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.”

It takes a movement to reach a city

One of the decisive convictions of City to City Australia is the belief that it takes a movement to reach a city — and ultimately a society — with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

According to Tim Keller, “Reaching an entire city … takes more than having some effective churches in it, or even having a burst of revival energy and new converts”. Anything less merely leads to the reconfiguration of Christianity in a city — people drawn out of less vital churches into those that currently seem to be thriving.

In a movement, by contrast, the energy and momentum isn’t confined to one particularly vibrant stream of Christianity in the city. Our shared trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom everything holds together and through whom God is putting this broken world back together, spills over the boundaries of tradition and tribe.

This is why it was so exciting to be part of the Gospel in the City event in Melbourne on November 2 this year.

It was a wet afternoon in Prahran. But it was the warmth of shared joy and sense of common task that was evident as we heard from planters and church leaders from a range of different networks and denominations:

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Jamie and Claire Bester (Southern Beaches Anglican Church, Hobart) spoke about their experience of the City to City assessment process, which has been instrumental in shaping their approach to launching Southern Beaches earlier this year.

Shebu John (Canterbury Gardens Community Church, Kilsyth South) gave us a report on the City to City International Intensive in New York City last year. His ministry leadership received a significant boost from the energy, input and connection with a network of dedicated planters and leaders from around the globe.

Stephen Tan (Regeneration Church, Monash) shared about the insight and support he’s been receiving from one of City to City Australia’s trained coaches. Stephen’s coach has walked alongside him through the pre-launch and launch phase of his plant, proving invaluable as a sounding board, source of wisdom, and ministry partner.

(L-R) Shebu John, Stephen Tan, Aaron Boyd, Pete Greenwood

(L-R) Shebu John, Stephen Tan, Aaron Boyd, Pete Greenwood

Aaron Boyd (Darebin Presbyterian Church, Thornbury) filled us in on the lasting impact his participation in the City to City Incubator has made on his life and ministry. Specifically, Aaron identified the way the Incubator inspired and equipped him with the practical tools to lead his church in contextual mission.

And Pete Greenwood (Inner West Anglican Church, Kensington) addressed the ’sanctified pain’ of receiving and repaying a City Renewal Fund loan, which both helps get new churches started and enables them to be investing in further church planting from their very inception.

Andrew Katay, CEO of City to City Australia, framed the afternoon in terms of the decisive convictions, vision and strategy of City to City Australia.

Aided by coffee and doughnuts, the robust and lively discussion that ensued — as well as the new connections forged across the lines of tradition and affiliation — gave us a taste of exactly the kind of movement City to City is praying and working to see in Australia’s cities.

Chris Swann
Director of Training

How many characters are there in your gospel? (Part 2)

Last post we opened up the question of how many characters there are in the gospel narrative - the great victory that God has won in Jesus Christ.

For many, the answer, at least functionally, is three - God, humanity and Jesus.

But we noticed that this produced 2 sets of problems. First, it limits the purpose and destiny of human beings simply to ‘relationship with God’, since there simply is nothing else for human beings to do. Of course, ‘relationship with God’ is wonderful, but as we’ll see, it's not everything. After all, Adam had God in perfect relationship, and yet it was not good for him to be alone.

Second, three characters means that sin is located and exhausted in humanity - and yet, we know that post-fall human beings remain in the image of God.

So how many characters are there in the gospel?

Biblically, the answer is five. So what are the other 2 characters?

The first is the world. And there are two things to say about the world as a character. On the one hand, the world means that there is another aspect of humanity's purpose and destiny - to steward the world. Importantly, this guards us against falling into any kind of gnosticism, or spiritualised vision of the gospel. As an expression of relationship with God, we were created to have dominion over creation; and we have been redeemed to be restored to that dignity, which will be fulfilled in the restored creation. On the other hand, it’s worth nothing that the world is entirely a victim in relation to sin, and hence will be unambiguously restored, freed from its bondage to decay, to share the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

Which leads to the other character - Evil (with a capital ‘E’). It’s interesting that in our secularised and ‘disenchanted’ Western culture, we find this so easy to forget. But for Jesus, one way to define his mission was to bind the strong man and plunder his goods - that is rob the Evil One of that which he had enslaved, including us!

Again, notice that the Evil One is entirely an agent of sin, and so the lake of fire is that destiny for the Evil One, without any question.

Which raises the question, where does humanity stand in relation to sin - victim or agent / perpetrator? And what difference does all this make?

We’ll come to these issues in the next post.

Andrew Katay

The architect, the activist and the academic - City Lab Melbourne

Have you heard the one about the architect, the activist and the academic?

At our last City Lab workshop in Melbourne, we had presentations from all three — in a library in Carlton.

Sydney Architect Melonie Bayl-Smith (Founding Director of Bijl Architecture and Adjunct Professor at UTS) shared about the challenges and opportunities of integrating her trust in Jesus with her professional practice.

Melbourne-based activist Andrew Naylor (Australians Together) spoke about our need to be interrupted and listen to the voices of indigenous Australians.

And Melbourne University academic Catherine de Fontenay (Associate Professor of Economics at Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne) gave her expert perspective on injustice in Australia today, and gave us a glimpse of her personal response in choosing to be part of a church that pushes her out of her socio-economic comfort zone.

One of the decisive convictions of City to City Australia is that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is both creator and saviour — and that those two things are deeply connected. We’re convinced that this makes all the difference for our Christian lives and leadership.

So it was a privilege to hear from three such articulate and personally engaged Christians about life in the trenches of integrating faith, work, justice and mission.

The whole event was framed by a presentation from Andrew Laird (City Bible Forum and Dean of the Marketplace Institute at Ridley College). Andrew took us on a whirlwind tour of the Bible’s teaching about the role integrated Christian lives play in God’s mission in the world.

All told, the City Lab was a rich and stimulating opportunity to reflect on the challenge and necessity of integration. My prayer is that it helped Christian leaders develop a theological vision for this urgent task — informed not only by the biblical pattern but also by the on-the-ground realities of work and the world.

Chris Swann
Director of Training

How many characters are there in your gospel? (Part 1)

One of the most interesting, important and distinctive features of Christianity is that it is what scholars call ‘an historical religion’. That means that it is about events that have actually happened, facts of history that can be investigated and understood, and which are to be acknowledged even if their significance is disputed - like crucifixion and resurrection. This is in contrast to a religion which is more like a philosophy, timeless ideas that don’t have any particular connection to actual events, but are designed to inspire people to behave differently.

One thing that follows from being historical is that Christianity can be framed as a narrative - a narrative not about what we do for God, but rather what God in his grace is doing. 

And if it’s a narrative, then there will be characters. And hence the title of this blog - how many characters are there in your gospel?

At first glance, it would seem obvious! But actually, it’s not quite as obvious as you might think, and it makes a huge difference to how you answer the question.

Most gospels I hear have three characters - God, humanity and Jesus. God is the creator, humanity rebels against that good and wise creator in a variety of ways, and Jesus is the Saviour who rescues us from our plight. Of course, it’s often much more sophisticated than that, but that doesn’t effect the basic structure.

Notice a couple of things about a story like that.

First, only having those three characters in the story directly effects the possibilities for expressing the purpose of humanity. All that humanity can do is be in a relationship with God. Now, don’t get me wrong, being in a relationship with God is wonderful! But the question is, is that the totality of what human beings were created to do? What’s more, because the ‘final state’ of a story is always a resolved or completed version of the initial state of the story, that will consequently determine what the purpose of salvation is in glory - ‘to be in a right relationship with God’. Again, that’s true and wonderful, but is it all?

Only having those three characters also carries a second consequence. Namely, that whatever is wrong or broken or evil, has to be located in one or more of those three characters. Obviously, it’s not going to be God or Jesus, which means that it must be humanity. And what that leads to is a very particular view of humanity after the fall, as totally responsible for all evil.

The question is, does the Bible support either of those conclusions? And if not, what other characters might the Biblical gospel have which would change the structural possibilities?

We’ll look at that in the next post.

Andrew Katay

Bondi Beach Anglican launches!

On Sunday 22 October, Bondi Beach Anglican Church officially launched in this iconic suburb of Sydney! Blake Hatton, Church Planter and Pastor, shared with us about how it all started and how the launch day went...

Because Jesus is good news for Bondi Beach, we've opened up a new church. We'd been gathering a team, thinking and working hard on contextualisation, refurbishing, painting, putting in new lights, advertising and praying for many months, and then on Sunday the 22nd of October the doors were opened and the new church started. 81 people came in, including a large proportion of locals checking it out for the first time.
We listened to Colossians 2 and John 3 hearing that as a person engages with the Lord Jesus, he gives them a new spiritual start and growth into someone who is spiritually "rooted, built up, established and overflowing". We sang to him, we prayed to him and heard about the growth he's worked in one of our team. It was a great time together and we're off with some good momentum now. We're very thankful to God and excited about this first season in our new church.

For those interested in becoming a part of the church, this Saturday November 11 they'll be holding a Welcome Brunch to hear about life at Bondi Beach Anglican Church.

Please join us in prayer for Blake and the team at Bondi Beach Anglican. Give thanks for the launch and for all those who came, including those from the local community visiting for the first time, and that many people in the area would come to know that God is good and has made himself known and available to us in the Lord Jesus.

Bondi Beach Anglican Church meets every Sunday at 60 Wairoa Avenue, Bondi Beach NSW. Find out more here.

Gospel-Centered Coaching

Planting a church or leading a church is a challenging task. City to City Australia is committed to supporting people in their journey as a leader and in this task. To do this we provide coaches. Coaches are trained in gospel-centered coaching based on the insights from the Gospel Coach.

This is what one of our trained coaches had to say about the coach training:

"I found the City to City coach training a delightful mix of applied gospel theology, pastoral skills, memorable coaching 'handles' and practical real life training with feedback. For the last two years I have been enriched in my own ministry by monthly coaching of a church planter. I look forward to these regular coaching moments as spiritually invigorating yet stretching collaboration in fresh church planting activity on the ground. I am invariably refreshed for my own ministry through this close partnership with a much younger gospel comrade in another city."
– Paul Winch, AFES Campus Director, UTS Credo, Sydney

Find out more on the Coaching page of our website.

If you are interested in having a gospel-centered coach or in learning how to coach, contact us at coaching@citytocityaustralia.org.au