Monday, 30 January 2012

I hope you're getting in on the Beyond 400 conversation - 5 posts, all stimulating our imaginations, so far. I confess, my blogging has slowed down for various reasons recently. One is, I'm conscious I've been invited to contribute (on 5th February, which is when our own Ministers' Conference starts) and I haven't been able to decide what to put into the mix. Consequently, every blog post has been shelved 'in case of need' - I'm up to six now, I think!
So, here's one I prepared earlier, because I've decided to raise the question of missional movement now for Beyond 400. Every blessing.

‘All change’’. Last week, on the London Underground, (this photo, you may guess, was not taken then, but it is a train!) 
I wasn’t expecting it. To be honest, I’d thought it was something, which didn't happen anymore. I’d just settled back into my book, assuming I had fifteen stops to go!

‘All change’. Pandemonium. Bodies, cases, children, everywhere. It’s disorientating because I thought I knew where I was going. I wasn’t expecting to get off right here, right now. It’s unwelcome, because I’ve settled, I haven't finished the chapter I’m on, I don’t want to get up and move, not right here, right now. It’s unexpected, it’s twenty years since I lived in London, it happens everyday, I’ve simply forgotten it might affect me, right here, right now.

Sometimes, I naively think we understand change. We are, after all, still living through a prolonged period of rapid, discontinuous change, with no signs of it slowing down. However, I realise, whenever I engage with churches on this issue, we live in a dualistic world – change is for …. ‘others’ – person, church, fill in any blank, not ‘me’! Bob Dylan sang ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’. He’s still quoted, but he was ‘old’ when I was young! He wrote it in 1963 – nearly fifty years ago.

So what’s this £1 million deficit all about? If you listen to some people, it’s simply about recognising we all need to give more to Home Mission. Spread across the total membership of BUGB, it’s peanuts, quite literally. For me, it’s about the coffee people are waking up to smell! Facing reality, something Jesus needs us all to do when we first meet. It’s the opportunity it presents. It’s the questions it is posing.

Reality: The system is stuck! The system is not working according to its design. Chris Duffett is right in his observation “For all the finances and resources that we share, very little face-to-face good news sharing happens.” This puts the finger on our biggest issue in the UK church. The practices of the church are out of synch with its stated aims and objectives. The genius of the Baptist system, is everybody matters. We are more Wikipedia than Encyclopedia Britannica. Our ‘declaration of principle’ has few words, but says much: it is the duty of every disciple to bear personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world. Working with churches, I observe we can change all the words, whether they be written in church meeting minutes, or vision statements, but if the culture does change, the practices remain unchanged. If we cannot return to disciples making disciples at our heart, then all are lost.

A question: What is God is up to? I loved the line in Rowena Wilding’s poem:
“I thought our leadership came from the Teacher.”
We say Jesus is our Teacher. We say Jesus is Lord of His Church. It means precisely that ….  consequently we are not! The time to re-calibrate according to Jesus is here. Everywhere: locally, regionally and nationally. Discipleship needs to return to being our core business, in reality.

Sadly, it has taken the money we are told, by Jesus, not to serve, to make us stop, look and listen. We can both serve and use money. We cannot both serve and use God. Can we face reality AND ask the big questions, which might lead us to address our challenges yes, but also rise to the opportunity this situation presents us with? Only, I suspect, if everybody changes….

As local churches, we gather momentum on the transition from doing mission to being missional.
As regional associations, we cultivate an environment in which pioneers are, not simply given permission, but intentionally grown.
As a national resource we cut the power lines trying to become a proper denomination and re-wire according to the original design for being a missional movement.
As Baptist Colleges we stop asking how can five survive and start asking how can we equip the whole people of God?
As Baptist Ministers we stop pretending we’re professional experts and start learning how to release the ministry of the whole church.
As ministerial recognition processes, we re-establish character as our priority, but that will mean being non-conformists.

Monday, 23 January 2012


I notice last week I posted an entry for 'Beyond 400', which is now up and running and promising to be a creative impetus for the future for BUGB.

This week, I'm conscious of feeling 'tired', which can be an early warning system, a valid call for re-adjustment, or even re-alingment, or even simply an excuse to turn back.
Just a sample, for me, as one individual, in what is an average week I imagine: I could be tired because I'm trying to do too much, I'm fed up with the conversation around our future, I'm struggling with issues regionally, I think others are asking too much, I don't seem able to find enough time to get to the really important things, I'm carrying too much for others. or all of the above, or perm any three from ten! (only those with more dubious pasts, like mine, will understand this).

Of course, everyone will identify with feeling tired and especially those being paid for exercising 'Ministry'. Here is an arena, almost designed to drain people of creative energy and disperse clear gifting into mist, if you don't have two things within your grasp: a diary and perseverance.

So, it was with delight I read again James 1:2-8. I've found it a wellspring of nourishment and re-kindled hope.
'joy in trials' (? - not sure about that) brings 'testing of faith' (? - not sure about that one either) leads to 'perseverance' (ahh - at last, something I want, something I desperately need) ...
and then this lovely little phrase, I don't think I've paid much attention to personally before, even having preached on the passage (never assume both co-incide) ... 'let perseverance finish its work'.
Direction is crucial when it is God's call for long obedience in the same direction.

What then is the work of perseverance going on in my life, I must allow God to lead me through?

This brings a whole new perspective, this brings purpose into trials, this sees 'testing' as an experimental laboratory from which new discoveries are made and new ground is explored. This is an adventure with God ..... it just doesn't feel much like it right now.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Beyond 400 - baptists imagining life after 400 years.

‘Beyond 400’ is a new website, starting tomorrow, which has been designed, as far as I understand it, to provide  a platform for raising some creative and innovative thinking concerning the future of baptist life in BUGB (primarily England & part of Wales).
The 'beyond 400 six' say: “We hope that prophetic hunches, helpful insights, and creative thinking will emerge as baptists imagine what might be next after 400 years in Britain”.
40 people (myself included) have been invited to write a short piece of no more than 700 words and the hope is it will help the developing conversation about the future. is the address you need!

Well, we certainly need to hear where the mission of God is leading us, so I hope this welcome initiative cultivates our imaginations and increases our capacities for engagement with God's future.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Cheap Grace

'Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession.  Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ - living and incarnate.'

To the best of my knowledge, it was Dietrich Bonhhoeffer and this quote in particular, from The Cost of Discipleship, which coined this phrase. It's now a well known phrase, but tends to be used without reference to the depth and breadth with which Bonhoeffer first used it. It's done me good for years and I am drawing upon its insights again now, so I simply pass it on.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

2012: a year of opportunity for the gospel?

An article in the Daily Telegraph, by Peter Oborne, entitled ‘The return to religion’, on 3rd January, is not enough to build a strong objective case, but he is a valid observer of a trend we could easily miss. Oborne. The article is introduced: 'With the chill wind of austerity blowing through the country, religion’s warm embrace looks more and more inviting. Peter Oborne welcomes the resurgence of a national pastime: churchgoing'.

The Church Times article last week: ”Attendances prove Christmas surprise” added to the accumulation of observations. Cathedrals and churches up and down the country have reported a large rise in attendances this Christ­mas. Thousands of worshippers crammed into some of the most popular services.

And what about the Queen’s speech? I cannot recall (not that I keep a record!) a Christmas address, which has been so positively and expressively Christ oriented:

The importance of family has, of course, come home to Prince Philip and me personally this year with the marriages of two of our grandchildren, each in their own way a celebration of the God-given love that binds a family together. For many, this Christmas will not be easy. With our armed forces deployed around the world, thousands of service families face Christmas without their loved ones at home. The bereaved and the lonely will find it especially hard. And, as we all know, the world is going through difficult times. All this will affect our celebration of this great Christian festival.  Finding hope in adversity is one of the themes of Christmas. Jesus was born into a world full of fear. The angels came to frightened shepherds with hope in their voices: 'Fear not', they urged, 'we bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
'For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.'
Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves - from our recklessness or our greed.
God sent into the world a unique person - neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive. Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God's love.
In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there's a prayer:
O Holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in.
Be born in us today.
It is my prayer that on this Christmas day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

I, for one, thank God for our Queen.

Of course, 2011 was 'the wedding' year: of Kate and William. I recall commenting at the time of what I hoped would be the significance of their own heartfelt, personally written prayer. Not emphatically ‘Christian’ but certainly looking in the direction of Jesus.

David Cameron too has added his thoughts. In his recent speech on the place of the Bible and Christianity in our national life, he showed how the political development of the nation is inextricably bound up with Christian ideas.

I’m not arguing for a return to Christendom, but what I am observing is people are more open to real Christianity now, in the UK, than they have been for many years. People beyond the thresholds of our church buildings don't simply need, they want to see a credible expression of the good news, which is Jesus. 

Brothers and sisters in Christ, this year heralds many things we instinctively draw back from, but I pray our commitment to, conviction in and communication of the gospel is not one of them.

Monday, 2 January 2012