There was a buzz of excitement and plenty of food - or rather fruit - for thought when Baptists from all over Yorkshire gathered at Huddersfield Methodist Mission on a glorious summer's day. The 2013 YBA Assembly took the theme "Going For Growth - Reframing the Association Story".
At the front of the church there was a special tree which helped keep the focus on growth. Later in the day everyone was invited to decorate it with leaves bearing good stories from their churches and stories they hoped to tell next year.
Regional Minister for Ministry Graham Ensor said over the last 50-60 years the national media had focused on decline in the Christian Church, with dwindling congregations and churches closing. But today there were real signs of growth. In York alone more than 30 churches had been planted since 1980. Back in the 1970s when Lewis Misslebrook was about to start work in the Baptist Union Mission Department, he said people would be hard pushed to find a dozen Baptist churches that were growing steadily within the BU.
'Today we can confidently say there are over 200 churches growing steadily within our Baptist family,' said Graham. 'God is at work - God's Church is growing.'
A Time To Be Missional
Reflecting on what it means to "Go For Growth", keynote speaker Paul Maconochie shared stories from Network Church, Sheffield and outlined the pioneering methods of discipleship and mission that had resulted in a transformed church culture.
He explained the role of missional communities, which were extended family-sized groups, and a different approach to "doing Church" - which might involve attending the church itself once a month or three times a month, depending on the missional community. There were about 120 missional communities in the Sheffield area with three resourcing bases and they saw 250-350 people coming to faith each year. About two months ago 29 people had come to faith in a week.
He highlighted the differences between a pastoral church, which tended to look inwards, and a missional movement, which looked outwards. In a pastoral church the thinking was: 'We want to be looked after and fed by God's word while we try to be good people', whereas in a missional movement - 'We want to love God and each other and lay our lives down for others.'
Paul MaconochieThe pastoral church focused on intervention - "help from a distance" while the missional movement focused on incarnation - "life on life".
He explained the principles of building a culture of discipleship and how we might live the life Jesus was calling us to.
He quoted John 15 v 1-4 (NIV): 'I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.'
To see new growth in our lives unfruitful things had to be cut back first and often we resisted that. But we needed to ask, as God pruned us, what He wanted us to do.
Paul looked at how members of the early Church lived - Acts 2 v 42-47 (NIV): 'They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.'
There was a need to prune activities and focus on an integrated lifestyle by praying together, eating together, doing mission together, having fun together, sharing resources, and having shared rhythms - not just meetings - with other people orbiting in and out.
A Time to Learn
There was a choice of five seminars tackling topics which aimed to help churches bear fruit in their localities, for example Crossing Places, which was led by Graham Brownlee from Moortown Baptist Church in Leeds, and looked at how a church can connect with its community through social initiatives.
A seminar led by Helen Lunn, Bradford Development Worker for Girls' Brigade, assisted by Ann Thelwell from West Lane Baptist Church, Haworth, reflected on how links with children and families can be a blessing to the wider church. Baptist Union President Ernie Whalley led a seminar looking at the challenges and opportunities of supporting asylum seekers in a church context.
Paul Maconochie ran a seminar which looked at missional communities in greater detail and John Billingham, of Acomb Baptist Church, York, focused on membership in the Baptist church, encouraging membership and exploring its relevance in today's world.
A Time To Eat
The delegates and attendees were well looked after by hospitality co-ordinator Denise Lancaster, of Mexborough Baptist Church, and her team of helpers from Scapegoat Hill, Blackley, Mexborough and Acomb. Some ate their packed lunches in the Mission Cafe while others took advantage of the glorious sunshine and picnicked in nearby St Peter's Gardens.
A Time To Share
During the afternoon session there was a time for sharing encouraging stories. Lisa Holmes, of Skipton Baptist Church, told how a food bank had developed in the town as a result of two people listening to what God was saying.
Ann Chesworth, of Guiseley Baptist Church told how the church was seeing fruit after handing out chocolate eggs to people at Guiseley Railway Station at Easter, and Wayne Clarke, of New North Road Baptist Church in Huddersfield shared the story of 11 young people from Baptist, Anglican and Methodist backgrounds who chose to express their commitment to Christ and Church unity by having a joint service of baptism and confirmation on Pentecost Sunday at New North Road.
A Time To Be Fruitful
In preparation for Communion, Baptist Union President Ernie Whalley spoke about bearing fruit. 'Each one of us is called to bear fruit and be faithful to God,' he said, adding that we needed to keep on going and growing in Christ. He quoted the fruits of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control - and said evidence of these should be seen in all of us and the world would be attracted to that fruit.
He added: 'In Christ failure is never final - we can be forgiven, cleansed and pruned so that we can move on. Trust is the fruit.'
In meeting around the Communion table, he encouraged people: 'Be rooted deeper in the vine, be fruitful, take risks, step out and flourish where you have been planted. Be filled and refilled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.'
A Time To Say Farewell
It was Regional Minister for Mission Jane Day's final YBA Assembly and Graham Ensor said her name spelled out what sort of person she was:
J - A woman of JUSTICE;
A - She was ABLE;
N - She was a NETWORKER;
E - She was an EQUIPPER.
He highlighted her role in promoting women in ministry, how she had ministered to congregations, her fantastic inter-personal skills and how she enabled others to share in ministry. YBA office manager Debbie Gamble presented Jane with flowers on behalf of the Association.
Graham also announced that Pete Briggs was stepping down as Honorary Treasurer after two and a half years and praised him for all the work he had done. "He has been fantastic, he has a clear understanding of where we are at. He recognises that we need to release money for the work of the Kingdom. He has an incredibly demanding day job and it is amazing how he has found time to give to the Association in many different ways." Debbie presented Pete with a hamper on behalf of the YBA.
A Time To Encourage
Ministers who were new to the Association or had moved churches over the last 12-18 months were prayed for that they would bear fruit in their ministries.
To encourage attendees as they left, each received an orange to remind them to go and bear fruit.
A Time To Reflect
The YBA AGM was held in the Mission Theatre where delegates heard from Honorary Treasurer Pete Briggs and the chair of the Executive Brian Nicholls.
This report first appeared on the YBA website