Your Connect09 journey begins today
Archbishop, you've called us to pray for Connect09"
Yes, the work we are doing is God's work and although we are involved actively, of course, it all depends on God's strength and God's purposes. We need to see this as a prayer crusade, if you like, that will go right to the end of 2009. Remember that the focus is on our neighbours; the focus is on our street, our suburb, our town. Wherever it is that we live, that's our focus. Our prayer needs to be sustained and continuous because really we are doing God's work.
You've said that you've been praying for your neighbours. How did that go?
Yes, it's true. I had something funny occur to me, even after I said that, actually. The other day I was in a plane and fell to talking with the man next to me and lo and behold he walks up and down our street constantly when he's exercising and we've formed a connection, a relationship. I've been surprised at the way, I shouldn't be I suppose, but I have been surprised at the way the Lord has opened up opportunities around me as I've begun to pray.
As we enter this next phase of Connect09, what are you expecting that the churches will be doing?
Well it is enormously important first of all to research " to look again at our neighbourhoods, to look again at our streets and our suburbs. You know we often can live there but not think about them. But I think in some ways we need to pound the beat again, to get back onto the streets, to ask ourselves: who's there? What sorts of language groups are there? What sorts of age groups are there?
So finding out the answer to those questions I think is probably our first move.
As we find out that answer to that question, then we'll be asking ourselves, "Well then, how can we best contact and connect with people like that?". So I don't mind at all if time is spent at the beginning in doing that research.
But there is another thing. Our ministers are very hard-working people; they certainly fill in the hours! If we are going to do this seriously, we are going to have to help our ministers clear their diaries to make the space and time for proper planning and proper preparation.
So I want us all to encourage our ministers and for us not to be too critical of them as they give a lot of time to this whole business of reaching into the community, contacting and connecting.
So this is a real joint effort " neither the ministers nor the congregations can do it alone.
Oh certainly not. You know, members of churches are great people " but each person needs to become not just a member but a partner in their church and a partner who actually helps others. Then we are also going to have to partner across churches so that churches will help other churches too. So what we're being called for is a partnership within and beyond the churches in this great work.
This sounds like real sacrifice. People are very busy these days"
Yes, we are all very busy. We all have our time cut out and it is going to require great sacrifice. First of all for ministers, but then other people as well. All I can say, however, is that first of all, it's worth it! The gospel is the most precious possession that we have, and making the gospel known is certainly worth it.
Then secondly I'd say it's a sacrifice that responds to the sacrifice that God, in Christ, made for us and it's a sacrifice that we Christians ought to be willing to make. Yes, it is going to be tough. But I believe that we ought to do it and I believe that we'll be very glad that we do do it.
What's the place of the word of God in this?
The word of God is the way in which God connects with people. Of course, we could have a sort of a "charm offensive' to try to sell our Church and to try to help people to recognise the brand or do something like this but that's not what we're really interested in. We're interested in sharing the gospel, that is to say, sharing the word of God with people so that they can connect with Jesus. That is God's appointed way in which people come to know him. So, whether people reject it or not, or whether people find it difficult or not, that is the method, the only method which has been given to us to bring people into the kingdom of God.
So that's why the word of God is central to the business of Connect09.
Haven't we tried this before?
I'm glad to say we have. From the very beginning of New South Wales some Christians in those days went door to door with the word of God, so we've been doing this a long time. Again in 1988 the same thing occurred.
But there is a bit of a difference this time. We're also putting this emphasis on connection, relationship in other words, between us and the communities which we serve. We're trying to reconnect our churches with their communities in a new way. So there is a new element to this. It's going to require a bit more work but I believe the results will show up as being very useful indeed.
Why do you think there's been this "disconnect' between our churches and the community at large?
Oh, during the last 40 or 50 years there's been quite a rejection of Christianity in the community in one way or another and a great decline in church-going. It's not catastrophic, we've still got many people who are Christians, but there has been this rejection of Christianity at various levels.
As a result we've had to gather our people together and make sure they are taught well. I'm glad to say we have done that. But the mere process of doing that, making sure that we have gathered congregations of well-taught Christians, has meant that we have, to some extent, withdrawn from the world - moved away from it " and we are now at a point where I believe we have enough confidence and enough strength to go back into the communities and to reach the people that we have a responsibility for. It's a great day to be alive!
What resources do you expect will be needed for this task?
Well, first of all the word of God. So really, people who are well trained in understanding and knowing the word of God. Then those people will need to be resourced and we are planning to have training programs, for example. We'd also be able to provide some resource information about your area, the area where you live, so that you'll know who it is that you're contacting, we'll have a website, we'll do lots of things at the big level in order to help people at the local level.
So, I'm hoping that by the time we're all finished the people that you connect with will be expecting you to come along " because of the efforts that we're all putting into it.
What would you say to a church which says, "We've been trying flat out to do the kinds of things you are suggesting but we're in tough ground and it's hard going"?
That's most of our churches I think. I'm very proud of our churches. They are working hard.
I also know that this country we live in, like a number of other Western countries, is very hard work. Evangelistic enterprise here is not easy. In some parts of the world it is far easier, but not here in the West. So when people say that to me I am not at all surprised.
Although that's true, it doesn't remove our responsibility to continue to find fresh ways to reach people who don't know Christ. What this whole enterprise of Connect 09 does, is to bring the churches together in a unity, in a strength that we can work together in order to reach out into our communities.
So what I would say to a church like that is " Good! I'm glad you're doing that. We're going to help you do it even better. Don't lose heart, don't lose strength, don't become weary. The gospel still matters and we're going to help you even more to make the gospel known where you live.
You said earlier that people may be surprised by what happens. Can you expand on that?
Yes, I think that's connected to prayer actually. You see, sometimes we have the view that this is a tough mission field, which it is, and therefore no-one's interested and we're not going to get anywhere. In actual fact you never know who's behind the door you knock on. You never know who you're going to relate to at the school or at the marketplace, wherever it is that you make connection. I believe that God is a great God and he is at work in people's lives and I think that from time to time we are going to be very surprised because people are, in a sense, waiting for us to come and begin that conversation with them.
I had a situation once at my [secular] workplace where I knew someone might be interested in talking about the gospel. I prayed, I waited for an opportunity and then I talked. That person has since become an evangelist! Does that sound like a common story?
Not common enough! But yes, it does. Although it's a hard mission field that we're in, nonetheless God is at work and God is well able to turn a person's life around. It happened to me!