Baptist Union Council: October 2015
The latest Baptist Union Council has just taken place at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire (7-8 October)
Three major reports that will develop the strategy of our movement as Baptists Together were shared and discussed at the latest Baptist Union Council. The reports focused on our mission (Fit for Mission), the leadership and ministry needed for that (Ignite) and how we are going to resource it (Project Loaves and Fishes). To help set a wider context new research into evangelism in the UK (Talking Jesus) was reflected on by General Secretary the Revd Lynn Green, prior to the sharing of these three reports.
The theme of mission bookended this year’s autumn Council, as well as being woven throughout. The opening address was given by the Revd Dianne Tidball, who preached on Romans 1: 1-17. For Paul it as all about "Gospel, Gospel, Gospel", she said. It’s the simple truth of the Gospel that transforms lives. To what degree do we need to rediscover our confidence in the simplicity of the Gospel?
There were echoes of this message in a final, prophetic word given at the end of the gathering, from the Revd Joe Kapolyo, minister of Edmonton Baptist Church and a Baptist Union trustee.
‘In all our debates my mind turns to the 54 million in our country who don’t know Christ,’ he said. ‘Our vision should be focused on that. How are we going to raise the 20 somethings who can punch the light of the gospel into the darkness?’
Commenting on the latest gathering, Lynn said, 'We have met five times as the “new” Council now and I am so encouraged to see how we are really beginning to embed our renewed culture. Many have said that this Council was the best yet and I had many points where I was so encouraged over things that I heard, saw or shared in.'
Click here to read Lynn's full reflections about the latest Council
Baptist Union Council consists of some 80 members mostly drawn from churches, colleges and co-opted delegates along with Association and Specialist Teams. It meets twice a year and helps to set the broad strategic direction of our Union. Managing the implementation of this direction is subsequently the task of the Baptist Steering Group.
Delegates met at the Hayes Conference Centre in Swanwick, Derbyshire for the October 2015 gathering, the first Council moderated by the Revd David Mayne, minister of Shoeburyness and Thorpe Bay Baptist Church in Essex. Worship was led by the Revd Ian McManus, minister at West End Baptist Church in Westbury.
During this latest gathering members had the joy of welcoming eight new churches into our Union: Lizard Christian Fellowship; Church Without Walls, Victoria Park, Manchester; Sandbach Baptist Church, Cheshire; Witney Baptist Church, Oxfordshire; The Well Baptist Church, Sheffield; Meopham Green, Kent; Riverview Park Baptist Church, Gravesend, Kent; and Sompting Community Church, West Sussex.
Lynn Green gave an introduction to Talking Jesus, the biggest research of its kind into perceptions of Jesus, Christianity and evangelism. The research was organised by ComRes and Barna Group, on behalf of HOPE, the Church of England and the Evangelical Alliance, and backed by all major denominations, including Baptists Together.
The research found that Christians are generally considered positively, and they are having a number of good conversations with people - but the conversations could be more effective. Many Christians attribute their faith to growing up in a Christian home. A key challenge in evangelism is that only 60 per cent believe Jesus was a real, historical person, a figure which drops even further in the 18-34 age category.
‘The research shows people are getting out there and talking about Jesus, and I was really encouraged by this,’ said Lynn. ‘How can we enable people to be more effective?’
Much more information is available at the Talking Jesus website, including the two-minute clip Lynn shared with Council.
Fit for Mission
Fit for Mission is an ongoing piece of work assessing and reflecting on the state of our Baptist Union. The Revd Stuart Davison, Regional Minister Team Leader of the South Eastern Baptist Association presented what had emerged from the findings of a detailed survey so far, to which an encouraging 684 of our churches (35 per cent) had responded.
A key point was perception – 13 per cent of churches reported they were declining, 49 per cent said they were constant, and 36 per cent reported growth. When measured against membership statistics, 49 per cent were in decline, 25 per cent constant, and 26 per cent in growth.
Many churches responded by stating there was a need for a stronger internal spirituality: there’s a recognition in churches that they don’t pray enough; and have a strong, clear vision, said Stuart.
Council members were invited to reflect on: What surprises us? What is important for us to take on board?
There was subsequently discussion about the difference between attendance and membership. Church membership are our only measurable statistics, and Stuart added that while there is a post-modern trend for not wanting to be a member, our challenge is to be counter-cultural: following Jesus involves signing up and belonging.
The Fit for Mission team will now be undertaking in-depth research with one Association to explore underlying issues and trends.
A review into ministry was established by Council in March. Called Ignite, its key brief was to establish a small team that would consult as widely as possible on all aspects of ministry among Baptists Together. The group was invited to explore three key questions: What sort of ministries we will need in the future? What support will these ministries need? What of this should be done nationally, regionally and locally?
The Ignite team, led by the Revd Phil Jump, Regional Minister Team Leader of the North Western Baptist Association, presented their findings so far to Council members. It was, said Phil, more a direction of travel rather than a detailed set of recommendations – showing what has been found; and highlighting what needs to be talked about as we move forward.
A number of statistics were presented. For example, fewer than 50 per cent of our churches currently receive ministry from someone who has followed the traditional route of Association recognition, college formation and accreditation.
Ministry is changing, said Phil: mission context, the way in which churches express ministry, the roles to which people are eventually called. How can we develop a vision for ministry and ways of supporting it that can continue to adapt, while at the same time retaining meaningful continuity with all we have understood as ministry in our journey thus far?’
In a summary document, Council members heard that the review offered four key responses to the question: “What will continue to define Baptist ministry in future decades?”
A new benchmark for affirming an individual’s call to ministry needs to be found. The team have described this as Marks of Ministry – ‘a term that expresses less of an interest in what individuals can do, in favour of an emphasis on who they are and why they do what they do.’
Alongside this new benchmark is a recognition there needs to be a renewed emphasis on both Personal Development, and Continuing Ministry Development, as well as the introduction of a Ministry Covenant. ‘Ministry can therefore be defined less in terms of achieved standards and experience, and more in terms of a forward commitment to ‘walk together and watch over one another in love’, the report stated.
There were sections on re-imagining how we recognise and develop ministry, with a recognition that there can never be a one size fits all approach; redefining how we support ministry from the point of view of the local church; and supporting ministry as Baptists Together; with appropriate support and administrative structures.
Over the course of the two days Council members were invited to discuss the report and offer feedback. These comments will be incorporated into a final report, which will be presented to the Baptist Steering Group in December, and then made available for everyone to engage with. Members of the Ignite team include Alice McDermott, Ann Lane, Israel Olofinjana, Adam Stacey and Andrew Jackson.
Loaves and Fishes
The Loaves and Fishes Project was set up to explore ways to increase income so that our Union might be even more effective in mission.
Following a comprehensive consultation earlier this year, the Project came up with several recommendations, including:
- We need a renewed focus on, and compelling communication of, our vision as Baptists Together;
- renaming of the Home Mission Fund;
- a further development of our subscription model;
- develop income potential of our investments
- and improve our legacies campaign.
These were considered by the Baptist Steering Group in July and Council members were asked to consider several points resulting from these considerations. Rather than the Home Mission Fund, what would be the strengths and weaknesses of simply raising money for Baptists Together? What are the implications of changing the subscription model – currently £3 per church member? How would this impact the Appeal?
On Thursday morning Lynn spoke about the challenges of communicating our vision, and reiterating that it was “Growing healthy churches in relationship for God’s mission.”
We need to communicate clearly that we spend our Home Mission Appeal money in four main areas, she said: Planting and pioneering; equipping our existing churches for mission; investing in Godly leadership; and having a voice in the “public square”.
In a passionate address she challenged Council members to own and advocate giving to the Baptists Together Home Mission fund. ‘We’ve got to be able to articulate what we’re doing,’ she said ‘if we cannot advocate that every penny will be used to grow healthy churches in relationship for God’s mission, what hope is there for everyone else?’
‘We’ve got to put money where our mouths is; every penny spent and invested in growing healthy churches for God’s mission.’
The biggest issue is ownership, and underlying that is trust, she continued. While it’s true that local ownership over the money motivates giving, it’s not the whole truth. We must believe and have confidence that all the money we raise will be spent wisely
Our giving is still on a small but gradual downward trend, Council heard. The Futures Process resulted in the disbanding of the Communications Department in favour of devolved communication, and this has had patchy results. We need to reflect on that, said Lynn.
Another major decision from the Futures Process was the devolving of Home Mission grants regionally. This was working well, Council heard, transforming the relationships between Home Mission-supported churches and their Associations.
Council members’ feedback on the recommendations of Project Loaves and Fishes will be taken to the Baptist Steering Group.
Related Council reports: