When Alan Roxburgh recommends ‘a good read’ I’d be foolish to ignore it. On this occasion, however, I baulked at the $29.95 price tag. It’s called The Leap – how to survive and thrive in the sustainable economy’ by Chris Turner a Canadian. My book allowance wont sustain it before the end of the year!
Sustainability – that’s a key word for us right now. It’s a massive and still growing issue here in the UK economically and environmentally. Whilst too many Christians remain aloof to the issues in these arenas, the sustainability question has parked itself right in the middle of us.
Whilst I was away recently, the Baptist Union Council agreed a budget deficit of just in excess of £1 million. OK, I’ve looked at the figures and it looks like £650k, but this includes an aspirational increase in HM giving for next year (when this years figures give no basis to suggest this), so in all probability, we’re looking at £1 million. In one sense the figure is immaterial, because it’s the unsustainable model, which is the real issue.
We do have a crisis. However, it’s not the financial crisis, which worries me. A lack of finances is little threat to real churches. Unlike some Christian streams and denominations we are not looking at switching off the lights in the last church building. Baptist Christians in the UK may not be growing numerically, but we are not anxious about being around ‘in’ the next generation. Whether we will be here ‘for’ the next generation, however, remains a challenge and a question. In many ways, our lack of dramatic decline numerically has led us to the complacency we find ourselves in. We’re not growing, but we’re not declining massively – a bit like a sailing boat becalmed for lack of wind speed. However, the age profile of many congregations may result in a significant decrease over the next ten years and this appears to be something those who are relying upon a ‘simply give more’ strategy appear to have overlooked.
No, our crisis is a systemic crisis and if the finances bring the spotlight upon the crisis of our ‘system’, it’s one I welcome. Let me clarify that, I ‘cautiously’ welcome – I’m not that brave! Why also I've chosen this, for me, wonderful image of sunrise in the Himalayas - it could be a new day!
Why? Am I simply odd? (no need to comment on this one!) The reasons I welcome a crisis threatening our system is because it offers hope we might be able to shift towards a more appropriate way of being for the present and foreseeable future. We shall need many things, but perhaps most significantly, a willingness to walk where God is leading us.
Back to ‘sustainable’. We have to explore sustainability. New churches built on a model framework, which assumes full-time paid ministry is not sustainable. Grants to churches, which do not intentionally facilitate outward movement, rather than inward care, are not sustainable. Regional bodies, like the one I am part of, which duplicate the local domination of pastor/teachers as the sole pattern for ministry are not sustainable. A Union, which is more concerned with who comes in than who’s sent out, is not sustainable.
One comment on ‘The leap’ is ‘it filled me with excitement and hope for the future’ = maybe I will read it after all!
NB – sustainability in the kingdom of God has within it the built in assumption that growth exceeds faith – aka the mustard seed conspiracy. This is not akin to budgets simply based on past ways & giving.
I’m remembering last Sunday – preaching in a congregation of about fifty people, but one, which has given birth to 6000 plus others. They didn't have enough money to do that!