Sunday, 18 December 2011

Shepherds without a clue?

I was a shepherd in the DIY nativity earlier today & it made me realise 'the shepherds' had little more clue than I about what they were doing. So, I feel well qualified to continue musing about our Baptist Future(s) ....

Simon Jones, as ever, has some perceptive things to say about our Baptist ‘movement’ and our on-going struggle with Pioneers. The only thing we disagreed on was in our response to Neil - I didn't just chuckle, I thought it hilarious! No worries here: Maggie is giving me lessons on not taking myself too seriously....

Simon’s blog post 10th December ‘sniffing out influence’. Check it out, but the points he makes are:

-       We are facing national austerity.
-       We are still declining numerically overall.
-       Most of the exciting things taking place are on the margins.
-       We don’t adequately train, resource, give time for exploration, Pioneers.
-       Our ministerial ‘competencies’ are fashioned around an inherited model of church.
-       Our current models are resource intensive (buildings, ministers, attractional events).
-       Influence may be difficult to get a handle on and yet can ‘reek of the kingdom’ (liked that a lot Simon).

All good stuff and undergirds my concern for people to engage with the consultation process, which will hopefully inform the future shape of BUGB. Simon’s points undergird the need for a missional shape.

A missional focus to our purposes demands a flow of energy from the centre to the margins.

-       If our greatest strength, as UK Baptists, is in the communities of Jesus followers we call church (and I think it is) then we must re-address the flow of energy. This means we need structures, which will enable us to ask how do they facilitate, resource, release a growing edge/margin.

-       Structures, I reluctantly admit, are absolutely necessary. However, they need to serve life and not hinder it. Surely, this means we need to ask questions such as: ‘how do we best serve the mission of God across our nation through our churches’? This begins to answer what kind of networks (associations in Baptist ‘money’, while we have some left) are necessary.

-       Missional is, essentially, about the nature of God. A missional shape, as I understand it, brings together things we easily keep apart. Things like ‘doing’ & ‘being’, evangelism & social engagement, vision & values. This is precisely because it is a word which has arisen from our growing awareness concerning the nature of God. So, intentionally  inbuilt into this, is the challenge to work out, in practice, what it means to be in community together (just as God is in three persons). It also brings our attention, again, to the fact that what we do is as crucially important as ‘why’ we do and ‘how’ we do. Vision and values must dovetail. Being and doing are part of the same person when we look at Jesus, etc. Also, I can't think of another better word right now, which will challenge us to re-calibrate our life together more around the person of Jesus. Of course, this is also at the heart of our Declaration of Principle: one of the very few things every Baptist Minister and Church in BUGB has signed up to.

-       We have to answer the question I have posed our own Trustees, which is ‘what are we called to be and do, whether we have the funding, or not?’ This is, I think, is the question Simon is raising in a variety of places about ‘church’ in general. It is a financial crisis, which has provided the environment for some of the crucial questions being asked for a number of years, to be heard. However, the answers must not simply be about answering a financial crisis.

-       Of course, the exciting things are on the margins. This, however, is also true in any local church, or even as individuals I suggest, and as a valid observation, it’s principle should not be limited. (It’s too easy to blame someone else). What Alan Hirsch calls the ‘missional-incarnational impulse’ can only ever happen on the margins because that’s where we cross the borders into un-mapped territory. However, we can all play in the margins, if we dare to cross beyond our front door-steps, if churches can imagine a life organised around ‘going to people’, rather than ‘bringing to church’. However, we must take care we do not institutionalise a separation from the centre and the margins. Surely, whether locally, regionally or nationally, we are looking for spiritual leadership? Spiritual leaders, worth their salt, will listen for the voice of Jesus, wherever it is spoken and through whom whoever he speaks?

-       We do need to train pioneers, but I’m not sure we ‘train’ anyone. My sense is we are doing what most movements do when they’re on the downward slope: focus on teaching, but not upon learning. Discipleship is about learning; it’s embedded into its very meaning. This is why ‘missional’ if a good word, because it puts discipleship at the core of our activity. It’s disciples we need to train!

-       We do, however, need to train pioneers. We have just commissioned some research, which I hope will result in shaping a route towards accreditation on a pioneer track. However, no pioneer’s going to be primarily concerned about accreditation and degrees, so these can never become the goals. What I am not convinced we do very well in most of our churches, is identify, release and train pioneers, evangelists, apostles, or prophets. What I am convinced about is these are a range of gifts found and primarily intended to operate, in and through local churches.

-       Resourcing needs to change. A rising number of people are talking about bi-vocational ministry, but once again my fears are it’s too much about providing ‘ministry’ and not releasing pioneering congregations. When you look, we are actually resource rich. BUGB may have declined numerically, we may have a pension deficit, but the reserves have increased significantly over the last decade.

-       Missional is difficult to define and some argue (cf Alan Roxburgh who’s written more than most on this) this is part of its vitality, as Simon, also highlights. My fear is the structural, financial, need to get-it-sorted, agenda may squash the life out of the word.


Anonymous said...

I find it fascinating that nobody has mentioned Steve Chalke in these lists of of influential people. To my mind, this completely underlines the complete disconnection between the Baptist establishment and "pioneers".

Nigel Coles said...

Absolutely! Please don't think I believe in the accuracy of this list. You raise a very significant point, however, that is how the middle and the edges of a movement connect. Our 'system' has barely created space for pioneers and we ignore this at our peril - let us pray to the one who makes all things new.