The first thing to say about our mission is:
1. It is a given! – as a bishop, as a diocese, as churches working together, we don’t have to spend any time working out what our mission is.
Our mission was given to Jesus’ first disciples 2,000 years ago and it remains his mission for his disciples today.
It comes at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, where we learn that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to the risen Lord Jesus. What does he do with that authority?
He commands his disciples to:
Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Matthew 28:19-20
He then promises:
Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20
Disciples in the first century were centred on the teaching of their rabbi and absolutely devoted to prioritising their leader and doing everything according to his teaching. And so it was with disciples of the Lord Jesus.
Their task was to make more disciples; to gather with them more and more people who would be absolutely devoted to Jesus, prioritise him above everything else in their lives, and seek to conform their lives to the pattern of his teaching.
Our task corporately, as the people of God in the Anglican church across our diocese, is to continue this work of seeking more devoted followers of Jesus.
Those who become followers (who were not baptised as infants) we are to baptise, and we are to teach all new disciples what Jesus has taught us, so that they will become mature in their trust, wise in their understanding, and join us in the task of making more disciples.
We want to make disciples of Jesus who will make disciples of Jesus!
But will you notice that we are not just sent off to do this alone? We are enabled and empowered by the Lord Jesus himself who has promised to be with us in this task until the end of the age. What great news is that!
But here is the important question: given our need for more clergy; given the age profile of our congregations; given the challenges of the last few years; given our lack of finances; given the ongoing challenges of COVID-19 and given the context in Australia of increasing indifference or even hostility towards the church; how on earth are we going to make more disciples?
2. How are more disciples made?
- Prayer – does your heart long that we might make more disciples and see more and more people come into relationship with the Lord Jesus, so they share the hope and joy and life we have found in him? Have you asked the Lord? Have you prayed for the transformation of your heart and the renewal of our church? Have you prayed for more gospel workers? Here is the Lord’s promise: he is able to do more than either we ask or imagine! (Ephesians 3:20) So I must pray. You must pray. We must pray for the enabling and empowering of the church, that we might make more disciples, according to Jesus’ great commission.
- Teaching – we need a deeper understanding of the significance of the Good News. When people grasp that in my experience, they become crystal clear that more people need to hear of the love and forgiveness Jesus came to bring.
- Assurance – we need to be people who have full assurance that we are saved – forgiven and reconciled to God and rescued from sin and death – by what Jesus has done for us, and not by our (often feeble) good deeds and church involvement. As people understand that salvation is by grace, taken hold of by trusting Jesus, they become more passionate about the gospel and making the good news known.
- Excited – clergy, lay preachers, and Bible study leaders need to be excited by the gospel again, and then excite others regarding the sheer delight of the gospel and its power to change lives. Our confidence and joy in the gospel needs to be refreshed and renewed!
- Equipped – we all need some help to become people who say something about Jesus and our relationship with him. Not to become Evangelists or Apologists – but simply people who have the confidence to say something direct and simple about the relationship we have with Jesus. Many of us speak endlessly about our grandchildren, the weather, sport, politics, the livestock or crop prices, or real estate; but say nothing (ever) to others about the most important relationship in our lives. There are some wonderful ways to help one another speak of Jesus naturally and without apology or embarrassment.
So we need to:
- Send – one another out to be involved in our communities in many and various ways, so we are building networks and friendships and raising the profiles of our churches. We need to work out how to bless our communities with our presence and become a vital and valued part of our towns.
- Renew/refresh our clergy team
- Those presently serving – we need to care for them and refresh them, perhaps reskill them; inspiring them to become agents and enablers of disciple making.
- Seek new clergy for the diocese – we all need to work hard at making the need here known. Next year I plan to visit five key theological colleges on the eastern seaboard, seeking to plant in the minds of students, the possibility of serving here in central and western NSW.
- Welcome and equip new ordinands – I’m delighted to announce that we have three people who have been approved by our ordination panel and me for ordination on the 12th December this year.
- Wally Cox is married to Jordon with two young boys and will serve in the parish of Blayney.
- Andrew Thornhill is married to Kath with two young teenagers and will serve in the parish of Coonabarabran.
- A third candidate is awaiting confirmation of funding.
- Build up and equip teams of lay leaders/ministers to work alongside our clergy. Lay ministers in this diocese are very impressive in the time they give and the wonderful way they love and care for people. But we need more, so the work can grow.
- Investigate strategic alliances and team ministries especially in our smaller remote centres, so that no one is left struggling alone to try and make a difference.
- Build and extend our online ministry so that in remote places where clergy can only visit irregularly, people who have internet access and are able to use it may have opportunity with the rest of us to learn and grow and be equipped.
- Help churches with technology so that when resources are made available by me or others, they can make use of a sermon or other online teaching and equipping opportunities. We also want to help all parishes increase their own online presence.
- Teach regarding sacrificial giving so that our giving and resourcing might increase. To this end, I will be running a teaching series in November called “Living Generously” which I hope many parishes might use.
- Raise support from outside the diocese such as we are seeking to do to support Phil Howes in his new position at the Cathedral. We may need to ask clergy to come as missionaries, raising a portion of their own support, just as they might do if serving overseas.
- Review everything we have been doing. The great COVID pause of 2020 gives us a very significant opportunity to review all we have been doing and assess the effectiveness of each of our activities in terms of our commission to make disciples. During the early weeks of lockdown I urged each parish to ask three questions:
- What have you stopped which, on reflection, should remain stopped?
- What have you adapted that should remain in its new form?
- What have you started which now ought to become part of what you do?
These questions remain pertinent and maybe good to revisit or to use now if you have not done so before.
In regard to Sunday services, many churches have simplified worship under COVID conditions and enjoyed rediscovering Morning Prayer or Praise, Prayer and Proclamation.
Perhaps some of these adaptations ought to be maintained, especially if our services are to become more welcoming and accessible for those who have not joined us before.