36/97 26.10.97 Scripture: Galatians 1:21-24
THERE is something about Wesley Mission that year after year, in spite of all the problems faced by other urban ministries with which we also must wrestle, we are able to celebrate ministry!
Last year we celebrated ministry as we opened more centres of care and service to people, conducted more worship services, raised more money and employed more staff than at any time in our 184 year history. In the future we will open more buildings and centres, commence new programs, employ more staff and expand our work into new areas of human need. The 12 centres we had at the conclusion of Dr Frank Rayward's ministry in 1958, which grew into 23 centres and services at the conclusion of Dr Alan Walker's ministry in 1978, reached 120 centres and services in 1988, and in excess of 250 centres and services today.
Why do we celebrate ministry? So many areas of the church apologise for their ministry, and a spirit of defeatism abounds. Why should we want to gather with significant people from our Presbytery and celebrate ministry? Some say we celebrate because Wesley Mission is different. Such a quick response would immediately point to the quality of our 2000 full time staff, our 3500 volunteers, our wide acceptance within the community, and our nation-wide financial support. But those at the heart of the work know that there are deeper issues that make us celebrate ministry. Why do we celebrate in spite of hostility and envy from so many people both within the church and without? At this important presbytery celebration today, we should review those five principles that guide all of our activity.
1. A TRUE CHURCH
We celebrate being a cell of the everlasting church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ed Dayton, who heads up the Missions Advanced Research and Communications Center, has said: "Discovering what it means to be the people of God in Western Society is no mean task. We have allowed the world to squeeze us into its mould. We have lost an ability to contemplate, to pray, to be caught up in the wonder that we are loved by the Creator of the universe. We appear helpless to build deep, lasting relationships of the kind the Bible describes and the kind that most of us long for but have long since dismissed as impossible goals."
As a church we seek to be true to Jesus Christ, and to lead people in worship and the development of their spiritual lives. We have a sevenfold ministry in being a true church. We have worship services 50 times a week so people can praise God; teaching groups, Sunday Schools and midweek studies; proclamation of the Gospel in service, by media and open air; equipping members through training classes and courses; service to people in need through involvement in our centres; outreach with the Gospel by witnessing and visitation; fellowship in groups and after services to enjoy each other.
These tasks are not accidentally decided upon. They parallel those mentioned in the Bible. Being a true church means that we must work at every one of them in meeting the needs of people. We can never be just a humanitarian agency. It is because we are a church that we are given the momentum that most social welfare organisations cannot match. Hence we celebrate ministry!
2. EVANGELISM AND CARE
We have always held that twofold commitment in tension. Theologians have debated for decades whether social concern is a method of evangelism and which of the two should have priority. Many churches have demonstrated fine involvement in the world of the needs of men, serving in the humblest of ways without a word of the Gospel lest they be judged as serving in order to save.
Many others spend all their resources in magnificent worship and praise, or of reaching to the furthermost parts of the world in order to preach the name of Jesus without ever becoming involved with the great social, economic and political issues of our day lest they be diverted from their task.
Some expend energy making the world a better place: deeds without words. Others expend energy making heaven more real: words without deeds. We are committed to both! Both the word of the Gospel and the deed of humble service. We will accept neither a wordless deed or a deedless word, but practise word and deed together. That principle makes us celebrate our ministry!
England saw no greater evangelist then John Wesley but he was also one of her greatest humanitarians dedicated to caring for the homeless and the hungry, the poor and the unemployed. He said: "Christianity is essentially a social religion; to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it. Love cannot be hid any more than light; and it shines forth in action, when you exercise yourselves in the labour of love." Those in Synod who would separate care ministries from church evangelism are wrong.
3. WELFARE AND JUSTICE
Our efforts provide a wider program of community welfare ministries than any other organisation in Australia. At the same time we are active advocates on issues of social justice, discussing over 200 issues each year in the media and on the printed page. We are also involved in the process of advocacy on behalf of the poor and in positive contributions to Government policy including the Prime Minister's special taskforce.
Sheila Walsh, that dynamic Christian rock star, who has sung to packed crowds throughout Britain, America and Australia - here in the Sydney Opera House and the Entertainment Centre - really cares for those who need welfare in our community. She says: "There are many situations that cry out for our help and input as God's people. One-parent families, sexually abused children, the aged, homosexuals, the sick and dying, widows, orphans - the list is endless. We cannot take up every standard and try to pioneer every cause, but let's ask the Lord what we can do to be His hands, feet and heart in our world."
That is why every minister at Wesley Mission is assigned tasks within the social welfare spectrum, as a chaplain, leader or servant of those in need. You cannot minister in the name of Christ if you are too proud to wash feet. That is why we also expect every minister to be articulate and involved in social justice issues facing our community. We do not have to agree with each other, but we do have to have a reason for the hope within us. Providing community welfare and seeking justice is a principle that makes us celebrate ministry!
4. GOSPEL AND MEDIA
Nothing is more important than hearing the Gospel. Immediate social needs for food or clothing, accommodation or jobs may be dealt with first, but nothing is more essential than helping people understand that Jesus Christ died for their sins and lives as a friend beside them giving them new life.
We tell out that message of the Gospel through preaching in Wesley Theatre, Wesley Church, The Lyceum, and in a dozen Chapels about the suburbs. We tell out that message through print with "Impact", "MissionTalk" and "Frontlines" being widely read Christian magazines; through television with our adult and teenage programs on 70 channels each week; through radio with five hours of programming on 2CH and 2GB each week; through specials via Trans World Radio shortwave to the most populated countries on earth; through the internet where everyday around the world people down-load our sermons through videos and films screened on television in a dozen languages in this land and other lands, and most recently in Arabic via satellite from Cyprus to every Middle Eastern country.
The Apostle Paul travelled the network of Roman roads to take the Gospel to every person. We use the international networks of the media to reach our generation. Our counsellors respond to telephone, computer E-mail and personal responses in services from the Gospel message, and the Wesley Institute of Ministry and the Arts is the Uniting Church's largest tertiary institute training people for the ministry of communicating the Gospel.
That principle makes us celebrate ministry!
5. BIBLICAL EXAMPLE
We seek to reach people at every point of need, and to every culture. Following the Biblical example we go wherever people are and meet them there in Christian ministry. We have specific ministry to both male and female, the lonely and the sociable, the poor and the affluent, the unemployed and the executive, the single adult and the extended family, the anglo-saxon and the ethnic, the old and the young.
In doing this the Wesley ministry team is encouraged by colleagues from other ministries in the Presbytery whose fidelity to the Scriptures and fellowship in service is a blessing to all of us. We are also encouraged by the example and hard work of our elders and church members. Your presence and prayers enable the ministry team to undertake to do so much. Together we celebrate ministry!
For most of this century it has been the fashion among many church leaders and shallow theologians to decry the immense popularity of the greatest British preacher of the 19th Century, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Trendy liberals sneered at his congregations which numbered 6000 twice each Sunday in the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and over 24,000 on special occasions in the Crystal Palace. Over 1 million people each week read his printed sermons published all over the world. His training college for pastors graduated 900 new ministers before his death. His influence was profound. Yet today theologians with a superior sneer decry his work as mere popularism, evangelical enthusiasm. Spurgeon, they say, should have become more concerned with the social issues of his day.
In their ignorance, they do not know Spurgeon established 21 gospel halls in the poorer areas of London, with over 2000 volunteers and paid staff working among the poor. They supported poor families and the unemployed. They were the only charitable agencies in the area. They established educational night classes for the masses long before any night schools were established. They built homes for the sick and aged, and established two large orphanages. Spurgeon fought in his sermons for social reform, campaigned against slavery, aid for poor weavers, better conditions for employees in factory sweatshops and the like. Students were funded, free hospitals were financed, and libraries for the poor given.
We need that balance that Spurgeon demonstrated. Nothing is more important than the Gospel, yet those gospel preaching evangelicals led England in personal acts of practical care, in social acts of community welfare, and political acts of justice. Their ministry was one of a true Church of Jesus Christ. They used well their media opportunities and met the needs of all people where they were.
Their principles were identical to those which make us celebrate ministry!
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