Gender and Gender Fluidity – A Christian Response

In July 2015 the Australian reported that the Sydney University SRC were agitating for a variety of changes in the way the University categorised students and facilities like toilets and change rooms. They wanted less binary and more inclusive gender categories. Josh Han the SRC representative for gender matters, or Queer Officer as he was termed, said: “It’s about deconstructing societal views about what it means to be a man or a woman. If you only have two genders, there are limited interactions. But if you have a diversity of gender identities you don’t have these closed categories. It means you can have way more than 58 gender categories.” Among those 58 options according to Facebook are bi-gender, questioning, gender variant, pangender, intersex and 27 varieties of transgender and transsexual.
Now lest you think that this is just the latest fad in student politics you need to think again. The signs are that the concept of ‘gender diversity’ and ‘gender fluidity’ is becoming mainstream. The categories LGBTI are now recognised in some Commonwealth legislation. The Victorian State government has announced that it is planning to spend approximately $10 million on a ‘Pride Centre’ to showcase LGBTI art and history and $5 million on a Gender Dysphoria clinic at Monash Health. The Victorian government has also recently appointed a Gender and Sexuality Commissioner Ro Allen a long standing advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and gender diverse and intersex Victorians.
First we need to clarify how some of these terms are currently being used.
L = Lesbian, G = Gay, B = Bisexual, T = Transgender, I = Intersex, Q = Queer or questioning (‘Queer’ was originally a derogatory term but now adopted and rehabilitated by the Gay and gender questioning movements, although not all same sex attracted people support this term.It is also used to describe a political theory -‘Queer Theory’- that seeks to question and challenge all social norms. CIS gender = relating to a person whose self identity conforms with the gender that corresponds to their biological sex; not transgender. (What in the past was called normative.)
‘Pangender’ is another term sometimes used to indicate the belief that gender is a very broad and inclusive thing and not restricted to traditional heterosexual attraction.
What is Gender Fluidity or transgenderism?
It is a way of thinking that makes a sharp distinction between sex and gender. Sex is still understood as biologically determined but gender is now seen as something that is entirely socially constructed and so a matter of personal choice. This means that there is no necessary connection between your gender identity and your biological sex. The two may be the same or they may be different. There is, it is claimed, no norm.
Another more political way of describing transgenderism is that it is an umbrella term for anyone whose role, behaviour or gender orientation is not in line with what our prevailing and dominantly heterosexual society currently expects from our biological sex.
How does current mainstream medical and Psychological understanding help us approach this issue?
The following three general categories are recognised that are relevant to this issue:
1. There is a very small group of people who are born with physically ambiguous genitalia. These are very rare deviations from the physically binary sexual norms and are generally understood as “disorders of human design.”
2. The second category is those who are biologically male or female but have a same sex attraction. This group is commonly identified as homosexual, lesbian, gay or same sex attracted. While the exact figure is disputed reliable recent surveys in Australia, such as the ‘Australian Study of Health and Relationships 2013’, indicate 3.3% of men and 3.6% of woman identify themselves as not heterosexual. But it should be noted that of these totals 1.3% of the men and 2.2% of the woman identified as Bisexual. Only 1.9% of the men identified as gay and only 1.2% of the women as lesbian. A very small % describes themselves as ‘other’.
With regard to the question of whether same sex attraction is innate or caused by psychological and social factors it is scientifically unclear at this stage and disputed.
3. The third group is described as experiencing ‘Gender dysphoria’. This is the term currently used by the Psychiatric profession in their ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM5). This describes people who have distress, confusion or tension between their biological sex and their gender identity. This is where a person is biologically male or female but feels they are like the opposite sex. This was formerly listed in the DSM as a gender disorder as it was understood as a mental or psychological disorder from the norm where sex and gender match. The change in the DSM definition to ‘dysphoria’ is seen by some professionals in the field as more of a social and philosophical shift rather than a scientific one. The number of people in this category is unclear and disputed but probably less than 1. % as can be seen from the ASHR survey (Quoted above). It’s also possible that there will be people who are same sex attracted (category 2. above) and also those in pre-pubescent confusion who will present with gender dysphoria. While this is a small number it is significant socially and for those people suffering this distress it is a real and challenging problem that requires compassionate and specialist care.
Measuring the number of people genuinely in this category is also difficult at present due to the wide spread publicity given to current gender politics and the ambiguity expressed by some young people during the developmental stage of adolescence. Also it must be remembered that adolescent surveys on sexuality are notoriously unreliable for the reasons of peer pressure and expectations, their vulnerability to popular media fashions, and the fact that a number of adolescents go through a period of sexual confusion and questioning during this period of their development, but at the end of puberty the overwhelming majority accept their biological sex.(As DSM5 indicates)

A recent history of sexual politics
Since the 1960’s there are four discernible stages in the recent history of sexual politics in the West. Each stage has been the subject of considerable political activism. Reflecting on these stages and the response of the general community
and the Christian community is instructive.
1. Stage one: The cause of women’s rights to equality.
As a political cause this goes all the way back to the 19th C and the Suffragettes and their campaign for women’s right to vote. But the cause for women’s rights took on a wider scope and a new energy with the advent of contemporary feminism in the 1960’s. While there is still much to be achieved in areas such as equal pay and representation in positions of leadership the achievements have been substantial and generally accepted by society.

From a Christian and Biblical standpoint women’s equality with men should never have been questioned for the N.T. makes it quite clear that in Christ we are one. Paul expresses it this way in Galatians 3:27-28 “… all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” This together with the idea that we are all made in God’s image is the basis of the Christian idea of equality. The N.T. also makes clear that Christian Baptism replaces Jewish male circumcision as the sign of membership of the new covenant people of God. All are baptised men, woman, children, slaves, Jew or Gentile. The Body metaphor used by Paul in I Corinthians 12 to describe the way the Church is to function explains that while we are all equal and interdependent members of the body we have different functions, roles and gifts.
For the first 300 years of the Churches mission this was an overwhelmingly powerful and attractive truth to the ordinary people of the highly stratified, unequal, oppressive and patriarchal pagan culture of the first century. It was only later in the Churches history that this truth was diminished and compromised by the Churches adoption of old cultural forces. The recovery of this truth and its practical application in the contemporary Church has been widely welcomed. There are some exceptions but even these are modified from the immediate past practice.(EG: Almost all Protestant denominations have women as well as men as ordained ministers)
2. Stage two: The decriminalisation of homosexuality and Gay rights.
This took place only 35 years ago in the state of Victoria. This has been followed by a campaign to remove social discrimination against same sex attracted people. This campaign continues today and its success has been significant and is generally accepted by the community at large.
Once again from a Christian standpoint, on the same basis as just mentioned above (Gal.3:27-28 etc.) there should be full acceptance of same sex attracted people in the Christian community. We are all equal before the Gospel of grace and we are all equally fallen and in need of redemption.
On the question of sexual intimacy and same sex attracted people, the N.T standard of behaviour expected should be the same as that expected of single heterosexual people – chastity. (The ‘Four key Biblical and theological points’ in the last section of the paper imply that Christian Marriage is not available to same sex attracted couples as it would contravene the Christian concept of marriage, being against both divine and natural law.)
3. Stage three: The still contentious and unresolved question of same sex marriage.
While our society is currently in the throes of this debate it seems that the general community is conflicted for three reasons: (a) they have generally accepted the principle of “mutual consent” as being the only requirement for sexual intimacy among adults whether heterosexual or gay and so to refuse formal same sex unions seems inconsistent! (b) Many non – Christian people still hold to a traditional view that ‘marriage’ is a term that should be reserved for the formal union of a man and a woman. (c) There is also a significant residual feeling that same sex marriage is ‘unnatural’, meaning that it goes against natural law. (There is a plausible opinion that says that the national plebiscite was opposed politically because it was feared that despite the polls it would fail.)
So for these reasons many in the non – Christian community are conflicted about this issue.
Among the Christian community there is strong support for the traditional view of marriage and retaining the current legislated definition of being between a man and a woman and I believe we should continue to argue for that and support that position politically. But there is also a feeling among some that in a post Christian and pluralist liberal democracy we should honour the views of a national plebiscite, should one ever approve same sex marriage, and not oppose civil unions of same sex couples. This would mean the Church preserving Christian marriage as a separate and distinct institution conducted in and by the Christian community with its own unique character, purpose, requirements and values. Consistency would also require us not to “bless same sex unions” as that would compromise our values and beliefs. This would of course be heavily criticised by the Gay community. At the same time we should resist any attempt by the state to compel our ministers as celebrants to formalise same sex unions. That would be a grave breach of a core democratic value of the separation of Church and state and freedom of religion.
4 . Stage four: The gender fluidity debate.
This is the stage we are currently entering. Gender fluidity as we have already observed is based on two ideas; a sharp distinction between sex and gender and the claim that our gender identity is not determined by our biology or the prevailing social construct of heterosexuality but by individual choice. This is illustrated with claims such as; ‘I am not necessarily what my body says I am…. I am not what you or society says I am……I will be what I say I am…… and I may change that decision from time to time’
You can see how this mood can be fuelled by current Western social trends toward an exaggerated or hyper individualism, where people accept few objective moral restraints or transcendent values restricting or directing their individual choice.

It is also important at this point to challenge the oft repeated phrase that ‘heterosexuality is just a social construct’. The idea of a social construct comes from a particular theory of the sociology of knowledge and been widely influential in sociology schools. It is based on a particular philosophical presupposition that hardly passes the common sense test, which is that reality only exists when we as members of society invent or create it and does not exist prior to its social invention. The Christian world view is entirely opposite to this presupposition. We believe reality exists objectively to us and is revealed to us by God.We aprehend it and discovered it and in that process we uncover its meaning and its purpose and also our own. This knowledge is then socially shared by us and through that process we develope our societies,our values and our cultures. So we understand that sexuality and gender and their relationship and purpose are a given part of the created order. The reality of the world, its meaning and purpose therefore are not determined by personal choice. But, of course how we as individuals respond to that God given given meaning and purpose is a moral and ethical choice for both the individual and community.Those chioces profoundly effect the kind of society we construct, for good or ill.
In relation to the oft repeated claim that heterosexuality is just a social construct we should observe three facts about the real world (i) At least 95% of the human population are heterosexual (ii) It is self- evident that this is the way we were designed and how the human race has continued (iii) It has been historically the overwhelmingly dominant social norm in all cultures since history has been recorded. Therefore to claim that it is merely a social construct and so is not innate, natural and normative is not an idea based in reality! (Further explanation of these ideas can be found in the footnotes. )
Having made this critical observation of the idea of gender as a social construction it is important to add that for various reasons which we do not entirely understand there is a small group of people for whom gender dysphoria is a real and challenging personal issue that requires recognition and a compassionate response.

Four observations about the conduct of the debate throughout the history of sexual politics:
1. Sexual politics is about identity and therefore is a very personal debate for us all.
Identity politics includes questions of race, religion, nationality and gender all very emotionally charged issues. Therefore they are almost always overheated and often extreme.
2. Because identity politics are very emotive they are easily ‘weaponised’. As it can seem that your opponent is attacking your identity he or she easily becomes your enemy and you are tempted to fight back strongly and to exaggerate or overgeneralise. “All white people are racist”…… “All Christians are homophobic”…… “All people of a particular ethnicity are lazy” …..” All men are violent”. Disagreement can be caricatured as “Hate speech”, etc. So debate becomes oppositional distrustful and alienating and logic and reason are discarded. Slogans take the place of reasoned argument, research and reliable facts.
3. The discussion and debate is also very vulnerable to those with an ideological political agenda whose political presupposition is that the existing established social, religious and moral order is oppressive and must be overthrown and radically replaced. What is to replace it is never made clear beyond slogans. This extreme left agenda influenced by ‘critical theory’ is not really interested in reasoned debate or the free exchange of ideas and different views or compromise. For them the liberal democratic process with its commitment to free speech and accommodation of difference is not something to be respected and enhanced but merely exploited and used as a means to an end – a social and value revolution! This means that their underlying attitude to free and open debate in the public square is one of strategic cynicism. Demonising the opposition by name calling and labelling is a favoured weapon of choice and in a saturated and superficial media space of 30 second grabs an effective tactic, this ‘weaponises’ and poisons the debate. Sadly a significant section of our current journalist class seem ill equipped by knowledge, wisdom or sufficient objectivity to seriously critique this exploitation of the media by the extreme left and minority politics.
4. Identity politics is also vulnerable to the current philosophical winds.
Currently these issues are being debated in an atmosphere of Post Modern relativism and hyper individualism where the supreme value is the unrestricted freedom of individual choice. This makes the debate vulnerable to those at the extreme end who wish to deny or reject any idea of objective truth and natural or transcendent moral values and who also refuse to accommodate in their preferred social policy those who do. To these people the traditional values around gender, sexual intimacy, family and marriage are just ‘social constructs’ that can be deconstructed and swept away. We should be very clear what is at stake here, it is the promotion of a radical social and cultural revolution. The average person is only vaguely aware, if at all, of these forces at work in the background and so raising them in public debate seems extreme or alarmist.
A Christian theological and pastoral approach.
1. The first thing that must be said is that there is much to repent of in the past. Homosexuals and people with gender dysphoria have often been treated poorly, rejected or felt unaccepted and marginalised.
2. Our attitude should reflect the grace and love of God that he extends to us all in Christ.
3. We need to acknowledge that within the transgender movement, with its various motives, there is a genuine plea for our society to be less cruel to people who are different to the majority.
4. We need to be in the forefront of protecting children from bullying and persecution at school and speaking out about adults being bullied over gender issues in their place of work.
5. We must also encourage hospitality in our churches and the ethos of friendship and community that many same sex people long for but have not always discovered.
As I mentioned earlier, since the 1960’s in Western culture there has been a focus on advancing and protecting the rights of individuals and minorities and enhancing the status of woman. This has generally made us a fairer and less cruel society. For example: People no longer have to stay in marriages that are brutal and violent.
: Women are now able to exercise their gifts and talents in leadership.
: Homosexuals are no longer criminalised and imprisoned.
: We are now alert to the secret abuse of children.
: Girls who are unmarried and become pregnant are no longer sent away to bear their child secretly and have them adopted out with little say.
In these ways we are now a more open, compassionate, less cruel and fairer society than we were when I grew up in the 1950’s.
But we are still a fallen and broken people who bear Gods image but an image scarred by our selfishness and sin. To quote Hugh McKay “Nothing is perfect, life is messy, relationships are complex, outcomes are uncertain, and people are frequently irrational!” And so the very honourable desire to pursue the rights and freedoms of the individual is easily distorted into a narcissistic narrow self- interest that is destructive to society, community and the family.
This is our great dilemma! It is an ancient dilemma that every culture has tried to manage in different ways. Our way till now has been the social contract of liberal democracy with its balance of individual freedom and social obligation, flavoured with Christian values. While far from perfect it has worked reasonably well. But the dilemma is heightened for us now by our excessive individualism and this affects every ethical and social policy debate we are engaged in.
From a Christian perspective what this means is that we must keep the need for human redemption and personal spiritual transformation at the forefront of our thinking and action. Social policy is important but it is not enough, the law can define what is good and bad for us, it can restrain us by threat of punishment but it cannot make us good, it cannot transform our hearts, only God and the Gospel can do that. We the people of God are the bearers and guardians of this message but we must embody it as well as proclaim it! We must demonstrate in our Christian communities the compassion and grace that God has extended to us if we are to convince a secular culture that they can only achieve and maintain a kind and fair society if they rediscover the spiritual source of the moral power to overcome our fallen self- interest.
Four key Biblical ideas we must reflect on if we are to respond faithfully to this issue:
1. For the Christian our primary identity is in Christ not in gender, race, nationality, role or gift.
‘You have put on the new self which is being renewed in the image of its creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, Barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.’ (Coloss. 3:10-11)
‘All of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ (Gal. 3:27-28)
To be in Christ is to adopt a new identity that derives from Christ and a humanity restored in the image of God, that lives by the values, hopes and promises of his Kingdom, not the kingdoms or the spirit of the age in which we now live and which are passing away.
2. Recognise the importance of our foundation story in Genesis 1-4. This makes very clear that we are made in God’s image as male and female and a key part of our purpose is procreation. (Gen. 1:27-28.) It also tells us that our ‘aloneness’ is now partly met in the one flesh union of the man and the woman (Gen 2:18, 24). This is the beginning and foundation of human community, which includes not only marriage but friendship and companionship with others and the numerous communal associations we form for our human enrichment and culture.
3. But our aloneness is only partly met in these ways because our relationships were also originally intended to include our relationship with God. To be fully human we must also live in union with God. Our foundation story tells us that we broke that union with God by our rejection of his authority (Gen 3). It is only when that relationship is restored and we are reconciled to God through Christ that we can rediscover our true human fulfilment.
4. Jesus reinforced the teaching of Genesis 1-3 in Mathew 19:1-12 when he was answering a question about marriage and divorce said :
4.“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ 5.and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ 6.So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefor what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
7.“Why then,” they asked, ‘did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?’
8.Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual morality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”…….
11.“Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12.For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others – and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.”
These verses (especially vs 11-12) are pertinent to our discussion on gender, same sex attraction and gender dysphoria. Because we live in a broken world awaiting its renewal all our relationships are affected. There will be those who are unable to experience the love and intimacy of the marriage union described in Gen 2. for a range of reasons including those mentioned here by Jesus – some who were born that way,…. some made so by others and those who choose to live that way for the sake of the Kingdom of heaven.
For such people, while they may find significant love and companionship with friends and in Christian community, their union with God is particularly important.
There is in Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus in chp. 3:14-19 a beautiful prayer that the people there may know the riches and depth of God’s love for them, a love that surpasses all knowledge. The people at Ephesus were no doubt as varied in their human condition as most Christian congregations. This prayer is for everyone because none of our human relationships are perfect in this fallen world, but it is especially important for those who are unable to experience the union described in Gen 2, for the reasons Jesus gives or for other reasons like illness, disability, divorce or the death of a spouse that has removed that intimacy from them.
We do not live in a perfect world but a world in need of redemption and waiting for renewal and that is why we all need to embrace the call of Jesus to commit our lives to him and be renewed at the core of our being by his Holy Spirit
(This paper was first given on 31/7/16 at St. Hilary’s Kew /North Balwyn as part of a series entitled. “Fault Lines –Where Faith and Culture Collide.”)
[Note: A copy of this paper with all references and extensive footnotes is available if requested]

The Hands of Jesus – 6 Studies for Small Groups

The Hands of Jesus - 6 Studies for Small Groups

I’m very pleased to make available for free download a series of small group studies centred around the theme “The Hands of Jesus and our hands”. Accompanying the Study Booklet are six sermons, useful for preachers who wish to use the theme for a preaching series while their congregation uses the studies in small groups. The content is licensed like the rest of this website under the generous Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Click here to download “The Hands of Jesus – 6 Studies for Small Groups” (2MB PDF)

Click here to download the accompanying 6 sermon series focused around the theme. (2MB PDF)

Below is an excerpt from the Small Group Study Guide:

1. Hands of compassion  –  Matthew 8:1-17
2. Servant hands – John 13: 1-17
3. Hands that broke bread – John 21:1-14
4. Healing hands – Mark 7: 31-37
5. Hands of blessing – Mark 10;13-16, Matthew 18:1-9
6. Wounded hands – John 20:19-29

How to use these studies:
They can be used as small group study material and or combined with a sermon series; there are six accompanying sermons available for free download at They could also be used for individual personal reflections. The Bible text is from the NIV translation.

The structure of each study:

  1. The theme
  2. An introductory question or exercise to get people thinking on the theme
  3. The core material of the study and Bible passages.
  4. Questions and exercises for group discussion
  5. A “take–away” task
  6. A thought for the week.

As we read the life of Jesus in the Gospels and his interactions with people one of the things that is not immediately obvious is the way he uses his hands, but when you focus on it, it is striking and suggestive. Often when he heals the sick he touches them. Although Jesus doesn’t need to touch in order to heal he often does. With his hands he washes dirty feet, he breaks and serves bread, and he cooks fish and hands it around to his disciples. He takes children into his arms and places his hands on them in blessing, and on the cross his hands are cruelly pierced. In our imagination we can also easily see Jesus warmly embracing his friends, clasping a shoulder or hand in affection or encouragement, waving a greeting or a farewell, emphasizing a point as he teaches, holding out his open hands in prayer to his Father. They are hands that are used to hard work, they are tradesman’s hands. Jesus the divine son of God is also fully human and so like us he used his hands to communicate, to express himself, to convey feelings; empathy, encouragement, support, love, friendship.

Because we use them constantly it is easy to forget how important and significant our hands are, only when we injure a finger or our hand and can not use them do we realize how much we rely on them. But they are not only critically useful to us in all our everyday tasks they are also part of our “language”, our means of expression. Our hands are used to convey a great range of messages and emotions. They are used for greetings and farewells, to express friendship, affection and love, to show praise and anger. We point in accusation, we shake a fist in anger, and we clap in appreciation and congratulation.

As disciples of Jesus we are called to follow him, he is our teacher, guide and model for the way we should live. In one of his conversations with the disciples after his resurrection and shortly before he was to leave them in body he said “As the Father has sent me so I send you”. We are now to be Jesus’ hands in the world! In these six studies we are going to focus on the way Jesus used his hands and what they tell us about the way we should live and act as his disciples.

Planting and growing ethno specific churches

Photo by USFS Region 5

By Peter Corney

Australian churches stand at the threshold of a great evangelistic and church growth opportunity. The challenge is to evangelise and plant churches among the large number of new immigrant groups in Australia. As a result of increased immigration and the receiving of refugees and asylum seekers many local congregations now find themselves in rapidly changing suburbs with new settlers from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. This is a great opportunity but it requires some significant mind shifts for most congregations.

The ethnic and cultural make up of an area can change very quickly. What was a generally anglo/celtic area and reflected in the churches membership becomes multicultural. It may take place gradually and creep up on a church or it may happen quickly. When I became the senior minister at St. Hilary’s Kew in 1975 it was solidly anglo/celtic. Now it has a Chinese congregation, a West Papuan Fellowship and a  ministry to refugees and asylum seekers and a small but significant ministry to Afghanis. The area of North Balwyn, now part of the Parish, has a rapidly increasing number of Asians. They now make up approximately 60 % of the students at the North Balwyn Primary school. When I was a curate at Holy Trinity Doncaster in the 60’s it was solidly anglo/celtic and european. In addition to those of English background there was also a number of orchardist’s with German heritage and a healthy Lutheran congregation was well established in Doncaster.  Holy Trinity now has two Chinese congregations and in recent times has baptized a significant number of new Chinese Christians. Several years ago I was speaking at a Presbyterian conference in Brisbane and met the pastor of the largest Presbyterian Church in Queensland – it was  Korean! These stories could be repeated in most of our large cities now.

The aim of this paper is to raise people’s awareness of this growing mission field and to outline some principles when establishing a new work.

The principles:

1. Remember the Great Commission.

In the great commission in Mathew 28: 18-20 Jesus commands us to …to go and make disciples all nations…(The Greek is pan ethnae – to  all ethnicities, all ethnic people groups.) At Pentecost the Spirit fell on believers gathered from a multiplicity of nations and people groups (Acts 2:1-12), each of these groups took the gospel back to their own people. From the beginning we were an international, multilingual and multicultural movement. Paul expressed it this way, in Christ …there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus… (Gal. 3:26-28.)

As our world shrinks, and as a result of massive international people movements, all the great cities of the world have become multi racial and multicultural. Western democratic societies are particularly attractive to people wanting to escape oppressive governments or violent conflicts. This is presenting Western liberal democracies with significant challenges. How do you hold together a society with people who now have very diverse cultures, worldviews and values. Will the great experiment of multiculturism survive and thrive or end in crisis? If anyone has an answer to this question and a unique contribution it is the community of Jesus! Indeed this was one of Christianities great contributions and attractions in the first three centuries of its rapid growth. (See Rodney Stark’s “The Rise of Christianity” Harper Collins 1997.)

Christianity has no sacred language like Islam or Judaism, it is not ethno or culturally specific or limited by race and language. Christians have lived as the citizens of many different cultures. Christianity is transcultural, every culture it inhabits is judged and influenced by the transcendent values of the Kingdom of God, the Christians ultimate home.   From the very beginning Christians prayed in their own native languages. The Bible has been translated into over 7000 different languages. Speaking of the Christian community the NT says, Here there is no Greek of Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all in all. (Col.3:11)

2. Study your context.

Many congregations have slowly died because they failed to respond to the changing demography of their area. Research your area to see what opportunities there may be to begin a ministry to a new immigrant group. Some, like the Sudanese in Melbourne come from an African Christian background, others like the large new Russian Jewish immigrant community have come with very little Jewish religious background. Years under the Soviets have left them with a great spiritual hunger but little to satisfy it. There are now several flourishing Christian Messianic congregations growing among this people group in Melbourne. The story is similar for many mainland Chinese immigrants. Years under communism has left them with little or no religious world view. Such people are very open to the gospel. On the other hand immigrants with an Islamic background will be much more difficult to reach and less open.

3. Study the people group’s culture.

Each people group has very different and specific cultural issues that must also be studied and understood before commencing a ministry to them. Attitudes to men and women, hospitality, social rules, time and punctuality, and of course language will all be different to your own. What is the most polite and effective way to issue an invitation to an event could be a critical piece of knowledge. Paul’s principle of cultural adaptation as outlined in 1Cor. 9:19-22 is to be our guide. This is cross cultural mission and the understanding and skills need to be acquired. Your CMS branch or your local theological college missions department should be able to assist you.

4. Recruiting a worker who speaks the language.

Language is the big issue and while many new immigrants are keen to learn English generally it will be critical to find a native speaker to head up the new work. Some congregations have started ESL courses as a contact point with new immigrants.

5. Connect the new work structurally with the main congregation and work towards strong relational connections.

Many ethno specific churches that were started in Melbourne in the past were begun by a group seeking permission to use an existing church building but with no formal link to the local congregation. The local congregation wishing to be hospitable made few demands on the new group. Such new church plants often remained independent, later acquiring their own buildings. One of the major problems with these churches is that they can easily remain isolated in a first generation ethnic enclave. Understandably they wish to preserve their language and culture but this often results in a reactionary conservatism that the second generation reacts to by drifting away. The original group refuses to have an English language service or to adopt any contemporary style. The leadership is frequently very patriarchal and often resistant to younger second generation leaders who have absorbed the Australian culture.  (A few years ago some Italian academics came to Melbourne to study the Italian spoken here by the post war generation of Italian immigrants as it had been preserved in the Italian community here in its 1940’s form while the language in Italy had evolved and changed!)

One of the ways to overcome these difficulties is to be closely linked to an established congregation. It is very important for the second generation to have a link to a wider Christian community that reflects more closely the host culture that they have now integrated with so they can transition from what they will often feel is the narrow world of the ethnic congregation. For young people to be able to attend a youth group run by the established congregation can be crucial to them continuing with an active faith rather than dropping out.

It is also important for the ethnic congregation to have strong links with the wider church. This is a correction against theological novelty, extremes and error and also reinforces the crucial idea that the Christian community is transcultural, that membership is by grace not race.

Ethno-specific or culture-specific evangelism and church planting is a very effective missiological strategy but has its traps and congregations can easily loose their missional and evangelistic edge if they remain trapped in an ethnic enclave. In some parts of the world this is forced on Christians by a very hostile culture but in Australia this is more likely to happen because people like the comfort zone of their own people. The same thing happens with middle class Australian congregations who fail to move out of their comfort zone to reach other socio economic groups who are different. It is also important for ethnic church leaders to be exposed to the ongoing training, ideas and resources available in the wider Church. The wider church also needs the enthusiasm, vitality and commitment that many new immigrant churches bring.

6. Leadership development.

The development of the next generation of leaders should begin as soon as possible and be part of the initial strategy for the work. The host congregation and the ethnic leaders should be on the look out from the beginning for the potential leaders in the next generation and begin a mentor and development program from early on. This will be crucial for sustaining and growing the work and keeping the second generation.

7. Develop a priority for evangelism.

One of the dangers for new immigrant churches is that they can become preoccupied with maintaining their traditions and being a cultural haven. This can turn them inward and away from outreach and evangelism. So developing this as a priority at the beginning is important, especially towards there own people.

Leaders and Teams – Free chapter from the book A Passion for Leadership

Chapter Eight:  Leaders and Teams

By Peter Corney

(This is a free chapter from the new book A Passion for Leadership, Insights from Arrow Australia Leadership Team, edited by Peter Corney and Evonne Paddison. Coauthors include: Karl Faase, Stephen Hale, Evonne Paddison, Ian Harper, Sandy Jones, Graham Johnston and Stephen Abbott. It is published here under the Creative Commons Attribution Licence, like the rest of this site. If you find this article useful, I encourage to click here to purchase the book online from Arrow Australia.)

‘He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two…’
(Jesus) Mark 6:7

‘I ask you…help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers …’
(Paul)Phil.4:3 [NRSV]

Why teams?

The NT pattern of ministry is teams!  Monoministry is nowhere to be found in the NT.   Jesus called the twelve to follow Him. When he sent the disciples out to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom he sent them out two by two (Mk.6:7). When the need arose to organise the distribution of assistance to the widows among the early church a team of people was appointed. This team freed up the apostles to concentrate on their work (Acts 6:1-7). This is a great example of ministry teams being developed with complementary gifts and tasks (Note verse 7!).   When the early church saw the opportunity to work with the Gentiles at Antioch they appointed Barnabas who in turn recruited Paul who had the skills and background needed. While thoroughly trained in the Jewish Scriptures Paul was a Roman citizen and spoke fluent Greek. (Acts 11: 19-26).

The NT model of the church as a body makes it crystal clear that the gifts and abilities required for ministry are not all going to be located in one person (1Cor.12:1-31, Rom.12:4-8, Ephes. 4:11-13).  In the church at Antioch we see a leadership team at work (Acts 13:1-3). It was out of their prayers, worship and discussion that the mission to the West was born.  When Paul founded churches he appointed teams of leaders (Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5).   He always traveled with co-workers (Acts 16:6, Phil. 4: 2-3).  The NT pattern of ministry from Jesus to Paul seems clear, they worked in teams.

Any one who has worked in a healthy team knows their value. Teams create energy and momentum; you can get more done. They are creative; you can generate multiple ideas, options and solutions to problems and challenges. You’re not alone; the task and the burden are shared. Well led teams are safer and healthier places in which to work than working in isolation. They create community. Teams allow the recruiting of complementary gifts and abilities. They are a great place in which to train people. In the local congregation they also model the shared ministry pattern of the NT, the truth that the gifts of ministry are dispersed throughout the whole body of Christ and need to be released and deployed for effective congregational ministry to take place. They are also more fun!

Recruiting teams

Before you begin to recruit a team certain fundamental structures need to be put in place.
1.   A set of policy statements need to be developed that include a theological statement that sets out your primary theological commitments.  This statement needs to address issues including matters of sexuality and a staff code of conduct.

2.   A standard contract of employment needs to be drawn up by someone with professional expertise in this area. In addition to an initial trial period, make sure the contract enables you to let the person go at the end of the first 12 months. If it is not working out you will generally know by then. A couple of months before the end of the twelve month period a review should take place regarding the future. If you are satisfied then the contract can be extended by two or three year periods.

3.   Remuneration scales and a salary review process need to be determined.

4.   Job descriptions need to be developed.

5.   A supervision structure and a review process determined.

6.   A professional development plan needs to be considered for further training and skills      development.

7.    An induction process planned to introduce the person to the team, the task, the office and the resources. It’s a good idea to allocate a buddy for new team members to call on in the early stages.  This is helpful when they need to know where things are and how they work.

Recruiting principles

Recruiting people is one of the most important things a leader does. Choosing the wrong people is one of the costliest mistakes you can make. People fail in jobs mainly because of personality traits and values that don’t fit the job or the team and the organisation’s culture. A good friend who has years of experience in the recruitment field tells me that most organisations hire people for what they know and fire them for who they are. Therefore the recruitment and interview process is extremely important.

When building the team choose people who:

  • share your theological and missional commitments
  • demonstrate a commitment to Christ, have a servant heart and high moral standards
  • are culturally relevant and appropriate for both the team and the context of ministry
  • fit your ethos
  • are spiritually, emotionally and psychologically healthy
  • have demonstrated competency in the skills required for the role
  • complement the team.

Do not put too much weight on written CVs as they are frequently inflated and sometimes quite misleading. Remember technical or other formal qualifications have little value in predicting whether the person will be an effective member of your team. Always work back and check the references thoroughly.

You should always have an interviewing team of yourself and at least two other people. Work out your interviewing questions carefully beforehand and frame questions that reveal how a person has, or may deal with certain situations and people. Where possible if you can recruit good people from within do so. This has the great advantage of knowing exactly what you are getting, the person already understanding the ethos of the organisation and knowing many of the people. These people begin with a flying start.

Teams can be made up of a variety of combinations:

  • paid staff, both full time and part-time
  • it can include bivocational workers who also hold down another job part-time which may fund their time given voluntarily to work in ministry. I know of chemists, consultants, tree fellers, lawyers, and builders who work in ministry teams in this way
  • full or part time volunteers
  • early retirees
  • theological college or youth work interns, GAP year students, etc
  • combinations of all of the above

A self check for leaders of teams:

1. How well do you know yourself?
Self awareness is critical for becoming a more effective leader. It is vital for leaders to understand their own strengths and weaknesses.  Instruments such as the DISC Leaders profile   are very useful tools to help leaders become aware of their own preferred style and to adapt to the different personalities they will be leading. For example, if you are a big picture person who is impatient with detail you may find your opposite on the team difficult to work with.  The DISC Leaders profile helps you to understand the need for complementary styles and how to adapt your style to work constructively with different people. It is also important to find ways to get honest feedback from someone you trust on your team.

A leader who is insecure or afraid of conflict can cause problems for teams.  Here are some questions to ask your self that may reveal your need to work on these two areas:

  • Are you comfortable with people challenging your ideas and decisions?
  • Do you respond defensively or aggressively to other strong people or those more gifted than you in certain areas?
  • Do you welcome other people participating strongly in the decision making process?
  • Are you very uncomfortable or angry when people appear to be challenging your authority or role?
  • Do you tend to shut down, back away or want to withdraw when conflict looms?
  • Do you take steps to avoid conflict situations?
  • Do you always look for a compromise?
  • How willing are you to face and work through conflict?

Insecure leaders often respond to challenges and difficult problems in one of two ways; either by becoming authoritarian and overly directive or alternatively being indecisive and prevaricating. Both of which usually create more conflict!

2.   How are your meeting leadership skills?
Remember The Four Ps: Poor Preparation leads to Poor Performance! A leader has to chair a lot of team meetings.  If your skills in this area are poor you will frustrate your team, waste a lot of everyone’s time and not get a much done. The most common complaint in organisations is that meetings are poorly run, indecisive and waste time and energy. Here are some simple clues for being more effective:

  • always prepare an agenda
  • determine and announce a time frame and then start and finish on time
  • manage the discussion so everyone gets a go; draw out the quiet ones by sometimes going around the circle and asking every one who has not spoken for a comment
  • bring discussion on topics to a conclusion and make a decision on a specific action
  • decide who will action the decision and by when; when there are minutes, record this
  • like most things, preparation is a key to effectiveness.

3.   Can you change your role?
As a team leader your role will change. You will have more responsibility, more people to manage and more decisions to make. The team has probably grown because the ministry is growing. Complexity increases and the time to make decisions decreases! You will work less directly with people and more through the team and other people. To achieve the organisation’s goals, you must spend more time in planning and strategy, and creating and managing a structure for others to work in.  Unless you learn to manage and prioritise your time, structure your week and organise your diary in more detail you will not cope and you will frustrate and hold back the team.

The chart below illustrates how an increase in staff and size of organization requires a major role change by the team leader. A plumber who starts out running a business with one apprentice can no longer run it the same way when there is a team of 15 plumbers working for the business. He or she now rarely touches a pipe or an S bend! The plumber must now organise the work of others and has a whole new set of responsibilities and tasks that if left undone will lead to the business becoming chaotic and eventually folding.

Leaders and Teams

As the team grows the leader needs to spend more time working on ministry rather than in ministry. Working in ministry in a local church setting includes:

  • preparing for worship services
  • pastoral care
  • visiting the sick
  • personal counseling
  • preparing sermons
  • chairing committees.

Working on ministry means supervising, managing and organising the staff team.  It includes:

  • vision casting
  • strategising
  • planning
  • creating structures that enable other people to exercise their gifts and become involved in ministry
  • recruiting and training leaders
  • motivating and communicating with key lay leaders and those through whom the ministry is actually being done and expanded.

What team members want from their team leader and the team experience

1.   Someone who clearly leads and involves the team
Team members want to be involved in the process of planning, problem solving, creative thinking and decision making in a consultative way so everyone can participate. They need to feel they can contribute their ideas and opinions to the team process. Contemporary leaders need to be authoritative but not authoritarian. If team members can not contribute they will become passive, and creative energy, one of the great advantages of a team, is lost.

2.   Someone who knows how to get a team working synergistically
A good leader can enable team members to combine their individual talents and different strengths in a complementary, rather than competitive way.  Once again the DISC leadership profile is a very helpful instrument for understanding how to do this. Edward De Bono’s Six Hats exercise is also a fun way to teach this insight to a team.

3.   Regular well run meetings that start and finish at the designated time

Teams want their leader to manage the discussion so everyone is able to participate, decisions are arrived at and tasks delegated to people for action. In every team meeting there is a tension between the tasks to be done and the individual needs of the members. These vary all the way from a team member’s health or family concerns to a strong desire to get a pet project up. It could be a need to be acknowledged or heard on a particular point. It could be that a particular team member’s area of work is regularly overlooked or taken for granted. The leader has to balance these with the group’s tasks where individual needs cannot dominate and deflect the group from achieving their tasks. On the other hand the leader needs to be aware of people’s needs and not drive the process so hard that the tasks are achieved but at the cost of people feeling ignored or steamrolled. The leader must exercise creative balance between the tasks and individual needs when leading a meeting.


4.   Forward planning
Members of a team not only need to know the big picture of the forward vision but also the more detailed plan for the year ahead. Team members will have different areas of responsibility and it is crucial that key dates and events for each area of ministry are coordinated. This is best done around October for the coming year at an annual planning day.  This avoids unnecessary clashes and competition over people and physical resources. It also reinforces the sense of intentionality and direction for the team and encourages everyone to plan ahead.

5.   Good communication
Many tensions arise in teams through poor communication.  Poor communication is almost always unintentional but nevertheless annoying and sometimes very damaging. As the leader, you need to set the climate by regularly communicating your ideas, hopes and future plans as well as your feelings about how things are going. Remember though that whenever you communicate your feelings they will affect the emotional tone and morale of the team, so be careful how you communicate negative or anxious feelings. The team leader is like a thermometer who sets the emotional temperature! If anyone in charge of an area of ministry is planning a major change of direction or use of space or resources these need to be flagged at the regular staff meeting for discussion as this usually affects others.

6.  Access to the leader
Team members need to feel that you are accessible but you need to set up a realistic expectation of accessibility. One approach is the open or closed door policy. If your door is open you are able to be interrupted, if it’s closed you are not. You also need to communicate that if team members have a serious problem they can talk to you without an appointment. Otherwise meetings should be by appointment. In addition, every team member should have a regular supervision meeting with their supervisor. This should be at least monthly and more often for new staff or inexperienced people. The team leader should not supervise more than four people. Supervision should involve an element of pastoral care.

7.  Evaluation.
All team members should have a formal evaluation twice a year, one at the beginning and the other towards the end of the year. This will involve a review of the job description, goals, hours, remuneration, in-service training and general performance.

8.  Community.
People want to enjoy working and being together. Effective and happy teams build a sense of community. The experience has got to be fun as well as being challenging and stimulating. There should be a time for sharing personally at regular team meetings. The length needs to be specified and controlled so it does not absorb too much of the meeting time.  Occasional retreats away together which include fun and recreation as well as work are important. Affirming and celebrating team member’s achievements such as a successful children’s holiday program just completed as well as birthdays and other special events are very valuable in building community and a culture of encouragement. Remember eating together is a great community builder. Attending a training course or conference together and then debriefing on learning can be very effective.

9.  Team meeting evaluation.
Occasionally the leader should give some time for the group to evaluate the way the team is working together and the team meetings. It is important for the leader to listen to this feedback.

Good and bad leaders.

My wife, who is a Christian Religious Education teacher in a state primary school, was doing a lesson on leaders in the Bible and she asked her class of 7 and 8 year olds what they thought was a good leader and a bad leader. Their contributions were very insightful.

A bad leader is someone who:

  • shouts at others
  • thinks they are better or cleverer than others
  • orders you about
  • whispers about other people
  • makes fun of you or gets angry when you can’t do something
  • tells you to do bad things
  • always goes first because they are the leader.

On the other hand, a good leader is someone who:

  • always asks you to do things
  • says please and thank you and is respectful
  • cares for everyone on the team
  • lets everyone take a turn at leading
  • encourages you
  • treats everyone the same
  • can be trusted.

Out of the mouth of babes!


When people are asked what the most important quality they want in their leaders is, the most frequent answer is integrity. Integrity is the consistency of word and life, profession and practice. Above all team members want their leaders to act with integrity, to be consistent, and to be someone they can trust.

1. Disc Classic 2.0, (Inscape Publishing, 2004).DISC Classic 2.0 Inscape Publishing Inc. 2004
2. E de Bono, Six Thinking Hats (Boston Little, Brown, 1985).

Churches – large or small?

By Peter Corney

Not long ago I attended a service at which a senior Melbourne Anglican Church leader spoke. I was encouraged by his obvious enthusiasm for mission and his concern to contextualize our churches in the local culture. But the bit that made me nervous was his comments on congregational size. He put forward the idea that small congregations are better than large and that as Anglicans we have a particular talent for the small church. He listed the usual comments about them being intimate and having a strong sense of community. He did not define what he meant by “small” but he contrasted them to “mega churches.” What is usually meant by Mega is the very large – in Australia 1,000 plus in regular attendance. I suspect by small he means the average Anglican congregation with a regular attendance of between 60 -100. In Melbourne in 2006 we had 275 worshiping congregations, when you take out the ten largest congregations you get an average attendance of 62 for the other 265!  In fact it’s not as even as that and many have only 30 – 40 in regular attendance.

These ideas about smallness may make some clergy and members out there in our many small churches feel better but it is neither correct nor very helpful and full of myths and misleading ideas. The great danger is that it can be used as a justification for complacency or at worst failure.

Here are the facts:

  1. The smallest average congregational size is now among Presbyterian and Uniting churches, around 60. Even among Pentecostal churches, who as a denomination have a significant number of mega churches and an overall positive growth rate, the majority of their churches are below 100 in regular attendance. So we don’t have smallness on our own nor do we have some unique genius for the small church. Small congregations are a general Protestant phenomena that we urgently need to redress.
  2. The comparison between small and mega is quite unhelpful. Mega churches make up about 3% – 4% of protestant congregations in Australia. If we drop down to what we might call large (350 – 450) or medium (250 -350) then we are in a much more realistic and useful comparison to small. Large or medium size churches have a much better chance of being healthy and sustainable. They are much more likely to have a good cross section of ages, a natural potential flow of new younger lay leaders and adequate financial giving. There is also the ability to provide a variety of ministry to young and old, to do outreach and even employ specialist staff. If the majority of our congregations were even medium in size we would be in quite a healthy state as a Church and making a much greater impact on the nation.
  3. In regard to friendliness, intimacy and a sense of community, in contrast to the mythology, all the objective research says that larger churches are in fact stronger in these areas than small churches! The reason is that their age spread, their variety of activities and programs provide more points of entry for newcomers and they usually have many home groups. They work hard at growing smaller as they grow larger. The larger church has multiple fellowship cells or circles. The small church has a narrower entry point, it is a single fellowship cell and if you don’t make it into the fellowship circle you don’t make it. Of course to those who are part of it the small church does feel intimate!
  4. Leaving aside rural and remote congregations, the small suburban church with 60 ageing attendees, a full time minister, a vicarage, a church building and usually a hall, are now under threat everywhere. Amalgamations and closures are common. In Melbourne Diocese in the period from 2001-2006 there had been around 13 amalgamations and 7 closures and the process is steadily continuing. The Registry estimates that it costs approximately $85,000 plus a year just to pay the minister, keep the doors open, the lights on and the insurances paid! This includes almost no serious missionary giving, very little money for creative outreach and no large scale maintenance. A study of “live giving” in the year book will reveal that many are beginning to fall below this figure. Op shops, rents and jam stalls make up the shortfall! It is a testimony to the commitment of the ageing faithful that they manage to scrape enough together to survive another year. But there is an end to this downward trajectory and it’s not far down the road for many congregations.
  5. Main-stream denominations are not planting many new churches. The alternative or so called new missional church movement is doing better but the jury is still out on the longevity of their low key deliberately small congregations. Most are gatherings of young adults and few have successfully negotiated the multigenerational challenge and provided adequate youth and children’s ministry. The most successful growth has come from large churches multiplying new targeted congregations that operate under the one umbrella but meet separately – the multi congregational model.
  6. Those congregations that are healthy and growing have one thing in common they have all challenged the complacency, comfort and mind set of the traditional small suburban parish model of church.

The truth is there is no one sacrosanct congregation size and model. We need a variety of sizes and models for our complex and varied modern society. There will be particular groups in our society that will require a small boutique approach; there will be places where the social and material poverty is so great that Christian ministry in such places will need long term external support in leadership and money. But our current standard traditional “small” suburban church is rapidly reaching a point where it will no longer be sustainable in its present form.

To have a healthy sustainable “full service ministry” to children youth and adults, that meets the needs of families, that will ensure a continuous flow of new leaders and volunteers, and an adequate financial base you need at least a medium size congregation, ie:250-350 in regular attendance.

If we were in a “vital movement” phase and were made up of lots of small vibrant, young and growing congregations then the small size of our churches would not be such a concern but we are not. Until we begin to turn around a significant number of our existing congregations so they grow to medium size we face accelerating decline.

One attitude that frequently appears when these issues are raised is the “faithfulness” argument. “We are not called to be effective just faithful!” At one level one can not disagree with the faithfulness argument. Of course we are all called to follow Jesus wherever he calls us, whatever the circumstances and whatever the response. There will be times and places where it’s tough and unresponsive. At this point in our history it’s tough out there trying to build or rebuild local congregations. Never the less there are still many healthy growing churches in this hostile environment. Christian leaders should be studying these to see why they are going against the trend! In other fields of endeavor this is called studying “best practice.”

Ministers who want to buck the trend and grow churches need to be or become transformational leaders. They need particular skills to renew and reinvent the local congregation, i.e.: how to cast vision, how to move a congregation into mission mode, how to initiate and manage change, how to build community, how to motivate, recruit and train volunteers, how to plan and organize and create new structures, how to think strategically. Without these and other transformational leadership skills they will be unable to do the large and difficult task we are asking of them.

The challenge of discipling today’s young adults

By Peter Corney

Photo by numstead
Photo by numstead

A current challenge being faced all around the Australian Church is in bringing this generation of young adults to mature Christian discipleship.

There are a number of contemporary cultural factors that seem to be contributing to this:

  1. The experience of family dysfunction and breakdown. With such a high proportion of marriages ending in breakdown (40%) a large number of young adults have experienced this.  This leads to a variety of personal insecurities that they carry with them into their adult life.
  2. A rapidly changing and uncertain world leads to an extreme form of adaptation – you simply delay long-term commitment.  This is one of the reasons for the high increase in singleness and young adults delaying marriage. Single-person households have doubled over the last few years. (ABS)
  3. Growing up in an obsessively consumer oriented society means that the choices and options for just about everything have multiplied.  Multiple options leads to excessively self-oriented choices and a consumer approach to other aspects of life where it is inappropriate – like relationships, community, church etc. – or to just keeping your options open.  There may be a better offer just around the corner! Getting young adults to formally respond to invitations to events is difficult.
  4. Instant communications technology such as email, mobile phones, SMS and ‘twitter’ has many advantages, but it also produces a short-term and shorthand attitude to planning and communication.  “Just remind me the day before – life’s too hectic to think too far ahead!”
  5. A post-modern world view as transmitted by the popular media creates an intellectual climate of vague relativism and radical inclusivism.  “There is no one truth”.  “All lifestyles are equally valid”.  This un-thought-through political correctness leads to an unwillingness to embrace or stand for Christian distinctives of belief and behaviour.

When these influences are brought together, what is produced in many Christian young adults is a strong emotional resistance to being different, decisive and committed.

One of the strong emotional causes behind this is a fear of rejection.  Some years ago John Bowlby, a British psychotherapist, wrote a book called “Attachment and Loss” in which he talked about the process of a child’s gradual physical detachment from its mother.  In normal circumstances this is a gradual process of separation.  But he observed that if the normal gradual process was seriously interfered with, the child became very anxious, fearing abandonment.

We now have an army of young adults who have suffered family breakdown and separation from a parent, and an increasing number who have experienced “professional child care” on a daily basis in childhood, which can increase feelings of insecurity.  They have also watched their parents, often their fathers, abandoned by employees, suddenly retrenched by companies and organisations after 20 or 30 years of service to them.

It would not be unreasonable to conclude that all this has produced in them a fear of rejection and abandonment.  Add to this the intellectual climate of post-modern relativism and inclusivism and you have a person programmed to avoid standing out from the crowd on belief and behaviour issues and who avoid strong commitments.  After all, you might be let down again!

So as this generation of young adults listen to the teaching about Christian lifestyle and beliefs, they either back away from them or live a double life – espouse them at church but not at uni or work.  After all, who wants to be rejected!

How are churches responding to this?

  1. Most people now realise that discipling young adults will take much more time than in the past: it will require more than a short course!
  2. Some churches are responding by developing lengthy and highly structured courses.
  3. The mentoring movement.  Young adults linked with an older mature Christian in a regular on-going relationship.
  4. Small groups where peer support and encouragement can be experienced on a weekly basis.
  5. Meeting the desire for community.  Community, friendships and relationships seem more important than ever.  Interestingly many of the new alternative church experiments are deliberately small in size.  There is a great fear of loneliness.  Building community among them is critical but hard work.  They want to belong but they don’t always want to join!
  6. The “Recovery Group” process can also be used as a discipling tool.  For those with major personal issues one large Church in Victoria has a program called “Careforce Recovery Ministries”.  It can be used in this way, as it seeks to both teach a biblical worldview and address’s issues of personal dysfunction.
  7. Challenging experiences can lead to significant growth where young adults are exposed to, say, the developing world, or local situations of great need in cross-cultural mission visits and to experiences that really challenge their comfort zones.  These experiences can be strong enough to challenge the self oriented consumer culture in which they are immersed. (Organisations like ‘The Oak Tree Foundation’ an aid organisation for people under 26 yrs, the ‘Surrender’ movement, UNOH, and ‘Tear Australia’   demonstrate that young adults will respond positively to the challenge of sacrificial Christian service if reached in the right way.)

Being a transformational leader (Practical principles for growing a congregation)

By Peter Corney

There is sometimes a real tension between Biblical theology and some of the pragmatics promoted by proponents of Church growth. But there can also be a false dichotomy created between them, particularly by those who do not understand the difference between ministry and leadership.(1) It is now well established that to plant a new church successfully requires not only ministry by a Godly and Biblically grounded person but also ministry by a leader with a certain set of gifts and abilities. It is also true that to renew and grow a small church in serious decline requires not only ministry by a Godly and Biblically grounded person but also ministry by a transformational leader; someone who has acquired or will learn particular skills and is able to initiate a particular process.

What follows is not a list of the skills of a transformational leader that would be another paper! Below is a list of some of the key principles a minister who wants to be a transformational leader will follow.

If a leader wants their church to grow what do they do? Where do they start? Well there are no simple pre packaged solutions but here is a set of principles to follow:

  1. The leader has to accept responsibility and be accountable for growth or decline.
  2. The ministry must be grounded in the Word of God and prayer. Preaching and teaching needs to be based in systematic teaching from the Bible that is life related.
  3. The leader needs to set a plan of preaching that covers the key theological and ministry ideas that will underpin the new values and directions in which they want the congregation to head. Prior teaching should underpin all significant changes.
  4. The leader must have a passion for and conviction about mission and evangelism and it must be a top priority.
  5. If the leader has inherited a culture of decline, complacency, inwardness and lack of spiritual depth then they will need to initiate change. To grow requires change and change requires intervention. The leader will have to take initiative to change the culture, the shape and the practice of ministry in the congregation.
  6. The leader needs to develop a vision and a practical and realistic plan of how to achieve the goals.
  7. The leader must follow a constructive change process and carry the majority of people with them. This will take time. (2)
  8. As well as understanding the culture and dynamics of the congregation the leader must recognize that every context is unique and so they will need to study and understand the culture of the region in which the congregation is set.
  9. Work out who your target group/s will be. Unless you shape your style and approach to the target group’s culture you will not connect with new people.
  10. If the congregation is small and inward looking the leader will be the one who at first links and adds most new people to the congregation.
  11. The leader must be focused on assimilating and incorporating visitors and new people. This will be among their highest priorities in the first few years of congregational renewal; they will expend a lot of relational energy on this task.
  12. If the committed core of the congregation is very small, elderly, spiritually immature or Biblically illiterate an early goal for the leader will be intentionally building a new core of lay leaders.
  13. Build small groups or home groups. If there are no small groups the leader will have to start and run the first group. They will then train an apprentice leader to take over the first group while they start up another group. The leader will repeat this pattern for some time till a significant number of groups have been established.
  14. If the congregation wants to attract and hold young families the leader will need to quickly develop children’s and junior high youth ministry. This may be the area for the first part time paid or unpaid staff person they appoint.
  15. In declining congregations the quality of the Sunday service will usually need to improve. The music, the teaching / preaching and the general preparation will need to go up several levels. The leader needs to ask themselves “what are the cringe factors here for new people and how can I eliminate them?” Post service welcoming will also need to become well organized.
  16. The leader will need to create new bridge or interface groups between the church and non churched people like Play Groups, 12 Step programs, Alpha or Introducing God courses, etc.
  17. Work on gradually building a ministry team. At first this may be mostly if not all volunteers.
  18. Create events and programs that build a sense of community.


(1) See “The Empowered Church” by Ian Jagelman (Open Book)

(2) See “Change and the Church” by Peter Corney (Aquila press)

Read on for Part 2 of this article …

Being a transformational leader & growing your Church (Part 2)

By Peter Corney

In part one of these two articles I made the point that while we are in a difficult environment for growing Churches there are healthy growing congregations out there. It is only common sense that Christian leaders should be studying them to identify what makes them effective.

The following are the principles and practices adopted by healthy growing churches and their leaders. I have observed these across a range of denominations. This is not an exhaustive list and of course leadership, congregational health and growth are more complex than a list of principles and practices can fully explain. Nevertheless this is a very useful guide for action and reflection and for further research.


The leader is committed to the following fundamentals:

(a) A commitment to and a confidence in the Gospel; that if it is communicated truthfully, clearly and relevantly people will respond.

(b) A dependence on God expressed in prayer that under girds the work.

(c) A commitment to the authority of the Bible and teaching it in a relevant and applied way.

(d) A commitment to mission and outreach – evangelism and service.

(e) A commitment to the congregation by the leader that is expressed in a willingness to hang in for the long hall. Turning around congregations that have been in decline for some years is a long process, there is no quick fix.

(f) The leader is able to gather a core of voluntary leaders around them who are also committed to these fundamentals.


Leadership is required – the minister has to be a leader as well as a pastor and a preacher. The kind of leadership exercised must be “transformational leadership.”

Transformational leaders come in all sizes and shapes but they are all intentional and have a clearly worked out philosophy of ministry. They also possess or are prepared to acquire the following skills: how to cast a vision and inspire people and how to put legs on a vision by creating practical plans, achievable staged goals and the basic organizational structures to make it happen. They are able to empower and involve others through these means. Transformational leaders want to see people and organizations transformed. They have a strong desire to bring renewal and growth.

They understand the change process and know how to initiate change constructively. Putting legs on a vision inevitably means change. How much? How fast and in what areas first? These are critical questions. They know how to bring people with them, to consult and to involve others in negotiating the change rather than imposing it.

They know how to motivate, recruit and enthuse volunteers, how to involve others on committees and teams and projects, how to release their gifts and abilities. The local congregation is a voluntary organization, when it has been in decline and its resources of people and structures are depleted or have become irrelevant a key task is recruiting and envisioning a new generation of volunteers and leaders.

This is a people task and so people skills are paramount! Effective leaders have EQ or “emotional intelligence” as well as IQ. They know how their emotional responses to people affect their willingness to help, their involvement and their reaction to ideas and tasks. They have learnt how to positively manage their emotional responses to people and people’s responses to them. This is one of the keys to being able to form and lead teams effectively.

They have practical experience in starting new projects in a voluntary organization, creating committees or working groups and leading and chairing meetings towards effective decisions. These skills may have been learnt in previous voluntary work; youth or children’s ministry, in local community work or even in business. Such prior experience is invaluable but these skills can be learnt.

They have a good ability to communicate verbally.

The leader who is short on any of these skills needs to put themselves on a steep training and learning curve if they want to become a transformational leader.

The practices of healthy growing churches:

(a) They are committed to mission, outreach and evangelism. They have a holistic approach to mission. They contextualize their methods, which means they will vary from place to place, but all are outwardly focused. They develop groups and programs to interface with and serve their surrounding community. They have a commitment to mission beyond the parish and this is significantly reflected in their budget.

(b) They develop small groups and build community. They get smaller as they get bigger. In the early stages the minister may have to be the “group starter”. Using their skills and experience they begin a new group every six months and then as they are established move on and start another. Other forms of community building include parish camps or weekend residential conferences, family festivals, family working Bee’s, parish dinners, etc.

(c) They are intentional and plan well ahead for all activities.

(d) They have an “every member” approach to ministry and actively discover, encourage and release people’s gifts and abilities. They also regularly train and equip people through special courses and events. They actively develop new leaders. They have a “discipleship pathway” for new Christians and develop a strong view of membership.

(e) Their worship services are relevant and contextualized for the people they are trying to reach. They create regular special services that are aimed at and culturally accessible to their unchurched target group. (Where a group of existing members want to continue a traditional service without major change then provision can be made for that at another time. This avoids alienating people and the evidence indicates that adding services usually increases attendance.)

(f) Early additional staff appointments are usually made for potential growth areas, e.g.: Children’s or Youth ministry or an evangelist to run and follow up programs like Alpha.

(g) Their music is contemporary and the standard as high as possible, given the resources available, with the constant aim of developing the standard. Music is a key factor for contemporary people.

(h) The preaching is given a high priority, prepared well, is biblical and practically applied to every day life. The preaching program and teaching topics are planned at least six months ahead.

(i) There is a well developed and organized welcoming and incorporating system for newcomers and visitors. People are carefully followed up. Growth will not be sustained without this.

(j) There is effective children’s and youth ministry. If you want to attract young families you have to provide these. If there is no youth ministry then it is probably best to start at the junior high level first and establish a committed core group of young people before you tackle the harder senior high level.

(k) Pastoral care is organized using lay people in a pastoral care team. The leader meets weekly with the minister where contacts are allotted. This is for the basic care with the minister following up the more difficult or sensitive cases.

(l) An administration center is developed with basic office facilities, copiers, phones etc. A computer and data base with names and addresses needs to be developed early. Begin with volunteer staff at first then later part time people, gradually developing a more sophisticated operation as growth takes place.

(m) A team is developed to work with the minister. Initially this will be some key volunteers, e.g.: the leader of the pastoral care team, the volunteer office person, maybe a key lay leader who is a retired person, and later additional staff. This is a great support to the minister and sends a message to the congregation that ministry is a team thing.

(n) They constantly evaluate what they are doing to see if it continues to be relevant, is achieving their goals and that the standard of ministry and worship is rising.

(o) They regularly teach about the stewardship of time, abilities and money and have a variety of ways people can serve and a variety of giving mechanisms, e.g., Envelopes, cheques, cash, periodic payment, credit card.

(p) They ask the question: “Is there a new immigrant group in our area for whom we could start a new congregation?”

For growing congregations the mission is more primary than the denominational traditions and so they are willing to expand their thinking and push the boundaries of traditional denominational models and styles of church. This does not mean abandoning all denominational distinctives and traditions but it will mean adaptation and change and challenging traditions that are irrelevant, don’t work or are culturally inappropriate. Most people under 50 yrs today, and certainly all newcomers to church, are post denominational. The denominational tag is not the most important thing to them rather it is the quality, substance and relevance of the ministry.

These are the most common principles and practices of healthy growing Protestant churches in Australia today.

A theology of numbers or why counting counts.

By Peter Corney

Albert Einstein said: Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted. Einstein’s insight is very valuable but it is also true that counting some things can be an important tool for evaluation of effectiveness and a reality check on our ministry.

Numbers are not everything – quality is more important than quantity – faithfulness is more important than success … These comments are each valid in certain circumstances of Christian ministry but they can also be used as justifications and excuses for incompetence, failure and laziness; for lack of courage, skills and planning and even disobedience. An unwillingness to count is sometimes a form of denial of ineffective ministry, of inappropriate methods, failed approaches and out dated models.

The following are reasons why counting counts.

  1. We count and measure what we value: educational grades, time, appointments, birthdays and anniversaries, our savings and investments, public health issues, poverty indexes’, etc.
  2. We take great care in our community organizations and business to have reliable and honest accountants and treasurers to carefully account for people’s money and resources. This all involves counting.
  3. We count to assess and evaluate objectively many health issues and to plan appropriate treatment.
  4. Planning for all sorts of projects requires careful research. Should we put this transport service, this hospital, this school here or there? This research requires assessment and counting.
  5. The New Testament has many references and illusions to counting: The metaphor of the steward for the leader or pastor is instructive. The steward’s role involved accounting for his master’s money and goods – he counted! The metaphor of the shepherd is significant, he had to count the sheep to see if any were missing when he gathered them into the fold at night. Yes, everyone was precious and he went after the one who was missing but to know it was missing he had to be able to count! Jesus uses agricultural images of growth that involve numerical evaluation. He calls us to harvest the crop; he is the gardener who prunes the vine of his people so they will bear more fruit. How do you assess whether the field is one third, two thirds or fully harvested, or the vine has more grapes this year than last? You measure and count! The parable of the mustard seed clearly implies growth. But to identify growth you have to measure. In Acts 2-4 Luke carefully counts the number of converts. Paul in I Cor.15: 3-8 carefully records the number of the witnesses to the resurrection. The book of Revelation describes the great multitude around the throne of God giving glory to the Lamb.
  6. If we care for those who do not know Christ we will be concerned with numbers. The number of converts and baptisms, the number of people being exposed to the gospel. Why? Because every person is precious and every person untouched is a person at risk.
  7. When people say the number of those attending something isn’t important or significant we need to ask them: What is the minimum attendance before it becomes significant – 20 or 10, or 1 or none? When approached with this question you begin to see the fallacy in the statement.

Now of course counting can be misused and abused. Numbers don’t necessarily reflect quality or depth. Size doesn’t always equal strength or spiritual health. Statistics can be a source of pride and confidence in ourselves and not in God. Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted. They can also be the source of despair and disappointment when they are made the sole standard of faithful and effective ministry.

But counting is also a very important way for us to be forced to face reality and to seriously evaluate our methods, models and results. It is part of the process of accountability, avoiding denial and facing up to whether we are being obedient to our Lords commands.

In this matter Gods sovereignty and human responsibility must be kept in a healthy balance. It is God who gives the increase but we must also obey the command to go and make disciples.