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Fat sheep?

Having recently returned from a Christian conference, I was struck with a dilemma. Let me paint you the scenario. A group of Christians from indigenous Australia all asked for exactly the same prayer points:

  • for young people to know Jesus

  • for men to become mature Christians who would be leaders in their communities

It struck me that this is the type of prayer I rarely need to pray for my local church. As I sit and write this my local church has a Sunday school, a youth group (small as it is), employs a children's worker and has other structures it can draw from like SRE. When I think of male leadership, we have three male pastors employed full time, and at least 40% of our men converted and serving our congregations in some way. Our staff team runs congregational training and again if this were not the case there are other resources online to listen to, read, or conferences to attend, and all in English.

So my dilemma is this: how can some areas of our city already have access to hearing about Jesus and be so abundantly resourced when it is so obvious that in other areas people have little to no access to Jesus (less reached)? How can others have little to no access to resources (less resourced)? This seems especially true of multicultural Sydney, let alone other parts of Australia, and then the masses of less reached and less resourced overseas.

As I talk with friends who have lived and worked overseas it astounds me to hear about places like Spain. If the Anglican diocese of Sydney, for example, had the same ratio of ministers to general population as the diocese of the Spanish Anglican Church, the whole diocese of Sydney would have one part-time minister. One. Part-time. Minister. For all of Sydney. In rural northern NSW you can be in a reasonable size town and be the only minister (the other churches without any ministers) or in a smaller town only see your minister once a month because they are rotating between three other centres. From where I stand of course, all Sydney-siders need to hear the gospel (again?) but Sydney is incredibly over-resourced compared to the rest of the world.

So how is it that we have so much and there are others with so little?

From the scriptures we see God is a saving God who makes promises from the outset that all nations are within his purview (Gen.12:1-3). Throughout the Old Testament he has used his people to be a beacon to surrounding nations to draw them to him (Deut 6; 1 Kings 8). Through his prophets and through Jesus, he now sends his people out to declare his glory in Christ Jesus (Isa, Luke, Rom 10). The Lord's vision is presented to us as a gathering of people from every different nation, tribe people and language (Rev7:9). Hence the Bible sets the church's agenda that mission is not just local, but global. When was the last time you heard this?

There is no mandate to prioritise one particular suburb over another, or people group against people group. Yet I wonder if part of the answer to my dilemma lies in those of us who are richly resourced, sharing with the less reached and less resourced. Much like a triage at a hospital, although all patients need help, there needs to be some framework to prioritise those in danger of dying sooner than others. The scriptures seem to provide this "triage" framework for us. We are told that Jesus came for the sick (Luke 5:31). The hallmark of our faith is expressed in love (1John and that those of us who have abundance are to be generous so there may be equality (2 Cor 8:1-15). We will be held accountable for what we know and what we have done (Luke 12:42-48).

This is not a straight forward answer. Multiple factors contribute to this problem. There are government and societal structures which inhibit the gospel going forward in some places, as well as the choice of the Holy Spirit to work where he will. However rather than lay blame anywhere, what are we doing as a church to address the problem?

I work as a student worker on a campus of at least 30,000 undergraduates. The Christian group sits at approximately eight to nine hundred strong. Many of these Christian students come from well-resourced churches in our city which has benefitted from a long tradition of evangelical teaching and churches that have had high value on training. Thus students come to us experienced in praying publicly, running youth groups and leading on camps. These students leave us having being fed with lunchtime Bible talks, more training in running small groups and evangelism, and skills in working with others. Some would call our students fat sheep.

With such a richly resourced group of students who will one day leave university, and knowing the inequality of resources, we have encouraged our graduates to prioritise serving the less reached and the less resourced. We feel that being fat sheep under God they have been able to eat for a purpose - to use those resources to serve those who have less. We want our students to use their profession to serve the less reached and less resourced, and for them to join and become a solid pillar in a local church. We want some to consider word based ministry and take those skills to these areas. Imagine if every church had this vision? What an impact this could make to God's Kingdom!

We don't want our graduates to simply go back and contribute to somewhere they may be under-utilised because there are already people serving in the same capacity. It's like being passionate about playing guitar yet being the sixth guitar player who only plays once every two months. Or someone whose joy is to lead Bible studies but, because there are so many others, only leads once every two years. Wouldn't it be great to play or lead more often? If the church were willing to encourage these people to be on mission for God and get about his business perhaps we would have more moving to a multicultural area of Sydney and getting involved with a local church there. We might have more professionals driven by the need for people to know Jesus willing to take a job in Perth. And perhaps we would have hundreds more volunteering to be missionaries to increase the likelihood of a middle eastern woman meeting a believer. Senior Staff worker Sydney University Evangelical Union. My role is to make students aware of people who have less reached with the gospel of Jesus, or churches that are less resourced throughout the world. I equip and mentor students to take their profession of use vocational ministry to be a blessing to God's global church.

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