Monday, February 15, 2010

Thank God I'm a country boy

Nestled on the banks of the mighty Clarence River surrounded by fields of sugar cane, Maclean has a population of about 3,500 people. I recently had the privilege of preaching back at my home church - Maclean Presbyterian - on the book of Joshua. My opening question was "What's so good about the land of Canaan?" It was an apt question to ask in the Clarence Valley. The Middle East is good, but it's no Brooms Head. When I was younger, every morning as we drove down the hill to school, my Dad (without fail) would make us look up from the road and out at the view across the valley at the rivers and farms and wooded hills and say "Some people pay millions of dollars for a view like that... and we get it every day for nothin'." He was right.

It is in Maclean that I grew up with country ministry apologist Nathan. We are both at Bible College this year in different cities and I have a hankering had we been studying five years ago we would be at the same college.

The other day I posted on city-centric ministry, which via Nathan has sparked off some helpful discussions. 

In response to Nathan's view of Sydney from Townsville (and now Brisbane) I counter;
1. The distribution of Moore College graduates is far and wide. The facts don't agree with the rhetoric. During our orientation at Moore we were challenged by Greg Anderson to set the record for overseas mission from our year - the record currently is 20% of a year heading into overseas ministry. As for leaving Sydney within Australia, it need not be stated because it happens already in large numbers.
2. The distribution of Moore College graduates serves Sydney the most. The college is in Sydney, the people most likely to attend are from Sydney, it is the training college for the Anglican Diocese in Sydney.
3. Moore is a local denominational college and its wider training is an act of gospel generosity. Moore is the training college for the Anglican Diocese in Sydney and I can't imagine has any particular obligation for training up others. I contend it is an act of generosity which trains people that have no intention of serving in Sydney nor in the Anglican Church.

4. Moore is a local denominational college which rightly seeks to keep the local denomination strong. Sydney remains the largest and most influential city in the country. The strength of straight down the line evangelicals in Sydney is often overestimated by both those outside and those within the diocese. It is important to protect the evangelical history of Sydney because the gospel is always under attack. Sending people always has a cost involved for the senders. That so many gospel workers have come from Sydney should be cause to keep investing here.

5. The idea that Moore is too Sydney focused is an unhelpful and largely inaccurate stereotype. This is the same stereotype which views the college as too intellectual, inadequate at preparing people for overseas mission and not a "preaching" college. I have chosen to attend Moore not as an Anglican candidate, but as an independent (I'm free as a bird) in order to explore more options of leaving Sydney. This has been encouraged by all the lecturing staff I have spoken to about this at the college.

6. The idea that Moore is too Sydney focused may soon be replaced by the view it is not Sydney focused enough. I have met more people in first year intending on leaving Sydney than I have met who are planning to stay. The city as influential may or may not be true - but there's an awful lot of people here we need to proclaim the gospel to with the hope that God will work to bring them to repent and believe the gospel.

7. Some people for the sake of the wider church go. It seems best to me to keep your strengths strong in order to best serve your weaknesses, but it is a mistake if no one leaves. It is only worthwhile keeping Sydney strong as long as people still go. The North Coast of NSW where I'm from has some great evangelical churches who have struggled for years to find a full-time gospel worker willing to come and serve with them.

8. Some people for the sake of the wider church stay. It is a mistake if too many leave. I don't think the balance is too bad at the moment, but depending on the season we will need to agitate on either side of the equation. There are times when people are comfortable in the city and need to be encouraged to leave. Othertimes the easy thing is to go but people will need to be encouraged to for the sake of the wider church to stay. My beloved co-worker in the gospel Tracey Gowing is from Kempsey. She has such a heart for the country. Her solution; though much harder to stay in Sydney she has spent the last 15 years helping to train up women and encourage men to serve Jesus throughout the world. Working at a health sciences campus has meant that just about any town in NSW that has a hospital has a graduate from the Sydney campus where Tracey laboured. Many of these health professionals are Christians encouraged by Tracey serve the country church.

9. We are dealing with individuals, not numbers. Because the church is the people, it's not an easy thing to say "Well, there's two churches in that area and we only need one so we'll just lift one up and move it to Bourke." It is a matter for individual circumstances to determine who stays and who goes.

However if it is currently a season where too many are staying in Sydney, forget everything I said and go.


  1. Remind me how many years in the last 10 Maclean pressy has been a vacant charge?

  2. Too many. But you'd be comparing the vacancy rates to that of Prebyterian churches in Sydney, and the current enrollment at PTC rather than Moore wouldn't you?

  3. 1. But not, in my opinion, far enough and wide enough.

    2. I actually think this is fine. Sydney needs the gospel and it is the most populous city in Australia - but if you, a country boy benefiting from some people who chose to leave the city to go to the country - are now considering Sydney ministry (see the comments on your last post) then people need to continue speaking out to combat comments like the ones you report from PDJ. If that is the prevailing mindset of arguably the reformed evangelical church's greatest strategist then there need to be several voices in the wilderness.

    3 and 5. I don't buy this - I don't think Moore truly thinks of itself primarily in this way. Moore is the leading institution for the training of evangelical workers in Australia and it attracts people from all over the country for that reason. It's unhelpful to frame it as an asset of the Sydney Anglican Diocese when it is an asset of the kingdom of God. Moore, and SMBC, would, at a guestimate, be getting more than 80% of the country's evangelically minded students.

    5. I don't think I said anything about Moore - I was talking about Phillip's comments which in your post represent the strategic thinking of one of the Sydney Diocese's most strategically minded (and influential) people.

    7. See previous comment - and your post. I agree with this one - it should have been higher up the list (assuming the items are listed in order of some form of priority).

    8. I agree.

    9. I agree. But I don't think encouraging individuals not to leave the city in an elective about Rural ministry is a particularly Godly or strategic thing to do.

  4. "But not, in my opinion, far enough and wide enough."
    This comment is vague. What constitutes enough? Is it simply that "enough" as a personal judgment will always be different for each individual and so you are agitating on behalf of the leaving Sydney side of the argument in order to ensure people go?

    "but if you, a country boy benefiting from some people who chose to leave the city to go to the country - are now considering Sydney ministry"
    Lifestyle wise I would be happy to never live in a city again. If it wasn't for theological education I'd already be gone. And yet if I was convinced that the best place for me to serve for the benefit of the church was in the city centre of Sydney (which I cannot stand), then I would be happy to serve there for the rest of my days.

    On my Moore College focus;
    Yes, I did phrase your comments too much as focused on Moore College. I kind of
    a. assumed that SMBC wasn't in your mind as being an interdenominational college it isn't assumed to be pushing its students in one particular definition.
    b. You keep linking to that picture of Anglican churches most of which are fed by graduates from Moore College
    c. I translated it to my situation - as a student at Moore.

    "Moore is the leading institution for the training of evangelical workers in Australia and it attracts people from all over the country for that reason."
    I'm certain they see themselves that way. But Moore continues to be the Anglican training college for Sydney both historically and organisationally. This makes their welcoming and training beyond those boundaries all the more honourable.

    "I don't think encouraging individuals not to leave the city in an elective about Rural ministry is a particularly Godly or strategic thing to do."
    Phillip is right, you know. I hope I havn't misrepresented the bulk of what he said. The sheep line remains true. God does care for people more than sheep and yes where there's lots of people we need lots of people. Where there's less people we still need people - just not as many. And thus comes the strategy - in the current environment strong regional centres are the best means of reaching to smaller areas. Maclean acted as a regional centre drawing people from smaller towns and then reaching out into those towns as well. It's easier to go from Maclean to Lawrence rather than the other way round. Again I'd love to see someone in Nowhereville population 50, but if the choice is between Nowhereville and the large town 15 minutes down the road which has little to no gospel work then I know where it makes more sense to place people.

  5. I wonder if the history line is the product of Australia's relative youth. All Christianity in Australia is historically based from Sydney. Australia is historically a product of Sydney.

    "This makes their welcoming and training beyond those boundaries all the more honourable."

    Huh? I don't come to the same conclusion. Maybe we're coming at this from different angles. I see a college that accepts students from all over the country essentially vicariously telling those students to stay in Sydney.

    I see no honour in the quotes you've recorded from Phillip in this case - just a comment from someone too blinkered by the need in his own backyard.

    "And thus comes the strategy - in the current environment strong regional centres are the best means of reaching to smaller areas."

    I would prefer, strategically, to think about this along the lines of travel time to church. Certainly people in remote properties are a different kettle of fish (and I've suggested previously that Christians can't be hermits and should move to somewhere where there is a church). But why should Sydney have a church on every corner when others are expected to travel half an hour to their closest regional centre.

    How far should people have to travel to hear the gospel? Get a map of Australia and plot where you think churches should be based on population distribution and travel time on that basis. It doesn't look like the map of Northern Sydney.

  6. Strategically, Moore will have to play the role of supplying evangelical workers to the nation until there are viable alternatives to Moore College for training evangelical ministers who focus on Bible teaching (like QTC, SMBC and BCV) in every state.

    I have not heard any stories of Moore turning students from interstate or outside the diocese away. And I might be biased - but I haven't seen many cases of people passionate about Sydney encouraging a national focus. The message is overwhelmingly Sydney centric.

    Even when your posts start off praising rural ministry and regional strategy the overwhelming vibe is Sydney flavoured (based solely on the response it draws from me internally - though the very topic is like a red rag to a bull to me).

  7. Ok, one more question that seems best suited to the comments here (rather than to a post of its own)...

    If the Jensens and those who have become spiritual figureheads for two generations of passionate and ministry minded evangelicals (like you and me, and like the generation who ministered to us in our youth) are not thinking strategically for the rest of Australia (but rather for Sydney) then who is doing that thinking?

    Who is thinking strategically about Darwin? Who is thinking strategically about the North Coast of NSW? Who is thinking strategically about Queensland (I know the answer to that one)... and who is training and sending the people to these locations?

    I'd love to see what Chappo has to say about the place for country ministry. I suspect it would be in stark contrast to "God loves people more than sheep so go where there are lots of people" and I can't imagine him turning up to an elective about regional ministry and telling people not to go to the country.

  8. I cannot claim to speak on behalf of anyone but myself nor do I claim to know the answers. However here are some thoughts;

    1. Part of the strategy is to keep Sydney strong. There's more people here, therefore more potential gospel workers. As important as it is to have great churches on the North Coast - and I hope this never changes, but most people of my age left to go to university. I went to a big city and have been further encouraged and developed here. It is important to desire that God will keep our strengths strong. It is good strategy to work to this end.

    2. The responsibility lies with those who have been entrusted with the gospel to keep passing it on wherever they are. Those who have been raised up and sent out by God know the local concerns more than anyone else and should be strategising based on their local knowledge. Queenslanders needn't look to Sydney to hold their hand and look after them. Thankfully they aren't looking to do that which is I assume why they've invested heavily in QTC - and I hope God's work in Queensland will be all the stronger for it (as much as I mourn missing the input from my Northern friends at Moore).

    3. I love that you've latched onto my quote of PDJ so thoroughly however I hope I've made clear through the comments that the strategic vision in regards to rural ministry was not "a gospel worker for every town" but rather "regional centres are growing - invest there first and as a priority." That's paraphrased from Phillip, but isn't as funny as the sheep line.

    4. The Ministry Training Strategy is a great way of encouraging men and women into full-time paid gospel ministry by giving them a taste for what it will be like - by having a go with responsibility but without a long-term commitment. I have read and commented and thought upon many of your posts about Sydney's apparent selfishness (to which we agree to disagree). Surely it's better instead to think if suddenly Queensland was cut off from the rest of Australia, what could be done to enhance gospel ministry? That way, any help from south of the border would supplement that going on locally.

    Now I say this as if it isn't going on already - but it is. I just havn't yet heard (or possibly paid attention) to your thoughts on local development and strategy. That is apart from some balancing anti-MTS propaganda.

    My gut tells me that if Queenslanders were left to their own devices they'd need to do what no doubt many are currently doing - investing time with people around training them in God's word (which MTS just does formally).


  9. I'm not suggesting that Sydney is selfish - just that by nature of being the bedrock of evangelical fellowship in Australia they have a responsibility to be strategically thinking about the whole nation (world even) not just the backyard.

    To reduce ministry strategies to a particular patch in a nation with a massive landmass but small population seems to me to miss the spirit of the great commission.

  10. Nathan. I think it would be wise if you really checked your facts, and see how many people that PDJ has personally trained and where they have gone into ministry: you will find some in parish ministry in Sydney, as most of them came from Sydney anyway. A proportion have gone into OS ministry, of which PDJ is a huge supporter, and yet another part of the people he has personally trained have gone into AFES to work on campus', and then there is still a whole bunch of people in rural areas and other part of Australia, like your parents. Honestly, though, we are all commenting on Izaac's recollection of what was said a number of months ago, so I think it wise and godly, to be very careful how we react to the report of what has been said, which on Izaac in this discussion heard a while ago.

  11. Thanks rd. I am slightly horrified that my recounting of the elective has been interpreted by Nathan as PDJ being anti rural ministry. I'm with Mikey Lynch in praising the power of the rhetoric to promote conversation and get us thinking deeply. I hoped that recounting the sheep line would invoke in people the same reaction as I had, but that those reading would finish the next paragraph where I clarified what I felt was Phillip's support for country ministry by helping us to think strategically with the resources God has given us.

    This is what I said
    "On further explanation I understood Phillip's point. He was just using the line as an introduction to his reflections on strategic thinking. He went on to inform us if we drew an imaginary triangle between three Western Sydney suburbs (I forget which ones), there's more people contained within than in the entire state of South Australia - so we theoretically need at least as many workers in that triangle as in South Australia. Phillip wasn't against country ministry, but highlighted the increased importance of regional centres rather than establishing a formal church in every tiny community."

    Perhaps some confusion arose from when I said;
    "In hindsight the entire situation isn't as comical as when my cousin went to an elective a few years earlier specifically on ministry in country areas. The guy running the elective never showed up, so at the last minute Phillip ran it instead and spent the entire "Country ministry" elective telling the group they shouldn't go into country ministry. Cities are where the action is."
    I hoped this would be read in light of the paragraph above which explained Phillip's support of country ministry. I imagine (as I wasn't there) that on the occasion recounted to me above, that Phillip was merely speaking about ministry in a broader sense. I would hope anyone thinking down one specific type or place for ministry should be more open-minded. I plan to leave Sydney to do gospel work, but I'm willing to not leave or go to a situation that makes me uncomfortable for the sake of Christ.

    Nathan, I love your passion for an argument but feel you have unhelpfully attached motivation to PDJ based upon my recounting of the elective which
    a. I never intended
    b. Perhaps could have been avoided with a more thorough reading of my original comments
    c. I have tried to do my best to clarify in the comments.

    It's helpful to have a discussion about getting more gospel workers into rural areas. It's unhelpful to exaggerate the comments and motivations of a man who as rd suggests you know by experience actively sends and supports people leaving Sydney.

  12. Let me put the following factors on the table in this discussion.

    1. I am thankful to God - and to his human agents including PDJ - for the ministry of the gospel that has occurred in Sydney since the first fleet landed there.
    2. I don't think the ministry has stagnated in Sydney necessarily - but there are lots of places in Australia not benefiting from gospel ministry while Sydney has an abundance. In economic terms there is a scarcity of available workers for these regional centres.
    3. For the sake of context - and as alluded to by both Izaac and RD - I grew up in a ministry household that was the combined product of Sydney heritage (on my mother's side) and a rural boy who went to Sydney for uni and benefited from the education he received there. My father now ministers in the city having spent 10 years in the country. My parents met at St Matthias so I would not actually exist were it not for PDJ and the ministry of the gospel in Sydney.
    4. I have lived in both regional (Townsville) and urban (Brisbane) Queensland and both regional (Maclean) and urban (Sydney) NSW.
    5. I have spoken to a number of Moore College trained ministers in regional Queensland while composing my arguments on this matter - none of them are taking the critical line on my positions that those commenting from Sydney are taking. They in fact share my frustration at the lack of consideration anywhere west of Sydney's eastern suburbs receives from Moore students (despite many people leaving Moore to go overseas and throughout Australia).
    6. My question is this - how many people from Sydney originally are considering ministry outside of Sydney? I suspect a number of country candidates end up in Sydney (and I know for a fact that many end up in Sydney after successful stints in the country - though most of these are in the Pressie system).
    7. How much has MTS (a successful training program) supplanted what might have traditionally been seen as an opportunity for regional service (again using my father's cohort who were pre MTS as examples)?

  13. It strikes me that there might be a disparity between the way the rest of evangelical Australia thinks of the responsibility of Moore College and the Sydney Anglican Diocese and the responsibility those within the system feel.

  14. "They in fact share my frustration at the lack of consideration anywhere west of Sydney's eastern suburbs receives from Moore students (despite many people leaving Moore to go overseas and throughout Australia). "
    This comment demonstrates that your criticism is irrational.

    It is not a matter of disparity of thought but disparity of reasonable expectation.

  15. "This comment demonstrates that your criticism is irrational."

    Not at all. Many do leave Moore to go overseas or into regional Australia - many does not equal enough. Many more stay in Sydney.

    Many of Moore's students do not come from Sydney (but most do).