Renewing the covenant
Have we at times prized our independence over our commitment to relating to each other? General Secretary Lynn Green reflects on the aspect of our renewed culture as Baptists Together where we aspire to feel like one team
I absolutely love the many aspects of my role, but right from the outset I have been particularly passionate about building a renewed sense of team among Baptists Together. When explaining how Baptists relate together to those outside our Union I am often met with incredulity. And we have to laugh at ourselves don’t we? Our way of being church is definitely not efficient by contemporary standards and it is neither slick nor streamlined!
In fact many people I talk to are daunted by the mere prospect of offering leadership to the more than 2019 distinct charitable bodies that network together as the movement known as Baptists Together. I relish this challenge, however, and really believe that as we rediscover and develop our sense of being one team that we will see God at work among us in new and powerful ways.
So, in this edition of our Baptists Together magazine, we are focussing on that aspect of our renewed culture where we “Feel like one team: Celebrating diversity; valuing, respecting and trusting each other as we work together in partnerships – making sure everyone feels included and listened to (1 Corinthians 12:24b-27)”
A Biblical term for this is covenant. I sometimes feel that we forget that whilst any church can be a Baptist Church, Baptist Churches and leaders that have chosen to become part of Baptists Together are committing themselves to relating to each other. In this issue we are going to be exploring what this means for us today and in the future.
We share a common bond and a common purpose
If we read the Bible and look back to our history and DNA we quickly see how important covenant relating and team work are to us as Baptists. The article immediately following this one by Paul Fiddes does an excellent job of unpacking this aspect of our theme. What stands out for me is that each local church which is part of Baptists Together is, in one way independent, and yet in committing to walk together and watch over each other we make the choice to become interdependent. What binds us together as a Union of Churches, Associations and Colleges is our shared love of Jesus Christ and common mission to share His Good News.
It was the genius of our forebears to keep the focus firmly on the most important things – Jesus and His Mission – and we continue that focus with our vision today “Growing healthy Churches in relationship for God’s mission”. In the context of our renewed culture, that vision is worked out across Baptists Together in four key ways:
pioneering and planting
equipping the local church for mission
investing in Godly leadership
and having a voice in the “public square” both nationally and internationally
I don’t need to tell you about the enormity of the mission challenge that we face today; you will see that clearly in your own situation. It is essential that we work together so that we can be faithful to God’s call for us to make disciples and see lives and communities changed in our own day. As we have a clear understanding of our shared vision for the future I believe that we will strengthen our sense of being one team.
We need each other
If we are serious about responding to the mission challenge of our generation I believe that we need to lay down any spirit of independence that remains among us. It sometimes feels like we have taken the goodness of the insight about the liberty of the local church and turned it into an unbiblical, “I will do what I like and no one can tell me what to do” attitude. That is not what Jesus or our forebears had in mind.
In the local church we need to be rich and diverse communities of love where there is space for everyone and where everyone can play their part. Communities where we can be creative, innovative and counter cultural in modelling and nurturing covenant community in the midst of an individualistic, consumer driven world. I know that it is not easy and that not everyone in our churches “gets it”, but we need to keep faith with a Biblical vision of covenant community and not sell out.
We also need to be communities not only with strong centres but also with open borders so that we don’t become a “law unto ourselves” but we can naturally and easily flow and connect with other parts of Baptists Together. That freedom and connection will enable us to serve our local communities better, help each other in times of difficulty, offer insight and wisdom to each other, provide practical support and funding for others and provide a space for mutual accountability.
If we are serious about responding to the mission challenge of our generation I believe that we need to lay down any spirit of independence that remains among us.
As leaders, we are called to nurture and model this in those spheres that God calls us into. Our Union wants Christ centred, passionate, courageous, compassionate and wholehearted leaders who also have the humility to receive from others and be mutually accountable (and not just with the people who are like them!). We need to allow and enable ourselves and our churches to play their unique part in our common purpose; not wanting everyone to be like us but delighting in the different ways that God uses each of us.
I sense that it would be helpful if we could develop a succinct and clear articulation of what covenant relating looks like for us today. Not in the contractual sense, but as an expression of how we aspire to embody our biblical and historical vision in concrete terms in the here and now. We can no longer assume that everyone even knows or understands what covenant means and so if we are serious about embedding this in the face of such strong messages from our culture we need to be able to communicate our alternative and subversive reality.
We may need to hold back
In thinking about team working, I am sure you won’t find it hard to imagine all the positive things that this entails, but it also involves some of us having to hold back in order to let other members of the family make their contribution! I have a particular vision of how things should be and others definitely have another!
When we are thinking about feeling like one team, that will sometimes mean that we are the ones having space made for us and at other times we are the ones making space for others. Covenant and team working seek positive consensus and ownership and that sometimes involves us holding back for the good of others. This takes maturity and, trust me, we are going to be needing a lot of maturity in the years ahead but I believe that we can rise to this challenge.
We share our stories and enjoy the fruit
In writing this, I am reminded of the power of reminiscing and story-telling and how this builds our sense of family and belonging. How important it is for us to keep listening to one another’s stories as churches, Associations and Colleges; I am wondering how we can encourage more of this? As I mentioned earlier, we are a large network of around 2,000 churches, 13 Regional Associations and five Colleges and it is not easy to maintain relationships across such a movement. We need to consciously take every opportunity to build relationships and celebrate not only our common bonds but also, by God’s grace, the fruit of our endeavours. God is at work in and through us in amazing ways and it is good to just stand back and celebrate and be thankful that, together, we can be part of His purposes.
Baptists Together is not some historical anomaly to be preserved; we are a Kingdom force in the present and for the future
Renew the Covenant
When I was on retreat last summer, I sensed the Lord say to me, “renew the covenant” and I want us to intentionally move towards being in this place. And when I say “renew the covenant”, I don’t primarily mean that some of us will stand up and read words off a page, although I am sure that this will be involved. I am thinking of a time when we are so deeply passionate about our shared love of Jesus and our common purpose in His mission that it will no longer be ok to “hang loose” to the Union as a leader or a church and to wear that as a badge of “honour”. Please let’s leave this behind us now.
If we delight in the unique way we have been led to being church, if we value and respect our fellow leaders and churches, if we are filled with compassion for those who don’t yet know Jesus, then let’s be the best that we can be and fulfil our unique place in God’s purposes. Baptists Together is not some historical anomaly to be preserved; we are a Kingdom force in the present and for the future; independent and interdependent, Christ- centred, mission hearted and relating as one team for the sake of the Gospel. I cannot make this happen; each of us needs to choose to live in this a reality in 2016 and beyond.
Lynn Green speaking - Ian Britton
The Assembly wall from the 2015 Baptist Assembly
Lynn Green is General Secretary of our Baptist Union
To find out more of about our renewed culture visit www.baptist.org.uk/culture