The Turning of the Tide

The Turning of the Tide

March 1st 2024

I blinked and had to look at the number a second time: 34%! Each year we gather the number of baptisms reported by Australian Baptist state associations, and there was a 34% increase from 2022 to 2023. Wow! But what to make of it?

It could be a whole range of things. Perhaps Australian Baptists got a whole lot better at reporting! (I imagine plenty of baptisms go un-counted, and while that’s frustrating for statisticians, it’s rather how things should be in a decentralised movement like ours.)

Or was it a post-Covid bump? Possibly, but I’m not convinced. Was it our National Baptism Week initiative? No, given the 6-month lag in collecting the numbers, they’ll show up next year. I had been expecting a rise of over 20% simply based on what I was hearing anecdotally from pastors and leaders. But 34% is remarkable – what could possibly explain it?

Well, I think the answer could possibly be Jesus. Why on earth would so many people want to be baptised? Hang on, why would they not? Let’s remember that belonging to God’s family through faith in Christ is the normal and sensible thing given the unfolding of his kingdom, the place in it he offers, and the promise of his Spirit! We can get lost in studying the tea leaves of culture and economy to see whether people will or won’t like Jesus – and find that we believe more in the power of culture and economy than in the power of the gospel to captivate people of all cultures and economies.

That said, I do wonder whether wave of baptisms is another indication of the ‘turning of the tide.’ The church in the West has long been adjusting to the end of Christendom and the loss of (mandatory) popularity that entailed. Many have become resigned to endless decline – a narrative that’s entrenched itself even as church participation has increased.

As Western culture increasingly becomes a spiritual desert, however, should we be surprised that spiritual thirst increases? Along with stories of baptisms, I’ve been inundated with stories of ‘gatecrashers’ – people (especially young adults) walking into churches that neither advertised nor invited them – and asking to be introduced to Jesus and Christianity.

Ten years ago the ‘New Atheist Movement’ held the floor among Western intellectuals, but it has died much faster than any church it mocked, and in its place we now see the ‘New Theist Movement’ – including such opinion-leaders as Jordan Peterson, Tom Holland and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (now openly a Christian). For more on this see Justin Brierley’s The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God book and podcast.

So are we seeing the turning of the tide – even the beginnings of revival? It’s 20 years too early to say. But keeping our heads – indeed keeping our eyes on Jesus – our confidence to live for and witness to him should be based on him, rather than the fickle fashions of our culture. Let’s be absolutely confident in Christ, and in pointing people to him, regardless of whether they’re likely to applaud or imprison us.

Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. 

The Scandal and the Wonder

The Scandal and the Wonder

August 1st 2023

I’ve been working on baptism resources lately, and it’s mainly straightforward – Don’t forget to bring them up again. But there are curly issues too, like When is a person ready to be baptised?

There are extreme answers to this. Some denominations say ‘At birth!’ Others, concerned about post-baptism sin, have concluded ‘Just before death!’ You’ve likely narrowed it down somewhat from those extremes, but the question remains.

If we baptise people on their first interest in Jesus, how do we know it isn’t merely a crush? Six weeks later they might be into Buddha or basket-weaving. It’s not a new phenomenon – the Parable of the Sower Mt13 speaks of flash-in-the-pan believers as one of four main types of people who hear the gospel.

But if we delay, how long? For there’s another type (thorny ground) who hang around much longer but in the end are similarly unproductive. And Jesus’ next Parable (The Wheat and Weeds) speaks to the difficulty of discerning which is which anyway.

In the 3rd to 5th centuries, churches enrolled new believers into several years of instruction in faith and morals. Their way of life was closely observed. The final hurdle was to learn the creed and be able to recite it by heart. Then baptism. There’s something admirable about the commitment to intentional discipleship, but there’s something troubling too.

The scandal and wonder of the gospel is that people can be reconciled to God instantaneously. The returning prodigal isn’t required to spend a few years in the workers’ quarters, proving his reformation. He gets the ring of family-belonging five minutes after turning up in rags.

Discipleship is a process, certainly. But it’s at our peril that we shape it (or allow it to be perceived) as a staircase up to acceptance with God and inclusion with his people.

So what’s the choice? Shall we be casual, or die-hard? Lax, or strict? It needn’t be so binary. Why not have a rigorous system for strengthening new believers, but place baptism at the start rather than the end? There’s a new life to learn, but it’s not something we earn. Dallas Willard aptly put it, ‘Grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.’ The Great Omission

When the Ethiopian eunuch says ‘There’s a pool of water – what’s to stop me being baptised?’ Ac8 we don’t see Philip answering ‘Well you’ve only passed the Isaiah exam.’ But neither does the New Testament see disciple-making as dipped-and-done. Baptism has always been an initiation – a start line.

Some will start and then stumble. But the danger of baptising someone who may fall away is vastly outweighed by the danger of withholding baptism because they might. Best, I think, is to baptise all who are willing to follow Jesus … straight into a supportive and disciplined community.


Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. 

Exscribo Divina – An Easter Exercise

Exscribo Divina - An Easter Exercise

March 20th, 2023

Ten or twelve years ago, while chatting socially with a woman who worked as a psychologist, I mentioned rather sheepishly that I had a fear of flying. “You should come and see me,” she said, “I can help with that.” Before I could deflect, she added, “You know, often it’s associated with a childhood trauma. Were you in an accident when you were young?” Indeed I was. Intrigued, I asked what could be done, and to her financial detriment she just said, “Well, come and see me if you like. But you might find that just having had this conversation will have helped.”

What? A passing conversation of all of two minutes? But then the strangest thing happened. When I next flew – some weeks later – the fear was just gone. I am still absolutely amazed by this, that just a few words can have such power, power beyond argument or persuasion or logic. It’s like she had spoken directly to my nervous system.

If you’ve been following Jesus for a while, Easter can be a little strange. We celebrate the heart of the good news, but it doesn’t seem like news anymore. We know how it goes. God bless all the preachers stretching their heads to come up with a fresh angle on this old story! But Easter can just come and go if we let it.

So here’s a little exercise I’ve found helpful to keep the heart from dozing:

Copy out Mark 14-16 and Isaiah 53. Copying Scripture* is slow. Slow enough that sure, I notice little things I hadn’t considered so much before. But it’s not about that – it’s about letting the words hit me in a different way. I’ve just been immersing myself in the wonder of it all. Opening myself up to “just having had this conversation” with God.

My intention here isn’t to know more. Perhaps it’s to know better or deeper. My fear of flying wasn’t logical, and it wasn’t fixed by following logical steps. I did get information, but strangely sideways, so that it got deep enough in me to make a genuine difference.

This is not just something we can do for ourselves but with others too. Perhaps there’s someone in your life who’d be willing just to read through it with you? Not for analysis or explanation or even persuasion – you might find there’s other powerful ways that God works his healing magic both in and through you.

*You can call it Exscribo Divina if the people you’re trying to impress only speak Latin

Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. Please support our Easter Offering in 2023.

Volunteer at Baptistcare

What volunteers are saying about Baptistcare

Perhaps you are thinking about using some of your time to volunteer. Baptistcare has opportunities across metro and regional areas for you to volunteer your time, skill and presence to support elderly people towards living meaningful lives.

Meet Norma, a Baptistcare volunteer:

Norma lives in regional WA and after retiring started her volunteer life in hospice care. It was, however, the time her dad spent in a Baptistcare residence which inspired Norma to volunteer with Baptistcare. Her father asked Norma if after his death she would visit residents who weren’t as fortunate as he was to have family and friends to care for them.

So when Norma is not at a Zumba or yoga class, meditating, playing croquet or gardening she can be found volunteering with Baptistcare.

Recently we asked Norma some questions.

Why do you volunteer at Baptistcare? 

I started because of my father’s request, and I continue because I can see there is always some benefit in my volunteering. One of the most memorable experiences I have had was the opportunity to write a biography for a resident. Her family knew very little of her early life and used some of the work as part of her eulogy. People are so grateful for the volunteers and Baptistcare are supportive and never pressure the volunteers to do more than they can.

What would you say to anyone thinking about volunteering with Baptistcare?

Come with empathy and be sure that if you volunteer someone will benefit.


“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” – Helen Keller

If Norma’s story has inspired you, go to the Baptistcare volunteer page by clicking the logo below and submit your expression of interest in becoming a Baptistcare volunteer.


Baptism Resurfaces

Baptism Resurfaces

March 9th, 2023

I was visiting a country church, and a young woman shared that she’d “been looking forward to getting baptised for ages”. They sure breed them tough out there – in the city we only baptise people for a few seconds!

As Baptists, you’d think we would be bigger on baptism. Strangely it seems to have drifted into the background over recent decades. Was it somehow due to our emphasis on action, on faith lived out practically in mission and justice? Against the importance of eating with neighbours, listening to the marginalised and shopping ethically, did baptism get lumped into the category of empty religious rituals, potentially a hypocritical substitute for actual righteous living? “If you want to please God, feed the poor! Don’t prance about in water or fiddle around with bread and juice and singing and saying prayers.”

If that’s how we thought, silly us. It suits the spirit of the age to claim that Christian worship and social righteousness are opposites when in truth there is a massive correlation between the two. Far from baptism being an act of washing one’s hands of real-world responsibilities, it points to and empowers them. The act of baptism is tangible, it is bodily. It steps the new or young believer’s faith out of the realm of ideas and philosophy and into the physical and the actual. It’s like taking me, a war-history buff, and inducting me into the army as a soldier, fitting me out with a uniform, and enrolling me in basic training. Things just got real. Baptism is for those who realise Jesus’ kingdom is real, and their need to get real with him.

So it’s pleasing to see baptism rise again in recent months as a topic and practice of priority for Australian Baptists. We’re re-learning what’s been right in front of us: that lasting transformation for good is driven by and made possible by a real connection to the living God. The real experience of reconciliation to God, knowing forgiveness, security, identity, and empowerment by the Spirit – these are what will result in transformed households, neighbourhoods and nations. It is those who seek shortcuts to the kingdom without the King and justice without the Judge who are in greater danger of wasting time with empty words, token actions and performative hypocrisy.

So pointing people to Jesus and, crucially, giving them an accessible way into his army of peaceful conquerors – this is our deep privilege. It’s not a retreat into religiosity, it’s an advance towards true progress.

Crossover will be encouraging and resourcing churches to speak of and offer baptism more openly and more often. Some might say this is about empty symbolism – we see it as giving more people an opportunity to find life to the full – and to bring life to their world in turn.

Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. Please support our Easter Offering in 2023.

Faith Runs Deep in Australia

Faith Runs Deep: a new video series exploring stories of faith across Australia to be released through Olive Tree Media.

May 3rd, 2022

A unique 12-part video series unearthing stories of faith that have impacted Australia is being released by Olive Tree Media on Wednesday, 4th May.


Faith Runs Deep unearths stories of more than 40 Australians past and present who have been impacted by Jesus and have gone on to have a significant influence within the Australian community.


The series has been produced by Olive Tree Media, makers of the award-winning series, Jesus the Game Changer and Towards Belief. Olive Tree CEO Karl Faase, worked with their experienced production team as well as Karl’s wife and series producer Jane Faase, filming some of the material as they drove across Australia in an iconic Australian Holden ute.


Faase commented, “This is a unique video series, with high production values telling stories that few know about and unearthing the deep influence of Christian faith in the Australian culture.”


“We need a shift in the narrative around Christian faith in our country and telling inspirational stories of people who have had a deep influence in our country and culture is what we are seeking to do.”


The series has three plots, first the historical and academic reflections. The second is personal stores from today of people whose lives have been impacted by the gospel including musician Colin Buchanan, ex deputy PM John Anderson, bull rider Tim Kelly, indigenous artist Narelle Urquhart, AFL premiership winner Shaun Hart and Olympian Eloise Wellings. Lastly, stories of the host and producer behind the series, Karl and Jane Faase, which will introduce viewers to some of the unique and as yet untold stories from their lives and journey of faith.


Faase commented, “We see the series being used in churches and ministries across Australia as a demonstration of where faith runs deep in our nation that will serve as an inspiration and encouragement to the church.”

Faith Runs Deep will be released at Excelsior College in Sydney on Wednesday, 4th May, both as a live event and online. The trailer will be available at the end of April.

To find more information and see how you can support this series, click on the logo to head to their website.


The Power of a Farewell

There's an exercise I sometime give small groups to workshop how to articulate the good news about Jesus. It goes like this:

A neighbour on your street tells you that they are moving to the other side of the world. You know them by name and have talked a few times about work and study and the street, but never yet on the deeper things of life. Now it looks like that opportunity will never come, and you’re unlikely to ever see them again.

They are very busy packing and making arrangements to leave the next day, but you feel there is enough regard between you that a farewell letter would be received in good faith. You’re determined to keep it to a single page – say four paragraphs. A long tome would be too heavy and in any case there isn’t time. But you want this neighbour, whom you’ve come to know by name and care and pray for, to know the difference it makes to know… well look, I’m not going to give you the answer. This is your exercise. How would you put it? Begin with choosing the theme of each paragraph.

It’s an exercise you might find interesting and helpful in your small group or leadership team. But it also gets me thinking: What a powerful little thing this could be in real life.

We often feel that we should spend time getting to know people, listening to their story and earning their trust before saying anything to them about our faith. There’s a lot of sense in that. But the mobility of our world often means that people move out of our lives before that moment comes.

There’s power, too, in a farewell ‘I just want you to know…’ note. They are read and absorbed in a different way from a regular note, email or conversation. And people who are making a big life transition often have an openness to think about the bigger picture.

And not that it should matter, but this form of sharing Jesus is reasonably safe. Your neighbour’s not going to be around to poison your front lawn if they don’t like what you (lovingly, humbly and graciously, right?) said. As they say, ‘Never criticise someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Because then you’re a mile away. And you have their shoes.’

Not everyone has the gift of the gab or the present of the pen. But it’s a good exercise to think through what is the guts – the urgent guts – of our faith, and to wrestle through how to get it out of our throbbing hearts and swirling thoughts and into intelligible words.

Get your group onto it! But also, think about who’s passing into and out of your life. Even with those we’re not closely bound to, we can make a lifetime of difference. We have more opportunities each week to change the world that we like or dare to think!


Ascent, Crest, Perspective – the Making of a Bamboo Camel

A book about a bamboo camel was launched at a Woodvale Baptist Church service recently.

Woodvale Baptist Church Senior Pastor, Rob Furlong, said, “We’re proud to have launched Ross James’s memoir, Ascent Crest Perspective: the making of a bamboo camel, because we believe that he has a message for all of us. And, the fact is, when Ross describes himself as a bamboo camel, he really means it!”

Dr Ross James is the founder of Health Communication Resources Inc., which has pioneered community-centred media ministries with faith-based organisations in Asia and Africa, and WA’s Mid West.

Ross and his wife, Jill, have been members of Woodvale for over 20 years and their international ministry has been supported by the church for many of those years. Ross is a story teller, so his memoir offers story after story that outline unexpected career changes (a third-generation funeral director to a journalist to a health communication specialist) and ministry in the Seychelles Islands, the Philippines, Pakistan and many other Asian locations.

Rob Furlong said, “Ross delves into 40 years of journaling to try and understand how Providence designed him for a purpose. With great vulnerability and insight he concludes — and this is why we have so much to learn from Ross — he concludes that he isn’t complete, but the pieces that are left are enough for Providence. It’s a truly authentic reflection of someone’s dependence on Providence to maintain a steadfast life lived in response to circumstances that few are called upon to endure.


“There’s lots of laugh-out-loud stories, but they all add to the progression of evidence that for the purposes of Providence, Ross had to be designed as a bamboo camel, flexible and tough enough to endue harsh ministry environments.

“It’s a fascinating and encouraging story for us all”, said Pastor Rob. “Lloyd Porter (Vose Campus, Morling College) says ’it is a hard-hitting and humble mission memoir’, and Graham Mabury says the memoir ‘drips with perspective that comes from having climbed the mountain but reflected with honesty and humility’. The memoir has all that and more.“

For more information about “Ascent, Crest, Perspective – the Making of a Bamboo Camel”, go to

Let’s get growing … As gospel community

Many years ago, Monica and I took our youth group for an all-you-can-eat buffet at Pizza Hut. During the evening, I saw some guys at another table, probably stoned, one ‘resting’ his face in the pizza pan.

I smirked. “Look at him!” Monica, concerned for the youth, whispered quietly, “The only difference between you and him is Jesus.”

Monica was right. My smug sense of self-satisfaction, my snide superiority, my willingness to gloat over the failure of another all pointed in one direction: I had completely misunderstood or, even worse, forgotten the grace of God.

There are two ways to misunderstand grace. One is the way of self-righteousness: I assumed I was ‘more righteous’ than someone else because my life ‘looked better.’ The other is to fail to realise the depths of God’s goodness and love, and so fail to receive – and live in – the reality of this grace.

The two errors are often connected. The first error forgets Let’s get growing … As gospel community Photo: Ricardo Viana/Unsplash Why you might need to mess up your life Sometimes you’ve got to make a mess to improve the situation. My son got a mini Rubik’s Cube earlier in the year. Before long he got pretty good at getting half of it done – but could never complete it. This week however, with a bit of guidance, he finally solved it. Life can be a bit like a Rubik’s Cube. With a bit of effort and perseverance, we get things working well enough. There are a few pieces out of place, but we live with that, because to sort those issues out means a lot of rearranging and complication. Maybe you’re in a season that feels a bit jumbled. You’re waiting for the pieces to fall into place. For things to start making sense. When I go out running, the best, most exciting runs involve finding new routes – new ways of getting places. To a certain extent, you can plan to find these unexplored tracks by looking at a map. But the best trails can’t be seen on a map. They need to be found on foot. that all of us live only by the forgiveness of sins, not our own performance. The second error doesn’t quite believe that God can really forgive our sin. We still feel shame in our hearts and perhaps believe that we are beyond forgiveness. This shame is compounded when we believe that if others knew who we truly were and what we have done, they would never love us. Therefore, we learn to hide what we think is the ‘real’ us; we work harder, wear masks and practice image management, trying to earn our belonging and prove our worthiness. We hide and we perform.

Both errors indicate graceless community. The self-righteous person parades their own virtue and judges others as I did, creating an environment where it is not safe to be less than perfect. They cannot create gospel community because they don’t believe the gospel. Their so-called righteousness is their own work and not the work of God’s grace. They have not learned to receive God’s love so they cannot show it to others. Where self-righteousness reigns, only moralistic communities are formed and these can never become communities of grace and healing. Without a living experience of God’s mercy and grace we are like Adam and Eve in the garden, hiding from God – and from one another – in fear and shame. The possibility of gospel community is destroyed because self-righteousness destroys openness and trust.

Gospel communities are places of healing and growth because God’s grace has become real in the believers’ lives. We find a place where we are truly known, even in our sin, and yet deeply loved. We find a place where God’s love, acceptance and forgiveness are mediated to us through others. Convinced of this love, we take the risk of letting our masks slip. We begin to expose our struggles – our hearts – to one another, and healing grace begins its work. Believing – experiencing! – God’s love and forgiveness through others, we learn to trust him more deeply and to offer the same love to others. This is gospel community.

Author – Michael O’Neil Dr Michael O’Neil is the Dean of Campus at Morling College – Perth Vose Campus. In this regular column, he explores the patterns and dynamics of Christian growth and maturity.