Doing their best in the Inner West

Peter stood all day in the photographic exhibition, catching up with and meeting new local artist mates. Craig slaved for weeks to get the selection of short films for an exhibition just right. Michael the Barista spent the day making coffee. Bethany face-painted Andrew gave a talk on climate change. Dominic gave a talk on how to have ultimate sex. Witness statements gathered by this column indicate that the last item was NOT cringe inducing.

They were doing what many people were doing in their inner western suburb that week. But the photographs, short film festival, and talking about sex were all for a purpose that stood out in the most godless suburb in Sydney. They were building relationships with neighbours to introduce them to the “ultimate relationship” with Jesus.

A shibboleth was used in Old Testament times to tell friend from foe. “Shibboleth” is hard to say without a lisp, and that’s how it worked. If you could say shibboleth properly you HAD to be a good guy.
In the Diocese of Sydney the new shibboleth is “training”. There are days when it seems as though “training’ is the church house answer to everything.

Training Pewsitters is the new best idea round here.

“Training” is a loaded word. “Training” today normally means “competency based training”, an idea that strongly influences TAFE for example. “Training” means mastering skill or competencies. It is not (generally) about teaching you how to think, or to understand what lies behind the technology you are being taught how to use. Training in our modern world often involves standardised processes, centrally determined. Training is something that is done to you.

That said there’s lots of training that can be useful for a pewsitter. Memorising scripture or a gospel outline is training. Learning how to run the church dishwasher is training.

The shibboleth of training implies that if you have not done a particular course you are “untrained”. That you are not ready to do gospel work unless you have been processed. That can be unhelpful. Compare it to the Pentecostal view that we are all equipped to do ministry by virtue of our spiritual gifts.

The stories at the start of this column can’t be trained for. They involve individuals living out the gospel using their unique talents and personalities. Peter the artist and the others are well taught. That is to say educated in the Bible. And the two professional talkers in the opening par are Moore College educated.  Did they learn how to give a talk on climate change or sex at Moore College? No, but they learned how to think things through from the Bible’s (that is God’s) perspective. 

One of them told me “the problem is not skills but getting people to say ‘I will sacrifice my time to do gospel work’. Then people will study the techniques for themselves”.

Training is not THE missing ingredient. We will never train ourselves to ten per cent. But we might be able to “worship” our way there, giving up our bodies, our time sacrificially. We might be able to pray our way there.

A lack of teaching is not our problem here in Sydney. Maybe a lack of enthusiasm is.

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