2012 The making of a modern denomination

BUGB Council meets again next week; the curious combination institutional process, denominational politics and corporate perspicacity. One item on the agenda is finance and its implications for the future structure of the Union.

I’ve lost count of the number of hours I’ve sat in meetings when we have talked about this over the last couple of years (no sympathy required, it is my own fault for agreeing to moderate the Finance Committee) but the underlying issues can’t be put off any longer. [Though I’m sure someone will argue this isn’t a crisis but an opportunity. Yes it is an opportunity but like repentance, transformation begins when we recognise we need rescue and the Union will need to make critical decisions over the next year and a cheerleading gloss may reassure people but only declares a false peace.]

But before we get too bogged down in detail or worried about where our financial rescue comes from and how we get from Egypt to the promised land, I want to imagine……

Imagine we were starting a grouping of baptistic churches today rather than working with models crafted over 100 years ago. How would we do it, what would be different?

I don’t have an answer but here are some random thoughts.

1. We would be less concerned about geography and more concerned with developing networks of churches.

2. We would seek to use larger churches as resource centres and encourage them to take responsibility for encouraging smaller ones.

3. We would value entrepreneurial missionary churches and ministers; who seek to take the historic core of the Christian faith and live it out in new contexts.

4. We would seek to create a Union culture that equips and releases both people and churches.

5. Recognising value in a diversity of voices we would encourage corporate leadership.

6. Believing we are called to be church and not individuals we would value gathering together to seek the mind of Christ, theological thought, spiritual depth and engagement with the mission of God. (What does it mean to be holy, catholic and apostolic in the UK at this point in world history?)

7. We would revisit the distinctions between BUGB and BMS as if mission overseas is fundamentally different to mission here, and look to work more closely together. In addition we could seek to learn from other Baptist Conventions round the globe how to be partners together on the basis of being in Christ rather than sharing finance.

8. We need to ask ourselves some questions like: if the Union and Associations ceased to exist, what would we miss? If the current structures disappeared what would be the things which held churches in relationship together?  Is the model of centralised church house resourcing the regions, with a well governed charity dealing with money the best way to live out our ecclesiology (or our understanding of mission and kingdom for that matter)?

A generation ago a group of younger Baptist ministers challenged the idea that the future was one of inevitable decline. Maybe the time has come to challenge the idea that we must simply modify (and cut back) the existing structures and work on something more ambitious.


12 thoughts on “2012 The making of a modern denomination

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  1. Point 7 “We would revisit the distinctions between BUGB and BMS as if mission overseas is fundamentally different to mission here, and look to work more closely together.”

    Point of order Mr Chairman… BMS is not an adjunct to BUGB. Whatever the history of its origins, it’s equally connected to/supported by BUS and BUW… That plus there is a disproprotionately high number of BUS sourced BMS missionaries…

    Controversial maybe (especially given Alex Salmond’s views) but methinks any such revisiting has to be broader than the BUGB-as-norm (which I swallowed whole when I was in England) and be UK-as-norm. BMS is not the overseas branch of BUGB!

    OK mini-rant over.


  2. Hi Catriona. I don’t disagree, though perhaps my language was clumsy and english-centric. I’ve often thought it odd that the BMS AGM was held at a joint event with BUGB and never with BUS or BUW. But perhaps BUS can teach us in BUGB somethng here because my perception (which maybe wrong) is that BUS/BMS happily work together on projects in Scotland in a way that doesn’t happen here.

    Andy, that is a very clear danger. But we have to find ways of getting over this if we are to make progress. It is an issue for all sized churches but isn’t there something in our ecclesiology which ought to point us to different ways of living this out to the HTB model?


  3. Neil, Thanks for stiring this up…

    Point 2 “We would seek to use larger churches as resource centres and encourage them to take responsibility for encouraging smaller ones.”

    The more pioneering churches tend to be smaller and newer, and are quite often led by Newly Accredited Ministers (NAM’s). It is often easier to roll the creative missional dice without the inertia of size and age of church and when the leaders are not in some way hampered by a long history of serving as a minister. These creative and courageous small pioneering churches and leaders are typically accountable and encouraged from beyond themselves through Home Mission funding, NAM programmes and often frustrated by the narrow understandings of success that go with these programmes and support. And some larger churches act as a resource, generously giving money and people without assuming that they can understand what needs to be done from their perspective – good for them! More of this resourcing and encouragement is needed and would be a good goal.

    But, the larger churches also need resourcing and encouraged to be missional. It would work if the bigger churches were equally encouraged, resourced in their thinking and helped to be accountable beyond themselves to the smaller pioneering churches which have much to give. There are people in those small churches who would love to take responsibility for helping the bigger ones…


  4. Not everything from the New Churches is a model for us but there are lessons to be learned. My experience is mostly with Vineyard and Newfrontiers and I have seen a lot of affinity with points 1 to 6. The term “apostolic” (point 6) can be a hot potato but we have to go there if we are to be effective in the 21st century — this is a particular enabling, equipping and collaborating dimension of servant leadership which is needed to transition from our historic individualism.

    I’d like to ask the Council why it is difficult for us to learn from younger members of the same family who have made great progress by developing ways of being church unfettered by unhelpful history and tradition — and sometimes doctrinal rigidity too


  5. Are the words church and churches a hindrance to our thinking?

    Maybe our imaginations need to be set free?

    Maybe we need to imagine something other than what a group of baptistic churches might look like if we started them today?

    Maybe we need to start in the neighbourhoods that we live, work and play in, and imagine from there?

    Good questions, Neil, but are they the right ones? I am not sure.


  6. Point 5 Recognising a diversity of voices.

    I think your proposals are ambitious and relevant in the context of the time in which we live.In relation to a diversity of voices I would very much hope that includes those of us who are Evangelical Gay Christians.Historically have been marginalised and shut out from the corporate side of our denomination but in this brave new start you suggest perhaps the time has come to include us in reshaping an outdated and heterosexual driven denomination.I for one would love to contribute to this new vision of the Baptist future.Well done and God,s best for the journey ahead.

    Patrick Gillan.


  7. Thanks for this Neil – an interesting and timely debate.

    Is the problem not in the mistake that we always want to begin with the church (cue David Bosch et al)? If instead we began the conversation with the mission of God (the Missio Dei), the question might then be:

    ‘Imagine we as disciples of Jesus) were seeking to play our part in the mission of God – cue Jesus, (‘as the Father has sent me so I send you’) – today, rather than over 100 years ago. How would we go about it [armed with the Bible from which we derive our baptistic principles of being (one branch’) of the people of God]?’

    When Jesus became incarnate in the world (‘moved into the neighbourhood’) in order to ‘play his part’ in the mission of God he continually spoke about the coming of the kingdom of God? Maybe that could be part of ‘our’ question too? What does it mean for us to serve Jesus in our communities (including in our church buildings and gatherings) so that we might see God’s kingdom come more fully and see God’s will being done more completely in our context?

    We could then ask, how might the resources that we have (BMS, BUGB, in our associations, in our colleges, BMS International Training Centre, in our churches and wherever…) be used most effectively in pursuing the mission of God, in working to see God’s kingdom come more fully and his will being done more completely in the ‘uncharted’ contexts(!) of the 21st Century (bearing in mind that the western and eastern contexts are about as alike as Frankie Cocozza and Jim Reeves)?

    The question of big church, small church, or even very small church (meeting in a house, pub or wherever) might then be determined by the purpose for which God has called us and in the particular context to which we have been called (to engage in the mission of God).

    Thanks again for kicking off the conversation.


  8. Point 1 “We would be less concerned about geography and more concerned with developing networks of churches” – perhaps the emphasis should be on “networked churches”, where the onus of networking and being in networks is on the church and not on a top down approach to networking, where a local church might be “told” whom to network with and how!

    I can see point 2 working in tandem with Point 1 where such networks of larger and smaller churches might support each other in networks where there is a spirit of mutual appreciation for each others’ gifts and talents.


  9. Thanks everyone for your thoughts. I’m not sure it’s helpful for me to respond to all of them because really what we need is debate without prematurely shutting down the options; but a few comments nevertheless.

    Personally I don’t think ‘church’ is a problem because it is at the heart of the outworking of missio dei; though we probably need to think more deeply about the essence of church (intentionality rather than institution, relationship rather than ritual).

    Clearly the issues around human sexuality are difficult for our denomination but a diversity of voices means we need to give welcome to those who see things differently to us. Clearly we need some agreement about fundementals; this has normally been taken to be the declaration of principle (though I would prefer if we had started with something based on the nicene creed) which has nothing directly to say about sexual orientation.

    As with all these things top down solutions are useless unless they are owned by the churches. The whole notion of associating / networking is of groups choosing to associate / network /relate together.

    Keep the ideas flowing.


  10. We have inherited structures which are predicated on a modernist philosophy of organisational relationship. We have sold our birthright to Christendom in the interests of structural security and expressions of national power.
    The shift in Western patterns of relating and belonging since the 1940s has been away from such patterns of organised belonging, and towards networked relationships. The demise of Christendom leaves many bemoaning that we ‘used to be a Christian country’
    This is seen in the decline in membership in our local churches.
    However, it is matched by a corresponding openness to explorations of spirituality which lead to ‘blurred edges’ within our churches. The creative churches are those which embrace this change and proclaim the eternal gospel in new ways.
    The same problem is affecting us at a national level: most of the people in our churches are no longer committed to our inherited and centralised expressions of belonging.
    We need to evolve structures which are appropriate to the context of post-Christendom
    As Baptists, we emerged in reaction to Christendom, and a rediscovery of localised patterns of belonging, congregational government, and voluntary church membership may offer us a way forwards here.
    Our new structures need to be true to our core convictions, locally focussed, institutionally light, and inherently adaptable.


  11. Here’s some further thoughts:


    What does this leave us with?
    A reduced denominational resource combined (with one theological training College), offered in conjunction with BMS / BUS?
    Decentralise all other functions to local networks – A move from institutionalisation to networking. Associations will function here, but in restructured form.
    Council becomes the forum for localised networks to come together
    Assembly become self-financing stand alone conference including AGM


  12. I have commented on some of the BUGB Council issues and struggles on the IBTS blog and will not provide extended comment here – the main issue is abandoning Baptist ecclesiology at the behest of the Charity Commission (no more than a QUANGO)without a struggle. The brothers at Taize taught me we live our Christian lives between struggle and contemplation – not in bending over to the powers !


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