of the parish church was brought to the attention of many in the community. Added to that was presentation to many of the gospel according to Luke under the banner of "The Essential Jesus." Again, a lot would have read this and some motivated to inquire further. However, if it was not obvious beforehand, it became obvious in the latter part of year 2009 that the scale of response to Connect '09 was underwhelming - far below what was needed to predict achieving the target of 10% of the population in bible believing churches by year 2012. In the latter part of the year there emerged utterances urging continuation of Connect '09 into year 2010 and beyond. Read from that enthusiasm emanating from the success of Connect '09 or a statement that results lack fruit? I read the latter! It would be an error to confuse a flurry of activity with an ongoing connection of large numbers of people with the church.

Don't just take my observations. You can read the report on the effectiveness of Connect '09 in the latest edition of Southern Cross. I urge you to read beyond the soothing words which try to reach equilibrium between positives and negatives. Be in no doubt, there are unstated negatives.

Something presently is dreadfully wrong with the capacity of Sydney Anglican Diocese to impact the community with the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. There was prayer. There was a lot of prayer and it was directed to our Lord and God. Remember our Lord's words? - "I will build my church." (Matt. 16:18) Since the work is the Lord's work the obvious question is - "Was our Lord listening?"

I now want you to contrast that background with my recent experience of blessing.

I just happened to visit a church out of my area during its evening service. It was not Anglican. Upon arrival I noted the church building was small. It was one of those buildings which arose on the landscape of greater Sydney in a time when faith in our Lord was far more widespread in the community and each suburb was well represented by varying denominations. This building had served - how shall I say it? - a minor denomination and the dimensions of the building were sufficient for the cause. But, in year 2010, our Lord's church is, across the board, not as dominant as it was in days past. Many similar church buildings to this one had gone by the wayside, either demolished for development or sold and modified for other use by the new owner. What hope could I have for this little building or, more responsibly, the expected small body of believers who meet within it's walls? I soon found out.

Initial arrivals were elderly, about ten of them and each 60+ years of age and of Anglo-Saxon appearance. Signs were not good. Then a mixture of middle aged Asians along with more Anglo-Saxons of middle age and young Asian adults and young Anglo-Saxon adults. Then, finally, 20 to 30 teen to young adult Asians made their way into the building. Seating was almost fully occupied - I counted 56 late teens/adults in attendance. Despite this number, one elder of the church expressed to me later his disappointment that numbers were down on expectation because many students, who would normally be present, had examinations the next day and were 'cramming' for the exams. Only old hymns were sung and each with gusto - far more than most contemporary songs sung these days in Anglican churches. There was a buzz of life in this place. Why? The story is this:

A few years ago this was a dying church. The ten or so congregational members were elderly and the church was going to die with them. However, they had faith in our Lord and a desire to participate in the Great Commission (Matt. 28). Their meeting place is situated a few kilometres from a major university campus. The university is attended by many Asian students on temporary visas. This church decided to acquire a mini bus, advertise on campus the provision of free English lessons, a free meal and free transport to these benefits. There was a quick uptake to the offer. Students were also offered free transport to the Sunday services and this too was well received.

This was a missionary work because most students would be returning to China after completion of studies. Our Lord was at work here because, in the few years since commencement of the mission, there have been a minimum of 50 adult baptisms into our Lord Jesus Christ from within these citizens of largely atheistic China. I was not in a position to test the validity of conversions but discussions with congregational members during the after service supper convinced me they were able to discern a living faith.

This night of my visit was occasioned by a visiting speaker from Creation Ministries International - you know, those Biblical Creationists who, like Whitefield & Wesley a little more than two centuries ago, are refused entry to most Anglican Churches. Anyway, this little church, I learned later, had engaged Creation Ministries International speakers on previous occasions and had been delighted with the effect of the ministry.

On this night it was a long service, far longer than, in my experience, was acceptable. It went for two hours. The reason, it seems was that the church had requested showing of the film "Darwin - The Voyage That Shook The World" as well as a talk from the speaker and other aspects of a church service. Despite my reservations about the duration of the service the audience sat attentive and actually applauded the speaker at the end.

I felt I had to remain for the supper despite it being conducted in a somewhat awkward, I thought, location in an upstairs room. It was crowded and abuzz with conversation. I engaged a Chinese girl in conversation. She spoke in thoughtful, precise English verbiage. I asked how long she had been attending the church. She replied that it was her first time because tonight was the first time she could fit in the mini bus. Earlier attempts were thwarted by those who, on this occasion, were absent due to exam requirements. I also asked her what she thought about the film and speaker address. She replied "It was very interesting because, you know, we have been taught evolution in China. I have to look and consider this." I later stood by to see her collect some literature from the Creation Ministries International people and obtain from them their website details.

Just before supper was over I got the speaker aside and, in an attempt at encouragement, passed on my account of the conversation with the girl. He responded with an account of a conversation he had with a young man earlier. The young man came up to him and thanked him. He then said words to the effect of: "Tonight has been an eye-opener for me; I have to rethink so many things. This is the first time in my whole life I've heard anyone speak against evolution. Your presentation was excellent. I want to thank you very much for doing that."

I later left that little church elevated in spirit. What was, in effect, a few years ago virtually a "valley of dry bones" is today full of lively flesh filled with Holy Spirit. Who can account for the 50 or more (and counting) largely atheistic Chinese citizens coming to Australia, encountering love and hospitality from a church of senior citizens who "[We] demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and [we] take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Cor. 10:5)

May our Lord continue to bless the faithfulness of this little church of missionaries - not the least, their faithfulness to the Word of God in Genesis through which they introduce our Lord Jesus Christ, Creator, Saviour and King.

I am left to ask, has the same activity of Holy Spirit been present in Connect '09?



Critias said...

Thanks for a great bit of news.
The 10% bit left me ROTFL. I mean...10%, where did that number come from. Here's how it works in business. You get a feel, you pull out the dart board, you fire of a dart, and you hit a number...whoho: 10% it is; this year we'll increase sales by 10%.
No; of course not (not in my company, anyway). We look at the market, we check the competition, we research to find what drives sales, we look at our finances: what can we fund, we look at our products: are they the sort of things our customers and their friends want to buy. What we do is RESEARCH; then we CALCULATE, a likely increase in market, then we INVEST to meet that market...only then do we reap the rewards.
Seems like the geniuses at St Andrews House are using our defunct dart board.

neil moore said...

As I recall reading, the 10% may well come from Philip Jensen (brother to the Archbishop) who has background interest in demographics and once said that if the church population represented 10% of a broader population then the existence of the church is well known to the whole population and is, in a gentle sort of way, seen as a threat.

However, on present indications the 10% will not be achieved by the Sydney Anglican Diocese. Unfaithfulness will not be honoured.


sam drucker said...

Neil & Critias,

There must be some furrowed brows within the Diocese with such strong indications of falling well short of success both with the ten percent of people in Sydney Diocese being in bible believing churches by 2012 and the big connect of 2009.

There ought to be worried minds because a truth is landing with a thud on their head (metaphorically speaking) - God has not blessed the work.

It gives me no joy to be saying this. I wish for twenty, thirty or more percent of the population coming into bible believing churches. However, there are few churches,especially Episcopalian, which are fully bible believing so my hopes are dashed.

We are on course for writing our own book of Lamentations.

Sam Drucker

Critias said...

Got you on the 10%, but without understanding why the Anglicans are where they are (that is, disconnected), nothing sensible can be done to reverse the problem; all that Connect09 produced was the futility of people working harder at the wrong things, not finding the right things to do and doing them. But then, I think that the Anglican church is fatally misfitted to society and nothing short of internal revolution, will change that.

Critias said...

Just after I did the previous comment, I flipped over to one of the other blogs you guys follow, and saw this great article, right on line for my previous comments:

Jase said...

Truly inspiring, well the church growth bit anyway. Contrast this with my experience at a Lifeworks run by the western Sydney Anglican church that I used to attend. When the issue of evolution was raised by someone, the minister's response was 'God could have used evolution'. The non-Christian attendees were invited to hear the word of God, but in this instance heard the word of man.

neil moore said...

That's odd? I thought I poasted a comment yesterday but it is not shown so here I go again.

Jase, what about the Western Sydney Anglican parishioner who put Creationist literature out on a table for others to take but the Minister came along and gathered it all up saying he didn't want that material around.