As I’ve pondered my trip to NZ there are a number of things about Baptist life in our two countries that we might learn from each other. So as a final post on NZ let me draw some threads together.
Ministry led or congregational
There is much in the healthy church / ministry led model of church life which is good. When done well it releases people to serve and enables every member to use their gifts whilst freeing the church to respond to opportunities. In the UK we would benefit from the ‘can do’ approach to life that our NZ sisters and brothers have. However, there is something healthy in leaders / ministers having to offer leadership rather than instructing followers which can easily be lost in the ministry led model; not least because it seems (from my limited observation) to become Pastor centric. Congregational unity comes from a commitment to walk together, to contribute together, and to listen together; something that is beyond governance structures but is about how a congregation lives out its shared life. (in the UK notions of covenant try to capture this).
Many English Baptist Churches need to stop worrying about membership, church meetings and Baptist shibboleths and allow new ways of expressing Baptist life to emerge. The NZ model has much to teach us about trusting and releasing people and churches, developing structures that fit our current context rather than a Victorian one and encouraging a mission focused church. However, I’m not sure it isn’t too tied to 1990’s assumptions of leadership / governance which will date it rapidly over the next decade (it too easily defaults to leader as CEO rather than leader as cultivator) and it is not sufficiently robust theologically. I haven’t yet researched this properly but I’ve not found any theological explanation of how this enables an outworking of a trinitarian understanding of church; whereas in the UK there is a growing body of theological work on baptist ecclesiology which we need to work out in practice.
Regional validation of diversity
What do we want of our regional / national leaders? Regional leadership came up frequently in my conversations about Baptist life and I think both countries share a challenge here in deciding what we want and how we are going to resource it. In particular how we enable regional leaders to be proactive and not simply reactive to stuff going on in churches. Our regional ministers in the North West of England do a good job in being themselves (they are theologically different) and helping the churches to be themselves; a commitment to diversity which is important. In the UK we have a long way to go but we have made a start in ensuring our Union appointments express our diversity, particularly in validating the ministry of women.
The NZ model seems to place an emphasis on recruiting people with strong record of local church leadership, indeed a number of the posts are part time so people continue in some form of local church ministry alongside their wider baptist role. As the UK Union and Associations adjust to smaller budgets we too will need to rethink how we provide national and regional ministry.
My biggest surprise in NZ was the number of Baptist pastors who described themselves as Pentecostals. Some of this is the product of different church histories but I wonder if we in the UK have something to share about being charismatic and Baptist (those of us who are of course); with expectations of experiencing the presence of God in worship, the place of prophecy and apostolic leadership in church life. NZ Baptist Churches maintain a high regard for Bible centred, expository, preaching which offers plenty of scope for a fresh baptistic charismatic hermeneutic but is also a reminder to those of us in UK that Scripture needs to remain central to a word/spirit network.
The assumption that this is the norm has permeated most, but not all, English Baptist Churches but the NZ folk have something to show us in the range of activities they do which extend beyond preschool, children, youth and older people; starting community cooperatives, language schools etc etc. In the UK we are developing a good track record of working together across churches, and across church streams / denominations to serve and transform communities. I think that Christchurch would be an even better place if churches grasped a vision to work together.
Visiting New Zealand has been a fantastic experience and I loved it there. I joked about emigrating but would love the opportunity to return and perhaps contribute something to church life there some day. There is so much more to discover about life in NZ and learn from the churches there and I’m looking forward to finding a way of doing this.
Since returning I’ve located a few related articles on the web which look at ‘ministry led church’ and NZ Baptist life in particular. These include: