The Spirituality Of The Church

Shaping the Spirituality of the Church

Day 4 of the Roundtable on ‘Shaping Australia’s Spirituality’ focussed on the spirituality of the Church. It was chaired by Pastor Rob Steed.

Rev Dr Philip Hughes began with the fact that there had been a significant decline in attendance in churches over the last generation with just 15 per cent of Australians now attending a church within a given month. The churches of list engagement with:

  • 90% of younger people;
  • 90% of business people;
  • 90% of people who work more with their hands than with their minds; and
  • 90% of second generation immigrants.

The problem is not largely the rejection of faith, but:

  • cultural expressions within the church reflecting the 19th century;
  • lack of affirmation of the workplace and business values;
  • high demands for literacy in expression;
  • strong connections with ethnic cultures;
  • not holistic in relation to life; and
  • often seen as irrelevant to life and society.

Churches are build around organisations and require much effort in maintenance. They are often build on local communities which are largely irrelevant, and their activities centre on the repetition of tradition rather than addressing contemporary life and society. They are often more focussed on self-maintenance and mutual support than changing the community, society and the world.

The new forms of God’s activity include the faithfulness, goodwill and sacrificial service of many people. Much happens in small and informal groups of people. There needs to be a change from organisation to movement. This will involve the formation of task groups rather than organisations, and the development of networks rather than formal associations.

Churches need to focus on relationships rather than structures, about living in families in our fragmented communities, in the pluralistic, globalised society. It is about living justly and with care and compassion. The primary challenge of faith is ‘to love God and our neighbour’.

Dr Ruth Powell (NCLS Research) noted the evidence for ongoing erosion of beliefs and practices associated with Christianity. She noted that there is a large ‘messy middle’ of people who are neither religious nor non-religious, neither theists nor atheists. Yet, for four in ten Australians say that religious faith or spirituality is important in shaping their life’s decisions.

Dr Darren Cronshaw argued for a ‘church revolution’. He told of his experience of emerging and experiential churches. He spoke of networks which nurture the spirit, rather than being static organisations. He spoke of churches which allowed people to explore faith rather than requiring a certain level of belief.

Dr Cronshaw argued that there were two areas in which the emerging churches had a little more to learn:

  1. Effective evangelism. While over time, the service component of these communities increased, the faith-sharing decreased.
  2. Many of these churches had experienced high levels of change but many were not good at the on-going processing of change.

Dr Bob Dixon (Catholic Pastoral Research Office) spoke of the massive growth in Catholic population since 1950. One of the strengths of the Catholic Church is its ethnic diversity. However, 86% of all Catholics do not attend Mass on a typical Sunday.

In interviews with people who no longer attended church, it was found that many felt that the church had become irrelevant to daily life. Some were concerned about the abuse in the church. Some had experienced some conflict. Yet, for most of them, spirituality continued to be see seen as an important component in their lives. The research found that if people felt that they would be welcomed, some would return to the church.

For an audio file of these presentations, right-click here and save the mp3 file to your computer.

For more details of the research, see Philip Hughes, Shaping Australia’s Spirituality: A Review of Christian Ministry in the Australian Context, (Mosaic Press, Melbourne, 2010).

The following people were involved in discussion of the research and the presentation of their own observations of the development of church life and the training of people for ministry.

  • Rev Dr Bruce Kaye (Anglican Church)
  • Pastor Rob Steed (Seventh-day Adventist Church)
  • Rev Tim Hein (Uniting Church)
  • Rev Dr Brendon Roach (Principal, Harvest Bible College)

For an audio file of these reflections and observations, right-click here and save the mp3 file to your computer.

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