The Baptist bandwagon moves off this weekend for its annual trip to the seaside; this year it is in Bournemouth and the weather looks as if it will be dry if not warm. No doubt there will be comments on blogs after the event which say how good, bad or indifferent people found it, including some from me. But as we prepare for the weekend what am I hoping for?
Worship: Singing many songs does not equal worship, even when sung with passion, linked together and repeated to encourage people to get into the mood. I'm hoping that times of worship will include reading Scripture and prayer (confession and intercession) in addition to songs. I also hope the choice of songs recognise the diversity of the participants culturally, musically and theologically and I will be pleased if we avoid singing the same songs repeatedly. It would be great to see other art forms included, using visual images, dance, drama and music (used for reflection rather than song).
Speakers: Often at the main sessions of larger conferences it is tempting for the speakers to seek to be motivational, "The Lord says go and make a difference". Personally I'm looking for speakers and preaching that comes from sustained engagement with the Biblical text and which has a good theological awareness in order to communicate a message with both depth and simplicity, conviction and connection.
Plenary sessions: Generally both BUGB and BMS put together sessions that are well prepared and presented. Yet alongside that we also need a heartfelt desire to listen to God and to one another.The desire to cast vision, inform and communicate needs to be balanced with the discipline of intentional listening. That's not an easy task in gatherings of this size, and I doubt that we can make much progress on this at this assembly, but I believe it is an important element of Baptist Assembly.
Theme: "Who do we think we are" has the potential to be a rich theme; inviting us to acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of our Baptist forebears, encouraging us to explore contemporary Baptist identity and prompting us to recognise who we are in Christ, baptised into his body. In recent decades the corporate nature of our identity as disciples has often been lost and it will be fascinating to see how this is unpacked over the weekend. However, I shall scream or cry if all I hear is that we have a missionary God (we don't), we need to try harder (which may be true but borders on unitarianism) and look for places where church and non-church meet.
There is much more than this to the assembly, which also includes smaller seminars and groups for children and young people. The Baptist Assembly is, in a small way, a microcosm of Baptist life; a gathering of ministers, churches and others who make up the diversity of this subset of the people of God. Lots of people put in countless hours to pull it together and make it run smoothly and they deserve our thanks and appreciation. This weekend is an opportunity to inspire; to forge a Baptist identity that can positively contribute to the church scene in Britain and can enable us to live as a coherent community of God's people which enables the world around us to make sense of God and encourages them to join us in being followers of Jesus.