In preparation for the next BUGB Council I’ve revisited the published Futures booklet (download). I know several people who have slogged their guts out on this process over recent months (and many more whose livelihoods depend on the outcomes) which makes me hesitate to critique it, but this is not the moment for timidity.
Loads of people have ideas (I've blogged mine here and made videos here and here) so it is not easy to reach an agreed way forward. However, the existing proposals miss a transforming opportunity and provide little evidence we are responding to the culture challenge that faces us.
The proposals makes some assumptions which should be challenged, specifically:
1. It doesn’t recognise a distinction between specialist support services and national leadership. There is broad agreement we need to provide specialist resources in finance, communications, safeguarding and ministerial accreditation but it is not clear that those involved providing them should be those engaged in national leadership. In addition some specialist support (ministerial formation, research in mission, Doctrine and Worship) might be better provided by working more closely with Colleges and BMS.
2. Having a ‘national voice’ does not require us to continue the existing arrangements, nor the creation of new or amalgamated departments within a central rescource. Rather a ‘national voice’ requires us to release a limited number of people to have national ministries that include speaking out on behalf of the denomination.
3. The previous enlargement of Associations increased the sense of isolation between many churches and wider Baptist life. The creation of Association Partnerships is likely to exacerbate this and additionally forces Associations towards formats derived from centralised assumptions rather than organic local arrangements which might improve Association life. Larger Partnerships are unlikely to create economies of scale and the larger the areas the harder it is to use local volunteers.
Rather than talk of national leadership why not talk of National Ministers in a similar way to Regional Ministers, a limited number of people whose ministry is exercised across the denomination rather than associations or local churches. In place of our current SMT we could have two or three National Ministers (General Secretary, NM for Church life and another for Mission) who could work with the Regional Minister team leaders, the President and others. As well as the ecclesiological and theological advantages it would create clearer demarcation between BUGB charity issues (with finance, governance etc) and the ecclesial life of the Union.
Those who have worked on the Futures material deserve our thanks and the proposals would change things. But why just reconfigure elements of the structure in the hope of further development when bold change is what we really need.