Jesus said it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom. But In Sydney, there are many who are rich and who we are called to share the gospel with. Sydney is home to seven of the top ten earning suburbs in Australia and the average wage across the city is above $75,000. How do we take the gospel to our neighbors, friends and family, who are considered wealthy?
Barriers to the gospel for the wealthy
“Money cushions [people] from their need and their need of God,” says Andy Bleach, Assistant Minister at St Clement’s Mosman. In the 2016-2017 taxation statistics, Mosman ranked as the seventh highest earning suburb in New South Wales.
While there is definitely a mix of high and middle income earners in his local community, Mr Bleach observes wealth has provided many with a false sense of security. “People don’t think they need a saviour. That’s the biggest barrier.”
Things are similar in Northbridge. “We find it very challenging to have conversations about Jesus with our neighbours,” says Simon Flinders, Senior Pastor of St Mark’s Northbridge. The peninsula community in Sydney’s north was the fourth highest earning suburb, with an average taxable income of $169,365.
“The mindset towards the gospel of a lot of people is polite indifference,” Mr Flinders says. “We don’t encounter people who are openly hostile to the faith, but we do encounter people who don’t see the point and can’t understand the relevance of Christ and the gospel in their lives. They are self sufficient, independent and have very little interest in thinking about the claims of Jesus. We are asking ourselves about whether we need to be bolder, or approach conversations differently. As a church we have warm relationships with the community but not a lot of conversations about Jesus. Our task is to persuade people they have a need they aren’t aware of.”
The lifestyle and hobbies of many affluent families are an additional barrier. “People aren’t around so much, off to holiday homes or away on the weekend,” says Mr Bleach. “It is hard to get them to a local church. Money can distract. Private schools have clubs and sports that go across the weekend. The lifestyle that goes along with having money [can mean that] people aren’t around to hear the gospel or don’t make time for it.”
Start by praying for the wealthy
Reverend Richard Lane has a simple starting point when it comes to evangelism. “Begin in prayer, meet people where they are at and go where the Spirit leads,” says the rector of St Stephen’s Bellevue Hill, whose suburb had the fifth highest average taxable income in New South Wales. “Whether they are rich or poor there are the same basic needs. I have had rich and poor in our church over the years but it has always been the same gospel message”
There are no shortcuts to sharing the gospel, adds Mr Flinders. “Evangelism is hard and slow work. Our commitment to praying for people is the most important thing we are doing. We can’t convince people they need Jesus without the Spirit’s work.”
Remember they still need Jesus
Money may provide temporary relief from many of life’s pains and problems, but it eventually fails and is exposed as a false idol. “Wealthy people are real people in real situations, and they will have real problems as well,” says Mr Bleach. “Meet people where they are at, go out and engage with them. It’s about real relationships.”
Mr Flinders agrees relationships are key, and says we need to go beyond neighbourhood niceties. “We don’t want people going to their graves thinking we were respectable but never feeling the effect of the gospel. As much as we want to love, and be generous and kind, we want them to hear the claim of Christ’s lordship on their lives.”
He prays the Spirit will help his church boldly speak about Jesus with the non-Christians in their community. “I’d love people to be praying that we would be really brave to share the gospel at every opportunity even if it will be uncomfortable with people. I’d love people to be praying that God would send his Spirit to awaken people’s hearts, so they can see they need everything he offers.”
Who is actually rich?
We sought advice from those ministering to the highest earning suburbs in New South Wales, but it’s important to reflect on who is rich and how we define the term. For perspective, a 2018 Global Wealth Report from Credit Suisse Research Institute noted if a person had $5,559 in the bank, that made them richer than half of the world. Many of us in Sydney are doing better financially than we realise, and are also susceptible to relying on money and not seeing our need for Christ.
Mr Bleach points to 2 Corinthians 8:9: For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
“That’s richness, isn’t it? That we know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s where true riches are,” he says. “That’s a helpful thing for us to remember as we engage in this community, as we point people to our Lord Jesus who truly makes us rich. We might be rich for a short time in this age, but we can’t take it with us when we die. That’s a helpful verse to keep in mind for anyone as well, to help people remember true riches are in Jesus.”
Adds Mr Flinders: “People in my suburb have a weird definition of rich. Most people think that someone else is richer. Naturally people in our society don’t drift towards acknowledging ourselves as rich. We end up defining ‘rich’ by what we have. Biblically, the rich are anyone who has enough to share with others. Our concept of what makes someone rich is a long way from how the Bible would think of it.”