Baptists Together - Inspiring One Another
Key messages from our Union were shared at the AGM
The Baptist Union Annual General Meeting began by General Secretary Lynn Green giving an overview of our vision and culture.
Baptists Together is a movement of 2,000 churches, 13 Regional Associations, five Colleges and three Specialist Teams. It is ‘all of us and all the different ways we connect at different times,’ she explained.
We are a ‘dynamic, relational, missional movement,’ with a common vision of ‘Growing healthy churches in relationship for God’s mission.’
She said it’s not just what we do that is important, ‘we also need to attend to who we are and how we behave!' We want to intentionally create a culture where we are ‘spirit-led and Christ-centred, embracing adventure and serious about discipleship, inspiring others to be all that God created them to be, to feel like one team and to share a hunger for God’s coming Kingdom.’
She explained that to enable the vision God has given us to become reality, our work is concentrated in four main areas:
Pioneering and planting,
Equipping churches for mission,
investing in Godly leaders
and enabling Baptist voices to be heard in the public square
A powerpoint presentation followed, giving a financial update. Thanks were given for the Home Mission Appeal which raised £3.83m, an excellent response given the financial pressures churches are under. It was nevertheless a reduction from the £4.1m the Appeal raised in 2012.
Lynn said the presentation highlighted the ‘significant financial challenges’ we all share, such as low interest rates and pension deficit contributions rising.
However, we are also taking the initiative with our Loaves and Fishes Project, and a range of projects aimed at increasing our income are just beginning.
But while finances were important, Lynn continued, prayer and dependence on the Lord was the most important thing. She reminded delegates of the picture of Beacons of Prayer being fanned into flame across the country she'd been given last year. God was calling us to prayer so that we could make space for Him to speak and move.
‘Many churches are using Beacons of Prayer as a focus for seeking God and I find this incredibly encouraging,’ Lynn said.
‘I want to encourage you to keep on praying and seeking the Lord.
‘I want to challenge you to devote time to seeking God whenever you gather together – services, prayer times, church meetings, small groups, missional teams – making room for the Lord to speak and move.
‘The danger is we can be so busy. But the call to God is to wait for him. If we want to act out God’s mission, we need to be in step with him.’
Fit for Mission
Stuart Davison, who leads the Baptists Together Mission forum, then gave an update.
As churches we need to have some idea of where we’re going and what we’re about. However, the Fit4Mission study revealed that many churches either do not have a clarifiable vision, or that such a vision is only in progress, and not complete.
It means that sometimes we throw back the big opportunities God gives us, Stuart said, telling a story of an inexperienced fisherman who would throw his bigger catches back into the water because he only had a small frying pan. ‘At times our faith is not big enough. But nothing is too big for God.’
However, he continued, ‘there is a lot going on', citing the recent 40 days of Good News initiative.
Stuart also spoke of a new church in one of the most deprived areas of the country that is seeking membership of our Union. It had many initiatives, such as film nights, and was preparing for its first baptism. Our vision is "Growing healthy churches in relationship for God's mission" - mission is central to who we are.
Ministries Team leader Andy Hughes was invited to give an update on the Ignite Project, which looks at various aspects of how we best support the churches, associations and colleges which make up Baptists Together in our mission in an ever changing world.
The Ignite report, led by Phil Jump, was completed last year and had various suggestions. Its heart was all about equipping God’s people for mission in its various forms through investing in Godly leadership, said Andy.
The first major outcome of the report is something called Marks of Ministry, which highlights the ‘Christ-like qualities’ ministers exhibit, rather placing than an emphasis on what they can do. Baptist Union Council has adopted Marks of Ministry as the basis on which we accredit ministers, and it will start being used in September 2017 for new ministerial candidates.
Other aspects of Ignite which are currently being looked at are covenant, our commitment to walk together under God (a group is being drawn together to flesh out what covenant means for ministers and churches). We are also exploring how we most effectively encourage ministers in their continual ministerial development, through the opportunity to engage in a bi-annual review process.
Andy said there’s lots of work to be done, but the approach is collaborative, and encouraged anyone wishing to contribute to make contact via the Ignite email address.
‘Ignite is about fanning into flame the gifts that God has placed in all of us so that the body of Christ is built up and lives are changed by the gospel,’ he concluded.
Response to Same Sex Marriage
Stephen Keyworth, Faith and Society Team Leader, explained how since the 2013 Assembly we have continued to use the ‘talking together’ email address to collect all responses from individuals and churches as our conversations around various aspects of same sex relationships progressed.
In March Baptist Union Council ‘clearly discerned’ that it should offer to our Union the statement concerning potential registration of our buildings for same sex marriage.
‘The statement re-affirmed Christian marriage and recognised our ecclesiology, it encouraged creative mission and it encouraged a commitment to unity in diversity,’ said Stephen.
The letter was communicated to ministers and churches, and 108 responses have been received (from a distribution list of 4,500 addresses).
‘It’s blatantly obvious from all those responses and the many conversations that we do not agree,’ said Stephen, ‘and there is a breadth of opinion in our union.’
He said it’s important to remember that what Council did in March was to provide ‘a wider context for discernment as part of our walking together and watching over each other’.
This wider discernment should be used by congregations ‘to aid their own response as they seek the mind of Christ in their local context,’ said Stephen. ‘This has always been a part of Baptist shared life and at its best does not run contrary to our Declaration of Principle.’
In terms of what happens next, all concerns will shared with Council in October, and the Baptist Steering Group (BSG) will continue to reflect on the concerns - pastoral, missional and the centrality of the DoP - raised. Members of the BSG were on hand to talk to delegates during the lunch session. Our Ministerial Recognition Committee is also giving further consideration to the guidelines that sit alongside the Ministerial Rules: their reflection will be taken to Council in October.
Stephen concluded by urging delegates: ‘In our reflection together, we must continue to reaffirm our pastoral and our missional commitment to all people irrespective of their sexuality, and that will require each one of us to commit to an even deeper understanding of the differing convictions that lie at the heart of this matter.’
The full text of Stephen's update is here.
A change of treasurer
The session continued with a thank you to Malcolm Broad, who was stepping down after serving our Union as treasurer for eight years. Lynn thanked Malcolm not only for his financial expertise and experience, but his personal faith, wisdom, and commitment to our vision for mission.
His wife Rachel joined him on stage and was also thanked for her part in releasing Malcolm for this role. Speaking at Baptist Union Council earlier this year, Malcolm said it had been ‘a huge privilege to serve as treasurer’.
In all he has travelled 65,000 miles, attended more than 400 meetings, worked with three moderators of the trustee board, three finance directors and two general secretaries. The ‘best part of the role’ has been getting out to local churches through treasurer or trustee training and the more recent pension roadshows.
He said that following the restructuring in 2012-13, our Union’s finances are now in good shape - but it’s not without its challenges. The Home Mission appeals have been disappointing, and he said there needs to be ‘a fresh appeal to churches to get behind Baptists Together.’ He also cited amounts held by some of our churches, Associations and colleges, adding that our Union needs to hear and observe the story of the widow who gave everything she had to Jesus.
‘God has given us an abundance of resources, so we can afford to give more.’
Following this delegates voted unanimously in favour of a resolution appointing John Levick as treasurer for the year to Assembly 2017. John’s name had been brought by Baptist Union Council.
Afterwards John said, 'It is humbling to be asked to take on the role of Baptist Union Treasurer. In taking on the role I hope my background as a Deacon, Church Treasurer, Church Secretary, an Association Treasurer and having sat on various Union bodies in the last few years will give me both an understanding of the issues facing churches, Associations and our Union, and some insight into the ways we may go forward as Baptists Together.
'We have a number of financial challenges but under the Lord’s guidance and working together as a Baptist family I believe they can be addressed. My prayer is that the Lord will provide the finance we need (not desire) so we can support work across Baptists Together which will build the Kingdom.”
Delegates were invited to welcome both John and Dianne Tidball, who was recently appointed Vice President of our Union (pictured).