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Missionary leadership is vital

As he retires from full-time stipendiary ministry, the Revd Dr Paul Beasley-Murray reflects on the keys to that ministry, and ministry in general

Paul Beasley MurrayOn March 14 2014 I celebrate my 70th birthday. Although Moses waited until he was 120 years old before stepping down from leading the children of Israel, I have decided that with 43 years of ordained ministry under my belt, now is the time to retire from full-time stipendiary ministry.  

I have been remarkably blessed as a minister. Ordained on 10 October 1970 as a missionary, I served for two years with the BMS in Congo/Zaire where I taught Greek and New Testament in the Protestant Theological Faculty of what became the National University of Zaire. Then we moved back to the UK, and for 13 wonderfully happy years I was pastor of Altrincham Baptist Church, Cheshire - by the time I left the church had quadrupled in size.

Then in 1986 I was appointed Principal of Spurgeon’s College: in those six challenging years the student enrolment doubled, the faculty increased by a third, new courses of ministerial training were established – and the College’s finances went back into the black!  For the last 21 years I have had the privilege of being senior minster of Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford – to my mind one of the most exciting and happy churches in the country!

What has been the key to my ministry? Indeed, what is the key to any ministry? Just last week I read a fascinating scholarly book by Emma Percy in which the author argued for mothering as a helpful metaphor for ministry – for her the arts of cherishing and of comforting, of multi-tasking and multi-attending, of homemaking and housekeeping, of weaning and managing change, are all important for ministry. 

Although I fully recognise the pastoral nature of ministry, I fear that if the ‘mothering’ metaphor becomes the dominant analogy for a minister’s calling, we are in danger of encouraging yet further decline. In today’s challenging missionary context, for me the role of missionary leader is vital. It was with this thought in mind that I prepared for an interview with BBC Essex. 

For in my last week at Central Baptist Church, I have been asked by BBC Essex to reflect on my 21 years of ministry here. So in preparation, I wrote the following:-

On Sunday 25 October 1992 I came to what is now called Central Baptist Church and preached ‘with a view’ to becoming minister of the church. I ended my evening sermon that day with these words:  'What kind of a senior minister are you looking for? Are you looking for a chaplain to keep you comfortable? Or are you looking for a leader with a passion for evangelism; a leader who will constantly seek to mobilise this church for mission; a leader who will never be satisfied with a packed church? If the latter, then I might be your man'.  The church decided it wanted a missionary leader – and called me to be its pastor!   

Missionary leadership – I think that is what has summed up my 21 years of ministry in Chelmsford, and 43 years in Baptist ministry. With George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, I believe that the church is never more than one generation from extinction. If a church is not reaching out to the community around it, then frankly it has little hope of survival. But how does a church reach out with the Good News of Jesus? It is at that point that leadership is called for.

Some years ago Robin Gill, a Christian theologian with an interest in sociology, likened British churches to the pelicans in St James' Park in central London - peculiar creatures, stranded in an environment not their own -  "Awkward, out of place, angular, with a big mouth but little brain, demanding but inactive".  He went on:  'Churches in Britain need to make urgent choices about structure and direction. If they are to cease being pelicans, they need to be much clearer about how they might be effective in present-day Britain. They need to be more single-minded about growth... about how they might reach the nine out of ten people in Britain who seldom or never go to church.'

My task these 21 years has been to lead the church forward in effective mission. When I first arrived we worshipped in a gloomy Edwardian sanctuary, with hard wooden pews. It soon became apparent that if we were to impact our community, then we had to redevelop our facilities. With that in mind we spent £2 million transforming our premises – and ended up with a marvellous base for mission.  

Raising that huge sum of money was an extraordinary challenge – but in fact it was the best thing that ever happened to our church.  For it transformed relationships in the church, and at the same time made us even more aware of the need to reach out to community.  As a result, we began to grow as a church – at the time we had 250 members; today we have 400 committed members together with many others who regard our church as their church. 

Of course there is more to church life than growth. We are a seven day-a-week city centre church committed to serving the community in many practical ways. We run two clubs for people wrestling with mental health issues; a child contact centre for broken families referred to us by the courts. Four days a week we run a café; we help people to budget; we run activities for lonely people and older people; as also a host of activities for children and young families. Central Baptist Church is a great church – or in the words of our strap line, it is ‘a place to belong’.

Let me emphasise that the growth of our church has very much been a team effort. Without our army of volunteers we would never be able to do what we do. I thank God for the amazing commitment of so many of our people. But to mobilize the church for mission leadership is called for – and again I need to emphasise that this has been a team effort. I thank God for my leadership team – and in particular for those who form the ministry team.  Yes here at Central we have four ministers together with a children’s and families worker and an outreach worker for seniors. The fact is that in church life missionary leadership is key. For ‘leaders make things happen’; ‘leaders make a difference”. 

A few years ago I was visiting the Auckland Maritime Museum, where was there a display featuring the work of Sir Peter Blake, the man behind New Zealand’s successful Admirals Cup bid.  Following his death, a Blake medal is issued every year for outstanding leadership.  I noted with interest the leadership qualities that the Sir Peter Blake Trust looks for: -

Determination and the will to succeed
Belief in achieving extraordinary things
Willingness to learn
Desire for constant improvement
Trusting and empowering team-mates
The initiative to pursue an idea
Ability to have fun

I dare to assert that those qualities, thank God, have characterised the missionary leadership of Central Baptist Church.

Paul's formal farewell service from Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford, took place on 9 March. A farewell communion service will be held this Sunday (16 March).

To read more from Paul, visit his website www.paulbeasleymurray.com

Baptist Times, 14/03/2014
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