Transition and transformation
Baptist churches have been encouraged to bring their ‘creative best in a variety of ways' in order to be more missionally effective
The Assembly seminar session, entitled Transition and Transformation, was led by Ken Benjamin, minister of Chichester Baptist Church and our newly-elected vice President; and Paul Lavender, senior minister and team leader of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Northampton.
Both explained the transition that had taken place at their respective churches. Paul spoke about the transformation of the church building. It was built in the late 19th century, and subsequently renovated in recent years to become premises fit for purpose for the 21st century. It was renamed the Open Door Centre – an open door for people to come in, but also for the church to go out, said Paul.
They wanted the church to be a safe place for the community (they are based in the second most deprived ward in Northampton), and through activities such as a Christians Against Poverty Debt Centre, a community shop and a drop in for homeless and vulnerable people, the church is regularly reaching double its official membership each week.
There has therefore been a transition from being a preaching centre to ‘a church committed to the people God has brought to our doorstep,’ Paul said.
‘It’s been about being Kingdom building, not empire building.’
He added they have always tried to ‘Do what we can, be who we are,’ – and encouraged delegates to do the same.
Ken spoke about the alternative gatherings, or missional communities, at Chichester. One Sunday a month members are encouraged to do something in the community, in a variety of contexts and locations, instead of attending the more traditional service.
‘We want to reach people who wouldn’t normally come,’ said Ken. The goal isn’t to encourage people to eventually come to that Sunday service, but to help people explore faith in a completely different environment, an environment that suits them.
The missional communities have been running for around seven years. The church has a membership of around 360 people – but reaches about the same number again through its missional communities.
They shared a number of leadership lessons and pitfalls: interview and learn from others who are doing different things; remember the big picture that underpiins what you do; and don't pre-guess the outcomes. Paul spoke of how useful he had found the writings of Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, particularly A Nazareth Manifesto.
Both Paul and Ken stressed that their churches’ ministries might not be for everyone: they wanted to encourage people to try something different, to experiment boldly, and not be afraid of it not working.
‘We are commissioning you to bring your creative best in a variety of ways,’ said Ken.
‘We commission you to go and be the change you want to be,’ added Paul.