David Cook provides a ‘state of the union’ style summary of his observations about the Presbyterian Church Of Australia to mark the completion of the first year of his three-year term of service.
The post at the Presbyterian Church Of Australia website is titled ‘The Health Of The Church’.
I have now completed the first year of my three year term and have visited each State Assembly, except Queensland.
It has been a privilege to see what is happening throughout Australia and to be able to draw some conclusions about the health of the church.
In Victoria I spoke at the Ministers’ Family Camp and then gave the Expositions at the Assembly, it was good to get beyond the courts of the church to hear what is happening in the congregations.
Observation 1: Each State Assembly has a united focus on the gospel. The single mind of the church in Australia is to glorify God by seeing the gospel reach into every corner of our nation. It is a privilege to be part of such an harmonious, evangelical and evangelistic denomination.
Observation 2: The theological emphases of the Sixteenth Century Reformation are the emphases of the Bible and they are the emphases of the Presbyterian Church of Australia. However, I see a widespread determination to present a contemporary face to our culture and not transmit a distant, censorious and unwelcoming tone, which sometimes flavours the reformed tradition.
This balance between Biblical faithfulness and cultural relevance, often difficult to maintain, is largely being maintained.
Observation 3: Our Presbyterian structure serves us well. Congregations are cared for as part of a wider denominational family and at the same time are given the freedom to reach their own communities in their own way.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the new church plants springing up in Victoria, such completely different approaches being adopted at parishes like Bendigo, Daylesford and Doreen and yet all thriving within the denomination.
Observation 4: I have found not only unity but mutual affection for one another at State level. It has been very encouraging to attend Assemblies. There is no way that these are a drudgery, one would have to be a stone not to be moved to hear of the work of God being carried out by the church throughout Australia.
However there are three areas I think we need to work on:
First, at more than one Assembly, a good deal of time was spent dealing with the problem of institutional leadership devoid of Christian commitment. Why leaders who are not Christians are appointed to hospitals or aged care facilities or schools or campsites, who do not share our ethos, I will never know.
This is a source of anguish and frustration to us and cannot be a pleasurable experience for those thus appointed.
Our institutions must be led by well qualified people and such qualifications must include the vital recognition of Christ’s lordship in all of life, otherwise why are we involved in such institutions?
Second, the health of the APWM and PIM is wonderfully apparent.
Are we giving equal vigour and support to evangelistic outreach at the local level? New churches are being planted, but are the vast number of settled congregations reaching out in missions to children, youth and adults, where the gospel is presented and people invited to respond.
Where is the APWM equivalent to encourage creative and persistent and persuasive local outreach?
Third, our spiritual health is highly dependent on the ability of our theological colleges to attract quality people and to train them well.
This involves a financial commitment which will see our growing number of candidates well taught and cared for by faculties who are united in the truth and have close contact with the local church, the arena where candidates will work.
Our colleges must model and duplicate the local church so the faculty members, preach and disciple students as well as lecture them, set exams and mark essays. Our colleges are more than academic institutions, they are places where pastoral ministry is practised and modelled.
Pray for our colleges and their leaders and promote their interests at State Assemblies, so that they do not lack resources to fulfil the demanding ministry required of them.
I was recently at a conference in Geelong and two fine young men told me they were about to go to College to train for ordination. Where, I asked? PTC Victoria was their response. PTC along with QTC and Christ College must have enough quality staff to cope with the influx.
Brethren, sometimes in the middle of the battlefield of parish work, we can lose sight of the big picture. Be encouraged and rejoice because I believe the big picture of our church is healthy.
From the remote PIM outback patrols, to major regional centres like Launceston, Mt Gambier, Fremantle, Tamworth, Warrnambool; to growing outer city areas and inner suburbs of major cities the name of Jesus Christ is being proclaimed in church buildings, school halls and community centres.
Chaplains are visiting hospitals, hostels, gaols, schools, SRE teachers are delivering the message, Sunday School classes are being taught, Bible studies are being led, chapel services being conducted.
How grateful we can be that our testimony duplicates that of the apostles, “they reported all that God had done through them ….” Acts 14:27, 15:4, 21:19