The courage to go “Beyond the Harbour” – Part One

01 Jun 2016

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Article by Dr Andrew Ball (from on-board vessel)
June 2016

In case you haven’t noticed, the Australia we all experience and have the privilege of residing, is rapidly changing, perhaps more so than at any time in post-modern history. It is reassuring to note that due to God’s sovereignty we dare not be alarmed, yet it behoves us to understand the times and make appropriate responses.

Just what is happening in our nation and how do we, as Christian leaders, make appropriate responses without being reactive or dismissive? 

Unequivocally we live in a secular age. Canadian Philosopher Charles Taylor articulates[1] that the endgame of secularism is to ‘make it impossible to believe in God’.  He suggests that our public spaces are being emptied of God, or any reference to religious beliefs to the extent that our spheres of activity – economic, political, cultural, educational, professional and recreational are being robbed of God’s reality and agenda.

This year we have engaged the theme ‘#Beyond the Harbour’.  It is deliberately provocative. Needless to say, more of the same won’t shift societal attitudes and responses towards church, let alone God. When confronted with difficult times, we can either ignore the signals around us, and bunker in; thereby remaining impervious to adversarial cultural shifts, or engage sensitively and appropriately with love and conviction.

To go ‘Beyond the Harbour’ presumes we are willing to voyage beyond the comfort of our church spaces and normative paradigms that have, in many ways, bound the Western church for several decades. Please don’t read this as close the church, or shut down the church or even abandon meeting together to flippantly reallocate resources for other purposes. The church gathered is a critical witness that celebrates redemptive community. We need each other.

To go ‘Beyond the Harbour’ implies we are willing to venture forth into sometimes unfamiliar territory. I wonder what provisions and preparation we might need to leave the safe harbour and navigate the turbulent waters of culture and society?

Surely this implies a degree of rigour on our part to understand and be present in the midst of complex change. I suspect there are about 20 major issues impacting on Western culture and the church is largely un-prepared to respond in most cases. Perhaps your leadership team could collaborate and seek to identify some of these challenges.

To go ‘Beyond the Harbour’ is about self and others. I don’t think we can expect others to go where we are not willing to go ourselves. I hasten to add that the church won’t change if its leaders don’t see the need to change and then model how that might look going forward. It is reminiscent of the fishing fleet sitting in the harbour, all admiring their new expensive boats and tackle but never daring to use the equipment where it matters or test their mantle beyond the ‘outer reef’.

“And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!” (Rom: 10:15)

The respected demographer Hugh Mackay in his most recent book ‘Beyond Belief’ (© 2016 Pan Macmillan) articulates what many of us are feeling; namely Aussies are ‘spiritual but not religious’ (SBNR).  So much so, that Mackay himself subscribes his beliefs as shifting from Christian to agnostic with Christian values. His position is a helpful case study. It reflects a secular world-view where values take precedence over any subscription to an omnipotent, omniscient Sovereign creator.

I believe God at His Word where Paul writes….

At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence. (Eph 1:23 The Message)

You and I have the privilege of serving in this glorious church, which Christ has set apart as His primary strategy for the redemption of the world. We cannot afford to simply hang onto the good news hopeful that people will discover him by visiting us. We are mobilised and sent into the world, beyond the harbour, prayerful, intentional and passionate that the Kingdom of God will break through into our quest. I do hope you will sail forth….

[1]  Charles Taylor.  A Secular Age. © 2007  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.