Council was a difficult affair. This ought not to be a surprise given the outcome means some people will loose their jobs; no one should delight in pain. It was also difficult to see where the future might be and where agreement lay.
After some disquiet and soul searching Council agreed to the main elements of the futures proposals. First, to create Association Partnerships for the regional distribution of Home Mission money. Second, to change the structure of the Central Resource so in place of the current departments there are three key teams (Church and Society, Ministry and Support Services). Third, to work to develop an integrated leadership team (though most of the details were not agreed).
Leaving aside my belief that Association Partnerships are an unnecessary waste of resources and that we are not planning a robust enough reduction in expenditure, how are we to understand this? I think there are three options:
1. It is an abject failure of vision by BUGB Council. The opportunity to radically reshape our collaborative life to prioritise mission, encourage entrepreneurial pioneers and release life has been sunk by the shackles of institutional inertia, critically compromised by the politics of power and drowned in detail by navigational neglect.
2. People’s cry for cultural change and a missional movement is heard and that the changes Council agreed to are the things necessary to sweep away the barriers and move to a more flexible future; this week being the first step on a journey not a destination. It will take time to see the new emerge but there is now no going back
3. Council doesn’t really understand what it is doing, but knows significant money needs to be saved and errs towards the decisions which reduce its anxiety by agreeing to proposals put before it without agreeing or owning the implications.
I think there is truth in all three. Personally I’m in the disappointed camp and feel that if we have started to alter the foundations it is like clearing a river blockage enough to allow water to trickle through. I think the lessons of our recent (20yrs) history is that we can write a good report, talk a good talk, but then fail to agree or implement most of the changes before adding to our excellent library resources. Thereby condemning us to repeating the exercise again in a few years time. The one ray of hope lies in the creation of a national leadership team because it gives a chance for a new pattern to emerge.
No doubt the BUGB website will soon carry a report about how Council worked hard with difficult issues, discerned what God was saying and helped to move us forward; and that with the support of Churches, in particular generous giving to Home Mission, we will continue to keep mission at the heart of what we do. This may well be true and the few people on Council I've spoken with since we finished are more positive than I am. But, if it is, the future is arriving faster than our ability to adapt to it!
Nigel Coles shares his own reflections here http://nigcoles.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/who-does-leadership.html
Some might think I’m being too negative. This may be true, certainly if I were Jonathan Edwards I would be making a brief youtube video this afternoon to put the positives
“It was a painful Council, restructuring is difficult; not least because good people will loose their jobs. However, Council did discern a way forward, enabling Associations to work more closely together for the sake of mission. Restructuring the national resource in Didcot to make it more flexible and to release as many resources for front line mission as possible. By working towards an integrated national leadership we are recognising that new wine skins are needed for the future, opening up the way for radical change and helping us to respond to moves of the Spirit. I am determined that whilst I am General Secretary we will continue to do everything necessary to equip Baptists to face the missionary challenge; our history is as a pioneer movement and it is this same radical discipleship which we need today. Let’s be a network of churches which are committed to working together, sharing together for the sake of the Kingdon, so we can share the good news with all.”
The thing is I’m not sure I believe that positive spin and, more worryingly, I don’t know that he does either.
The official BUGB take is now on line here:
This is not good. I fear that our history was as a pioneering movement and that it has again been consigned to history.
The pioneer heart looks outward to the culture it is called to and lets that shape the vision, not in on an inertia-laden restructuring exercise – we have dropped the missional ball. If we recover enough to pick it up we will have less resources to be God’s people in this world.
It’s not that I see much to disagree with, its the deep lack of missional vision which is so sad.
Neil I wish your point 2. would play out well. But once the push factors for change are quenched will we then take the bold missional steps? I’d be very surprised and delighted.
Which is why I think the response of Jonathan Edwards (Gen Sec of BUGB) is crucial here. If he came out strongly, publicly and boldly to say he was prepared to put his leadership on the line to make this work, to ensure that we created the environment in which churches, associations and others could release waves of mission it would make a huge difference to the credibility of the process.
Neil, the fact that you still speak of a national resource indicates that you have failed to grasp what these changes are about. I guess that I would feel similarly if I were so inclined. As long as people look to the Union structures to be radical, missional etc. they are going to be disappointed, and I would be one of those who celebrate that. Our structures need to be just that – to use Rob Bell’s analogy (and add the bit he ignores)to work well, a trampoline needs a decent and well grounded frame. Yes we do need to be outward facing, pioneering and everything else, but that is the task of our churches and innovators, not something that a central structure should be doing on other people’s behalf and then spoon feeding its outcomes to churches. There are tasks that need to be done centrally, but we have too easily confused their fulfilment with leadership. While utterly respecting and appreciating the work of those who undertake those tasks for us, we have now re-connected leadership with those on the ground. If this has been genuinely done, we should expect that there is no master plan, or great new idea – if there was we would be denying the very thing these proposals are intended to be. The future is in our hands now – but this means just that; we will go nowhere unless we learn to imagine and become optimistic. On the Monday of that week, a group of pioneers and church planters met in NWBA – it was a brilliant gathering – again, not earth shattering but loaded with potential. I am excited to feel that we are re-shaping our union in a way that allows resources and shared strategy to centre around groups like that, rather than a centre of national administration. That to me is not insignificant, but to be truly grass roots, it will take time for its impact to emerge.
A ‘National Resource’ is not a phrase I used in my post, but one I used in my suggested response by the General Secretary. Whilst Jonathan has remained silent, but the Baptist Union website describes the decisions of Council as including the ‘re-organisation of the National Resource in Didcot’ so it is hard to imagine Jonathan using any other languague. He tends to use the phrase ‘Baptist House’ but his remarks to Council last Thursday indicate his belief in a strong centre.
As for the more substantive issues, another blog post is on the way.
I agree with you Phil in that our structures need to be established to facilitate the mission and if that mission is incarnational the emphasis has to be local and local is our gift and opportunity baptists. Amen!
But and it’s a big but, I see a Futures Group (now disbanded) that either sees its work as done or has been terminated by council and that work is now public for comment (on blogs at least).
The plan cannot be seen as missionally neutral and what is agreed does not seem to block mission more than before but there is little vision or imagination in it to bring mission about.
We have dropped the missional ball in not seizing this opportunity.