A bunch of links – May 25, 2009


Izaac says:

“To me, this pretty much sums up the problems with the Sydney Anglicans – so many churches in such a small geographical space.”

Nathan, I must disagree with your assessment of this “problem”. (Remembering I’m speaking from the perspective of someone planning to leave Sydney to serve the wider church)

It’s a good problem to have, isn’t it? As a member of one of these churches in the northern area of Sydney, we fortunately continue to have new people become Christian and join our congregations. We need to keep planting new congregations to deal with the growth and to reach new people. 12 of 13 of my church’s congregations have either maintained size or grown, with a number now planning to plant again. God willing there will soon be even more churches in the area. This is not a problem.

Our church is currently training 10 ministry apprentices (and nearing 70 trainees over the last 20 years). Most of these are or will be serving outside the northern area of Sydney. Most of our overseas ministry partners are home grown. Many people are serving in country churches as well-trained and theologically sound servants. Trained people are being sent out from this people rich area.

My thoughts are that the answer is balance. It would be bad strategy (humanly speaking) to encourage the larger percentage of Christian’s in these area’s to move into the rest of the country for the sake of the gospel. We would potentially lose the ability to send out as many as we currently do. There is strength in having strong areas. Yet the balance is we must ensure that there are still people going, enough being sent out. If not, we are being selfish and not thinking of the wider body.

All those in people weak areas will always feel enough are not being sent, however the answer isn’t to spread ourselves thin everywhere. Rather to keep our strengths strong and use them to serve the wider world.

Agree? Disagree? Have I read too much into your brief comments?

Nathan says:

I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who has spent the last 20 years outside of Sydney.

Townsville has a population of 170,000 and arguably two churches teaching the bible from an evangelical perspective.
Brisbane has an approximate population of 3 million – and arguably 10 churches teaching the bible from an evangelical perspective.
Queensland has a population of 4.8 million (or thereabouts) and arguably 20 churches teaching the bible from an evangelical perspective.

Is there no reason that half of these parishes could not be merged and the workers sent to areas with no current ministry? Having a church with 10 ministry apprentices is fantastic – and 70 over the last 20 years also great – how many have gone from “outside the northern area of Sydney” to outside of Sydney? How many have gone cross cultural rather than elsewhere in Australia – it’s like the SydAng position is to send people to the extreme discomfort of cross cultural ministry or the relative comfort of Sydney ministry but nowhere in between.

Spreading thin is one thing – over concentration is the other extreme – I don’t think halving the number of parishes in Sydney would dilute the presence too much.

Izaac Cowling says:

The difficulty is of course, that we are talking about people, rather than just numbers. It’s easy to say, send half to Queensland, however it’s the relocation of people, the splitting of families, losing employment and is great in theory, difficult in practice. Do we just need ministers or tentmakers? Perhaps some kind of major persecution a la Acts 8:4(ish) would get things moving?

A quick glance down the St Pauls MTS where are they now shows about the same number of ex MTSers are ministers in Sydney as serving elsewhere in Australia, with a handful overseas. So the multiplication of ministry through MTS strengthens not just Sydney but many parts of Australia. I would put it to you we actually need more fulltime gospel workers in Sydney, rather than less. That said, we probably still need more that in Brisbane but again the answer does not lie in relocation but long term increases in gospel workers. Mind you, 10 good churches in Brisbane is a good start. If they are each able to train 1 apprentice a year, in 6 years time (2 apprenticeship + 4 yrs college) they could have 20 ministers teaching the Bible and training 1 apprentice a year, then six years after that they could have 80 ministers (if my maths works out that’s another 50 out of the original 10, plus the original 10 training another 10, plus the first lot out of college training 10). The idea of MTS is that under God it should increase exponentially as people catch the vision of training.

Another problem comes out of the terms you are using. As soon as you start saying “Sydney Anglicans” rather than “evangelicals in Sydney” you hit a barrier, which is that they can’t officially plant in other parishes. And with the Anglican system there are difficulties in gaining employment within Anglican churches. However, like-minded people have been (in some cases renouncing their Anglicanism) starting up independent evangelical churches e.g. Orange, Bathurst, Maitland, Central Coast, and more.

All churches need to be replicating themselves so that the gospel will be handed down throughout generations should Jesus tarry longer. How many home grown gospel workers are being raised in struggling areas?

Nathan says:

Correct me if I’m wrong – but the article in question is only marking SydAng churches on the map… isn’t it?

“How many home grown gospel workers are being raised in struggling areas?”

That’s kind of my point – gospel workers are in my mind – the product of a focused effort on training and raising them, if nobody is sent out to struggling areas there’ll never be any training and raising.

I’d be interested in a stat looking at the percentage of Moore graduates who end up outside of Sydney, outside of NSW and outside of Australia…

The fact that Maclean is still vacant is a prime example of the problem – how many of those 70 Carlingford trainees from the past 20 years would be suitable for Maclean, and how many would consider it?

Izaac Cowling says:

Okay, so I’m straying slightly from the original post. However, our conversation has firmly revealed your intent in displaying the post in the first place.

I’m all for strengthening the country church. I really dislike staying in Sydney. However, I have become convinced that part of the solution of caring for the country cousins is maintaining the strength of Sydney.

The emptiness of the post in Maclean is highly problematic. But part of the problem with Maclean is that it’s Presbyterian. And while there are a number of Pressie churches in Sydney that are firmly Bible based, they don’t have the numbers of trainees coming out like the Anglicans. So as well as moving to the country the majority of ministry trainees need to change denomination. Another hurdle! Interestingly, last years MTS grads from my church (1 (probably) to country NSW Presbyterian, 1 Armidale Anglican, 1 to Spain, 3 Sydney candidates).

But in one sense Maclean is a great example of training up the locals. A great group of elders who are steering the ship in the interim. Not to mention those of our generation now going into ministry in part due to the great teaching we received (and those who in turn taught us being well taught.) Maclean does need someone with some drive to come in, preach the gospel and knock down a wall or two so more people can fit in. I pray this will happen soon.

But it’s hardly surprising that the training college for the Anglican diocese in Sydney produces predominantly Sydney Anglican ministers. That said, there is not a complete lack of individuals moving to serve outside of Sydney.

Again my point is that long term, the solution to a shortage of Presbyterian ministers is the current generation need to look first to their own backyard. Which thankfully, is happening! Would a boost of Anglicans help? Definitely. But is also unsustainable in the long term.

Final thoughts: I hope to leave Sydney to serve in a church (possibly Presbyterian). However, should an opportunity like university ministry in Sydney arise where I have the potential to raise up many young men to take the gospel out, I would not consider that a failure to serve the country church. Instead of selling out I think it’s a strategic way of capturing those young men keen to serve Jesus and enable more of them to ‘go’.

The balance is that someone needs to go. My interpretation: It’s happening. Your interpretation: It’s not happening enough.

Dare I suggest we’re both right?

Nathan says:

If Moore is only marketing itself as “the training college for the Anglican Diocese in Sydney” then it should stop accepting students from outside that demographic, it doesn’t and it won’t. So I suggest the problem is that the leading evangelical training facility in Australia should look further afield than Sydney, in an intentional way.

I don’t think Sydney is in any danger. Half the churches could close and it would still be an evangelical powerhouse. I think “maintaining the strength of Sydney” is what people (not you) say when they don’t want to move away from friends and family for the sake of the gospel.

While we will never really have enough harvesters – in that the harvest will always outnumber harvesters – the idea that we need one more bible guy in Sydney where there are literally hundreds more than we need them in say Brisbane where there are literally tens just doesn’t compute for me.

Izaac says:

A mutual friend has put it to me that you need not look any further than your own father to discover your position is untenable.

Nathan says:

How so? He’s from Inverell, did not stay in Sydney, and until recently was involved as chairman of a college in Brisbane.

I won’t suggest he didn’t benefit from the strength of Sydney’s evangelical culture – but his leaving did not cause a cultural collapse – there should be more like him prepared to leave the comfort of Sydney for places where evangelical theology is a scarce commodity – it’s basic economics. There’s an oversupply in Sydney and it’s hurting every other market.

Izaac Cowling says:

Perhaps the economic model isn’t the best analogy for the spread of Christianity. Surely the wise economic decision on underperforming branches is closure. There seems to be a strong inclination towards centralising businesses. Fortunately God cares for people, so wherever there are people we need Christian’s there telling them about Jesus. I maintain we are both seeing the same problem with different solutions. I see with examples such as with your dad (so I’m told), that he and other like-minded people benefitted greatly from Sydney evangelicals and went into the rest of the country. He was in God’s provision a product of Sydney’s strength – it’s basic generosity. St Matthias is constantly criticised for being so big. Nevermind the 500-1000 (I’m informed) trained gospel workers who have gone out from there all over Australia and the world, not to mention the thousands of unpaid ones. Would it really have been best for the country if we’d halved their ministry team 30 years ago?

Your statement “There’s an oversupply in Sydney and it’s hurting every other market.” is ill-informed and does not accurately reflect reality.

The other thing is, our discussion is primarily of peripheral issues. Human strategy is important and effective, but is secondary to God doing a great work in his people. P.S. I’ll be lobbying at Moore (read: if accepted) for many people to join me in leaving Sydney.

Nathan says:

“Your statement “There’s an oversupply in Sydney and it’s hurting every other market.” is ill-informed and does not accurately reflect reality.”
Rubbish – I gave my examples of undersupply in places I have lived – not to mention the thousands of places around Australia that I haven’t.

While I hate to reference Mars Hill in this debate – it seems to be doing ok catering to a city of 3.8 million by itself (and I hate to mention it because I am ill informed about other evangelical churches in the city)…

I’ve got to question who’s giving you insight on my dad’s situation? I would not call him a product of Sydney but a product of a faithful family who happened to benefit from the strength of Sydney’s Christian scene by nature of being located there for university and for his early career, and for bible college. But I may be wrong.

How many full time Christian workers are employed by the Anglican church in Sydney? Assuming that the majority of those workers are evangelically minded and theologically orthodox? I would suggest that there are more people in those categories in Sydney than in the rest of Australia – disproportionately so. The Sydney diocese mission has always been Sydney-centric.

What’s wrong with merging “underperforming branches” and sending the human surplus to areas of need? I would suggest that at that point the business/economic model is exactly the analogy we should be using in terms of the spread of Christianity. It’s exactly the language Jesus uses (though he disguises it as agribusiness). I would suggest a harvest covering as much geographical space as possible is likely to bear more fruit than a harvest in a concentrated area – but that may be extending the analogy too far.

I agree that Sydney has sent many people out – I just don’t think they’ve sent enough. I guess that’s what “the workers are few” means. But I would think having a 7-11 approach to church planting – with church on every corner (or in every suburb) – is ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense on a church per capita or church per kilometre squared basis. I don’t think it makes sense on a cultural basis either in many cases – unless the culture of all of these individual suburbs are vastly different to their neighbours (which is possible).

Again, I understand that you – and others – are committed to the idea of going outside of Sydney, but I’m not sure that you can attribute that intention to the ministry you received in Sydney. I would suggest – based on your earlier comment – that your upbringing in a strong regional church, and your country background (and that of your wife) would play significant roles. Do you beg to differ?

“Human strategy is important and effective, but is secondary to God doing a great work in his people. ”

Agreed – but again I come back to the harvest metaphor – God’s intention is that the great work happens through the work of his people, and I argue that it’s strategically wrong for the work to be concentrated, in such a way, in one city. You’ve got a 5th of the nation’s population and more than half (at a rough guestimate) of the nation’s evangelical ministries/ministers.