Archive for the ‘Church history’ Category

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 12.58.36 PM3. Anticipated closure and permanent narrative openness.

Another mouthful of a title! But there’s good stuff in here. The NT often seems to indulge in hyperbole when speaking of the extent of the spread of God’s kingdom. Paul has the gospel proclaimed ‘through the whole world’, to ‘every creature’ etc. Revelation contrasts Rome’s claims to universal rule with the church’s universality.

This hyperbole of completion might seem to suggest a final arrival, an end to the movement from particular to universal. But in fact it does not close off options for the future. The NT narratives make it clear the mission is not complete, e.g. the open ending of Acts 28. Nor are we given a timetable from here till the parousia. So then the church in every age finds itself plunged ‘into the midst of the biblical story where the words of the great commission still ring in its ears.’

Thus we live in ‘a dialectic of anticipated closure and permanent openness.’ This presses the reality of God’s unfolding purposes for the world hard on the church’s consciousness. We are caught up in something global that he is doing now, expressed in a unique way in our particular locality. 

Assessment:

I’m less sure what I think about this part. It’s very interesting! There certainly are the two sides of anticipated closure and ongoing openness, in the NT. It’s helpful to have that spelt out so clearly. However, I’m not entirely comfortable with structuring it as a dialectic. In fact, I’m always suspicious of dialectics: they remind me too much of Enlightenment German philosophy.

I think what I’m missing here is the language of eschatological arrival, of the ‘ends of the ages’ which seems to be the NT way of expressing closure. Rather than being anticipated, it’s a closure that is occuring now. Calling it anticipated, describing us as plunged in the midst of history, seems to me to locate us wrongly in history. We are not in the middle, but at the end. I doubt RB would disagree, but I don’t quite like the structure of his thought here.

Also, calling the openness permanent is a bit ambiguous. I suppose he means ongoing. Whenever you live, prior to the return of Christ, openness is still there.

I think the structure of a dialectic between permanent openness and anticipated closure makes it feel too abstract and unreal, too much like a paradox. The way I read the NT, it’s more like, history is closing up, drawing to a fast conclusion, and the time is short. We are living in the last days. Yet there is still time right now. Seems pretty simple to me. Maybe I’ve missed something?

Overall, however, I like the picture. The church lives caught up in the movement of God’s uncompleted worldwide mission, which he is bringing to its conclusion. Consciousness of this pushes us forward. We express our part in that cosmic program through the unique particulars of our local situation. Yes.

FoodMcworldThis is a small, non-technical and fairly easy to read book on the subject of mission, by one of the great Christian scholars of our generation. That’s gotta be good, hey?

Bauckham is a bit of a genius when it comes to writing short books that have a big impact. His God Crucified changed the face of Christological studies, in about 70 pages. This one weighs in at 110 pages: my sort of book!

The subtitle, ‘Christian Witness in a Postmodern World’ gives a clearer sense of what the book is about. What place can Christian mission have in a world where truth itself (and therefore mission) itself is frowned upon?

Chapter 1:  A Hermeneutic for the Kingdom of God.

That’s not a very friendly title for what is actually a ripper chapter. In fact it isn’t a good guide to the contents either.

1. Between McWorld and Jihad

September 11 2001, could be seen as the clash of ‘universalist cultures’ – those of Islam and of Global Capitalism. ‘Universalist’ means cultures that seek to impose themselves on the whole world in a way that crushes difference. Universalist cultures ‘threaten all things local, traditional and particular.’ Bauckham tells us his book is going to be about these issues – the local and particular, and the universal – as they relate to Christian mission.

Bauckham identifies two key concepts involved in the story of 9/11: metanarrative and globalisation. A metanarrative is a story about the meaning of reality as a whole, encompassing and integrates all its diversity. E.g.  ‘progress’ and Marxism. The new metanarrative of the West is Globalism with its story of economic salvation.

Postmodernism suspects and rejects metanarratives as tools of domination and oppression. It promotes instead particularity, diversity and localism. One Jewish postmodernist, Sacks, pleads for an approach to religion which distinguishes it from God. God is universal, but all religions are particulars and should remain so. I.e. give up universalist dreams such as those of Islam.

So where does Christianity stand when confronted with McWorld and Jihad? Bauckham points out that “almost certainly Christianity exhibits more cultural diversity that any other religion, and that must say something about it.” But are God and religion are fundamentally different, one universal and one particular? RB points out that the idea that God is universal is itself particular to the Judeo-Christian tradition!

It is more accurate to say God is both universal and particular. ‘We find the universal God in his particularity as the God of Israel…and of Jesus’. Bauckham wants to examine how these two things – the particular and the universal –  are related, ‘because it is in that relationship that the church’s universal mission belongs and has its meaning…Mission takes place on the way from the particularity of God’s action in the story of Jesus to the universal coming of God’s kingdom.’ And here we have the thesis of the whole book.

But can Christian mission be justified at all? Is it not just ‘a tidal wave of religious homogenisation sweeping away all the diversity of the world.’

That would have been a great place to finish the first chapter – one suspects the book has retained the structure of the lectures on which it is based. We will stop here and reflect.

Evaluation:

Bauckham writes beautifully. His style is clear, concise and eloquent. 9/11 offers a compelling, if somewhat overused, way into the subject. He uses plenty of illustrations, making for easy reading.

He has introduced his key themes and terms: mission in the light of postmodern concerns about the universal and the particular, about metanarrative and globalisation. Each of these is explained clearly. He has raised his main issues cogently and compellingly.

If I have a criticism it would be that Bauckham undersells his product. The question he has raised here about the legitimacy of mission has not been a small one. In fact it has been massively powerful in the modern history of the church. Over the past 60 years this critique of universalist narratives (like the Christian one) has seeped into the bones of the churches and sapped their missionary zeal. It has come to seem arrogant and presumptuous to try to make ‘converts’ (i.e. disciples for Jesus). Church groups, under the influence of postmodern ideas, have lost confidence in the whole missionary endeavour, and often given it away. This has been a fundamental change in the outlook and action of Christians in the modern West. It would have been helpful for Bauckham to unpack this a bit, give some of this wider context, and explain what is at stake for the church, in the issues he is discussing. These things may have seemed obvious to Bauckham, but many of us don’t know even recent history or the history of ideas. Words like universalism, particularity and metanarrative can seem big and abstract and academic to readers unused to such vocabulary. They can mask the fact that Bauckham is actually dealing with a red-hot topic: Is mission an intrinsically violent movement? 

I think the average reader just needs a little bit more reason to care about the themes of the book, before diving into Bible-land with RB. Brief is good, but at this key moment in his book I feel he’s been a bit too brief! This book is so good I’d like it to be more accessible at a ”thinking reader” level, not just an academic one.

  1. Quenching the Spirit

After recognising that his position will offend many, Gaffin makes some helpful concluding remarks. He suggests that what is often seen as ‘post conversion baptism of the Spirit’ really is a great working of the Spirit, in convicting us of the gospel! ‘Often too, what is seen as prophecy is actually a spontaneous, Spirit-worked application of Scripture’. In relation to tongues he makes a damning appraisal of the contemporary practice. He notes that it is often seen as a gift for all believers, for personal benefit, not relating to judgement in any way, and with interpretation either being neglected or ‘applied in a dubious fashion’. Hence; ‘Contemporary tongues are not the gift of the Spirit described in Acts 2 or 1 Corinthians 12-14.’ Smack down! He concludes with a genuine appreciation of the many strengths of the charismatic movement, which we could all learn from.

Reflections:

I really dug the first section. Gaffin’s Old/New Covenant gear was great. The Spirit is the risen life of Christ amongst his people. I for one need to make more of that. I dug plenty of other stuff along the way, but the jury is still out on the issue of cessation of tongues and prophecy.

At times, Gaffin places too much weight on uncertain exegesis (eg. In relation to 1 Cor 14:14 he says that ‘my spirit’ must be the Holy Spirit, whereas Paul seems to have a distinction between the Holy Spirit and our spirit. Eg. Rom8:16.) But at many points he garners enough evidence to convince me. He convinced me that prophecy is always revelation and even that tongues are about the revelation of gospel mysteries too.

However I’m still unsure about the beam that bears most of the weight in his argument for the cessation of prophecy. Keeping in mind the ‘covenantal, redemption-historical character of all revelation’, I think his key statement is: ‘Since the history of redemption has been definitively accomplished, and since after Pentecost its ongoing movement is delayed until Christ’s return […], the basis and rationale for new revelations is lacking and revelation has therefore ceased.’

I think this characterization of prophecy is overly restrictive. His insistence that all prophecy is covenantal and redemptive historical in character is laudable, but I think he applies those categories too restrictively. Prophecies like Agabus’ concerning the famine (despite Gaffin’s arguments) doesn’t seem to fit within his tight definition. Old Testament prophecy didn’t always relate all that directly to salvation history either (eg. 1 Kings 20:35, or 2 Kings 2:3-5). Without a shadow of a doubt I’m not the exegete that Gaffin is, but I do find it hard to see how some prophecies in the scriptures relate directly to ‘the ongoing movement’ of redemptive history.

Similarly, I agree with him that we shouldn’t expect any ‘new revelations’ concerning salvation history, or the character of our God revealed therein. It’s just that plenty of prophecy doesn’t seem to offer significant new information about salvation history or God’s character either. Is it possible that similar prophecy could operate today? Maybe prophecy ‘forthtelling’ old information for new believers in certain circumstances?

For this reason I’m not convinced his arguments for the cessation of prophecy hold. This would then carry for tongues also. However, I’m still not sure what I think about this tricky topic!

  1. The question of cessation.

The temporary Nature of the Apostolate

The existence of ‘apostleship’ in lists of gifts is evidence that not all gifts are intended to continue. Are there other gifts that are ‘so integrally associated’ with the ministry of the apostles that they disappear along with the end of the apostolate?

The foundational character of the Apostolic witness AND of prophecy.

The Apostles witnessed to Christ and so lay out the once for all foundation of the church. Ephesians 2 associates prophets with apostles in this work. ‘They have a foundational, that is, temporary, noncontinuing role in the church’s history, and so by God’s design pass out of its life, along with the apostles.’ To those who might suggest that there are other kinds of non-foundational prophecy that continue, he responds that this is a misunderstanding of the ‘covenantal, redemption-historical character of all revelation’. He argues emphatically that, ‘Since the history of redemption has been definitively accomplished and since after Pentecost its ongoing movement is delayed until Christ’s return […] the basis and rationale for new revelations is lacking and revelation has therefore ceased.’ Ie. All revelation is about salvation, and salvation is sorted.

Three related remarks: First, ‘Scripture leaves no place for privatized, localized revelations for specific individual needs and circumstances.’ Second, there were plenty of prophets who spoke the Word of God for their moment but weren’t inscripturated. Third, Gaffin insists that having anything other than a closed canon ‘conflicts with the covenantal nature of all revelation’.

The cessation of tongues

This part of the argument follows simply from the first, given that he’s more or less equated prophecy and tongues. An interesting side point is the way he suggests (with reference to 1 Cor14:20-25 and an analogy with parables) that tongues fit in the context of the founding of the church by demonstrating God’s (new covenant) judgement and rejection of Israel, and so ‘intensify and harden unbelief that is primarily Jewish.’

Tomorrow, Gaffin’s conclusion and mine.

  1. Prophecy and Tongues.

1 Cor. 14: Some controlling Observations.

In this chapter tongues and prophecy are played off against each other, prophecy is clearly superior. However a sharp division between these two isn’t possible, and their partnership in 1 Corinthians 14 underlines this. Both are about the reception and communication of “mysteries” (13:2, 14:2).

Prophecy

‘New Testament prophecy is revelatory. […] The words of the prophet are the words of God and are to be received and responded to as such. […] The prophet reveals the Word of God, the preacher expounds that word.’ They, with the Apostles, reveal the ‘unsearchable riches, the ‘mystery’ of the gospel. It includes both ‘forthtelling’ and ‘foretelling’. There are no levels of authority in prophecy, even between written vs oral prophecy. It’s all revelation. Weighing of prophecy wasn’t ‘sifting worthwhile elements’, but determining if the whole prophecy was from the Holy Spirit or another spirit. Obviously there is spurious prophecy even within the church (eg. 2Thes2:2).

 

Tongues

Gaffin begins by dispensing with a common view of tongues which suggests that the Spirit bypasses our minds to produce this vocalization of a ‘volitional, yet non-intellective, preconceptual capacity in man, usually with the emphasis that tongues bring to expression the more primal, deeper levels of personality.’ Gaffin points out the ‘insuperable difficulty’ with this position, that Paul doesn’t see mind and spirit as opposites. In fact, they both have ‘essentially the same reference’ in Paul’s anthropology (eg. Rom1:9). This view comes from a ‘conviction that religious experience is essentially irrational.’

Rather, Gaffin argues for a ‘fully inspired’ view. ‘Tongues are a mode of prophecy.’ Pretty well the only difference between the two is that prophecy utilizes ‘the speaker’s existing language (conceptual) capacities’, while tongues doesn’t. ‘His speech capacities are so taken over by the Spirit that the words spoken are not his’. This reading depends on reading 1 Corinthians 14:14’s ‘my spirit prays’ as ‘the Holy Spirit prays’ (which Gaffin admits ‘is difficult’, at least its initial impression).

He goes on to argue that tongues must be a genuine kind of language.

Tomorrow, arguments for cessation.

 

  1. Some basic perspectives on the gifts of the Spirit

The gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit.

Gaffin lays a few planks in his argument here, but they’re not especially load bearing (unless you hold a particular view).

  1. The ‘universal donation’ of the Spirit is a foretaste of eschatological life, while the gifts variously given are ‘particular operations pertaining to various ministries and as such, are provisional and sub-eschatological (1Cor13:8f).’ The ‘subsequent course of the entire discussion is decisively determined’ by this distinction.
  2. Therefore the essence of the New Covenant is tied to these gifts. They ‘disclose the essence of the kingdom and its blessings, but without at the same time constituting or embodying that essence.’ They act as signs. Therefore ‘each gift has to be examined in order to determine its specific purpose(s) and the specific conditions for its presence in the church.’
  3. In terms of function, ‘From beginning to end the gifts are given for service in the church.’ If the recipient of the gift gets something out of the exercise of that gift (in service to others), that is a ‘fringe benefit’. In this vein, he acknowledges the possibility that tongues could be used privately (eg. 1cor14:18,28).

Gaffin then makes two moves which are probably quite familiar to many of us. First, he says that the lists of gifts are ‘selective and representative’. In fact, he pushes it a bit further, saying, ‘Too sharp a line should not be drawn between many of the gifts.’ There are the two categories of ‘word’ and ‘deed’ gifts, but there’s also overlap. Second, in the matter of ‘identifying your gifts’ he calls us to ask not ‘What is my spiritual speciality?’, but ‘What, in the situation in which God has placed me, are the particular opportunities I see for serving other believers in word an deed?’

 

A reflection: I find this general, ‘overlapping’ approach, while realistic, hard to square with his recommendation of examining each gift. Such an examination seems to require quite a clean cut, test tube definition of a given gift. This is exactly what he’ll go on to provide. In practice though, how do these two approaches fit together? With tongue in cheek, I wonder how the Spirit feels about being cross examined on why he’s blowing where he is. But then Gaffin goes and says something awesome like this;

 

‘Probably the most important and certainly the most difficult lesson for us to learn is that ultimately spiritual gifts are not our presumed strengths and abilities, not something that we “have” (or even have been given), but what God does through us in spite of ourselves and our weakness.’

Tomorrow, more detail on prophecy and tongues.

This review is by regular contributor Dan.

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At The Grit we dig the big G. ‘Resurrection and Redemption’ is a great read, as is his more basic ‘By Faith not by Sight’ (which ties in much of R and R as well). So we had to read this one too. One other attractive point, nothing over $12.50.

Gaffin starts broad with a general discussion of the Spirit before narrowing down to the specifics of spiritual gifts, most specifically tongues and prophecy, for which he argues for a cessationist position. There’s plenty of extraneous stuff along the way, much of which is worthwhile. However I won’t mention much of that, nor his regular pauses to respectfully disagree with Pentecostal and Second Blessing theology.

So, starting general…

  1. The Gift of the Spirit.

For Gaffin, the day of Pentecost is hugely significant. ‘It is fair to say that everything said in the New Testament about the Spirit’s work looks forward or traces back to Pentecost.’ [News to me.]

Pentecost and Christ

He argues that the whole work of Christ could be seen as the securing and communicating of the gift of the Holy Spirit (with special emphasis on the fact that Jesus baptises with the Spirit). This is argued both from the direction of New Testament promise and fulfillment.

Promise: John states that Jesus’ work is to bring a spirit and fire baptism. ‘[This] baptism as a whole involves nothing less than the eschatological judgement with its dual outcome of salvation or destruction.’ This sets the scene for Jesus’ work. ‘For the Spirit-fire baptism […] to be one of blessing rather than destruction for the messianic people, the Messiah himself must first become identified with them as their representative sin bearer […] and be endowed with the Spirit, in order to bear away the wrath and condemnation of God their sins deserve. If that are to receive the Spirit as a gift and blessing, then he must receive the Spirit for the task of removing the curse on them.’ Gaffin is at his best here, seeing Pentecost in light of the bigger story of the Bible.

Fulfillment: As in Peter’s Pentecost address, the Spirit is the ‘promise of the Father’, ‘and so the essence of the entire fulfillment awaited under the Old Covenant.’ A ‘most basic, controlling principle’ for Gaffin is ‘the absolute coalescence, the total congruence in the church between the work of the exalted Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit.’ The exalted Christ is the life giving Spirit. (1 Cor15). Their work is to bring Christ’s risen life to the church.

Pentecost and the Church

Basically, Pentecost establishes the church as the New Covenant people of God, the body of Christ.

Pentecost and the Individual Believer

The big point here, which contributes significantly to the greater argument, is that Pentecost is an unrepeatable moment in the History of Salvation, rather than a moment in each believer’s Ordo Salutis. We aren’t to see Pentecost as a ‘conversion’ moment. Eg. Peter didn’t start believing then. They had already worshipped Jesus, being continually in the temple (Luke 24). However, each believer is baptized en the Spirit ‘at the point of incorporation into the church, His [Christ’s] Spirit-baptised body.’ Again, Gaffin’s strength in taking in the whole story of the Bible is seen in his discussion of the pneumatological difference between the two covenants. He insists that the distinction isn’t between ‘theocratic endowment’ and ‘personal indwelling’ of the Spirit, but rather is found in the work of Christ. Gaffin’s summary is worth quoting at length. ‘This union, as union with the exalted Christ, is the immediate ground and source of all the other blessings of salvation, yet it was not enjoyed prior to Christ’s death and resurrection. Old Testament believers were regenerated, justified, and sanctified on the basis of Christ’s (future) work, but the mode of covenant fellowship in which they experienced these blessings was provisional and lacked the finality and permanence of union with (the glorified) Christ.’ The New Covenant in the Spirit makes us adopted children with new hearts, rather than slaves/minors.

Tomorrow, getting onto the gifts of the Spirit.

Can we believe in original sin?

Posted: September 16, 2014 by J in Church, Church history, Theology

Original sin is a doctrine you don’t hear much any more. ‘For all have sinned and fallen short…’ – yup we teach that. But ‘Adam sinned and so you fall short’ – that’s a harder one to sell. We tend to kind of keep it up our sleeve.

People who look into the doctrine of original sin tend to struggle a bit. Part of the problem is clarifying what the heck it means.

There are of course different versions of the doctrine, and not everyone means the same thing by the words. The Reformed doctrine, in the words of the Westminster Confession, is this:

Q. 18. Wherein consists the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consists in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of original righteousness,  and the corruption of his whole nature, which is commonly called original sin; together with all actual transgressions which proceed from it.

Full on, huh? What we all get from Adam is this package: not just lack of righteousness and corruption of nature, but the actual guilt of his sin.

In other words, we are held to be guilty of Adam’s sin.

I wonder if your church teaches this? It’s a more formidable doctrine than other Christian traditions hold: the more universally held position is that Adam’s sin affected our whole race, and the whole creation, so that sinfulness was transmitted to us all through him. In other words pretty much everyone accepts the ‘corruption of his whole nature’ part of the Westminster statement, but not the ‘guilt of Adam’s first sin’ part.

The Roman Catholic catechism, for example, describes original sin like this:

…but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.  It is a sin which will be transmitted by propagation to all mankind, that is, by the transmission of a human nature deprived of original holiness and justice.

This is a kind of organic view of original sin, as a disease propagated. Rather than the judicial view of Westminster: a guilt imputed. Westminster also teaches this, it teaches both. So I would say, the Catholic doctrine makes a lesser claim.

We are going to examine this issue over a few posts. What should we believe about original sin?

We can start by noticing that the Westminster view has traditionally only held out one proof text: Romans 5:12ff. Hmm. That’s not so good. One text is hard to build a doctrine from. We’re going to need to take a close look at Romans 5.

I was lately privileged to spend a week at the snow staying in a nice lodge. The guests ask each other, what do you do? When they heard that I was in Christian ministry, some of them expressed a struggle to understand. Why would an intelligent young man go into something so strange and unpromising and, well, out of date? What I was doing was so far outside their experience, they just couldn’t connect with it at all.

How does a leader maintain morale in such an environment? I don’t mean the ski-lodge, I mean our society. Because those people were normal well-to-do Aussies – and to them my life and work was a complete irrelevance.

How do you wake up every morning and get out of bed and get motivated to do a job that your neighbours neither comprehend nor value nor care about? We spoke in the previous post about the mental health challenges for church-leaders today. Jim commented, graciously sharing his experience of working hard to see a net growth of one person over a year or more in his church. How do leaders avoid discouragement and depression, and persevere with energy and hope and joy over the long haul, in such dry times?

I’d love to know what other leaders do to ‘stay strong’. I’ll offer a few thoughts of my own here. These are my top four:

1. You choose your area. The people in that lodge were too rich and too self-satisfied. If life is feeling a bit tough, there’s always another holiday to Paris to distract them. They had no sense of needing outside help – or if they did, they weren’t admitting it to themselves. Our traditional protestant support base has been the upper middle classes, but they have now turned away from us. They don’t want to know about Jesus.

Our Lord’s advice was not to keep banging your head against the brick wall. If you go to a town and they won’t receive you, shake the dust off your feet. Go somewhere else. If the good folks of Mosman won’t listen, try Merrylands, or Moorebank. Go ‘down-market’. Invite the blind and the lame. They will listen!

It’s too hard to keep slogging on in areas where no one is interested. It’s not wise. It gradually erodes your confidence and your mental health. It’s also not a good use of your time and energy. Life is short, and you are not bullet-proof. But there are places in your city where people are open to the gospel. Move on.

Lots of our leaders in Sydney get trapped in suburbs that are not interested, and the resulting toll on morale is unacceptably high. Eventually they come to expect failure. That’s a hard place to come back from.

2. You get a good team around you. Solo ministry is a recipe for exhaustion and discouragement. A team helps you stay strong. A shared vision is much more robust than an individual one. We all have weak times: at those times the team can carry you. They can believe and pray when you can’t. I wouldn’t have made it this far without our team.

3. There are two things I tell myself regularly to help me keep going. I think most guys in my scene tell themselves, God is in control. His hand is behind all this, even the failures. It’s all part of his plan. That’s ok by me, but it’s not in my top two. I don’t find it that much of an encouragement, to be honest. It can even feel like I’m saying, God intends me to fail.

So what do I tell myself? I tell myself Jesus has already won the victoryMy little patch is a local battle in a much bigger war, and even though today I feel like I’m getting my butt kicked, although I might feel like the French Resistance in a hostile land, thankfully I’ve got a map of the whole campaign. And in that campaign, Jesus is winning. He defeated death itself and got raised up to inherit all power and authority over the creation, forever. That’s what we mean when we say, Jesus is Lord! His gospel is spreading through the whole world. Though we don’t see that fully yet, his victory is assured. VE day is coming. We win. 

I find that helps. It helps a lot. It gives me hope and purpose in my little efforts in my patch. I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed. My church may not be the most effective missionary force in the city. We might be working hard and seeing only a little fruit. But I’ve got this perspective, this larger frame around my little picture: the team we’re on is the winning team. The future is ours, in Christ.

4. The other thing I tell myself is, my work may not impress the people at the ski-lodge. It may not impress my neighbours. But if I am faithful to my calling, then God my Father is impressed. I can please him by my weak little efforts. Although I invest in  person and love them and share Jesus with them, and then they move away and I lose contact, and they didn’t get converted yet, and I don’t know if they ever will – still the time was not wasted. My Master was pleased. We may spend a lot of our time and energies laying down our lives in costly service, making mission efforts, and it only has a small pay-off. But our labours are not in vain. God is honoured in the eyes of our neighbours, through what we have done. Our Father is proud of us.

Our labours are not in vain. The day of Christ will bring our reward: ‘Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a little, receive ten cities!’ On that day the honours will go to everyone who fought for Christ, whether their local battle was a win or a washout. We will all share in the glory of Christ the Victor. Personally, when I remember that day I find the thought highly motivating. The thought that something I have done has pleased God, pretty much feels like its own reward.

Well, those are my top four. There are more things than this that we can do and tell ourselves to maintain morale. But for me, those are the irreducible minimum:

1. choose an open area to work

2. get a good team around you

3. keep remembering that Jesus has already won the victory, and

4. labour to please and honour God rather than for immediate ‘success’.

If those are in place I can function as a leader and persevere in a post-collapse environment. Without them, I find I can’t.

How about you?

Most of this series has been from the point of view of the whole church, living after the collapse of church involvement in Australia. But the issue of leadership has also come up. One other aspect of leadership is well worth considering: what’s it like leading the church at this time in history?

Think about this chain of factors:

1. Our leaders are generally employed full time as church workers.

2. People in general derive a fair bit of their sense of identity and self-esteem from their work.

3. We are asking our leaders to find ways forward for effective mission. We expect them to make our churches to grow.

4. Our churches are mostly small, not growing much, and most people in Sydney are not remotely interested in joining us.

Putting all this together, our leaders are experiencing ineffectiveness and failure in a key area of the work that gives them their identity. In our post-collapse setting we are looking to them for answers, and they don’t have answers. For ways forward, and they don’t know the way forward.

That’s not a comfortable situation to be in. At the existential level, it’s pretty stressful to be that leader. There’s a level of strain in just being, as a leader in this climate, quite apart from any specific demands or tasks that you might have to deal with. We all feel disappointed about the collapse in Australia. But for our leaders, it’s personal. It’s a threat to their identity.

Of course it’s true that a few of our leaders ares seeing growth in their churches. But many don’t. And even those who do, you’d be surprised how much failure and confusion they experience in their ministries. Our leaders often feel powerless and baffled. They don’t feel too good about themselves.

Over the years this takes its toll on mental health. Inevitably. We’re talking erosion of morale. Feelings of lostness and lack of purpose. Worthlessness. Ultimately, depression and anxiety.

Add to this, most church leaders don’t have a fallback occupation they can switch to. They have no option but church ministry, if they want to feed their family. So on top of the above feelings, they feel trapped.

Pastors struggle under these burdens for years. Sometimes it shuts them down completely, and they have to drop out. Other times they limp on, in self-protection mode. Waiting for retirement. Others manage to still function, but they are carrying mental health troubles, their energies sapped, their joy dampened. Often for years. Generally they hide these disorders from their people.

What I’m describing is not an occasional or rare experience. It’s a common problem. This is what it’s like trying to lead the church, post-collapse. It’s like trying to lead the army when the enemy has been kicking your back side for years and you’ve been in retreat, and you feel outgunned and outflanked. You feel a massive weight of responsibility, and not a whole lot of hope.

One thing that makes all this worse is the constant stories of success in the church magazines. Their MO seems to be, look around for the few bright spots in the dark scene, and focus on them relentlessly. Create the impression that those successes are the norm, that they are the story everywhere. That should cheer us all up!

Of course these magazines actually have the opposite effect on our leaders: a corrosive effect. It tends to sap the little strength they have. It isolates leaders in their feelings of failure. By creating the impression us that everyone else is on the front foot, bolding going where no man has gone before, seeing lots of converts and generally prosperous, these stories make our leaders feel alone and ashamed. The others seem to know what they’re doing – why do I feel so confused? They’re all pushing forward with energy – why am I treading water? What’s wrong with me? All of this makes the burden twice as heavy for already-struggling leaders.

Our failure to discuss our post-collapse situation openly, only perpetuates this isolation. If we could admit openly that we’re all facing these times, we could have a sense of facing them together. We could get some perspective on our lack of success – it’s part of a much bigger picture and it’s not my fault.

That perspective is going to go a long way to help sustain the mental health of our leaders in these difficult times.