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.
I think your distinction between a national resource and a national leadership is an important one. We need resourcing from specialists and we need leadership, but they stem from different kinds of authority.
The authority of someone who knows about tax law, or speaking to the media, is an authority of knowledge and specialist skill while the authority of leadership needs to come from character and prophetic calling.
Where does the authority of our national resource/leadership come from?
Thanks for keeping this conversation going. Since the Beyond400 website reached its orginal goal of 40 distinct voices (and a book), I have found little to engage with. Acknowledged that Beyond400 was adapted to continue but when I have visited recently there appears to be nothing more happening.
Like Wayne, I think you make a useful point about the difference between specialist support and ‘national’ leadership. I put the word in quotes because having worked in Wales I am concious that national is not the best term for a Union that embraces more than one nation.
And, yes, I think you are right about the broad consensus of support for specialist support. We need our colleges, legal advisors, pensions administrators, and so forth.
Where I have picked up a divergence of views is around the issue of leadership. Some amongst us, it seems, aspire to a more ‘apostolic’ leadership, what they might call a more anointed leadership. Others, including myself, are wary of such language and the implications of pursuing this in practice. Theologically I would be worried we will lose what little sense we might still have of being a discerning people, with churches abdicating all leadership to the select few. Critics of this might say this is what happens by and large through council, which some see as unbaptist in nature anyway!
I must confess to being uncomfortable with the role of General Secretary, although appreciative of both David Coffey and Jonathan Edwards and the work they have done, and wonder sometimes if their existence is so that we have ‘a king like the other’ denominations. Perhaps that’s unfair. Perhaps someone could offer some theological grounds for the role??
The big question is, Why would we want anyone to speak for Baptists in Britain?
What’s wrong with being a union of diversity… including diversity of opinion on all kinds of issues? I find it so much easier when the Joint Public Issues Team puts out a statement because it only claims to be from the JPIT! Others might see that as just as bad. Particularly those who would consider the JPIT to have left-leaning tendencies. Not true in my opinion.
Regarding Associations, I came into Baptist Ministry after their emergence so I am not really qualified to comment on the changes and their positive and negative impact. I do agree that there is a sense of isolation among churches, although wonder if a lot of this is self-determined, and I have particular sympathy for smaller, mostly rural but also inner-city, churches that often seem to be forgotten (or so I hear) by the rest of the Union.
In my experience we aren’t that good at fostering relationships with other churches, even those that aren’t Baptist, beyond the level of friendships/meetings between ministers. Part of me wants to say that needs to change, or smaller churches will disappear, and part of me wants to say, you can’t force these things, especially when the culture and personalities of the churches are so different. What to do?
Thanks again for stirring our thoughts. There are lots of issues and I for one have found it hard to think everything through.
May God grant us greater imagination, to think new things, greater courage, to try new things, and greater generosity, as we recognise that the cost to others is one that we should all share.
Thanks Ashley for the comments.
I agree the notion of a ‘national voice’ is problematic, but I don’t think it is impossible. Whilst there will rarely be a single ‘baptist view’ there is a place for us to offer a ‘baptist’ perspective on events in church and society. I also appreciate the JPIT- though there are days when I fear they sound like the Guardian op-ed for Christians.
And our ability to get to grips with working alongisde each other, and with other churches, will be key to life after the era of ‘service provision’.
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BUGB is the future going flat? – Distinct Reflections
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BUGB is the future going flat? – Distinct Reflections