Phil posted a comment on my previous blog (here) that warrants a proper response. At issue is how we understand the decisions made last week by BUGB Council, so if you find the whole debate a turn off look away now.
Phil says I fail to understand what the changes are about, that it is not for the Union’s structures to be engaging in mission on behalf of churches but the responsibility of all of us who are now able to get on with it because leadership is being reconnected with those on the ground.
As my blog noted, I have no doubt that some hope this is exactly what we have done. Phil makes the point that mission is the task of local churches not the structures. He is right and it is important we move away from the service provision mentality. But it is not the key point because it has always been true; the issue facing the union is what type of structure best enables us to be the people God calls us to be. I’m sure some of the decisions made do move us forward (though not as far and fast as I would like) what I don’t see is evidence of fundamental change.
The whole proposal (and outline budget given to Council) continues to be based on maximising Home Mission giving. The reduction in costs is the minimum required to live within our means but doesn’t change the long term dynamics; unless the giving trend rises we will be back here again within five years. Indeed the proportion of Home Mission giving which will go in Grants will fall unless we substantially reduce Association costs and Associations develop new ways of using their funds.
The creation of Association partnerships only make strategic sense if you wish to establish a framework where the next review can reduce the number of Associations or replace them with regions. They only make political sense if you wish to create a National Leadership team in which the power of association team leaders is held in check. They make no sense relationally or for accountability, for the new structures to work will require Associations to work together nationally and the primary accountability gap is between Associations and local churches not inter Association.
The new structures continue to integrate support services and national leadership rather than separating them. Unless there is a radical change in the place of BUGB charity and the trustees, the basic pillars of finance, governance and management remain unchanged. [I think we made mistakes in setting this up which we have yet to address]. Whilst the changes will release Associations in some areas, this has to be balanced by the impact reduced funding will have and questions about the capacity of Associations to enable strategic networking and supportive relationships to flourish. The changes move in the right direction but are no panacea.
All organisations have forces of inertia and our history is littered with changes which didn’t achieve what they set out to do and which lost their way when detailed changes were proposed. A significant change of culture, direction and ethos requires those who serve as national officers to embody, communicate and carry vision. This is primarily the General Secretary. Jonathan appears coy about sharing his own views; he appears to see himself as ‘a servant of Council’.
I remain unconvinced the changes will achieve what needs to be done, though I remain positive about the future of Baptist life. I will be delighted if I am proved wrong though given Nigel Coles blog I'm clearly not the only one with reservations.
PS: Phil and I know each other in real life we are friends who both have the interests of the Union at heart.