On Rethinking Church

In February 2009 Berkely Salvation Army engaged a church health consultant to evaluate our church and recommend a way to increase our church health.  The consultation quickly turned to an intervention. The church, while it may have looked ok on paper, was found to be very toxic.  I was informed on the first evening over dinner that the recommendation of the team was to close The Salvation Army Berkeley in 4 weeks, I would have until breakfast the next morning to give my final answer. 

All night I kept waking, thinking I was having a bad dream. This was the church, the people that I believed God had given to me to care for, to disciple, to mobilise to mission for the Kingdom. Now it was down to me to say yes or no whether to close it.  I was still in so much shock and disbelief, that the next morning I asked if the conversation the night before had actually happened. Yes it had, and now was the time for my answer. I felt led to close the church, it went against everything I believed.

I was coached; publicly I had to appear confident and decisive about the process.  Privately I struggled with it for over a year, but every time I reached a low point something would come to light and I would be reassured that it had been the right thing to do.

I was then given the responsibility to work out what The Salvation Army would look like in the corps area, and began a year long community needs analyses.

We also re-defined what a healthy Christian community would look like.

¨      A high number of new AND growing disciples, one cannot exist without the other.

¨      A community of people that are engaged in their community, not focused on internal issues or programs.

¨      Something that you would be happy to invite your friend’s family and neighbours to be a part of.

¨      A community of people that where instrumental in transforming the wider community, bring heaven to earth, even if the recipients where not sure what that was.

On a personal note, as a Salvation Army officer I believed that my first priority was the salvation of souls, and yet I seemed to spend most of my time dealing with church people and church issues. It was not often that I had time or the emotional energy to reach out to ‘lost souls’. Most of all we wanted to find out what God was doing in our community and get on board with that.

We spent a lot of time driving around, looking and watching what was happening in different parts of our community. When we came to Port Kembla, Paul had a very real sense that God was doing something here. As the months passed we began to meet quite a few people from, or who were interested, in the Port. While they all had different names for it, they all felt that something was about to happen in Port Kembla, it was going to be revitalised into a healthy community again.  Each of these encounters can only be described as God encounters.

We knew what a significant recommendation this was for The Salvation Army, and to be honest, it was so crazy and out of the box we did not think they would approve the proposal, but they did and we are where we are today.

Our Mission is to:

Do Life                         spending time with people in the community
Explore Life                 explore your dreams hobbies and passions and use these for the kingdom, don’t focus on your limitations but on the possibilities
Experience Life           live out Gods best intentions for our lives. John 10:10

We have a café that is used for church services on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of the month. These are celebration meetings for all ages and are not supposed to be grand theological statements. Our people are encouraged to meet regularly in small discipleship groups, and this is where the action is supposed to take place, real life meets divine living.

Through the café we getting to know a range of people that we would not have met before, or would have kept us at a distance. I am not saying that we should all ditch the old churches to open a café, but we needed to decide what church really is and how faith and Christian community fit in a post Christian world.

This journey does require a change in thinking, can I recommend ‘Direct Hit’ by Paul D Borden, plus his other books.

None of us became leaders so we could sit through 3 hour meetings discussing what colour the new carpet should be or negotiating whose activity should have the right to use the back room on Tuesday night. 

We were called to something so much more exciting!

Paul and Christie Kurth