Branding, ambition and reality
What does it mean to be Baptists Together? I have been thinking of this for a little while now and I think it is a great question.
Are we truly together? I know we can often feel apart.
Are we truly in relationship? We probably won't have the first idea of who each other are.
But does that matter?
I suppose it depends. If baptist's together is supposed to represent present reality then I think it could be a lame duck (as used previously). Or at least my perception of it may be.
But......If it is a vision of what the future could be, then it should be anything but. For me it would represent a powerful picture allowing us to envisage what the denomination could be as living part of the body of Christ and trill of vitality and alive.
And I like that.
I like the idea of the Holy Spirit projecting a cinema film onto the screen of our tomorrow and saying quite simply "Love each other" and "Follow me" together.
But what does the "Together" part mean? How do we work it out? What does it look like?
The comments provided by others mention "relationship". They also mention "sharing our resources". Again, I think these are all good, but what is our motivation for doing so? Are we doing it to thrive or simply survive? Are we doing it for Christ? Probably.
A part of the perception is that denominations are a thing of the past. Are we as a Baptist denomination simply striving to keep a position amongst all the other denominations or once again trying to revive its efforts from of old.
My heart says no.
Could it be to find out what it means to be "Baptist Together" that as a whole we need to learn what it means to be Disciples again? Is together an active doing word rather than simply a grouping of like minded people?
Are we willing to become Christlike servants, in order to find a common identity?
What if we put at risk our own successes for the successes of others around us. What if we helped make the dreams of others a reality before our own? The lot of a servant.
What would happen if we started cracking through the shell of self protectionism and emptying ourselves for others. I would love to see us becoming deacons to the wider church family.
For instance....What if we gave up certain aspects of our church ministries in order to assist other churches meet their goals? What if we were the denomination that geared itself to envisaging or perceiving the hope for towns and then regardless of church numbers, use our relationship with other local denominations, (and our own denomination), to lift them up and allow them to be everything they could be? What if what brought us together was the desire to enable other Churches vision to succeed? Would that spark a new form of Christian possibility within the UK?
What if being baptist meant being seen as the denomination that spends itself on others, and what brought us together was our love for others at the expense of ourselves? Would Christ honour that? Could Baptists together represent a core of Christianity that would revive our society and hold the bridges together long enough for other churches to really affect the areas they were planted?
What if our future glory, like Paul alluded to, was seen in the faith of others we had managed to carry, mature and strengthen.
You are, of course, right - "Networking" and "Relating" have been the Holy Grail sought by the Union for years, and are intrinsic to the "Futures" process. But will they happen? Current progress makes that seem unlikely - and there are reasons for that beyond the traditional and insidious concept of congregational "independence". We actually discussed this at our Association's Annual Meeting in the summer - made up by people who, one would have thought, showed that they believed in these things. But several genuine issues arose: differing theological stances and worship practices, the physical isolation of some rural churches, the fact that some churches valued other networks more strongly than their denominational identity ...
Three thoughts. One is that, if we are members of a Union, then we have a Christian duty and responsibility to relate and share resources, one with another. A former Regional Minister once said in my presence that Ministers should be required to go to Association meetings and "Fraternals" and that, if they failed to do so, should merit disciplinary action which could result them being struck of the Accredited list (obviously this wouldn't work for churches that don't have an Accredited minister!)
Second is that churches that do not make a reasonable contribution to Home Mission (according to their circumstances) would forego the rights of being [art of the Union and their Association - i.e. they wouldn't be able to phone up for legal or financial advice. Too radical an idea? Perhaps - but realistic.
Finally one has to ask if, in the long term, we are "flogging a dead duck" and that denominational affiliations as we know them will eventually disappear? This is a challenging and possibly depressing prospect, with huge legal and other ramifications - but it does seem that the historic church landscape is changing fast. But, if that were to happen, how would this leave our churches? Would they be individual and isolated congregations, struggling to survive? (I would not wish them to be). Or would they manage to find new networks; and, if so, how?
Relationship, biblical, gospel-motivated relationship is the key, and this is what I guess Mike is arguing for (and longing for). Andrew's point is also very interesting. Imagine a regional team where ministers were forced to attend fraternal - as much a I love attending my fraternal, forcing attendance would reinforce any already dysfunctional (non)relationships!
The landscape is changing very fast, that is true. Loving God and neighbour is still the lens through which gospel priorities function. That's why donations to Home Mission should never come into it (even if it is means-tested). Imagine a minister of a church forced to donate more to Home Mission AND attend a fraternal - more chips on his or her shoulders than a take away on a Friday night!
The problem as I see it, is that too many Baptist churches have actually become a fulfillment of their own cultural zeitgeist – i.e. individualism pre-eminent among them. The Church can be a place that counters this, but by-and-large, our British (Western) culture has trumped the Gospel of Christ by a long way. Not only is our cultural gap between the generations monumental, but dead and dying Baptist churches are in part, a death sentence pronounced by the end of modernity and the prevailing postmodern culture we now inhabit. Church culture in modernity relied too heavily on structure and rules and large doses of unquestioning conformity. This comes at a price: relentless church activity and the quashing of spiritual gifts.
The upshot of this, simply stated, is poor relating. In this sense, postmodernity and all the challenges it throws up, can be seen as a judgement, the righteous judgement of God on a church that needs to die. We have not related well for decades (if ever, I know the history too), and now the chickens have come home to roost! And what a lot of chickens there are, and how well they go with chips!
The churches that need to die as stated above are the dead duck I understand Andrew to refer to! Let them die and see what God does with the rest. And meanwhile, relate well with one another, for heaven's sake
Just to explain: when I referred to "dead ducks", I was really referring to the idea of traditional denominational structures, rather than individual congregations - although I fear that the phrase may be appropriate to some of those, too.