Today I was interviewed on stage during the Australian Christian Lobby's Kingdom Summit in Tasmania. Here's a transcript of the interview-
Australian Christian Lobby: In addition to pastoring a local church, you are a theologian and researcher who is very connected with contemporary issues in Australian life. What do you regard is the most pressing issue that the Church should be focusing on today?
Andrew Corbett: We could point to the declining influence of the Church in general society through declining church attendances. We could point to the spiralling marriage and family breakdown. We could look at the widening gap between rich and poor and the growing numbers of working poor. We could analyse some of the trends in the church toward super-relevant mega churches, the “Emergent Church” experiment (which deconstructs all of the traditional aspects of church including leadership structures and prepared services), or the surprising rise of aggressively evangelistic Neo-Calvinistic churches such as Sovereign Grace, Mars Hill, and John Piper entrance into Australia (who are now easily the top Christian podcasters in Australia (surpassing the likes of former #1 podcasters Hillsong or Joel Houston).
We could look at how the Church is responding to the digital revolution with the demise of the mass-media and the explosion of digital niche media provision which now sees the average teenager over a 12 month period receiving the equivalent of 5 months worth of continual text messages, emails, YouTube clips, tweets, facebook interchanges, and Google references and how these messages are viewed on pocket digital devices. We now live in a time when we have never had more information, yet we perhaps have never had so much trouble deciding which information is truly relevant. Herbert Simon said- “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” ("Branding Faith", Phil Cooke, 2008:174)
And it is this pursuit of relevance that has become the primary focus of many churches around Australia. It was Os Guinness who recently said that- “Never have Christians pursued relevance more strenuously; never have Christians been more irrelevant.” (Cooke, 2008:177)
And I think this is the most pressing need in the Australian Church today: relevance, but relevance toward God! We now have churches that have cancelled their prayer meetings, transformed their Home Bible Study Groups into “Connect Groups” where the Bible is not used, and pulpits that espouse lifestyle messages rather than opening or explaining the Word of God! In the pursuit of relevance, perhaps it could be argued that Os Guinness is correct because we have tried to make following Christ “convenient”, our church services “hip” and “cool”, replacing the living dynamic guidance of the Holy Spirit with highly orchestrated time-sheeted programs. None of these things have increased our relevance in society- in fact, it could be argued that more we have become like the world and its programs, the less relevant we have become.
Our relevance toward God must be grounded in an increase in Biblical literacy. If we want to love and care for our society it doesn’t start with social or political programs, it starts when Christians know the heart of God from the pages of Scripture and live out His mission. Thus, the greatest need we have as the Church in Australia is for preachers to preach the Word, for believers to believe, for followers of Christ to follow Christ especially in their homes and to raise a generation of God-fearing fearless followers of Christ! In other words, our great need is to be relevant toward God so that we can be relevant to society.
Australian Christian Lobby: Many business people speak to me about the issue of balancing responsibilities in their business and in their local church. The 2 main issues seem to be that they either feel undervalued by their church Pastor because they are not recognized for their unique skills and strengths, or conversely they are only regarded by their Pastor as a source of revenue for supporting church activities.
Andrew Corbett: I think these issues are resolved if pastors know how to pastor their business people. Business people need to be discipled. They are often very lonely. Wise pastors will take the initiative to take their business people out for a coffee or lunch – and will pay! Shame on pastors who only think of their business people as cash cows. By spending time with their business people they will discover a depth of wisdom and talent that will help them with planning, organisation, budgeting, staffing, and management. Sometimes a business person just wants to be kept in the loop with what their pastor is doing and thinking. Pastors shouldn’t feel threatened by this.
But business people need to be careful as well. They sometimes are the largest financial contributors to their church and this can lead to an attitude that the pastor “owes him”. It can lead to a sense of power over the pastor, which if left unchecked, can become manipulative. So business people need to give as the Lord leads and without strings attached. Pastors need to pastor business people by taking them out for a coffee or lunch and build their relationship with them.
Australian Christian Lobby: What would you say to encourage business leaders who know they are called to advance the Kingdom through their marketplace ministry?
Andrew Corbett: Make sure you get your priorities right! Love your wife. Love your children. Love your children. Don’t make your business your idol or your altar upon which you sacrifice your family or church. Invite your pastor to pray for your business and your witness. And then finally remember, you are the Christian – not your business! You will advance the Kingdom, not your business!
Australian Christian Lobby: As leaders, managing staff is a challenge that goes with the territory. In business we expect staff to meet productivity targets and produce outcomes that support the vision and mission of the business. Does this apply in the local church setting as well?
Andrew Corbett: In business it is often easier to measure “success”: projects completed, on time, within budget, profits achieved, and inventory levels maintained. In a church, it is sometimes a little bit more difficult to measure “success”. Churches must take the time to think through what a “church” is and then what “success” looks like. Then, once this is done it is possible to develop staff job descriptions that have “performance” criteria built into them with mechanism for reviewing this performance. Ultimately, though, the Church is Christ’s and He manages it by raising up and removing leaders and ministers.
Australian Christian Lobby: As a Kingdom leader with a calling to the commercial world, I am strongly committed to the view that the local church is successful when it equips God’s people to go out into the workplace and let Christ live out His life in them. This contrasts with many church pastors and leaders who expect business leaders to introduce strategies and provide financial support to enable the local church to be more effective and more appealing to the people.
Andrew Corbett: Leonard Sweet says that churches need to be GOOD – that is, Get Out Of Doors! Pastors should be pastoring to be good employees who serve their employers as if they were Christ (Col. 3:23-24). Employers should treat staff as Christ would (Col. 4:1). Pastors also need to be very clear about their vision, or rather their church’s vision so that any person, not just business people, can choose to support that vision. Business people should not be reluctant to support their church’s vision. If they are, they perhaps need to reconsider what “church” means.
Australian Christian Lobby: How do you see the local church functioning in the marketplace and in the workforce?
Andrew Corbett: I think there is a desperate need for people to be pastored. Every believer can pastor: talk with, listen to, pray for and with, teach the Scriptures, and visit people in their trials, celebrate with people as they have birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. Jesus looked out over the masses and sighed, “They are like sheep without a shepherd.” There are plenty of lost sheep out there who need a searching shepherd rather than a crusading evangelist.