Futures: some more musings

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.

Prayerfully, Jon

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16 Responses to Futures: some more musings

  1. Andrew Mumford says:

    Very couragous to say this stuff, but I think you are spot on,from what I can see, as a relative ‘newbie’ to BU matters.I agree wholeheartedly with your points, and particularly ( as I was going to comment on the last post you did) with an emphasis on prayer and fasting-surely this must be a major element in the way foward.

  2. Thanks Jon
    I think it is important that we try to think of concrete changes we believe are necessary as well as the more general cultural ones. I broadly concur with your proposals as you will be able to see from my own blog http://neilbrighton.typepad.com/distinct_reflections/ where I’ve posted my own thoughts

  3. Ian Greig says:

    Courageous and, I believe, well-informed statements Jon. I believe you are speaking constructively out of the deep frustrations many of us feel. These sound like solid ‘doable’ suggestions.

    I’d like to pick up the point Jon made about theologically re-examining our understanding of the nature of leadership (1.c.). This, together with genuine, meaningful relationships (which you also highlighted) are key to a new Union that works.

    Jon has experience of the mechanisms of the Union. My own experience has included close working relationships with a number of streams of what we call ‘New Church’. This is just the way I have been used – and teamed up. They are small ‘b’ baptist, congregational, biblical churches that believe and do pretty much what we do. However, they are not shy of leadership, seeing this as the gift which serves all the rest. They give a lead which others can recognise, and are attractive as a result – ask any of the older congregation members whose sions and daughters belong to the new church down the road.

    Without distinct, honoured and gifted leadership, not a lot happens. And that, I believe, is where we find ourselves.

    It is not that there is no leadership (although it often seems that way). There is leadership, but it seems to be routinely stifled by committee control. Perhaps it is as a result of this, that some that we would look to for some modelling of entrepreneurial initiative and kingdom dynamic appear shy – even frightened – of giving that lead. Is that what we see in Acts? Is that in any way biblical?

    A new Union that isn’t broken will be built on both relationships and godly, anointed, enabling leadership. Council’s new role in this will be to bring it out, resource it, enable it and honour it – and channel it constructively and protectively.

    We will still have a Baptist ecclesiology and structure. But the mindsets and values – the heart – will have undergone a radical change.

  4. Phil Jump says:

    Jon – some significant points here – interesting that you call for under 40’s to play a key role in the vision setting, and then as someone over 40 offer what that vision might be. I don’t say this to be unkind, but perhaps there is an opportunity here. Why not use this as a platform for some of our younger leaders to engage – critique this blog and offer ideas of their own for how our future should look. So if anyone under 40 is reading this, maybe you could offer some thoughts – or perhaps we could send a link to people we know in that age bracket and encourage them to dip in here.

  5. There is a certain irony in wanting more emerging leaders and under 40’s whilst at the same time decrying the lack of opportunity for gifted people to serve in Council. But perhaps that is a symptom of the one of the problems we face. Many of the ways forward are not either / or but about how we include both in a way which works towards the vision.

    I’ve commented elsewhere that one of the cultural challenges we face is that within the system almost everyone feels powerless, the difference is that some people’s powerlessness still enables them to stifle others. Which does tend towards the lowest common denominator. I have a high veiw of ordination and as a result am sometimes wary of uncritical use of leadership language, but we do need people who will lead. Leadership shouldn’t imply a lack of accountability but the freedom to cast vision, empower people and work for solutions.Neither should leadership imply dictatorship, but the encouraging and realising of teams; good leadership is a team game.

  6. Ian Greig says:

    I strongly agree, Neil – good leadership is both a team game, and exercise of team encouragement, in which there is freedom to cast vision, empower people and work for solutions.

    And we need it. We really need it. Modelled at the centre, replicated at the edges.

    Why is it that good, godly, accountable leadership and Baptist values are (apparently) perceived as being in contention with one another?

  7. Simon Thompsett says:

    Time to comment………………… I have been following the Beyond 400 debates since the start, and as many of the associated blogs as I can. It takes time to read it all, but has been time well spent. My personal worry in all the conversations I have seen is how can I contribute to the wealth of knowledge, experience that is being written. My conclusion was: I can’t, after all I’m 30, in training as a church based MIT, and I am certainly not eloqent or educated enough. I have just got over that and posted on Beyond 400 after a recent thread (voice 22) left me questioning a call to ministry. I do not profess to know all about what is happening, my knowlege comes from what I have read and heard. But to be honest, I find myself disassociated from what is happening, do I have something new to input, probably not. Do I know what is going on, I doubt it. What I know is that what Jon outlines strikes a chord with my thoughts. For my part, what can I do, I think point 6 sums it up. Pray, Fast………………….

  8. Jon, this is wonderful. I feel so liberated in hearing your frustrations, which so closely mirror my own. As someone who is under 40 and in ministry, and desperately resisting what feels like a process that is set up to mould me into an existing model or format, I am crying out for a new picture. It does feel as though lots of the systems in place value the experience of the old over the vision of the new, and as I was a part of the conversation referred to, I felt the same kind of stinging reminder that clearly what I have to offer is not yet good enough to be heard. Thank you, thank you, thank you for speaking your mind so clearly, and courageously, and I desperately hope that this empowers others to speak out in a similar way. Personally, I am with you 100%.

  9. Rhodri Walters says:

    Thanks for this Jon. again, I’m another under 40 minister who doesn’t really understand the whole conversation but knows that something needs to change in our ‘union’ & in our churches. It was good to see you on the weekend – had I read this 1st it would’ve been good to chat about it.
    Grace & Peace,

  10. Well done Jon, bold! 🙂
    I am the moderator for the Younger Leaders Forum for the Baptist Union and we have been brought together to be a voice into the BU Council for the young adults (18-30’s) of our churches. I believe a greater input from this younger generation into the future of the BU would be great, maybe even essencial to capture the reality of the present and future of the church. A fresh vision (new picture) with wise input (from the old picture) is necessary for the future of the BU.

    Bless you bro

  11. Posted this earlier but wordpress seems to have lost it:
    I’m well over 40 and also feel the system keeps trying to mould me or influence me in a way that ensures I deliver the preferred answer – and I say that as someone quite involved in Union life; so I can imagine that for those new to this it can be hard to find your voice and stick your head on the block. But please speak up, don’t be put off and if you feel that people like me are patronising or not taking you seriously complain.

    But I’d be interested to know:
    1. Given many of us agree the culture needs to change, how are we going to bring that about?
    2. If, as Rhodri suggests, there are things about this you don’t understand. What are they and how can the rest of us help get you up to speed?
    3. If you were passed the microphone and invited to speak, what would you want to say?

  12. Phil Jump says:

    I am delighted that a number of under 40’s seem to have found their way to this blog. Forgive me if I am being unfair, but I am also a little frustrated that little seems to be being said other than “spot on Jon, under 40’s need to speak” – please, please, please do speak!!! The first tranche of Futures info is out there on the BUGB website – I had to stay silent when Jon first posted this, but I hope that you can now see that the aspirations mirror a number of Jon’s – so come on, what do you think??? Is the Futures process heading in the right direction?? Where is it getting it wrong?? what are it’s blind-spots???

  13. Ian Greig says:

    Jon, you asked for further comments on the Beyond 400 site and you deserve a more reasoned response to such a well-reasoned and insightful piece. I have already responded about leadership, but I’d like to join the debate about the other points as well.

    Good question about the listening > understanding > engaging gradient. It still looks like a closed and controlled environment to me. Personally I don’t mind whether the group engages or not, but I know from experience that all those meeting hours, and all that work, will not produce an outcome that people will actually own unless there is the transparency and engagement that is expected. And there’s the further question of what’s being modelled here…

    I didn’t see the BU and BMS alignment as a possibility at first reading, as the organisations have different objectives and different values. But wait a minute… if both were about mission… resourcing and enabling and training for overseas mission on the one hand, the counterpart doing the same for the vital mission to the UK on the other? A BU steering intentionally towards a missional vision is probably what would satisfy the demands of most of us ‘dissenters’ .

    I agree with the point made under 1c that structural change is simply not enough. There needs to be a spiritual shift as well. Some things are just discerned spiritually (1 Cor. 2) and the way we are as a body, the interdependence and the mutual submission has to come by revelation of the Bible teaching on this – easier than generating some PhDs to try to work it out. I’m by no means anti-academic but I know that some stuff we will never ‘get’ in a cerebral way.

    I really liked the suggestion that we need more association ministers out in the field. My own ‘thing’ is coaching Christian leaders, and mentoring runs in parallel with this. I know that on one level, it’s not difficult to learn new tricks – on another, it takes a particular form of encouragement and partnership to get any of us actually working with those new tricks. This is what I understand by “enabling new stuff to emerge”.

    Another passion of mine is practical, personal discipleship. Ministries prosper or fail according to the nature of the walk, and how free ministers are of ‘baggage’ they may be carrying. Ministers are always a prime target for the enemy. Relationships that bring that little bit of accountability and stimulate ongoing growth are a must. A slight shift in the norm of spirituality (as above) would have everyone wanting to buy into this, pretty much in the same way that Alpha creates that ongoing desire among participants.

    In past years I have talked, on various occasions, entirely unsuccessfully, to the Mission Dept about “what is going on out there” and how we might catch examples of effective practice for the encouragement of all. Let me just say that a missiologist would probably be the kind of person to speak that language and share the same leading, which would be a Good Thing.

    Settlement seems broken to me. I think it is yet another scenario of mismatched expectations and the cultural shift we are all experiencing. No reason now not to have a secure website with searchable profile of both ministers and churches, available to those who have registered for pastoral search or settlement. Surely that is the least that both ministers and churches expect? The RMs would have a vital – and expanded – role in advising, making recommendations and giving leadership generally. Confidentiality is important, but on the face of it, this would be another closed process in the skip, where it belongs.

    I was once in a church which wished to ‘be’ and ‘do’ church differently from what was then the norm, and both I and the church were caned for it. So your point about changing the Home Mission criteria certainly rings my bell.

    Assembly has seemed to me too much like a political party conference. It doesn’t make me want to be a ‘good party member’. I would welcome debate, and an intention to present ministry which is truly sharpening and lifegiving.

    And, possibly best of all these good suggestions, prayer and fasting for all – on the calendar. I have already said some things about the need for a fundamental spiritual shift into a greater depth and experience of God, and sense of joining Him in what He is doing (John 5:19) rather than engineering our own modus operandi. That spiritual shift will be marked by, among other things, prioritising seeking God in prayer and fasting.

    I am not here intending or implying criticism of anyone or anything within the BU but responding to Jon’s comments from my own perspective. Owing to my own walk, and experiences I have had, that may be coming from a different part of the pitch. For what it’s worth…

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