‘In everything we have won more than a victory because of Christ who loves us. I am sure that nothing can separate us from God’s love – not life or death, not angels or spirits, not the present or the future, and not powers above or powers below. Nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord!’ (Romans 8:37–39 CEV).
At 10.00am on Saturday 23 March 2019, the NSW District Pastors Conference met at Warrambui with the task of providing nominations for District Bishop, Assistant Bishop, and the pastor member of the District Church Council. Then the District Convention opened at 11.30am in worship with an agenda to elect new leaders. By 3.00pm it was all done, including a closing installation service with holy communion. It might have been the shortest Synod in the history of the LCA! Delegates and pastors came in record numbers for a common purpose, and they willingly achieved it. I saw that day that the LCA really values its leaders.
However, 2019 isn’t an easy time to be a Christian leader. Every generation has its struggles, and ours is facing a growing swell of popular anti-church, anti-Christian sentiment. Society is no longer merely apathetic, but openly antithetic to Christianity and faith in general. Some of this comes from ignorance of the Christian legacy and how it contributes to a free and democratic society. Churches have not helped, however, by having allowed, or even concealed, abuse, especially of children. We pay a heavy price for not having sufficiently protected vulnerable people in our care.
So voices are raised to remove the privileges which allow churches to operate openly in society. The reputations of church schools and agencies are impugned by misleading media reports and some politicians with their own agendas. There will be more of this as so much that is good about the church gets forgotten and any and all of its ‘dirty laundry’ gets aired, whether genuine or not.
On top of this comes the growing demand for ‘compliance’. Society demands ever more transparency and risk mitigation of all our activities. We willingly oblige because we want to do our best. Compliance does, however, cost significantly, especially for many volunteer ministries which are the basis of church operations.
These external pressures come at a time when the church is experiencing its own internal pressures. Just when we need each other more than ever, we risk becoming divided. We must pay special attention to unity, so that we do not lose the blessing of unity painstakingly achieved and gladly gifted to us by earlier generations. Despite these threats, I still believe this is one of the best and most promising times to be a Christian. Faith can wilt when things get too good, yet thrive in adversity. Current threats to the church’s place in society, its prestige, privileges and pretensions, teach us not to trust in our privileged position or the things of this world. We are people of the resurrection. We celebrated it again at Easter, just as we do every week. Our Saviour died to this world that he might rise again. We believe that he will take us with him through death into glory.
So God can bless us in this season of adversity with greater faith and a stronger determination to follow him. We remain confident of who we are and what we are to do, since ‘nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love for us in Christ Jesus our Lord’.