Just because you’re ‘hip’ doesn’t mean you can dish the parish

There has been a recent explosion in ‘church planting‘ that has been pretty obvious in Sydney.  Now, I know on one level, ‘church planting’ has been pushed for the last 10 years, but I think we all know the recent hype and I for one am excited by that.

However, ‘cursed’ is the man who turns his back on the old school idea of a parish for greener pastures. Sure the Anglican parish has its roots in old English traditions and that may seem dated, but it is built on great principles and gives us more than we realise here in Sydney. church1

3 reasons to value the parish system

1. Its responsibility to the community. Whether you know it or not, the idea of a ‘parish’ is that the church is held responsible for the area in which it is located. That means, it is responsible for the gospel proclamation, the care for the poor and the general love of everyone in that area (usually a suburb or two). In recent times there has been this rediscovery that we should really be ‘engaging’ with our communities. We’ve had people from England and people from America come and bring us this revelation. Truth is, we’re already 10 steps ahead because we have churches all around this city with the responsibility for the local community around them. The parish system demands a church engages with its community.

2. Resources. Each parish has a building and in most cases a place for the minister to live. This is such a blessing! Sure, some of our buildings were constructed in the 1970’s and look somewhat offensive to modern eyes – but we’re well beyond the seeker sensitive model of church that needs neon lights and flashy paint to communicate the gospel. If Mars Hill had the number of buildings we own they would be over the moon! Our parish system has been established and resourced and we should take advantage of that.

3. Completely inclusive. That is, because a church is responsible for an area anyone in that area is welcome. It’s not an independent church set up for Chinese, nor for the ‘late 20’s’, nor for Anglo’s. A parish church has open doors to anyone in that area regardless of age, sex or nationality. Our parish system is beautifully inclusive.

A way forward:

We need to embrace people wanting to plant churches. BUT we must also reclaim the true power of the parish and start taking more responsibility for the area’s we have been given. Much of the recent hype could be achieved through local churches going back to basics. Ofcourse, at its very heart the connect09 campaign is simply a way to remind churches that they have a parish to look after. 

Just because your hip, doesn’t mean you can dish the parish.

Oh, and of course that raises another question – why are you young hipsters who are so concerned with ‘community’ not turing up to your local church?


9 thoughts on “Just because you’re ‘hip’ doesn’t mean you can dish the parish

  1. big call hey to have a parish hey – its actually an exciting privilege: a designated hood to preach and promote the gospel.

    And you don’t have to completely re-invent the wheel to be “hip” – for instance our little church in the picture is trying to reach our diverse parish community with what are essentially 5 churches (services) meeting at various times in the one, hopefully not too offensive to our modern parishioners, building.

    Tradition and systems can be frustrating with its redtape & rules – you can only do this if you have that etc and some things do need changing but how awesome would it be if we had good ministers in all the church buildings going around town… go exploit the system for the sake of spreading Jesus’ name I say!

  2. Craigers,

    You’re a good man.

    1. I wish I knew even a handful of parishes in Sydney which are actually taking responsibility for the poor in their community.

    2. Yes, building can be a blessing. But they can be a curse too. How many energy and money went into the renovations at the church we grew up in. Could that money have been used in a better way? How much time in church committee meetings are taken up with property related issues?

    You paint a rose coloured picture of the parish but reality leaves much to be desired.

    3. Completely inclusive? When we were at church together, how many Asians were there? Do you honestly think that anyone who wasn’t at least middle class would have been included?

    I think the main problem lies with our over dependence on ministers. 10% of the congregation invariably do 90% of the work. Communities won’t be changed until 90% of the congregation share in the ministry and not leave it to minister.

    Keep raising the issues buddy.


  3. He Rich
    Great to hear from you. Really helpful reflections. But I think what you’re explaining is a potentially poor use of what ‘parish’ is all about. I guess my post is meant to encourage people to realise that the old-school idea of parish’s is actually a really good idea. Now, what we find is that churches aren’t taking their responsibility seriously and that is what you seem to be reflecting upon.

    as for building costs and energy, you’re right it is the ugly flip side to that coin. And I agree that most people still haven’t really ‘understood’ what it means to be part of a church community.

    thanks for commenting.

  4. Thanks for your considered response Craig.

    I was reflecting more today about the issue and my concern about the parish model is that perhaps the basic unit is too big. By that I mean, in a parish, you usually have one minister looking after say an average of 50 people. I think it is very difficult for the minister to pastor this number of people effectively especially when they have to prepare a sermon or two each week. Also the burden of ministry falls largely on the minister and 90% of the congregation are just spectators (come on Sundays, listen to the sermon, go home).

    The model we are trying to work with here in Thailand is to set up house churches for lack of better word. Groups of 8-12 people meeting as church in a home. In this sized group there is accountability and everyone is forced to serve and participate. So instead of big group of 50 meeting in a church with the minister doing most of the work, you have 5 groups of house churches. The minister/church planter going around to the groups, training them, keeping them on track, encouraging them. But he is not leading these “house churches” – that responsibility lies with an elder/s in each group.

    Perhaps these 5 house churches can meet up for one big meeting once a month for a celebration meeting.

    Whereas in a parish model the minister is spending up to 50% of his time preparing a wonderful sermon which, if we are honest, goes in one ear and out the other for many people, in the house church model, he is spending more time encouraging and training the people to serve.

    Also with 5 house churches instead of one bigger church, you have 5 different areas you are reaching into the community and not just one.

    What do you think?

    What I’m talking about is not just a glorified biblestudy, but actual church in a home. Remember our T.C Core biblestudies and the bond and fellowship we had there. If we were to tweak it so that we are meeting as a church and not just doing biblestudy, you can imagine something of what we are trying to achieve.

    For us, we’re trying to implement this house church model. We don’t know if it will work yet. (We need our first believer first!). However, the traditional model has struggled in Thailand. Part of the reason is that part from in the major cities, churches can’t the rent on buildings and don’t have money to pay a full time minister.



  5. Rich,

    I really think your system of house churches makes sense. To be honest, just reading your description of it is exciting. The things that stood out to me which I agree with are
    1. The concept that the minister is the only really ‘active’ one in the church. Disaster. In total agreement.
    2. That one parish church is potentially harmed by the fact that it is only one! Split a congregation of 100 into 5 churches (20 people) you’ll have a much more organic geographical spread. I certainly think this is good, however the only down side is that the complete stranger may not know where the church is, where it meets. The one advantage of a single church building is that it is obviously accessible. Everyone knows it is there and that’s important too. Now, how many people walk in off the street is another question altogether 🙂 maybe not many. But that’s another issue.
    3. That the elders are required to genuinely lead. YES. To see the requirements Paul gives for elders and then to assume that means they just organise the coffee roster or guide discussion in a biblestudy might sell the responsibility a bit short.
    4. I wonder, if we changed senior high core to a ‘church’ and were welcomed to invite anyone along, how much it could have grown. I think maybe alot! (although then again, we did have to organise youth group etc, but just thinking though in theory).

    However, all those things being said, I guess what I’m doing is approaching this from a perspective where I am soon to be accepted as an Anglican candidate, most probably to minister somewhere in Sydney. With that approach I am trying to make the most of what is here already and hit the ground running with a positive attitude that can use as well as mould how we do things for the greatest effectiveness.
    It’s too easy to diss the system (I’m not saying your doing that, because your in a different scenario in Thailand) but I guess I want to be supporting the community I am in, whilst also asking ‘what if’ questions.

  6. Dear Craig,

    I appreciate your perspective and understand the situation you are in. I agree that once you are in the system and sign the papers you have an obligation to work within the system and to support it. To do otherwise would be dishonoring to your promise.

    I do feel for those in your situation though. You either tow the line, sign the papers, wear the robes (at least at your ordination), baptise infants, but have all the resources of the Anglican church. Or you go independant and pretty much have nothing but ostracism and suspicion.

    I was seeing photos of Goldy’s ordination on facebook and seeing the Bishop of that diocese
    wearing a special hat, staff, medallion, fancy robes and candles in the background. The clergy entered in procession with incense burning, long stick with a cross on it, and a picture of Jesus (see the photos on my blog). What does that say to the person in the pews? Perhaps it is justifiable in the Roman Catholic tradition where the priesthood of all believers denied, but this was a protestant denomination ordination.

    But as I said, as an Anglican candidate what choice do you have? You’re between a rock and a hard place in some ways (if I am using that expression correctly). If you had the choice, complete freedom, would you choose to wear the robes or not? What would the majority of your fellow candidates choose? Why is it that you don’t have a choice? How did Anglicans get to this place in the first place?

    As an Anglican candidate you gain a lot but you are giving up a lot too.

    If you have time get your hands on a book called “Pagan Christianity” (Frank Viola & George Barna). It’s not mainstream and many people in evangelical circles are writing the book off, but I think its worth a read because of the questions he raises concerning the institutional church. I wish I had a chance to deal with his criticisms at college to see if arguments stand up biblicly as Viola claims. He more recent book is called “Reimagining Church”. Both available on Amazon.

    Also I don’t know if you follow Michael Jensen’s blog, but there is a recent entry which has caused quite a few fiery comments about how we do church.

    I’ll be praying for you Craig. Keep in touch. Pastoral ministry is really hard. I’ve had many of my college buddies working in rural parishes getting depressed and on antidepressants. Make sure you look after yourself.


    Rich (don’t feel you need to respond to my comments. I know you’re busy.)

  7. Blow it Craig. I say live the dream. I reckon you could be the Mark Driscoll of Sydney (you certainly bear a striking resemblance to him in appearance and mannerisms).

    Go out there an plant your own church. I’ll be the first one to chip in a couple of hundred dollars a month to help you out in the early stages. A guy like you, there would be plenty of people willing to back you in a vision like this.

    How great would it be if you did it and it went off.

    No parish council meetings, no fights about why you want to dish the robes and the organ, no diocinal tribunal meetings when you don’t baptise infants …

    Sorry, you can’t call it Mars Hill as there is already one in Sydney.

    If it fails, well at least you tried. You can always go back to fold.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s