Duncan Brown is passionate about seeing the Church realize its empowering potential. Now a Queensland farmer, his passion has extended in many directions: as a journalist with leading newspapers, a senior pastor of a vibrant church, director of Scripture Union Queensland overseeing enormous growth, social entrepreneur, and a church consultant.
Tim Johnson spoke with Duncan (a former mentor of his), to find out how the Church has limited discipleship, and how it might equip and mobilize Kingdom-oriented Christians.
TJ: Jesus teaches a way of life that emphasizes love, compassion and non-violence. A radical social alternative that places him, and those who follow, at odds with established culture. Jesus ushers in a new social paradigm – the Kingdom of God – which values service, sacrifice and generosity.
Sometimes it feels like churches have prioritized gatherings and programs at the expense of equipping people to follow this path. What do you think?
DB: That’s a challenge for many churches in the West. In an attempt to reverse the decline in attendance, we have tended to bind God to a specific time in the week in which we meet with him: we have separated life into sacred and secular spheres.
To paraphrase Mark Greene, from the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, the real mission statement of the Western Church has been to recruit God’s people to use some of their leisure time to serve the ministry agendas of paid staff, and in doing so, we have failed to empower 97% of God’s people to live for him in 97% of their waking lives. If you take the average church commitment of two hours per week and couple that with the attendance of a small group three hours a week, that’s 3% of the week. In this framework people become dependent on the systems of church rather than being allegiant to a God who is desperate to reign over people’s lives the remainder of the week.
Great stuff happens in that “3%”, which we should celebrate, but we should also be concerned with the “97%”!
TJ: So, can the Church reawaken a generous heart for
DB: I think the Church is more intentional in its language when it comes to generosity and mission than perhaps ever before. But our rhetoric fails to become reality when we limit the breadth of our influence by focusing on things that engage only a few people. In my experience, when people are excited and connected to a story, they will invest their time, energy and finance in it.
When people see God at work through their encounters and lives, the resource gaps become obvious and the giving impulse becomes intuitive.
Most of us recognize that the most motivating tool is when you take people on a missions trip, or expose them to local mission, or get them involved in their local high school. Then, they see how God is working first-hand. When they see how they can contribute to a bigger story, people are usually falling over themselves to commit.
TJ: But how can we connect people to God’s bigger story?
DB: Most people, given the opportunity, want to be involved. However, what has happened is that people have become removed from the people in need, separated from their neighbour. They are looking for avenues of connection that generate real and lasting relational transformations. People, in general, are hungry for action.
TJ: I understand the role of the Church is to mobilize its members, proclaiming a God who is constantly working to restore and redeem creation and calling its members in allegiance to this mission. What do churches need to achieve this?
DB: There are groups of people out there desperate to apply their faith to their life but they don’t have the vision. Christian success has been benchmarked by charismatic preaching and worship leading, limiting avenues of service, whereas the Kingdom of God validates ordinary and faithful Christians to recognize their own vibrant missional context – on their street, in their neighbourhood and as global citizens. The Church in general has struggled to empower individuals for this mission. I believe people are too often geared to event delivery, not discerning where God is moving and who He is already moving through.
TJ: Sometimes, missionaries and development practitioners are paraded as elite Christians who live a radical and unattainable lifestyle. What are your thoughts on this?
DB: We have created a culture of Church where the benchmarks are unattainable for most people, when Christ intended that the benchmarks be incredibly accessible. The Church can promote accessible heroes rather than a radical out-of-reach lifestyle. This means celebrating the businessperson who acts with integrity, the teacher who prays for their class, the parent who discovers the joy of interacting with children around God’s word, or the doctor who provides great medical service for the marginalized.
We need to normalize kingdom action without diluting it. When the Church does this, it realizes the scope of its influence is so much greater. It is a liberating place to be, but challenging, because you still need to bring order to this dynamic.
TJ: How do we recognize God at work? What hope do we have?
DB: Paul clarifies that the Church should be carrying out the impossible, the remarkable and the unimaginable. In other words, I think the Body of Christ should be constantly astonished at what God is doing through ordinary people. Paul goes so far as to plead that Christians should live lives worthy of God’s call – and that means that your life and your call are lived in equal measure.
TJ: It is important to note that Jesus focused on alternate values which form a new social paradigm, referred to as the Kingdom of God. In this framework service, sacrifice and generosity are staples, reflections of God’s character and nature. In this narrative, the role of the Church becomes about equipping and mobilising all Christians to be partners in God’s restorative mission, living in such a way that we usher in the Kingdom of God. While we know there are challenges, the Church is God’s primary kingdom vehicle.
We see that good people with humble hearts continue to step into leadership, and there is a growing resolve to celebrate God at work through His people.
Duncan Brown has been the Director of Scipture Union Queensland, founder of both Capacity Builders (a strategic consultancy firm) and Commonfolk Coffee Company (a fairtrade coffee supplier), and Senior Pastor at New Peninsula Church (Victoria). He now runs his family agri-business in Queensland.
Tim Johnson (TJ) is TEAR Australia’s Victorian Church Engagement Coordinator. He has worked with the pastoral team at New Peninsula Church, and been involved with pioneering missional community.