• Register

Go Fly a Kite

What could Baptist life look like? How might this shape relating and resourcing in local churches, networks, associations, colleges and the national resource? Read articles below and read how to submit an article here.

I was visiting a former church plant, a ‘New Church’ but with strong Baptist roots (they have deacons and church meetings and everything). In the 10 years I have known it, it has grown from about three dozen to 350 attending, more than doubling in the past four years. The average adult age is 30-something and I was listening to a brilliant piece of communication from a 31-year-old preacher, scene-shifting effortlessly from the biblical account of Zacchaeus' encounter with Jesus, to a bus-stop scene outside a local High Street bank, weaving a message about Jesus' grace and how it confronts the bullying and cowardice of today's culture.

Five years ago the church was medium-sized but with a lot more attitude. Today I was seeing a vibrant, Holy Spirit welcoming, multicultural congregation , a genuinely humble and servant-hearted leadership, a real team spirit… and all the usual Baptist distinctives. This mix was being played out in a relaxed, highly visitor-friendly way that said: "Come and share – we have something good here, but we have nothing to prove". The church-plant adolescent had grown up.

This looks something like my vision for Baptist churches 400 years on from John Smyth's courageous "church plant". This is about our capacity to be truly cutting edge – more so than the above story reveals – while being stabilised by a depth of long history and achievement. Nothing to prove, in other words.

It's one thing to be known as the newest, keenest fellowship in town, quite another to be a "trusted brand" that is not simply an eclectic gathering, where there is a relaxed excellence, and none of that sense of trying a bit too hard, spiritually.

The big challenge we face is that traditional Sunday church, as we have known it, is ‘old technology’ – like the hot metal slugs and compositors that made up newspaper pages years ago. As everyone knows, the printed pages that you read have long been created electronically. The tragedy is, in the church we are still training Linotype operators!

 

Road Closed ..... find another route!

 

Have you ever been driving down a familiar route only to have on coming vehicles flash you and their driver wave frantically at you and you, whilst wondering at their peculiar behaviour, have carried on regardless only to find that your favourite route is at a dramatic dead end?

At the moment I am working with a Circuit of Methodist churches trying to help them turn around and readdress what church is and how to engage in culturally relevant mission and discipleship. What I have discovered is quite sobering for me as a Baptist; I have realised that I have been looking at the Methodists who are on the way back from a dead end road whilst we Baptists are still, on the whole, heading on the same route where we will discover, like they have, that eventually, in the not too distant future, the road on which we are travelling is a sobering dead end.

The Methodists have as a denomination largely realised that they have been heading in the wrong direction and are in the process of turning their people around to find a different way of being church that is culturally relevant to the society in which they find themselves. However, some Methodist commentators believe that it is already too late, the tanker ship (to change metaphors) will not be able to turn around in time and will go aground and be dashed on the rocks! I am not so sure, for I believe in a Creator God who promised to ‘restore all that the locusts had eaten’ (Joel 2) to those who turn back to Him!

The problem is that within Methodism up to three generations are now missing from the church (...well most of them) as we know it, and many of the existing members whose average age is ever rising still insist that people should come to them, they like to do things the way they do, and they don’t want to change, pray or seek guidance on how to be culturally relevant. They have largely abandoned John Wesley’s requirement to be in ‘Class’ (accountable cell) and there has little attention spent to enable members in personal discipleship and the resultant mission heart of the Christ filled follower. But whilst we Baptists might look on and tut at those silly Methodists declaring ‘if only they were like us!’ we have to realise that we are only a few years behind them on the road to seismic decline.

So where is the ‘new route’ for church? Will that detour just delay the inevitable? Is any change of direction just a postponement of the inevitable? Is this new way so much better? Is it even Godly? Such questions should be asked, new fads come and go, our culture is so rapidly changing, can we, should we,even try to keep up? In fact there is no simple answer, and those of us engaged in new ways of being church or trying to be more relevant to our communities will be the first to say ‘we don’t know!’ But and it is a big BUT, we are engaging people where they are and trying to provide practical Christian guidance for everyday life, whilst trying to enabling disciples to be a worshipful as they enable others in their discipleship of our Lord Jesus the Christ.

Pre – evangelism or ploughing (changing the metaphors yet again) is something that needs to be invested in, together with a real understanding of equipping the saints to be saints at work/ rest and play too!

Understanding different ways that people engage in whole life discipleship (worship, service, learning, praying, fellowship and evangelism) is vital. Post –modern people generally struggle with listening to sermons and other people’s choice of hymns, songs and prayers. Interaction is vital, and being part of a community where they are equally regarded without having to jump through hoops is essential but extremely risky.  There are of course many unanswered questions but we are not asked by God to have all the answers but just to have answered ‘Yes’ to His calling of us out from our comfort zones.

Some of the books that have helped my thought on the matter are; ‘Out Here’ by John Houghton, ‘You see Bones I see an Army’ Floyd McClung and ‘Imagine Church’ Neil Hudson

 

In 2005 graffiti artist David Choe was asked to paint the offices for a new business starting up in California. He agreed to accept shares in lieu of payment. This year the company floated on the stock market and his shares were worth $200 million. His investment in Facebook turned out to be quite a good speculation.

By contrast, the shyster cousin who sidled up to Jeremiah was not offering such a good investment. Jeremiah was imprisoned in the centre of besieged Jerusalem, the might of Babylon pressing in from every side. Psst, wanna buy a field? Gloss quickly over the fact that the field is three miles outside the city, probably being used at present as a latrine by every enemy combatant. It was like being offered real estate in Flanders in 1917.

Of course you know the end of the story. Jeremiah bought the field; an act of prophetic speculation that demonstrated his faith in the promise of God. The people would return from captivity. Land would be ploughed and planted once more. God would keep his promises. Call it a prophetic investment in God’s faithfulness. Call it putting your money where your mouth is.

As I’ve pondered this story recently, I’m struck by its resonances with our own times. We may not be surrounded by the hordes of Babylon, but we’re certainly feeling a bit beleaguered. Our future is uncertain, or so we might be tempted to believe.

I don’t have any clever practical solutions to our problems, but I’d like to offer this theological perspective. What are the promises of God that are relevant to us at the moment? That whatever he is going to do, he will do through his church? That the growth of his kingdom will never be stifled by a lack of resources? That his gospel is still good news for all people?

If we claim to believe these things, we must put our money where our mouth is. Or, to put it more spiritually, we must be prepared to make a prophetic investment on the faithfulness of God.

What might this mean? Well, it probably means daring to continue to invest in the future: in our young people; in training men and women for leadership and service; in coal-face missional work; in unproven initiatives and schemes that have nothing but a whiff of the Holy Spirit about them. Because when God proves himself faithful – and he will – it is in areas like this that our investments are likely to see the best returns for his kingdom.

Call me an idealist – and no doubt many will. But buying a Babylonian latrine as a land investment is a pretty crazy idea, too.

Posted by on in Go Fly a Kite

Most of the articles and comments seem to reflect opinions that I have heard expressed over the past 50 years of ministry; 28 of them as an ordained minister and 18 of them stipended, with the last 2 as retired but with no available evidence of being allowed to give up. It's good that we grapple with the future but very few have seen clearly into the fog in my opinion and the same difficulties seem to dog the inventive and innovative today, as ever.

Anyone facing a mid- life crisis and unable to continue without change, which is how I view the underlying cause of the current discussions, should be asking three questions; Where do I want to be in xxx years? Where am I now? How do I plan to get there? Apologies if a bit of management theory broke surface although Moses, the major and minor prophets and Jesus do seem to recognise this approach.

Without genuine and honest agreement about the nature and state of the Baptist denomination, and the rich/poor world in which it exists, we may never be able to move on. Dwelling on past achievements and seeking to emulate them will not suffice and beating the drum for discipleship, mission, prophecy, service, care, love, to name an essential few, will if we do not have a planned and agreed journey, simply deafen.

I have run many charities over the years, large and small and been a director of two companies. I have experienced a lot of mission creep where the chase for funding and surplus income has finished them. OK, so the Home Mission fund is short of cash, we've been there before when the annual appeal was raised to £1m and quavering voices said it could never be achieved. The denomination grew then in ability and achievement because it challenged us all to venture on a Mission Impossible [there was even a Home Mission film strip of that name].

Be brave, set what are humanly impossible targets but be clear about where we are going and what we will do to achieve those aims. I have spent the last year with a charity I run, apart from my Baptist ministry, doubling its income and lowering its management costs by 25% through better use of IT. Volunteer numbers are up even though the work is demanding because they want to join in the journey.

You may have noticed that I try to avoid veiled language. Working with thousands of people every year who will never see the inside of a church or understand the value of a denomination it is important that they understand the future in simply terms and then dare to grasp it, especially in later life. I suspect at times that Jesus speaks more clearly from outside the church than within.

It is now Jesus who comes to us every day, if we are not too pre-occupied, with one simple question: Why do we stand gazing into heaven? I believe we, as a denomination, are faced with an achievable task, possess the skills to achieve it and the courage to overcome any obstacle that we shall inevitably experience as we journey together in his Spirit and therefore his service.

I’ve seriously grappled about whether I should publish this blog. I am fearful that my words will be misunderstood, misinterpreted and judged. Better to stay silent? Read more at....

http://www.jonstannard.wordpress.com

Be notified when the next article is posted - enter your email

follow-facebook

follow-facebook