The temperature is rising in Australia. As you read this you may have assumed that this is another article about ‘Climate Change’. Well it is, but its not about the type of climate change that we often talk about. My experience is that the climate is changing in Australia in terms of the response to the Christian message in the public arena.
I have noticed a shift in community attitudes toward public Christianity over the 34 years since I left my comfortable Engineering job in Melbourne to enter the full time Christian ministry.
When I first started in ordained ministry it was still reasonably acceptable to have a conversation with a local clergyperson on a street corner. If I did happen to be wearing my ‘dog collar’ as I walked along then I might have had someone say ‘Hello Father’. Nowadays it is more likely that I will get either a funny look, a terse remark or someone may even stick their finger up at me (and it isn’t my haircut).
I have also noticed that it is getting harder to start a Gospel conversation. In the school environment I find more & more parents who want to ‘have a go’ at the Christian foundation of the school. We know that many anti-Christian forces are operating in our society, and not only are they on the increase but they are becoming more vocal and even aggressive. It appears that many people are becoming even more ‘hardened’ to the Christian gospel.
I think it is true to say that the spiritual climate is changing. All this means that there is extra pressure is on those who are the public face of Christianity in many organisations, like Chaplains.
The role of Chaplain is already challenging. It is more challenging being a School Chaplain than being a teacher of English, Maths or Science. I think Chaplains are feeling the change more than local parish clergy as Chaplains are often working with a larger non-believing audience.
As the temperature rises, and as you feel it, it could easily ‘get you down’.
Let me encourage you with three further thoughts.
Firstly, let’s be realistic about the ministry we have and the time in which we are working. A lovely grandparent, who is part of our school community (and a keen Christian), asked me why the Church didn’t have any ‘city wide Crusades’ anymore (he was converted at a Billy Graham crusade in 1959). I did say to him that whilst I would love to see people come to Christ in large numbers I didn’t think Aussies would respond to that type of event in the same way in 2021 that they did in 1959. The parable of the Sower reminds us that when the message is proclaimed there are different responses to the word. We appear to be ministering in times when much of the ground is dry and hard. If you are not seeing the same fruit as a result of your ministry as the School Chaplain did in 1959 then don’t be discouraged.
Secondly, keep your eyes firmly fixed on the task we are blessed with. We are here to live and proclaim the most important message that the world has ever heard. We are to teach the best news that any human can ever hear. Just because it is getting harder to do it, and just because we might get more opposition, let’s not give up on the task. The temperature might be rising and the mountain might look higher but this is a glorious calling.
Thirdly, let’s remember that if you feeling the pressure then so is another ministry worker in the suburb around the corner from you or in another school across the city. Why not take the time out to send one person an encouraging email or letter (when was the last time you got a hand-written letter?). You might send that type of email or letter that admits that you are finding it tough but you are striving to keep going, and you are praying for them in these challenging times.
Climate change is happening, there is no need to deny it. So, let’s keep our eyes fixed on the goal, let’s run with perseverance and lets keep encouraging each other.