Throughout Australia an annual Christmas season highlight are the Carols by Candlelight. Where we live is no different with the Southern Gold Coast Carols in Coolangatta, the Currumbin Carols by Candlelight and Tugun Carols by Candlelight.
Tugun Carols by Candlelight is run by the business community and the schools get involved with their choirs and people turn up in their droves. Our own local church Living Temple Christian Church (Tugun Baptist) get involves by providing oodles of volunteers as community involvement.
This essentially is the model 'with local corner churches' — indeed are quite often part of their Candles by Candlelight committee. It's a community event.
What is this about?
According to the 2016 census, 52% of the Australian population are actively involved or associate with being Christian. The Church Life Surveys question this figure as for the first time the top box in the census survey had the 'no religion' box (the donkey vote). Considering Christian infant, schools, marriage and funerals the figure of Australians being engaged in things Christian is considerably higher.
As a former industrial chaplain for 12 years and the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 followed by Life After Cricket since 2001, my personal (not anecdotal) experience in ministry in the community is that unless a non-Christian religion such as Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic — I have yet to meet a non-interested Australian in matters of Jesus — even if it is for debating purposes.
This in my view seems to be a key to why Australians turn up in their droves to Christmas Candles by Candlelight.
Ask any chaplain ministering in any community across Australia – chaplains in schools, campuses, industry, commerce, hospitals, military, sport, youth, emergency services, fire, police — reflects these same outcomes. At a recent Chamber of Commerce breakfast a retired Police detective spoke and afterwards I enquired whether the police chaplain had ever been sought out. “Of yes, quite a number of times in my career.”
The spirit of the Lord is alive and well with most Australians and it is so very evident in the Christmas happy season.
Why the disconnect with church buildings?
The question then becomes one of disconnect. There is a clear and unequivocal break in communication between what is happening in the hearts of our Australian population — take Christmas as an example — also include Easter and Anzac — yet the church building is at arm’s length.
My 40 years of experience in ministry in the community vouches no lack of interest in things of Jesus and His offer of Salvation, but as soon as words — which associate any of this — with a church building, there is a disconnect.
The question therefore must be asked, regardless of how difficult this might be as a minister of 40 years, what is this disconnect between 'one to one' personal conversation discovering delightful Christian thinking — and — a church building.
These are my discoveries of 40 years. There is a 'misunderstanding' philosophically of what is being Christian — sadly church attending neighbours 'not the best' illustrations of Christlike behaviour. 2 Corinthians chapter 3 speaks of us — like an open letter!
There is a 'misunderstanding' philosophically of the Cross of Calvary — that of doing good things to build a cache towards salvation — and that of Christ's free gift of Salvation. This is very difficult to explain where everything else in life is the other way round!
There is a 'misunderstanding' philosophically of the church building — there is no true connect with the brick and mortar associated to the Gospel construct — separating this from as association of a church building can be full of pitfalls.
What might we do about this?
In a piece I wrote earlier this year based on survey reports, there has been a bee-line in the West to either Cathedrals where the serene overshadows the dramas of this life (one the one hand) — and — to Pentecostal type Christian worship where again it overshadows the down sides of life — even in local corner churches.
This is one of many illustrations of local churches across Australia. A small 20–25 person congregation of older people had a guest preacher who point by point presented two possibilities – one of closing up and one of moving in a completely radical direction. That preacher was told he would never be invited back. Eight months that small struggling church called a fresh pastor who did precisely what was said previously and now they have a thriving congregation four times the number.
Both of these church constructs illustrate something very different philosophically to what has been — the evidence is overwhelming. Christian worship it seems in the critical factor. What had Christian communities offering - throughout the last century the local corner church building appeared to offer lots – but ended up doing stuff to make it all work and endless meetings.
So, what are the two constructs of worship mentioned above — cathedrals and Pentecostal worship. Somehow they offer a fresh construct. It's not one of taking up invaluable family time.
Both the cathedral model and the Pentecostal type worship experience lift the congregants out of themselves to a fresh realm, a paradigm of the spiritual experience with Christ the Saviour — a Holy Spirit directed — rescuing us from sin and all that is wrong within ourselves. It is so very good to the soul!
It is a return to the contemplative in two very different forms. Food for thought this Christmas.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html