Very rarely are we ever able to define our culture, but it is an ever-present reality influencing and driving the way each group thinks and acts. When
we speak of ‘culture’ we often mean the literary, scientific, artistic, religious and philosophical principles that influence our way of life. It is
therefore not unusual to hear of broad definitions like Western and Eastern culture, or of other cultural sub-groups. Within those broad categories
we can be more specific and speak of a church culture or a school culture or work culture, which is reflected in how things are played out within those
contexts.To put it simply, culture is ‘the way we do things around here.’
Every local church has its own way of doing things, which has an impact on relationships, behaviour and structures. Perhaps we accept stale corporate worship, placate forceful individuals, accommodate ungodly behaviour and fractured relationships because it has always been like that.The important question is, what is it that drives the way we do things around here? What drives the culture of St Paul’s? It can be biblical values, or it can be lesser values like our ethnic heritage, church traditions, personal comfort zones.
In our church there is vast difference in our cultural heritages which plays a significant part in how we approach everything that we do. I found the following table useful in understanding some of the broad differences.
The table is a generalisation but it is useful in highlighting the very different framework that Western and Eastern cultures have.
Our basic world-views are different. The most important lesson however, is that neither Western or Eastern perspectives align with the Biblical perspective. Whatever our starting point, God is in the business of reshaping our culture into one that is aligned by the gospel.
Cultures are driven by a set of values, which in turn are a consequence of a particular worldview. The values we hold both individually and corporately determine our attitudes, our vision, how we relate and behave, and therefore our culture. Real growth in churches is not the consequence of somebody putting more effort into the same old things that have not produced growth in the past. Rather, it is the result of embracing biblical values that the whole church is committed to, so that growth becomes a by-product.The following illustrates how culture is developed:
In the end it isn’t a matter of Western or Eastern as we look to the future and our mission to Chatswood, but of transforming every corner of our individual
and corporate life so that it reflects a gospel worldview.
At St Paul’s our worldview is shaped by the Christian gospel. It is the good news that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and creator of all that is, came from heaven to live among his creation. He lived the perfect life that we couldn’t live, and died the death that we should have died. He triumphantly rose from death, ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father where he rules all things. One day he will return and put every wrong right.
This good news brings people together. That’s generally what good news does! This is good news for people of every ethnicity, culture, age and socio-economic background. One of the greatest demonstrations of the power of the Christian gospel, is the coming together of all people in unity. The beauty of Christ and his work is displayed in a trans-cultural community. It’s a community where we ‘go beyond’ our ethnicities and inherited cultural identities to be thoroughly changed into a new entity. A new community. This new community reflects our new identity in Jesus, as children of God first and foremost above our own cultures and ethnicities. With deep security in Christ we are willing, together, to go through discomforts and difficulties to cross over, to give up, in order to understand and embrace people who are different than us. This is who we are and what we increasingly seek to be at St Paul’s.
Treasuring Jesus together is one of the core values of St Paul’s. We have this value because St Paul’s is a community of men, women, boys and girls who have been saved according to the Bible alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. All of this means we exist for the glory of God alone. We exist to make much of Jesus and not ourselves because through faith in the Lord Jesus we have been forgiven, cleaned of guilt and shame, and adopted into the family of God’s much loved people.
In 1 Peter there is a verse that needs more reflection as it bears on St Paul’s in so many ways. More than anything this verse is calling us to a commitment to love one another. Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart. (1 Peter 1:22 NIV). On one level it is pretty simple; being a Christian means I should love. There is something a little deeper here. The obedience to the truth of which Peter speaks is the initial submission to the claims of the gospel of the Lord Jesus that we accept in faith.
The part of the verse that stands out for me is how Peter links the first part of the verse Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth with the next part so that you have sincere love for your brothers. Peter links the purification of the heart through obedience to the claims of the gospel WITH a love for the family of God (a “brotherly love”). If that is true then what he is saying is love for the Lord Jesus and love for the family of God are inseparable.
When you think about it, it does make sense that the two are inexplicably connected. But then again, how many of us have responded to the gospel of the Lord Jesus, become Christians, in order to live a life of love for your brothers? What this verse is saying is that everybody should come a believer with a view to joining a family, and therefore, never with a view to isolation. There is no becoming a believer and cleansing your heart to independence. It is always to brotherly love. There is a profound thought in this verse that I can but scratch the surface of - when you became a Christian you became a Christian to a family. That is what it means to become a Christian. Christians are not just bound to the Lord Jesus but they are bound together.
This verse has a lot to do with evangelism and discipleship. When we proclaim the gospel of the Lord Jesus is commitment to the local church, the body of Christ, the family of believers, just an optional extra? Is church just something you can give or take? I think Peter argues that it isn’t. In fact, Peter would seem to suggest that the evidence of a purified heart by the gospel is in fact love for the ‘family’. Peter requires love for fellow-Christians as the mark of true holiness.
It makes a lot of sense then that Peter would follow his statement with a command to love... love one another deeply, from the heart. The command to love here goes beyond the ‘brotherly love’ earlier in the verse - it is now agape love. Sacrificial love. It is a solely Christian concept of love. It is not mere tolerance or acceptance, and even less so a formalised distance. Agape is the Christian’s motivation for the alleviation of poverty, inequality, suffering. Agape is the radical love of the Lord Jesus Christ where he lays down his life for his enemies so that his enemies might live forever. The moral source of all Christian love is the gospel of the Lord Jesus. The Christian doesn’t love to bolster our sense of self-worth or superiority. It’s the exact opposite. Christians are motivated to love because Christ’s love humbles us, shows us that we are much loved sinners. It is inconceivable for someone to declare that they are saved by the grace of God and yet not have a love for other people.
This verse calls for a sincere love without pretence or hypocrisy. Even sincerity is not enough: our love must be deep and intense. The word translated deeply here means stretched or strained. It is the same word used to describe the earnestness of Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). The love to which we are urged to pursue, and for which our hearts have been purified for, is in no way artificial. It is a love that unites the family of God. It is a love that endures wrong with humility; renounces boasting and calling attention to oneself; spends time and energy supplying the needs of others without fretting over our own; risks making necessary rebukes and corrections that are almost surely to be interpreted as something other than love; receives rebukes and corrections without animosity and defensiveness; covers a multitude of sins and put away our list of grievances; rejoices when others prosper while we don't; blesses those who curse us and do good to those who despise us.
Peter also gives clarity to this love that we are to pursue by showing us the opposite of it a few verses later at the beginning of chapter 2: Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. The call here is to rid ourselves of the things that characterise the ‘pre-purified by the gospel’ life. The evils from which Christians have been converted are the very opposite of the strenuous love that Peter has pressed upon them. They are contrasted with the fruits of the Spirit and the outworking of sound teaching. If you practice these things, and see no problem with them, then don’t be too confident that your heart has been purified by the Lord Jesus. That is, don’t be too confident that you are a Christian.
Friends, we need to heed this verse calling us to love one another. St Paul’s is a diverse church - cultures, traditions, ages, theological convictions, positions and status -and we fall way short of God’s glory when we simple tolerate each other. If we simply tolerate each other then when our difference clash we don’t tolerate anymore. Our commitment is to be to each other, under the gospel of the Lord Jesus, in a transcultural church community. A transcultural church is a community of believers in the Lord Jesus that reflects, embraces and enjoys the diversity of its mission context (for us it’s Chatswood), but by the power of the gospel it transcends it’s cultural context and creates a new community in Christ. Our vision statement tells us why this is so essential for us to pursue at St Paul’s - we are united in our desperation for the world around us to encounter Jesus.
Our love is not expressed by a cool indifference, a distance, or an acceptance of all behaviours and values being of equal importance (this is the modern view of tolerance). Our love is displayed when we treasure the Lord Jesus as of supreme value over everyone of my personal and cultural preferences.
Our love for God and each other is displayed when we sacrifice, as Christ Jesus has sacrificed for us. It will always be a journey to love each other
more. What risks are you taking to treasure Jesus together more at St Paul’s? Some of us need to join a community group and keep going even when
the schedule makes it hard. Some of us need to join a team to serve. Some of us need to say a tough word to a brother or sister who is gossiping
of causing division, or straying from Christ. Some of us just need to turn up at church regularly. In Christ we are a corporate community, a new
people, not merely a group of individuals sharing a common faith.
In 1516, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for 'indulgences', was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church to sell indulgences to raise money to rebuild St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Roman Catholic theology stated that faith alone could not make people right with God. Their view was that justification depended on a combination of faith and good works.
An indulgence, in Roman Catholic theology, is the remission of all, or part, of a debt of temporal punishment owed to God for sin. The indulgence is paid after the guilt had been forgiven by a priest. The Middle Ages saw the abuse of indulgences when they were given out in return for financial support for the church’s building projects. On 31 October 1517, the German monk and theologian Martin Luther wrote to his bishop, Albert of Mainz, protesting the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences", which came to be known as the Ninety-five Theses. This letter began the Reformation which swept through Western Europe and saw the establishment of the Protestant Church and a recapturing of the heart of the Christian faith - the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The rediscovery of the Christian gospel changed the world.
As Martin Luther and the many other Reformers looked at the European church, they saw an institution that had wandered from the heart of the good news of Jesus Christ. When the heart of the Christian gospel is lost, the Christian faith is lost. These men and women were therefore moved to put their livelihoods, homes, fortunes, and lives on the line to restore to the Christian church the core teachings of the Christian faith. These have come down to us over the past 500 years in 5 Latin phrases: Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Soli Deo Gloria. Translated into English, they assert that salvation is according to SCRIPTURE ALONE, in CHRIST ALONE, by GRACE ALONE, through FAITH ALONE, for the GLORY OF GOD ALONE.
This year we mark 500 years since Martin Luther started the Reformation. On Sunday 9th July we will begin a new preaching series - Here We Stand - where will be investigating each of these Solas in their historical order. By way of introduction, here is a short summary of each Sola:
Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) - the Christian Scriptures alone are our supreme authority. They contain, and are sufficiently clear in teaching, all things necessary for salvation and the life of faith. The French Protestant Christian Theologian and church reformer, Theodore Beza (1519-1605), wrote this about the place of the Christian Scriptures: “Your word of life has been, and still remains among us, faithfully collected in the sacred registers of the holy Scripture…the image of your glory, the law of your kingdom, the ladder of heaven, the gate of paradise, the trumpet of salvation.”
Solus Christus (Christ Alone) - as our Saviour, and Mediator, Jesus Christ has accomplished the necessary work for our salvation completely. The Swiss church reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) wrote: “Through Christ alone we are given salvation, blessedness, grace, pardon, and all that makes us in any way worthy in the sight of a righteous God.”
Sola Gratia (Grace Alone) - we are all sinners, who cannot contribute anything to our salvation. Our salvation is accomplished by the sovereign unmerited favour of God, who freely chooses to save sinners. Martin Luther (1483-1546), wrote this about grace alone: Sin is not canceled by lawful living, for no person is able to live up to the Law…Nothing can take away sin except for the grace of God.
Sola Fide (Faith Alone) - faith (receiving and resting on Jesus Christ and his righteousness) is the only means by which we can receive justification (a right standing before God). Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), a key figure in the German Protestant reformation, wrote: When justification is attributed to faith, it is attributed to the mercy of God; it is taken out of the realm of human efforts, works, and merits
Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone) - God alone is due all glory for our salvation as it is appointed by him, accomplished by him and ultimately has his glory as its goal. One giant of the Protestant reformation was John Calvin (1509-1564). The key principle of John Calvin’s theology and worldview was the glory of God: Our being should be employed for God’s glory: for how unreasonable would it be for creatures, whom he has formed and whom he sustains, to live for any other purpose than for making his glory known?”
Each of these Solas proves to be a core element of the Christian faith. We neglect them to our harm. “Guard the good deposit entrusted to you,” is what Paul said to Timothy (2 Timothy 1:14). There are some things of such worth that we must keep them, whatever the cost.
In 1521 Martin Luther was put on trial. He was asked whether he stood by his teaching. His reply was: I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand, I can do no other. May God help me. Amen. The point where he made his stand was not on his writings, not on his conscience but on the authority and sufficiency of the Christian Scriptures. The same Scriptures that declare salvation in CHRIST ALONE, by GRACE ALONE, through FAITH ALONE, for the GLORY OF GOD ALONE.
The Reformers of the 16th century rightly valued the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as such a gift of infinite value. Many of them gave their lives for the cause of preserving this truth and passing it on to others. It is imperative that we guard the good deposit that has been entrusted to us. May we be united in our desperation for our world, our country, our city, our community, our neighbours, our friends, our homes, and ourselves to be affected and gripped by the good news of the Christian gospel.
My prayer through the five weeks of Here We Stand is that we might cherish this wonderful salvation and see the importance of preserving this truth for this generation and the next, and make a clear stand too. My prayer is that we will so cherish this wonderful salvation that is revealed in the Bible we will take further steps to know Jesus, treasure Jesus and represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people.
Money in itself is simply pieces of metal and pieces of paper. The reason they are of any concern to us at all is that in our culture these pieces of metal and paper function as currency. They represent value. Money is significant simply because we exchange it for what we value. What you do with your money shows what you value with your heart. Jesus said in Luke 12:34, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The movement of your money signifies the movement of your heart. Where your money goes, your heart is going.
When I write that money is hazardous and helpful, what I mean is that these pieces of metal and paper have the capacity to show that you value things more than God (which is hazardous), or that you value God more than things (which is helpful). The paper is nothing, but its expression of the treasures of your heart is everything.
Someone approached Jesus, in Luke 12:13, and said: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied: “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” In other words, ‘I do have something relevant to say to you, but I am not the one to be drawn into the details of this dispute’. Then he gives a warning about how hazardous this inheritance is in verse 15, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Jesus is confronted with a man losing his grip on his portion of the inheritance. This inheritance was lying to the man. This is why money is so hazardous. It lies to us. It tries to deceive us. It was saying: “If you lose me, you lose what life can be for you. I am your life. Life will be real life — truly life — if you have me.” That’s what the inheritance was saying. Paul knew that’s what riches say. He told the rich in 1 Timothy 6:18–19, “Be rich in good works . . . be ready to share . . . take hold of that which is truly life.” In other words, don’t be deceived by the message of money that woos you with the words: “Your life will be meaningless and unhappy without me. I am your life.”
To this Jesus says in verse 15b, “One’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” It’s a lie! Don’t listen. “Take care, and be on your guard.” This lie will awaken covetousness. The hazard here is huge. Not only is this inheritance not your life. It is about to take your life. Paul said the same in 1 Timothy 6:9, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.” Beware! Be on your guard! This inheritance is about to kill you.
Life consists in knowing God. John 17:3, “This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Life is not having things. Life is knowing God.The rich man thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.
Why is he called a fool? He kept building bigger barns, which might be OK if you’re storing the grain for a use that shows God is your treasure. But the farmer says in verse 19: “I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”
What’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing, ONLY IF there is not an infinitely valuable God and Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. Here’s the key concluding verse that makes the point clearly (verse 21): “So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” “Rich toward God” means counting God of greater worth than anything on the earth. “Rich toward God” means using earthly riches to show how much you value God. This is what the prosperous farmer failed to do. The result was that he was a fool and lost his soul. Jesus considers money hazardous. It lures us out of love for God. It lures us away from treasuring God. The issue isn’t that the man’s fields prospered, it’s that God ceased to be his supreme treasure. Here are five things we can do to guard against the hazard and maximise the helpfulness of money.
I take my cue here from Paul’s teaching that giving should be regular and free — disciplined and spontaneous (for example, 1 Corinthians 16:2). This points to the wisdom of planned, regular, disciplined giving. Sporadic giving with no plan will probably mean you are not treating giving as an integral part of your worshiping life. May the Lord grant us all the joy — the sheer unadulterated joy — of finding our life not in possessions, but in the abundance of all in God, and in fulfilling our covenant commitments, and in showing the world what it means to have God as our riches.
Covenanting with you to be joyfully, radically generous,
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
The road to Jericho was known as “the bloody way”. One man found out just how dangerous the road was - robbers stripped him, beat him and left him half dead. He was a Jew. A priest and a Levite soon came along and saw him, one of their own, and each passed by on the other side of the road. They didn't want to get involved in the man's needs. In passing by the man they both passed by the clear teaching of the Bible to have mercy on even strangers in need (Leviticus 19:34). They appear to have put their schedule above their purpose.
A Samaritan appears. Samaritans and Jews were bitter enemies. All of the Samaritan’s training and experience should have led him to step on the poor victim not just step around him. Nevertheless, against all comprehension, the Samaritan "took pity on him." His compassion was full-bodied, leading him to meet a variety of needs - friendship, emergency medical treatment, transport, financial subsidy for accommodation, and a follow-up visit.
This parable is provocative. Jesus attacks the complacency of comfortable religious people who protect themselves from the needs of others. In the very last phrase we have nothing less than an order from our Lord in the clearest of terms, "Go and do likewise." Our paradigm is the Samaritan who risked his safety, destroyed his schedule, and became dirty and bloody through personal involvement with a needy person of another race and social class.
The expert in the Law didn't deny that the poor man needed caring for - who would? - he questions whether it's his responsibility. Are we not tempted to put limits on mercy too? You could imagine the expert as a typical Westerner: doesn't charity begin at home? I'm busy! Isn't it the government's job? I barely have enough money for myself. Aren't many of the poor simply irresponsible? I can't possibly make a difference.
Bible believing Christians have avoided the radical nature of the teaching of this parable. At most, we have heard it telling us to collect tins of food
and warm clothing for the needy each Christmas and winter, or to give money to relief agencies when there is a famine or earthquake in a distant country.
It is time to listen more closely to this parable. We live on the Jericho Road. Suffering and need surrounds us. Unemployment, underemployment, new
migrants, loneliness, broken homes, domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health, the elderly, the dying, the sick, the disabled, the homeless.
These are our neighbours. Do we want to reach them with the good news of the gospel of the Lord Jesus? Then we must give our faith active expression
through deeds of compassion coupled with evangelism and discipleship. Ministry of mercy to our 'neighbour' is the responsibility of every Christian.
It is as fundamental to Christian living as evangelism, giving and worship.
It’s important to remember the context of this parable or we will easily fall into moralism. Jesus is seeking to humble us with the love God requires, so that we will be willing to receive the love God offers. Jesus' goal was to show the expert in the Law that he was desperately poor and in need. Imagine the most unsightly, smelly, decrepit homeless person, mindlessly wandering the streets in filthy rags. He has no resources at all. He has nothing to commend him. That is what we all are before God. Jesus was trying to show the self-assured, self-confident, self-justified law expert his own desperate need, and how God has mercifully met it. God has provided spiritual wealth by impoverishing his own Son. Jesus' spiritual riches and righteousness is given to those who trust him rather than themselves. The only true and enduring motivation to show mercy and meet need is an experience and a grasp of the mercy of God towards us in the gospel of the Lord Jesus. If we know that we are desperately needy sinners saved by the grace and mercy of God alone, we will be open and generous to the outcasts and the unlovely.
This issue of mercy is something that we'll be looking at a little more closely during Mission Month. It will challenge us biblically on the issue of mercy and justice - an area that evangelicals are traditionally weak in (people like me). One of our corporate goals is to raise $10 000 for Ropes Crossing Anglican Church which ministers in the Mount Druitt area of Sydney. We’ll also seek to raise a further $5000 to resource our current ministries of mercy in ESL and Grace Ministries (ministry to sex workers in Chatswood).
Mission month is not to be our only response to the Good Samaritan, it is part of the journey towards us growing as a church of love and mercy because we are growing more in our experience and grasp of God's love and mercy towards us. Those who are loved much, love much.
‘Leadership’ is a word that is shared by Christians and non-Christians alike, but the concept of leadership can often be quite different. Last night I watched a documentary on the rule of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. He ruled Libya for 41 years, initially as a revolutionary with a vision for Libya’s prosperity then as a despot who would torture and murder anyone who threatened his rule. He declared himself the “King of Kings of Africa” later in his rule. He went mad with grandiose visions of himself before being murdered by his own people in 2011. At the time of his death he had amassed personal wealth of approximately $200 billion (3 times richer than the official richest person in the world at the time), while his country starved under the weight of UN sanctions.
Jesus gives us a clear vision of the character of Christian leadership when he contrasted it with the standard form of leadership his disciples experienced in their world: ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ (Mark 10:42-45). These words are the reversal of all human ideas of rank and greatness and personal ambition. If we define greatness as this world does then we end up with leaders (and church members) motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursuing self-ambition for the purpose of self-glorification. We are surrounded by this definition of greatness and leadership but it is in stark contrast with the pursuit of leadership as the bible defines it: serving others for the glory of God.
As a church we desire for all leadership, as we do for all members, to live out our corporate life together under God by embracing our core values: Christ-Centred Bible Saturation, Devotion to Prayer, Radical Generosity, Humble Authenticity, Treasuring Jesus Together, Servant Leadership, Local and Global Impact. All leadership is to united around our Mission, Vision and Core Values, and setting an example in Christian discipleship and maturity. Too often, churches appoint leaders based on longevity in the church, or as a representative of a particular ‘constituent’ within the church. The other danger in our church tradition is to appoint leaders who have Biblical literacy and theological knowledge without really assessing whether they have ‘heart disease’. That is, people who have a dysfunctional personal relationship with the Word of God, where the study of the Bible becomes a world of correct ideas rather than a world of submission to the Lord whom those ideas introduce and define. We want leaders who know the God of the Bible personally and are living it out for all to see.
There is so much more that could be said about Christian leadership but it is the crucial foundation that we are to bring to our Annual General Meeting (AGM) on Monday 20th March. At the AGM we get to elect part of the leadership of St Paul’s, particularly Wardens and Parish Councillors.
A number of years ago the Parish Council of St Paul’s went through a process of re-thinking the structure of our leadership and governance. In the context of seeking to resource Vision 2020 more effectively, the Wardens and Parish Council decided it is appropriate to move away from a traditional model of governance in an Anglican church, and move towards a model which provides accountability for the Mission, Vision, Core Values and the setting of goals and policies to guide the Senior Minister and staff.
The following is a summary of the leadership and governance model that fits within the guidelines of the Sydney Anglican Churches Administration Policy, and yet ensures that the key issues of authority, power and humility are addressed for good governance. St Paul’s Wardens and Parish Council have been working to this model since 2011.
Clarification of St Paul’s Roles
1. The Head of the Church - Jesus Christ
The cornerstone to the structure of St Paul’s leadership is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church (Eph. 1:22, 5:23). As a result, God’s will must be sought for our church in all circumstances. In order for this to occur, the members of St Paul’s must acknowledge God’s Word as authoritative and it must be taught with love, obedience and reverence for God himself. The Lord Jesus leads, rules, guides and cares for his people by his Word, as it is read, taught, believed and obeyed.
In the Bible, it is clear that as the Head of the Church, Jesus intends His church leaders to be responsible for leading, teaching and caring for the church (Rom 12:8; cf. 1 Pet 5:1 – 14; Heb 13:17). The leaders of the church are referred to as: “elders” (Acts 20:17; 1 Tim 5:17); “overseers” (Acts 20:28; Phi 1:1); “leaders” (Rom 12:8; 1 The 5:12); and “pastor/teachers” (Eph 4:11). These terms are used in the New Testament to ensure servant hearted leadership in the church. Therefore, the priority of church leaders is to equip and empower the church members for the work of the Gospel (Eph 4: 11 – 13).
2. Parish Council
The Parish Council is a democratically elected body of church members whose primary role is to:
a) seek God’s agenda for St Paul’s policies and procedures and to be custodians of them;
b) keep the Senior Minister accountable to the Mission, Vision, Core Values and ministry goals of St Paul’s; and
c) model personal discipleship.
The Wardens are members of Parish Council who act in two ways:
a) they have a special responsibility to oversee the finances and property of the church including the appointment of a Treasurer and signing off on the Annual Financial Reports for the church
b) they are the Executive body of the Parish Council who work with the Senior Minister to:
a. make decisions relating to finances and property issues week by week;
b. assist the Senior Minister as a sounding board on other issues such as staffing;
c. keep the Senior Minister accountable to the Mission, Vision, Core Values and ministry goals of St Paul’s; and
d. model personal discipleship.
4. Senior Minister
The Senior Minister is appointed to St Paul’s by the Anglican Archbishop of
Sydney. The Senior Minister’s primary role is to:
a) teach the members of St Paul’s the Word of God;
b) lead the members of St Paul’s to maturity in Christ and grow God’s Kingdom;
c) lead the intercession for the members of St Paul’s;
d) cast Vision for the direction of St Paul’s, and organise around the Vision;
e) recruit and lead a staff team to achieve the Vision;
f) raise funds for the Vision; and
g) model personal discipleship.
Each staff member is appointed by the Senior Minister with the assistance of the Parish Council to:
a) evangelise, teach, equip and empower church members for the work of the Gospel;
b) fulfil the Vision of the church as a team under the leadership of the Senior Minister; and
c) model personal discipleship.
Decision Making Structure
One of the keys to good governance for any organisation, especially for churches, is for authority, power and humility to line up appropriately for decision making. One way of stating it is that the people who have been given authority to lead, exercise power to make decisions (use power), for the sake of others (humility). Used in this way, power is a positive term. It is simply the ability to implement decisions that one has the authority to make, and for the sake of others (rather than self). My own experience of churches is that too often it is people with power, but without authority, making decisions for their own ‘constituents’ and preferences rather than the pursuit of a corporate vision. In this system there is no accountability for the use of power.
This new governance model allows for mutuality of authority and accountability for all church members. The Parish Council and Wardens are elected and empowered by the church members to take care of the well-being of the church. The Parish Council has final say in policy matters, finances and property in consultation with the Senior Minister. The Parish Council, in turn, empowers the Senior Minister to lead the church with the staff. As a result, the Senior Minister has final say on Executive Matters relating to theology, vision and direction in consultation with the Parish Council. The Staff and Volunteer Leaders are freed up to make Operational Decisions that will practically assist ministry programs. The following table provides a clear structure to the decision making process.
Decision Making Level
Parish Council decides Policy matters with input from Senior Minister
Senior Minister decides Executive matters with input from Parish Council
Senior Minister decides Executive matters with input from Staff
Staff decide Operational matters with input from Volunteer Leaders
Volunteer Leaders decide Operational matters
“Policy Matters” refers to the governing guidelines by which St Paul’s is run. This includes:
• Financial policies and budget approval
• Church constitution issues set by the Sydney Anglican Diocese
• Human resource policies e.g. senior staff employment, staff recruitment policy, etc.
• Major goals for the church e.g. 5 year goals
• Holding the Senior Minister accountable for policies and goals set for the church.
“Executive Matters” refers to the theology, vision & values and church strategy by which St Paul’s is run. This includes ministry and operational matters such as:
• Church stand on important issues e.g. divorce and remarriage, church discipline, mode of baptism, leadership structure, etc
• Ministry vision and direction
• Ministry strategy, priorities and supporting goals.
“Operational Matters” refers to the practical operational outworking of the Executive matters of vision and strategy via ministry programs and organisation, for example:
• Ministry programs
• Ministry logistics and administration (operations)
• Ministry details.
St Paul’s Wardens and Parish Council has changed over the years to accommodate for a larger sized church which brings with it an increase in complexity, staffing, volunteer numbers and administration issues. The Parish Council has an oversight and accountability responsibility in relation to the Senior Minister and Wardens. The monthly Parish Council meetings are an opportunity for the Senior Minister and Wardens to demonstrate how they have been living out the Mission and achieving the Vision, goals and policy decisions of the Parish Council.
Each AGM we seek church members who have demonstrated a clear commitment to the Mission, Vision, and Core Values of St Paul’s to nominate for Parish Council and Warden roles (and others). Prayerfully consider whether you will stand, nominate another, and who you will vote for come the 20th March.
Ever had that terrible feeling at Christmas that you’ve forgotten something important? Maybe you forgot to put the turkey in the oven before you came to church? Maybe the present for the Aunty who’s coming for lunch? Maybe that Christmas card that you meant to send to someone important, until you got a card from them in the mail on Friday. Or maybe it’s the scenario from the movie Home Alone? Remember the scene? The whole family is on the plane heading to France for the Christmas holidays, and they realise they’ve forgotten Kevin. Kevin is home alone.
I remember seeing a Playmobil advent calendar many years ago. It was a nativity scene complete with a stable, with stars, a horse, a cow, sheep, a feed trough, and even an angel. Right at the centre of it all, the focus of everyone’s attention, was Santa Claus! They’ve left out the most important person of all - Jesus. Jesus, the reason for the season, is nowhere to be found.
They made a pretty big blunder. They had forgotten Jesus. However, I want to say that Christmas is not just about remembering Jesus, but adoring him. Christmas is not first about witness, but about worship. So, come, all ye faithful. Come, joyful and triumphant. Let us adore our Christ.
We also need to beware of our standard of who we think can come in worship. At Jesus’ own birth, it wasn’t the squeaky-clean, religious elites of biblical faith who bowed the knee in worship. Rather, they bowed their back, and it was the ‘dirty pagans’ who streamed in to adore him.
We need look no further than the Magi of Matthew 2 for our model of the “faithful.” To call them “three kings” is overstated. “Wise men” is positive spin. These guys are more like sorcerers. They are star-gazing, pagan astrologers, watching for who-knows-what in the skies, rather than the Scriptures, and God in his grace comes to them through the very channel of their sin. Even here at Jesus’ birth, he is making wizards into worshipers worldwide. Even from the priestly class of pagan religion. Don’t miss the message of the magi: If such sinners as these can approach the Christ and fall down in worship, so may all. Pagan astrologers prostrate in adoration is a stunning emblem announcing that all sinners may come.
You know the well-worn lines from Matthew 2:10–11. But let’s travel these trails again and see the magi adore the Jewish Messiah. When they saw the star [resting over the place where the child was], they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Matthew piles up the joy language so that we don’t miss it. They didn’t just rejoice, but did so exceedingly. Added to that, they did so “with joy” — and even more, “great joy.”
Perhaps we would have thought of the shepherds in Luke 2 as the crazy emotional types, while these scholarly pagan astrologers keep calm and collected. But the joy language explodes here in Matthew 2 with even greater gusto than Luke 2 when the angels announced “good news of a great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10) and the shepherds “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen” (Luke 2:20). Here our wicked wizards, Matthew says, “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”
Such explosive joy is not disconnected from their worship of the baby Jesus. Exceedingly great joy is the stuff of true adoration. The essence of worship is not physical actions and mere motions of homage. At its heart, worship is in “spirit and truth,” as Jesus says in John 4 — true things about Jesus and a spirit of great joy about him — spiritually looking to Jesus and rejoicing exceedingly with great joy.
But what does it mean here that the astrologers “worshiped” this child? Did they know he was God in the flesh? Were they worshiping him as the God-man? They may merely be paying homage to one whom they anticipate will be a great earthly king. Maybe. Perhaps the magi heard from Jewish exiles in Babylon about the Balaam prophecy in Numbers 24:17, “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel.” It seems more is going on here. If by “worship,” Matthew merely means that they paid him homage, as subjects pay homage to their king, then it seems odd to travel so far and redundant to say “they fell down.”
Falling down is the physical posture, but “worship” is what is going on in their hearts as they see this newborn king who will reign not only over Israel but the whole world, thus making them his subjects even though they aren’t Israelites
At least in some sense, they are worshiping better than they know, and Matthew wants us to see that. In chapter one, he has already told us of the virgin conception and that this baby is called “Immanuel, God with us” (Matthew 1:23) and that he will save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). In this Gospel, Matthew will unfold the surprising story of how this child born king will walk an excruciating path to his cosmic reign — a path literally excruciating, in dying odiously, and sacrificially, on a Roman cross en route to glory.
Since we Christians now know more, we adore him all the more, and come to Christmas with no less joy than these emotionally enthused magi. Our Christmas worship is more like these star-gazing “wise men” than it is of the scrupulous Jerusalem religious elite, who know their Scriptures, but won’t bow their knee. We come as sinners, struggling, unclean, unimpressive. But it doesn’t mean we come joyless here to this Christmas season.
Our Lord Jesus is marvellously merciful — because his arrival is Grace Incarnate (Titus 2:11 - For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people), because he came to seek and save lost (Luke 19:10 - For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost), to call the sinners (Matthew 9:12 - On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners), to serve the spiritually broken (Mark 10:45 - For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many), and destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8 - The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work) — we come joyful and triumphant.
Sinners come, even in star-gazing rebellion so great as ours, and we adore Christ the Lord with joy — rejoicing exceedingly with great joy. Come, let us adore him.
God’s grace to you this Christmas season,
The Rev’d Dr John Stott died in 2012 after a public ministry that lasted more than 60 years. In 2005, Time magazine ranked Stott among the 100 most influential people in the world. He wrote over 50 books. He wrote his last book at the age of 88 (two years before he died) titled The Radical Disciple. Stott asserts that the main reason he wrote the book was that we who claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus will not provoke him to say again: ‘Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:46). For genuine discipleship is wholehearted discipleship (p.16). Basic to all Christian discipleship is our resolve not only to address Jesus with polite titles, but to follow his teaching and obey his commands. Stott makes an interesting point in the preface of Radical Disciple: Both words (Christian and disciple) imply a relationship with Jesus, although perhaps ‘disciple’ is the stronger of the two because it inevitably implies the relationship of pupil to teacher. The title 'Christian' means a whole range of things in our culture. The title 'disciple of the Lord Jesus' is somewhat more specific.
The final characteristic of the radical disciple of the Lord Jesus that Stott deals with in his book is death. He writes: Christianity offers life - eternal life, life to the full. But it makes it plain that the road to life is death…Life through death is one of the profoundest paradoxes in both the Christian faith and the Christian life…The radical biblical perspective is to see death not as the termination of life but as the gateway to life…In short, the Bible promises life through death, and it promises life on no other terms (p115, 117).
The paradox of life through death has profound implications for the life of discipleship. Jesus himself puts it bluntly: Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. (Mark 8:34-35).
If we had lived under Roman occupation in Palestine and seen someone carrying a cross we’d know immediately they were a condemned criminal on the way to execution. This is the dramatic image Jesus chose to help his disciples understand the level of commitment Jesus expects. Jesus expects his disciples to deny themselves. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” What is more, according to Luke we are to take up our cross every day (Luke 9:23), and if do not do so we cannot be Jesus’ disciple (Luke 14:27).
Jesus’ words about ‘saving’ and ‘losing’ our ‘life’, although can be applied to martyrdom, are not restricted to it. The word ‘Life’ = SELF. So a way to paraphrase Jesus would be, whoever is determined to hold onto themselves and live for themselves, will lose themselves. But whoever is willing to die, to lose themselves, to give themselves away in the service of Christ and the gospel, will (in the moment of complete abandon) find themselves, and discover their true identity and deepest satisfaction and joy. Jesus promises true self-discovery at the cost of self-denial; true life at the cost of death.
I look forward to this time each year at St Paul’s, our annual Vision series. It is a time when I call us as a church, and myself, to ‘die a little more’ in order to live a little more. It is time to give up some more…surrender some more…commit to Jesus some more...obey Jesus some more...and find more freedom and joy in Jesus as we do. It is explicit in our church's mission statement: Know Jesus, Treasure Jesus and Represent Jesus for God's glory and the joy of all people. When we make much of Jesus for the glory of God we discover our deepest joy.
This is the 8th Vision series I’ll be leading us through at St Paul’s. Way back in 2009 I launched Vision 2020, the next phase in the over 100 year history of ministry at St Paul’s. In launching Vision 2020, my intention was to lead us into a new era of significant personal sacrifice for the glory of God in our area. My call then is the same today: may we tremble, not with fear that it will cost so much to achieve Vision 2020, but with fear that God will be displeased that we did not aim at something greater. May we tremble not that the price is too high but that the Vision be too small. Our purpose statement and our core values at St Paul’s call us to be radical disciples of the Lord Jesus.
In the years since 2009 quite a lot of attention has been on our purpose statement, and our Core Values, as we have gone through the process of rediscovering who we are as a church and disciples of the Lord Jesus. The consistent message from the leadership of St Paul’s is that Jesus is the greatest treasure anyone could have.
What excites me for this Vision series is that this journey of rediscovery of purpose has led to clarity on what we are to do. That is, knowing what we are to do is a consequence of who we are. For the past 18 months or so I’ve had a secret concern that we needed to have a clear vision of what we are seeking to do as a church. Purpose and values were clear but where was it leading us? What are we seeking to do as a church? What is the vision of a better future that would keep us moving forward and see people treasuring Jesus with us? This Vision series I will be taking us through a vision that will shape our ministry practices into the foreseeable future.
When I launched Vision 2020 back in 2009 it included a vision statement (along with a new purpose, core vales and strategies). I jettisoned the vision statement almost as soon as the ink was dry! It is still in print around the place but it has never shaped our planning for the future. Seven years later it would seem our vision has found us. In July this year a small group of our leadership were away, working on what is next for us as a church, when our vision for the future became clearer. Since July I have been refining the core concepts of our vision with Parish Council, Staff and a few other leaders in order to bring it before the whole church this Vision series. These past months of discussion has led us to the following:
St Paul’s exists (Purpose): To know Jesus, treasure Jesus, and represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people…THEREFORE…
(Vision) we are united in our desperation for the world around us to encounter Jesus, and our desire to represent the diversity of Chatswood.
Over the four weeks of this year’s Vision series I plan to preach on four key implications of this visions statement; what it means for our unity, our diversity, the world around us, and for us both individually and corporately. I’m excited about this vision because it so clearly flows out of who we are, and connects with so many of our passions and values as a church.
Seeking to die to self a little more this Vision series,
Steve Jeffrey - Senior Minister
I am often amazed by the ways in which God works. Even though I probably shouldn't be, I am regularly surprised by the ways in which God has orchestrated circumstances, relationships, opportunities and all areas of my life to achieve his purposes. Sometimes it feels like he has been leading me in a really obvious direction but its not until I’ve nearly arrived that I begin to realise where he is taking me. And then, of course, I get the chance to rejoice as I recognise his goodness right throughout the journey up to that point.
It feels like we, as a church, are in a similar situation right now. Recently the Purpose Pastors spent a few days away together praying and planning for the future. We were trying to seek God’s mind and heart for us as a church and as we did so we had what I can only describe as a ‘God moment’. Having stepped back from the day to day pressures of ministry we were probably for the first time, able to see with clarity what God has been building among us and what we believe God is calling us to pursue as we move forward.
It was a hugely encouraging time as we began to recognise and give thanks for what God has already done among us, for the ways he has been shaping our hearts. And I think we all had trouble sleeping that night as we begun to dream about what the future would hold if we boldly, prayerfully and sacrificially pursued the vision that God was laying before us.
God has been bringing new people to join our community, calling people to follow him, we’ve seen people place their trust in Jesus and be baptised. We’ve seen guests among us every week in our services, new ministries and new opportunities to share God’s love with our community, imagine what could be next!
As a result of our time away we have begun the process of crafting a new vision statement for St Paul’s. An explicit goal and something to measure ourselves by. A statement that would answer the question ‘What are we trying to achieve?’ It’s the bit after our purpose statement, which in case you’ve forgotten is:
St Paul’s exists to know Jesus, treasure Jesus and represent Jesus for God’s glory and the joy of all people.
Our vision statement begins with the word ‘therefore’, as a result of our reason for existing we hope to achieve something, and that something is what we believe God has been clarifying for us over the last few months.
During this year’s Vision Series we will unveil this statement which has been worked on by staff, parish council and several key volunteers. This Vision Series will be our opportunity as a whole church to grab hold of that vision and own it. An opportunity for us to realign all that we do as a church so that we can be single minded in our commitment to achieving what God is putting in front of us.
This year we will begin our Vision Series in a reoriented church! Our 9.30 congregation has been bursting at the seams this year and in order to create space for more growth we will be turning the church sideways internally, which will create upwards of 80 extra seats! But not only that, it will also enable us to deliver better clarity of amplified sound, better sight lines for those with hearing difficulties and a more connected experience of corporate worship for all present.
Please be praying for the team who will be making the reorientation happen in time for Vision Series to start.
Our Vision Series will begin on Sunday 30th October and run for four Sundays, all of them will be exciting and there will be a lot of important information for the year ahead. We will kick off the series at our Heartbeat night on Wednesday 26th October. With an opportunity to pray, open God’s word together and begin lifting our eyes to what God is doing through us collectively.
Every year during our Vision Series we take the opportunity to pledge our financial commitment for the following year, this enables our wardens, staff and parish council to utilise the resources we have. please begin prayerfully considering what it will look like for you to be radically generous with your regular giving in 2017 and also to consider how you might contribute to our annual project (more details on this coming soon).
The other really important part of Vision Series is the opportunity to sign up to serve. We believe God has equipped all his people with gifts and abilities that are designed to be used for the building up of His kingdom. We are really keen to help you figure out how God has gifted you and where you might best use that gift to bless as many people as possible.
I believe I have one of the best jobs in the world, I love what I do and I love working with people like you. But I can honestly say that I am more excited by what lies in front of us right now than I have ever been about ministry. St Paul’s is a great church and through us God is doing a great work.
Let me encourage you to take time to thank God for what we get to be a part of together. And as we approach our Vision Series this year, ask Him to show you again how you might play your part in what we’re part of.