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A Place to Belong

I have been amazed at the involvement of God in the planting of Albion Park Community Church. Even down to the tag line beneath the logo, “A place to belong”. At first sight, it appears to describe the church as having members like any other group or club, but it's more than that. Let me tell you all about it.

When Mel Moore, the pastor of Albion Park Community Church, suggested this tagline, we thought it would let everyone know this church does not exclude anyone from joining. But we have found it means much more than that. God had snuck something else in.

If we think of God as a king over a kingdom, we are his subjects. God invites everyone into his kingdom, his place.

If we think of God as our heavenly Father and we, his children, he is calling us home. Either way, we belong in his place, his home is our home.

Jesus told a parable illustrating this. It's called the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). It goes like this:

A man had two sons. The younger son asked his father for his inheritance. He didn't want to wait until his father died. You would expect the father to get angry, but instead he gives his son a third of what he owns, and the younger son leaves home.

The older son got a double portion in those days, or two thirds, so now everything the father owns will be the older son's inheritance. Anyway, the younger son squanders his wealth and falls on hard times. He decides to go back home, maybe his father will give him a job.

But it turns out his father has been on the lookout for him every day. The father was over-joyed at the return of his son and welcomed him home and put on a party. The older son was miffed. How dare the Father spend his inheritance on this good-for-nothing son. But, for those with ears to hear, God welcomes us good-for-nothings home like that.

Now, when you come home (to your place), you don't knock on the door and ask permission to go in. You just open the door, go in, sit anywhere you like, help yourself to whatever's in the fridge. Coming home to God's place is like that. You don't have to convince God to let you in. You were always meant to be there. You don't have to say any special prayer, there is no secret password, you don't need to pay for entry. You can come in simply because it is where you belong. Believe it and come in.

But there is still more to this tag line. God hid another message in “A place to belong”: In three words: God wants in.

Perhaps that should be a little more punchy.

The church is the place to belong. God's people are the church, not a building or institution. God wants to be with you. Didn't Jesus say that he would send another helper, the Holy Spirit, after he had gone? He did.

And, is not the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Son of God, God himself? He is. (John 14:25)

“A place to belong” is not just about us joining a church, it is much more important that God lives in us (Gal 4:6). God was involved up-to-His-neck in the planting of this church. He even inspired it's tagline. He knew what he was saying all right. Albion Park Community Church is no cult, nor a denominational outpost, it is mainline God.

Religion is us trying to reach God, but the gospel is, and always has been, God's desire to be with us, his people.

Yes, the phrase “A place to belong” was God's sneaky way of getting the gospel into the church's tagline, so we would never forget it.


The Church Logo

When I first saw the logo suggestion of a tree bearing fruit of love hearts, I thought I knew what it meant. I thought it referred to the fruit of the spirit being love, joy peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22). I even asked our logo designer to make sure she placed 7 hearts on the tree, 7 being the symbolic number for God in the book of Revelation.

After our first meeting, I knew I would have to ask God what he thought the logo meant.

I tried to give God a hand. I don't know why we do that, as if God needs our help? I suggested to him that there were other trees in the Bible that he might have been thinking of: there were 2 trees in the Garden of Eden – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life. The tree of life makes another appearance on the last page of the Bible growing by the river of life that flows from God's throne. The tree produces 12 kinds of fruit and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.

However, God wasn't there, as Elijah found when he was in the cave (1 Kings 19:11-12a). Instead God showed me another tree, the tree that Jesus cursed, not a tree that I would have thought of. It was a troublesome tree. People criticise Jesus for cursing a tree.

Let me tell you the story. It's in Mark 11. It is the last week of Jesus life on earth. He had done his triumphal entry to Jerusalem and looked around at the temple and gone back to nearby Bethany where he was staying. The next day, he was walking in to Jerusalem with his 12 disciples. He was hungry, so he goes over to a fig tree to see if there is any fruit on it. Mark mentions that it was not the season for figs. Jesus says to the tree “May no one ever eat from you again”.

Then Jesus continues into Jerusalem where he clears the temple of the money changers and traders and teaches the people. The next day when Jesus and his band were walking in to Jerusalem they see the fig tree has withered away to its roots.

Peter pointed this out to Jesus, who said, if you have faith you could throw a mountain into the sea. Jesus turned the conversation in the direction of faith. In Mark's gospel there is no explanation given for the cursing of the fig tree, but then Mark wasn't one of the twelve. Matthew (21:18-22) was one of the twelve and he also records the cursing of the fig tree, but he doesn't give any explanation either. I don't know what was his excuse. He records the comment about having faith and being able to pray for a mountain to be thrown into the sea. Luke doesn't record the cursing of the fig tree, but he does give the parable of the barren fig tree, which explains what is happening. Luke 13:6-9 goes like this.

A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. He came looking for figs but found none. So, he said to his gardener I have been looking for figs for three years from this tree and have found none, cut it down so it will not waste the soil. The gardener said to give it one more years and he would fertilize and cultivate it but if it still did not bear fruit, it could be cut down.

Jesus is the gardener who for three years had ministered to the Jews who had not produced the fruit of repentance (Lk 13:5). The fig tree was often used in scripture to represent the Jewish nation. So when Jesus cursed the fig tree, the meaning would have been clear to the disciples who would have often heard Jesus telling this parable.

The mention that it wasn't the season for figs should alert us to the fact that Jesus did not expect to find any. Only a couple of days earlier Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Jesus had made wine come forth from a water jug, he had fed thousands of people with a few loaves and fishes. He could have made the fig tree bear fruit if it was really about satisfying hunger. He was using the tree as an acted parable of what will happen if we do not bear fruit.

The meaning of the fruit on the tree in the logo is different to God. He comes looking for fruit in his church. The fruit is faith working through love as it says in Galatians 5:6. We are not saved by loving one another. We are saved by the grace of God through faith in Jesus which is evidenced by our love for one another.

For Jesus, this action was never about the figs. As Jesus said to Peter after seeing the fig tree withered, “Have faith in God” (Mk 11:22).


If Christ's Spirit is in the church, the fruit will be on display. Repentance is not about turning from doing bad things to good things or proving your faith by doing good works. Repentance is about turning to God in faith. The fruit will look after itself. This is why God wanted the logo to show fruit on a tree. It questions us. Do we have faith in God? If we do, the fruit of the Spirit will be here.




An Experimental Church

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Image from Unsplash

APCC is an experiment in church planting. We seek God’s leading and obey. It seems to me, that churches are not very effective at introducing people to God. The traditional approaches to engage with the general population have had diminishing influence. It is not that the church is merely losing nominal Christians due to changing fashions or that immigration from non-Christian countries has changed the population profile.

If the Christian message is true and the gospel is powerful to transform lives, why are we not seeing people flocking to church? Does not the church have some responsibility in this? The child sex abuse scandal has shown the institutional church is more interested in self-protection than love of others. The multiplication of denominations shows that churches care more about their doctrinal positions and organisational strength than reaching the lost.

The provisional structure of APCC will allow us to easily modify it as led by the Holy Spirit. We will start off by being non-denominational, welcoming everyone, inviting speakers from a range of church backgrounds, building relationships of love, and having informal, fun services around a fellowship meal. By giving due emphasis to the horizontal relationships between people, instead of giving priority to the vertical relationship with God (doctrine, liturgy and worship practice), we hope people will meet God through his family. There is no point in planting a church the same as any of the others in the area.


The Church as God’s People

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Photo by William White on Unsplash

Just as there is only one body of Christ, the universal church, with Christ as the head, APCC is an assembly of God’s people sharing their Christian journey in the world. Christians encourage one another in the faith and support each other through the hard times. We believe in and practice the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet 2:5 & 9) and encourage every-member ministry at church meetings and at other times.

The church is God centred – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus is the senior minister. Although we don’t have a paid pastor’s position, in Mel Moore, we have a pastor or shepherd who watches over the flock.

We seek to be guided by the Spirit of Christ in decision-making and acknowledge that the Holy Spirit’s leading may be discerned by any member of the congregation as confirmed by the majority of the church as represented by those in leadership. Congregational meetings may be called for more important decisions.

Church members seek to love one another and behave as led by the Spirit of Christ. But if matters of church discipline arise those involved will seek resolution through a mediated dispute resolution process.

Public meetings for the purpose of fellowship, worship, teaching and outreach are proposed to be held in Albion Park Community Centre on Saturday evenings.

A Welcoming Church

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  Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

APCC welcomes people from all walks of life. Just as Jesus taught in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father stands waiting for our return. We do not exclude people on grounds of disability, economic power, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, learning disability, or mental health. Just as Jesus accepted everyone who came to him, we will not demand you change either. The repentance and faith Jesus called for means to stop disbelieving in God and place your faith in him.

Another Church?

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Albion Park Community Church is, at the time writing, in the pre-launch stage as we set up incorporation and organizational things. It is proposed for the church to establish home groups for ministry, teaching and fellowship and a weekly Saturday evening informal Church Service around a meal for fellowship and community outreach. Mel Moore will pastor the church and Derek Thompson will look after admin.

Why do we need another church in Albion Park? There are some 20,000 people in the 2527 postcode area and only 9 churches (including a house church and Albion Park Rail Anglican as separate churches). According to the 2016 census, 55.2% of the population in NSW identified as Christians and, according to the National Church Life survey, 15% attend church at least once per month. If you do the maths, Albion Park needs more churches just to meet the spiritual needs of those already identifying as Christians let alone reaching the remainder with the gospel.

APCC seeks to be different from the other Christian churches in the Illawarra in order to reach those who are not finding God through the others. We see Jesus Christ as head of the church, which includes all the Christian denominations. Differences in doctrinal positions and biblical interpretations are not sufficient cause for breaking fellowship with other Christians. APCC is non-denominational and welcomes people from different church backgrounds and no church backgrounds who give priority to fellowship with Christians on the basis of their relationship with Christ.

Ephesians 4:1-6 (NRSV)
1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.






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