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Article by Dr Andrew Ball
Recently I have been convicted that when confronted with complexity, we need to slow down and listen attentively to the still small voice of God. We live in a society that demands instant success and strives incessantly for results, at times without due regard for the consequences. Our culture rubs against us, creating stress and anxiety rather than peace and assuredness. Our personal biases often seem to compromise us – it is far easier to work towards outcomes that we can celebrate rather than addressing growth spots in our character and maturity. The truth is we are all broken and needy, constantly needing correction and support from our Heavenly Father.
Leadership “Beyond the Harbour” is built more on Godly rhythms than on pragmatic results. This orientation is hard work – it requires each of us to intentionally place ourselves before our Sovereign Creator and listen not occasionally but regularly. From this place we are then best focussed to make sense of our world, ever seeking to understand our context from a biblical mindset. For leadership teams this may mean an annual retreat together, plus regular time for the team leader to focus and orientate with God.
Imagine if God wants you to take the church community beyond the harbour.
Here are four insights on the future orientation that might help frame some conversations for your leadership communities.
1. From Settlers to Humble Exiles
Our nation has some deep schisms that are yet to be healed. Despite the language of settlers, the evidence unequivocally shows our early settlers brutally displaced, killed and abandoned our indigenous brothers and sisters. During that same period the institutional churches in Australia were given privileges and rights that aligned them alongside the State where Priests and Ministers were also expected to be Judges and Law Enforcers.
This early history has, to a degree, created a mindset within church life that we have a right to exist. I expect that our secular age will now press into the rights of the church and demand much more transparency and scrutiny on how we function and what we teach.
There is a high probability that we will be abandoned by our culture, exiled and set adrift to fend for ourselves. Where church was once held in high regard by society, younger generations seem to share different world-views resulting in attitudes and behaviours towards church that are indifferent or even hostile to religious activity.
To go beyond the harbour (using our metaphor) into this space requires new skillsets and humility. I think it’s great for the church to be humble and acknowledge that in the midst of our activity that we may have spent way too much time dockside provisioning our vessels without engaging in culture and society.
Only we can communicate that.
2. Pilgrims on the Way
The language of Scripture is a constant reminder to avoid stagnation or personal maintenance through simple religious routine.
“The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.”
“We have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
Each time we engage and re-engage the word of God, there is “fresh hope” as we are jolted by the Spirit of God to explore new possibilities outside of our current frameworks and mindsets.
I like to think that individually and corporately we should explore life in ten-year blocks. There is something liberating in casting off for a ten-year journey as a pilgrim open to the promptings of God’s Spirit. In this space we become life long learners, never content to stop our exploration and learning. From this place will emerge Cultural Architects, Spiritual Leaders, Deep Disciples and Redemptive- Motivators who are able to speak life and hope into culture and society based on integrity and wisdom that can only come from God. We need more pilgrims on the way who can express the way to fellow travellers.
Only we can change that.
3. Fresh Hope Pioneers
The dictionary defines ‘pioneer’ as a verb as well as a noun. As a verb it means: To develop or be the first to use or apply (a new method, area of knowledge, or activity).
We all know that the gospel is not new through the lens of our own paradigm. But to the unsaved, it is not just good news but life-transforming news. To a culture or society that has deep pain, the introduction of Jesus as God’s light and hope is profoundly pioneering.
I believe that every denomination, ministry or movement has a ‘redemptive’ fingerprint that shapes its future impact from its foundational purpose. It is a blessing that so many ministries, mission agencies, church families and networks are seeking to be ‘present’ and relevant now.
The future requires all to re-engage, re-envision, re-calibrate and re-imagine what it means to pioneer rather than maintain. For those in rural locations it means listening to the heartbeat of community and responding to real needs in humility and service. For those in large cities it means undertaking “Innovative Diasporic Mission in Nodal Trans-National Urban Cities”. To do this will require the pioneering of new methods and models of church, through collaboration, innovation and agility.
Only we can action that.
4. Peaceful Place-Makers
Sadly within Australia, the incidence of mental health trauma and pain has risen sharply in recent years to the extent that none of us are immune from some kind of crisis or struggle. I am fearful that in some ways our pursuit of church or ministry programming, and subsequent frenetic activity has contributed to, rather than alleviated the restorative rest and soul strength necessary to live life well.
When people engage with us in ministry and mission, do we add to their stress and anxiety or model sacred rhythms to re-shape life holistically in biblical community? There is a fruitful work to be done for every community in God’s Kingdom to become spiritual safe-havens – places of peace and restoration.
‘Place making’ is such an important orientation useful for shaping true community. While our facilities are often clean and functional, they don’t necessarily beckon our broader community towards us as ‘places’ for soul-care, nurture, resilience, love, peace and hope.
Perhaps its time to re-invigorate our church, missionary and ministry communities through gentle facilitation to audit ourselves, by asking are we contributing to stress, anxiety and depression (to name a few) or creating wonderful communities that heal individuals and families.
Only we can model that.
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“Only in returning to me and resting in me will you be saved.
In quietness and confidence is your strength.
But you would have none of it.” (Is 30:15)