Preaching last Sunday in a couple of country churches (Goondiwindi and Inglewood) brought home to me again some matters that have often troubled me deeply. That is the need for sound Biblical teaching in small congregations in some of the remote places of Australia and the problem of the survival of these small churches.
Occasionally over the years I’ve spoken to some of our ‘grey nomads’ when they return from a stint of travel around Australia. Invariably there is a common lament that while it was nice meeting up with fellow believers in other churches the sermon was, more often than not, either a motivational talk that was only loosely connected to the Bible or else some spiritual experiences that the speaker thought he needed to share with the congregation. Only rarely is there the kind of expository opening up of God’s Word that we are used to in reformational churches. I recall on one occasion visiting another church while on holidays. The lay preacher told us about a dream he had and what that had meant to him. The more he talked the gladder I was that he had the dream and not me. That sort of thing does not feed the flock of God.
In both Goondiwindi and Inglewood there are Presbyterian people gathering together to continue a reformed witness in their towns. The problem is that they are too small to call their own pastor. They are understandably delighted when we retired and retreaded preachers are willing to come out and take worship services for them.
I’ve sometimes asked these folk why they don’t just close up shop and join another church in town. The problem is that their options are usually very limited. They can opt for joining a “high” church complete with bells and smells or a Charismatic church where they swing from the chandeliers. Okay… I’m exaggerating – and probably also being just a tad unkind to some of my fellow believers in Catholic, Anglican and Pentecostal churches. In some instances these small country churches consist of just a few remaining elderly people. For them the writing is on the wall – no matter how admirable their desire to maintain a reformed witness. When the last member dies the lights will be turned out – if not before. Thankfully in some places, such as Goondiwindi, there have been some South African Families that have come there to work and given the church a new lease on life. In that respect it was good to catch up with Herman and Antjie Kriel and their children.
That brings me to a rather personal matter. You may be aware that Merle needed to get out of her job where she had become desperately unhappy. After many failed attempts to find other work she accepted a job with the local Council in Glen Innes. That has left me wondering a little what the Lord might have in store for me. My present one day a week with CRCT, being a Board member for the school and chaplain there to the staff, together with being secretary to the Toowoomba Ministers’ Association (coordinating the Thursday Sermon in The Chronicle) has kept me very nicely from becoming bored in retirement. Many people have asked me: so what will you be doing next year? Good question.
Last Sunday in Goondiwindi there were some visitors from the Glen Innes Presbyterian Church. They told me how cold it gets in that part of the woods: nine months of cooler weather, three months of winter and summer last year was on a Wednesday! But they also told me that the New England Presbytery also has some churches without pastors. The man who is the Pastor to the Glen Innes Presbyterian Church has had his 80th birthday. I suspect that when we move at the end of the year I won’t be sitting around twiddling my thumbs. God willing there will be opportunities to serve some of these small struggling country churches and feed the flock of the Lord Jesus Christ there the deep and lasting truths of His blessed Word.