I was recently reflecting on the initial results released after the 2021 Australian Community Survey regarding what Christians think and know about Jesus and church. Already these things should cause us to come to God in prayer. On the one hand, there are so many signs that the spiritual health of Australian mainstream society is poor. On the other hand, one can’t help but notice the opportunities to share about Jesus, and the benefits of being part of a Christian community who love and care for each other. This then also got me thinking about the fascination that we have (me included) with New Year’s resolutions.
Every year, we make resolutions, and even before we have committed to them, make jokes about how we will never keep them. However, undergirding the idea of a resolution is the assumption that we have even a semblance of control of the future, and can steer our paths to achieve goals that will change our lives. You don’t need to be a seasoned Christian to see that God is the one in control, both of the now and of the future. Just consider the pandemic, relationships that seemed so good which are now fraught with pain, or how quickly people lose their wealth. So, rather than resolving to change some aspect of our future, we ought to consider the unique opportunities that are presented to us right now – inviting those around us to see the difference Jesus makes. After all, “…now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2b).
Warmly invite to church
Most Christians know the benefit of being part of God’s family as it is physically expressed in gathering as a church. It matters that we are welcomed – from the least of us to the greatest – that we fit in, and that we have the blood of Jesus as a common binding agent. It matters that as a community we encourage each other in difficulties, help each other in troubles, are willing to correct each other when we stray, and point each other to the grace and kindness of God in our Lord Jesus in every circumstance. It matters that as a community we are part of something bigger than ourselves – that it gives us a meaning and purpose to life, as we engage a world that is reeling in pain to offer them the most amazing solution – “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)!
The Australian Community Survey tells us that in 2021, over half of all Australians say they have no friends and family who attend church. In the same survey, three in every ten Australians were likely to attend a Christmas service were they to be invited. These statistics should cause us to consider how we speak about church. We should be wise and warm in the way we invite those around us to church, understanding the space that some need to explore a community that may be very foreign to them. However, we ought not be so preoccupied with making church normal that we completely neglect the uniqueness of Christian community. After all, if church is a carbon copy of every other gathering, why would anyone want to leave their normal patterns to explore something new?
These statistics should also challenge us to speak more about church. I suspect that for the last few years ‘going to church’ has not been common parlance. Things have also not been helped by the negative press around the Royal Commission findings and the right grief over the wrongs committed. Churches are imperfect places, where broken people go to find refuge in a God who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psa 103:8). To not communicate the imperfection of Christians is to give people the wrong impression of who we are, and does not elevate the glory of Christ. It is refreshing and freeing to admit our brokenness, and therefore our need to come close to our heavenly Father who has compassion on us. It alleviates the burden that comes with the façade of Christians being ‘better’ than everyone else. Christ is even better than the angels, and of our own accord we are clearly not. How beautiful it would be, if workplaces, university campuses, schools, parks, cafes, and homes across the country were filled with Christians who were letting people know about the familiar, messy, joy-filled time they had at church that week?
Speak about Jesus
The Australian Community Survey also tells us that only half of all Australians know that Jesus was a real historical person. This statistic was unexpected when I first read it. I assumed that the historicity of Jesus was not up for debate, and that all the disputes focused on who he was – Son of God, and the risen Christ. However, these statistics should also act as a challenge to bring Jesus in to our everyday conversations a little bit more. Yes, we want to speak about who Jesus is, but I think we also want to raise the temperature on how much we speak about Jesus. We want him to be on the minds of people, a part of everyday conversation, mentioned not just in our prayers and our utterances when having an evangelistic conversation, but also when talking about history, experience, and culture. Jesus has made an unbelievable impact on all of history, and we ought to remind people of that as we speak about the way our society and culture have and continue to be shaped. I think this will also lead to more evangelistic conversations, as people are naturally curious about why Christians believe in Jesus. Many non-Christians assume that Christians identify as such because of birth, cultural comfort, familial pressure, or peer pressure. What a wonderful testimony it would be, to show in everyday speech that Christians believe in Jesus because he makes a difference to our brokenness, assurances, and the way we see all of life?
Resolutions themselves can be profoundly helpful, as they help us hone in on that which is most important. So, in this new year, why not consider focusing on the now. At this very moment, there are millions of Australians who do not know Jesus, and who do not know anyone who attends a church. Why not be the person that tells some of those people about Jesus, help them to get familiar with the ‘normal’ nature of the churchgoer, and invite to join a community of broken people humble before a God who loves them more than they could fathom and gives them more than they could ever ask for or want?