Update: My good friend Grendel was a late starter on this ‘synchroblog’ but you can check his post here. Its a beauty.
I’d like to start this post by saying that most of my life I have been an optimist – and have always believed – often for no good reason – that ‘things’ will get better… I guess there is as much irrationality about optimism as there is about pessimism!
However I am not so optimistic about the future of Australian Christianity. In fact I see a very bleak future for several generations to come. I hesitate to post this rather gloomy piece, but I am interested to see if its ‘just me’ or if others also have similar ruminations…
What provoked my thinking on this front was a recent church meeting I attended where the high powered speaker was ‘believing God for revival’… He and many others like him have been prophesying revival in Perth/Western Australia/Australia for more years than I can count now. You know the drill… ‘I believe there is going to be a mighty work of God in this land… a revival of epic proportions… God is doing a new thing… if my people will humble themselves and pray… blah blah blah…”
Some ‘ask’ for revival. Others predict it.
I believe both have missed the point.
I am tired of this revival talk and these false prophets, because in the 30 years I have been old enough to understand the concept I have actually observed the church (overall) in decline. And I haven’t seen any of the revivals that have been predicted ever actually happen. (I do know there have been movements of this ilk among aboriginal people – but these weren’t ‘prophesied’ – and of course because they are not white we don’t count them…)
Do I sound a tad cynical?…
The next time someone prophesies massive revival in your church tell them they are full of crap. Ok… maybe that’s a bit strong… Maybe just politely inquire when the revival will be, what will happen, how you will know it has happened and then bet them a carton of crownies it won’t happen. (Easy way to get free beer…)
No… on second thoughts I was right the first time.
I began pondering why we crave this revival experience and I wonder if it because we are too lazy to get off our own butts and get involved with the people in the communities we live in and do the hard yards of making connections, knowing that many of them will never lead to a person coming to faith? I wonder if we don’t just want God to do the ‘hard work’ of mission (we will hold prayer meetings – until we get bored because nothing has happened) and then when he has done his thing people will flock to our churches to join us… and become like us… and we won’t have to change one bit… we won’t have to experience any discomfort at all. Of course we only want ‘appropriate’ people to join our churches so it would need to be a selective revival of the middle classes.
In many churches the people pray and send God out on mission, when in reality it is us he has commissioned to the task.
Revival as I hear it depicted takes the responsibility off us to be salt and light. Its as if the people pray and send God out on mission, and then complain when he doesn’t get the job done.
I’m so tired of hearing preachers rant about ‘taking our city for God’, or taking the nation’. For one thing I don’t think people like being ‘taken’, and for another I don’t think anyone really wants to do it. Sure you might get a few wild eyed young people fired up and nutso the day after a Planetshakers conference, but talk to them in 6 months about their plans for ‘taking the city’ and chances are (if they are still in church) that they won’t even remember the whole thing.
The militaristic tone of that language harks back to our darkest days when crusades took people by force and needs to be dismantled and retired for ever. I remember when Erwin McManus was in Perth a few months back, during the open question time, he was asked ‘what we need to do to start taking our city for God’.
His response… ‘stop using that kinda language for a start!’
We really have to stop this nonsense talk about taking the world for Christ when most of us don’t even know our own next door neighbours. And we need to stop expecting God to do what we are too lazy or afraid to do ourselves.
I should say that I would love to be around if God ever did do something miraculous – if there ever was a genuine revival ala the Welsh revival. I’m sure that would be an incredible experience. But in the mean time – in the absence of the miraculous – I believe our job is not to pray God will pull his finger out and bring some pagans into church, but rather for us to get our own butts into gear and live the gospel in the worlds we are a part of.
Having said that I don’t think it will make a lot difference to the attendance figures at church. I’m not even convinced that many people will be interested in the gospel or faith. I think for anyone who is engaged in evangelistic work among adult Australians it will be a lean time. There’s no doubt young people are easier to influence, but that knife cuts both ways as they also easily influenced away from faith.
I actually believe the current decline in Australian Christianity will continue for maybe another couple of hundred years. If we are looking like following European trends then Australia is only going to become more secular,and more focussed on the material to bring us satisfaction in life. I can see that at least the next 50 years being ones of decline and challenge for us in the church. There will be some who will be faithful, who will take up the challenge of living for Jesus, but I believe it will be a dry, tough time and many will give the game up.
I have recently been wondering, what if our generation’s contribution will simply be that of ‘holding our ground’?
What if we are entering a period of time where there will be such a disinterest in faith that simply to ‘not give up and join in’ will be a great achievement? I haven’t thought like this before, but increasingly I am wondering if we really are in survival mode as the Australian church – even if our gung ho militaristic rhetoric suggests otherwise?
The optimist in me wants to believe that things will get better – that if we just ‘do more missionary stuff’ people will respond again to the gospel and that we will see a new generation of disciples who will chart the course for the future. But I just can’t see it. And while it disturbs me and makes me sad I feel this is a more accurate reality than revival next weeky…
What I do see is a fair share of Christians getting lured away from faith by affluence and self indulgence and laziness. I do see a general decline in the level of Christian discipleship as people work harder and generally ask ‘what’s the point’? I wonder where this laiodicean kind of faith will take us?…
No one is likely to get excited about being the people who simply ‘held the ground’. As a pastor I would have found that a hard sermon to preach. ‘Come on people! Lets just be faithful to what we know and try not to quit!’ Hmmm…
I believe there are sound biblical and practical principles for how a church is to function and operate in its community, but I don’t believe that just by being faithful we will see a substantial difference in the Australian spiritual landscape. I don’t think there is any easy answer to the current situation we find ourselves in as the church.
I don’t say that to discourage you, but I say it because I am tired of the false hopes that get thrust at us from so many directions. So many conferences with answers and plans and models to fix where we are at – and yet so little changes. Maybe that’s why we go the ‘revival’ route. We know we’re screwed and unless God shows up then in a miraculous way we have nothing left to stand on. And when the conferences and seminars don’t ‘work’ there begins the cycle of blame – its our pastor who can’t lead us – or for pastor’s ‘its our people who just aren’t committed’.
Folks – my Australia day post is somewhat bleak. I do realise that. But I also believe that if it were a prophesy it would have more of a chance of being accurate than the crap we currently get fed.
What do I suggest?
Honestly I don’t have any other answer than to say ‘be faithful disciples’… I think Peter had it right when Jesus asked him if he wanted to leave. Remember his words? ‘Lord to whom would we go?!’
I don’t believe there is a better ‘option’ out there for making sense of the world, but I’m not so sure we as the church believe that like we used to…
p>This post is part of the Christianity In Australia
synchroblog which a number of Australian Christians are participating in to celebrate Australia Day. For more on Christianity in Australia see: