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THE TWENTYFIRST CENTURY CHURCH.
MAYORAL PRAYER BREAKFAST.
CITY OF WHITEHORSE.
BOX HILL. VICTORIA.
Date: 16th February, 2002
Scripture: 1 Cor 12:12-27
References: "Christianity Today" Nov 15 1999. P42-50
Both my wife and I were born in Box Hill within a mile of this old Town Hall, within a week of each other, just at the outbreak of World War Two. Our families spanned the history of this city. We grew up in the shadow of this place. In the schools around we were educated. In the community our parents earned their income. In the church up the street opposite we attended Sunday School, youth clubs, and Church services. It was there we met and fell in love and were married. In the community we played in sporting teams and in this hall we sang in Sunday School anniversaries, acted in concerts, listened to politicians on speech nights, and waltzed together in Saturday night ballroom dancing. In this community were our teachers, doctors, ministers, dentists, and everyone else who played a part in the first two decades of our lives.
Fifty years later I would tell a series of fifty stories of our first twenty years of life to the largest radio audience of a Sunday night in Australia. Many were published under the name, "When Box Hill Was A Village." Many listeners coming to Melbourne made a trip to Box Hill just the photograph the house where I lived in Miller Street and the shop in Station St where I grew up. To them, Box Hill represented a nostalgic place where the adults were kind and the children grew up responsibly.
This was the community where we were formed.
As the Christian church in Australia moves into the twentyfirst Century, many are looking for guidance as to its shape and values so as it can be a formative influence in the life of its community. Like all organisations, the church changes with time. But what makes the church different from the local soccer or youth club which also changes with time, is that the Church has a clear manual of reference from which its guidelines come, and a Founder who is still present in the lives of its members.
The Bible is the written record of the Word of God. It testifies to what God intends for His people and how they should relate and behave. To dismiss the Bible is to throw out the most significant written reference the church has. Likewise, the living Spirit of Jesus inspires and instructs His people on how His church should act.
A truly Christian Church is always under the authority of the written Word and the inspiration of the living Word. Whenever someone wants the church to change its beliefs or practises, that change must always be tested against what is written.
A new century brings out those who think it is time to discard the old ways and develop something more to their liking. The real test is, does what is new stand up to the test of consistency with what we hold in our hand as the written record, and with what has been blessed in the past?
That does not mean there can be no new emphases, fresh insights and thrilling new challenges to the new day. But it does mean that what is new must be consistent with what is old. There are new and exciting challenges for this new era.
The wonderful thing is that they are consistent with the written record and come from the living Christ. Sometimes new insights come from unusual sources. For example, a Roman Catholic priest, Martin Luther, saw insights that we today refer to as the Protestant Reformation.
Likewise, Rev John Wesley, an Anglican clergyman, was a most unlikely candidate to bring about the Evangelical revival. A cobbler, William Carey, used to mending soles, not saving souls, became the most influential person in the commencement of two centuries of overseas missionary work. Two American women, Ellen G. White and Mary Baker Eddy made an emphasis upon healthy life-style, diet and spiritual healing.
It could be that God is speaking again through an unusual channel, not a minister but a management guru, Peter Drucker.
Drucker is the most highly regarded management writer in the world. Now an old man, his thirty books have been used by all who have been trained in management. Peter Drucker told "Forbes" magazine recently, that
"pastoral mega-churches are surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the past thirty years. This to my mind, is the greatest, the most important, the most momentous event, and the turning point not just in churches, but perhaps in the human spirit altogether." Here is a surprising insight.
He has been acknowledged by "Fortune" magazine as "the most prescient trend spotter of our time." He was the first to predict in 1950, the impact computers would make upon the world. In 1960 he predicted Japan's rise to a super economic world power. He was the first to describe management by objectives, the significance of privatization and the rise of knowledge workers. Of late, he was been speaking of the role of not-for-profit organisations in the community and the special role of what he called pastoral mega-churches.
Peter Drucker says the pastoral church is essential to society because it offers three ingredients necessary for our new century.
1. BELONGING, FOR PEOPLE NEED COMMUNITY.
I have read Drucker's management books for thirty years to make me a better church leader. So I wondered how Drucker discovered the new opportunities for ministry by the church. It came about because Drucker was discovering the problems of society that business could not solve.
Drucker discovered that the modern business world tears people away from their roots. Box Hill is no longer a village. Today people do not live with the people with whom they work. There has been a loss of neighbourhood. Business has destroyed community, but a pastoral mega-church provides people who need community a sense of belonging.
Drucker was appointed to large Japan business corporations forty years ago to help them in their economic miracle. He knew that people needed community, so he developed ways in which businesses would provide community.
So Japanese workers gained factory child-care centres, places where wives could learn new skills, weekend activities for worker families and so on. This provided workers with a new sense of community. But the workers became wedded to the company for life. When technology required fewer workers, the employees not only lost their jobs but their community as well. Companies cannot provide community.
At Wesley Mission Sydney, Australia's largest Church, we understand that. For ten thousand people every week, Wesley Centre has become their centre of community. Here they belong in the most significant of their daily relationships. They eat in our restaurant, meet friends here, go to classes here, and just sit and relax in good company. We designed our buildings to be places of belonging and community.
Drucker says there is no other place in America than pastoral mega-churches that can be the centre of American society. Churches not only have a spiritual role, bit a social one. He says
"pastoral mega-churches are surely the most important social phenomenon in American society in the last thirty years."
In turn we say to you: you are not only welcome at the churches of this community, but there you can belong and find a friendly community. We are a body of Christ, comprising many parts, each with its own purpose but each belonging to the whole. You can belong there.
Peter Drucker says the pastoral church is essential to society because it offers a second ingredient necessary for our new century.
2. MEANING, TO INTERPRET OUR KNOWLEDGE.
We live in an information society. We cannot even keep up with the information available. Technology places in our hands vast amounts of knowledge. Children are pressured into learning more.
The most important staff in any business these days are the knowledge people. The last few years saw organisations pay billions of dollars to be free from the "Millennium bug". The people who controlled the expenditure in every corporation were the few who had information knowledge. The most important people these days are knowledge people. Whether it be brain surgery, systems analysis or how to make the trains run on time, those who have knowledge are in demand.
But knowledge must be put into context. Too many people have completed courses, become qualified, but do not know what life is all about. They have no moral frame-work, no basis of ethical behaviour, no standards by which to compare actions.
Many organisations employ highly expert people. Take a hospital for example. There are hundreds of highly specialised medical, nursing, nutritional, therapy, accounting, infection control staff and so on. None of them can run a hospital. Specialist knowledge by itself is so advanced that it produces nothing. It requires another specialist in the field managing health care to bring all the parts together to make a hospital work.
There is a demand in Australia for education, knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge workers need the church to help them find meaning in their knowledge. Churches now have staff with intricate specialist knowledge. They too need to make sense of it. The church has a message about personal meaning, self-respect and direction. The heart of the Gospel is a message about who you are, apart from what you do.
The twentieth century has seen a decline in religious knowledge but a wealth of other information. They load the table with countless pieces of the jig-saw puzzle. But how to put them together when they don't fit? That's our problem.
I learn this at Box Hill High School learning of the poetry of T.S. Eliot. T.S. Eliot's questions in "Choruses from 'The Rock'":
"Where is the life we have lost in the living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The Cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us father from God and nearer to the Dust."
Life looks like the game of Monopoly as we buy and borrow, avoid jail, advance asking ever more from the rest, putting money and property as the end game. But life is more than knowledge and information. We have to interpret who we are and to whom we belong. That requires moral and spiritual values.
In your church you can find out that you are a child of God, and that God has a frame-work for how you should live, and a Book that outlines the meaning and purpose of life. Your church can help you interpret all you have learned. We treat you as an intelligent person to find your meaning.
Peter Drucker says the pastoral church is essential to society because it offers a third ingredient necessary for our new century.
3. PASTORAL CARE, FOR MANY PEOPLE HURT.
The world is a hard place. The demands of work often lead to breakdown of family life, and our transitions ruin any sense of community. Add to that the fact that knowledgeable people lack meaning and purpose in their existence, and you have a recipe for personal disaster.
Family breakdown, mental health issues, depression, anxiety, suicide are all up. The pastoral mega-church can to give care to those who are hurting. The churches bring comfort to residents. For some this will mean a sense of hope in a world where many despair. For others it will mean a presence that sits with them in their flats, units and homes and spends time listening in friendship and bringing from the Word of God some assurance that will hold them long after the visitor has left.
For others, it will mean the binding up of a broken heart, for as Tennyson said, "Never morning wore to evening, but some heart did break." For others it will mean the discovery that their sins can be forgiven, or of an assurance of heaven and reunion with loved ones who have gone before. There is a great need for care, especially for the poor and marginalised. There is a need for comfort from pastoral care.
There is no more strategically placed organisation in society for you than a pastoral church. As our community of Australia moves into the twentyfirst Century, many are looking for guidance as to values, especially for a sense of belonging, meaning and care.
Such events as this are pointing from the problems to the answer.