I’ve seriously grappled about whether I should publish this blog. I am fearful that my words will be misunderstood, misinterpreted and judged. Better to stay silent? Yet, I sense hypocrisy in saying stuff to myself or those around me but not going public. At the same time I wonder whether what ‘I’ think is actually that important, dramatic, mind boggling, or just what everybody think’s?
I’ve been a Christian for 27 years, and a leader within the local church, now lead an evangelism agency, and have been fully involved in Baptist life for the past 20 years serving in Associations, Council, and more. I’ve met many people in all spheres of Baptist Life, some who have become friends, and others whom I just know. I sought the advice of some colleagues out there in the Baptist world for their views on whether I should publish this. They were helpful and encouraging.
I mean no personal malice in what I write, even though to critique can sometimes be received as such. It’s not a reflection on the people involved, many of whom I know pretty well, worked with, and supported, but rather an attempt to find a way forward for the future. It’s perhaps too easy for someone like me to write about others’ jobs and it sounds simplistic to write, ‘The Lord is sovereign’ in all things, yet I do believe that. As someone who was recently unemployed I have learned and am learning to trust that He has a plan. I also confess that I have not supported, served and thought as much about these issues in the past, for which I am sorry.
I have had major questions and issues with the process, the survey, and the make-up of the futures group. Sadly this has manifested itself within me and others as mistrust and suspicion of that process which in part remains, though softened through engagement in my previous blog.
A comment on the process: What is the difference between ‘listening’ ‘understanding’ and ‘engaging’? I believe the current process requires more engagement and openness. I want to see emerging leaders and those speaking out engaged in discussion with the Futures Group… soon please, face to face. I don’t think it’s enough to leave it to the Futures Group and Council (especially when some Council members have stated that they are frustrated with how it works – or doesn’t). Without engagement and involvement in the process, not just assent to the outcomes, then many of those who could be supportive and involved in enabling mission in the next 20 years or more, will become disillusioned and walk away. Ownership and loyalty will be lost. (It’s not a threat) Even if that engagement doesn’t prove much use, and very few new ideas are found, at least try.
I admittedly write with some ignorance of the whole picture (I’ve not seen the survey and haven’t asked for it) so in my naivety there is every chance of me being simplistic.
I don’t pretend to understand the financial and practical applications of all this and therefore perhaps these musings are unhelpful, though I do think some of the idea saves some money and establishes a different way of working.
I hope these help. I really do…. Here goes.
1. I’d like to see a much closer relationship between BMS and BUGB reflected in a number of ways including;
a. An agreed shared vision and core aims of the Baptist Union and BMS. A vision which enables Baptist identity and values to flourish. (This doesn’t mean a joint organisation but an agreed vision, aims and objectives.) We have much to gain by working more closely but words alone are not enough. Working much more closely will not mean distinctiveness is lost but enriched.
b. Our colleges and IMC working ‘closely’ together to agree and achieve the aims of that vision. (Should some colleges close and excellence pooled?)
c. Within that a commitment to theologically re-examine what we mean by: ‘The gospel’ (i.e. the words we use as much as anything), the church, associating, covenant, and the nature of leadership. Particularly a recovery of the deep importance of associating. We need to get to grips with what this means and how it could work. The weakness of the last attempt at restructuring was surely a lack theological work on clustering? The need for a long term strategy to change the culture of associating reflected in a much deeper commitment to mutual submission. Structural change is simply not enough. If we don’t see a change in the way we associate then we will have lost this great opportunity.
d. Training for regional teams that supports and equips them for their crucial roles. I believe we need many more Association Ministers out on the field strengthening and encouraging Ministers in the local church and mission projects, and enabling new stuff to emerge.
e. A deeper commitment to ensuring that all Ministers are in cluster type relationships which focus on accountability and growth in personal discipleship. Should this be a requirement of accreditation?
f. Close the Mission Department and instead employ a ‘Missiologist’ who; advises the union and BMS, creates and points to resources, highlights what is going on out there, links agencies engaged in mission and evangelism, and become a signpost to those agencies for churches to use.
g. Close the Faith and Unity department or at least slim down to an advisor who supports and advises on faith and unity and other public and policy issues. Shared with other denominations?
h. The Communications Department of the Union be downsized and amalgamate with BMS Communications Department. What an amazingly creative and dynamic team that would be!
i. A commitment to keep asking the questions about how effective the structures that are put in place are, and monitoring how time is actually used in line with the vision and objectives.
2. Does the National Settlement Team process need to be re-examined? Can we not move to advertising posts? How much time is spent on settlement?
3. To reflect on and challenge ‘the impact of representationalism’ across our union. The seemingly incessant desire to have the right age, colour, race, gender, etc, in much of what we do. How much of our time is spent on this rather than finding the right people through prayerfulness? (I have lost count of the number of times in meetings where prayer has been squeezed out…and I am just as guilty). In my experience most committees spend a few moments in prayer and loads of time talking. Sometimes it feels more democratic than theocratic. A very gifted pastor offered his services for council. He’s gifted, is enabling creative stuff to happen. The response? “You’re the wrong side of 40, male and white. It’s not going to happen.” I believe there does need to be balance but is this right?
4. Is it time to radically change the way our Home Mission grants are distributed so that there is a priority given to churches which demonstrate a desire to ‘do’ and ‘be’ church differently, rather than prop up, (sorry) outdated methods? Some churches should probably close and the resources re-allocated for newer initiatives. Are there some statistics that reflect how effective Home Mission grants have been over the last 20 years? It’s time to be radical and implement some new criteria. We are facing a crisis not simply financially but in membership, and our work with children and young people is reducing. It’s time to do things differently, make tough choices and be courageous.
5. I believe that Assembly should be less presentational and more focused on listening, praying and engaging together. I’d like to see a lot more passionate debate and rigorous questioning. It seems that a culture of control has overwhelmed Assembly in recent years? I believe we need to recover the art of debate which includes listening.
6. Introduce a monthly national day of prayer and fasting for all.
I’ve tried to say things carefully. Nicely. Speaking in love. Forgive me if the words on a page express anything other than that.