Like many pastors and ministry workers, August for me started with a bang as over a thousand of us filed into the Australian Technology Park for Oxygen Conference 2014. Like an overly enthusiastic Apple fan queuing up overnight for the new iPhone 6, I was particularly excited about Oxygen Conference because of the line up of speakers. The who’s who of the evangelical Christian world were all in Sydney, in one room, and ready to expound God’s Word to us.
From a preaching point of view, it was incredible listening to each speaker ‘doing their thing’ on stage in a distinctive way. As I listened and took notes, I realised that they were all incredibly clear communicators in their own right and hence (from a learning point of view), there is no one ‘right way’ of preaching. This may seem obvious enough for anyone reading this, but that realisation was particularly important for me because in the process of studying the discipline of preaching and preparing sermons, I have at times fallen into the trap of believing that certain preaching styles or methodologies are more powerful than others. Of course, there are certainly ways in having more clarity with your content and being more engaging with your audience. But by having a variety of world-class speaking right in front of me, I’ve seen that there are so many ways in being a faithful preacher.
As you can probably guess from my selected image above, my favourite speaker from Oxygen was the one and only, my hero, D.A Carson. While I absolutely enjoyed Paul Tripp’s incredibly pastoral style of preaching and Francis Chan’s heart-tugging sermons, I felt like Carson had the right combination of ethos (credibility), pathos (understanding of audience), and logos (pattern of reasoning). I don’t mean that Carson is categorically superior to the other preachers. Rather, I feel like his many years of deep study of the Bible (thus ethos), his ‘time in the trenches’ of ministry (thus genuine understanding of the challenges in ministry), and intellectual capability of all these factors (thus logos) was very engaging and suitable for the audience. In addition to his keynote sermons, I also really enjoyed the leadership seminars he ran. Unlike the leadership seminars I am often accustomed to, Carson discussed leadership through deep biblical exposition. I vividly remember before our first session, Carson prayed (something along the lines) that ‘we would not domesticate the Bible into some leadership manual’ and would instead humbly submit to it as authority. That absolutely shook me as I recalled the times that I have domesticated the Bible to suit my ideas or beliefs.
Oxygen Conference was immediately followed by the annual RICE Rally evangelistic event and for the first time this year, Overflow Conference hosted by Kirkplace Presbyterian Church. Francis Chan spoke about some really timely things that I think many Sydney Evangelical Christians needed to hear. He talked about the importance of the church in today’s society, the crucial role of discipleship in every Christian’s life, and the beauty of abandoning self-reliance and trusting God with our circumstances. He shared from a lot of his personal experiences when he was senior pastor at Cornerstone Community Church and more recent examples from a house church movement that he started. Having done both, Francis believes in the house church model firstly because it is the most effective in evangelism and disciple-making, and secondly because it is the most practical (because it is run in houses and led by lay-members it doesn’t require a huge [if any] budget to operate).
He further advocated for this model of church planting at a small leaders gathering that Sunday afternoon, emphasising that in the secular West, churches are going to be increasingly marginalised. Big church buildings as we know it and religious liberty is going to decline, and churches need to respond to that. Hence, he believes that house churches is one way of responding to the exponential changes.
I think there is real value in what he is saying, especially given his observation of changing cultural trends. There needs to be more evangelism and discipleship in churches and there needs to be more strategic ways of church planting (for example: one that does not require a huge financial start). Furthermore, churches need to be characterised by Christ’s love and need to be an embodiment of the gospel. However, perhaps because of my naïvety, I don’t believe that the planting of house churches is the only way to respond to the changing religious climate in Western society. I think the church as an institution needs to continue to play a part in the public sphere (something that would be difficult if churches retreated into the private home), and should continue to advocate in public matters like religion, politics, and ethics.
Another really exciting thing that happened in August is the official gathering of team members for the RICE Movement’s inaugural short term mission trip. The preparation of this trip has been a bit of a long time coming, with a postponement of the trip earlier in the year because of some administrative bottlenecks and some difficulties with timing. However, most of that has been cleared out and the dates for the trip has been set.
So in August, we held 2 information evenings for prospective team members and out of the 35 who came along (and about 20 who expressed interest), we’ve narrowed the team down to 15 members, not including the staff team. The selected team members are really great, all wired and gifted by God in exceptional ways, and all ready to use those gifts to serve the people in China. We will be having our first all-in team meeting next Sunday, the 5th of October. So please pray for us as we make the necessary preparations for the trip, and pray that we would be able to make a positive impact.
In addition to the regular ministries that I’m part of, I had the opportunity this August to speak at Concord High School’s Christian lunch-time group. I was invited along to their group that is being restarted with the help of Josh Lum Mow (second-year intern at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church), with the intention of it turning into a self-sustainable student-run Christian group. It was great meeting this group of 10 students ranging from year 7-12, and sharing with them from 2 Timothy 2:1-13 on what it means to be committed followers of Christ in high school.
1) Please pray for the RICE China short term trip meetings leading up to January. Please pray that there would be good chemistry among the team members and that the experience would be beneficial for their spiritual development.
2)Please pray for me as I prepare to preach at ACTS11 on the 19th of October. It has been nice taking a short break from preaching, especially since I’ve been able to enjoy Pastor Jono’s preaching since his arrival back from WTS, but it’s also nice kicking back into preaching mode (especially given the things I’ve been learning about it).
3) ACTS11 is starting a series of leader’s training in October, with the first module titled ‘Jesus the Centre’ happening on the 18th of October. Please pray for Pastor Jono as he teaches and for me as I facilitate the discussions.
4) Please pray for our church’s Bankstown Church Planting morning info morning tea (for more information, check out the attached flyer). Please pray that the suitable people will be able to come along to support us in prayer, finance, and even consider being part of our launch team.
Thank you all for your support so far. There is so much that has happened in this month (September) and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with all of you. Your support and prayers do make a big difference.