Home Mission: here's the reality
General Secretary Lynn Green looks at the challenges ahead for Baptists Together
I have provided many articles for our Baptists Together magazine over the years, but this has been the hardest to write. Here I am on my sixth draft trying to write a piece that brings together the tremendous faith that I have that Baptists have a significant role to play in our nations at this time with the unavoidable reality that Home Mission giving is in long term decline and could eventually reach a tipping point that will significantly hinder our participation in God’s mission.
So, let’s start with faith! I believe that our Baptist DNA gives us incredible opportunities to be church in our contemporary context and culture in the UK. Jesus being our ‘sole and absolute authority’ is a great foundation in a time where there is huge lack of trust in institutions. The liberty of the local church to seek Christ through Scripture and work out what it means to follow him in that place is empowering and enables us to move quickly when God calls.
Our desire to build covenant communities within churches and across churches invites fragmented and disconnected individuals and generations into belonging and participation. Our unequivocal passion for God’s mission is inspiring and, after Jesus, is the major bond that unites us. My prayer is that we would really get our heads around this and deepen our sense that we as Baptists are a radical, mission movement with all the agility of a movement at the cutting edge yet which is beautifully rooted in insight and wisdom that has been forged over 400 years. I pray that we would get our heads around this so that we are energised to belong to this part of God’s Church universal and we are confident in God’s call to us and the part that we can play in his bigger purposes. If we are passionate about our Baptist DNA and loving being part of what God is doing in and through Baptists Together, then I believe that resourcing our future would flow out of that. I believe that we all want to invest ourselves, our time and our money in a dynamic, missional movement for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
We all have a part to play in Baptists Together being and becoming this sort of movement, and leaders in particular have the opportunity to embody and inspire others with our Baptist-shaped, Kingdom-focussed culture.
The stories that you have read in this edition, and SO MANY MORE, make it clear that Baptists all across the country are making a significant contribution to God’s mission to the whole of creation. And I think these stories also show how interconnected we are; the different parts that form Baptists Together all need each other. Local impact – regional support – national expertise. Going it alone is not good and not of God. As you will have seen from these stories, working together makes sense and it also enables us not only to ‘fan into flames’ grass-roots initiatives, it also lets us follow God into new situations and opportunities. The interconnectedness of everything demonstrates that, in recent history, there has been a development from Home Mission giving being used solely to fund ministers in local churches, into a much broader strategy of mission enabling. This has been explored, discussed and discerned in our Regional Associations, and also more widely, through our Council. There has been a growing recognition that churches not only need pastoral leadership but also inspiration, encouragement, coaching and support and this needs trans-local leaders to build relationships and mentor others. We also need to be planting and pioneering new things if we seriously want to see the Kingdom transformation of lives and communities.
With this in mind, most Regional Associations have been encouraged by their trustees and AGMs to provide more trans-local leadership and there have been many different ways that this has been achieved. With a falling income, some has been achieved through creative and imaginative thinking, some through investing Home Mission giving into roles that will be able to equip a number of local churches for mission, and others have taken the step of faith to release reserves, trusting that bold, pump-priming initiatives will become sustaining in the long term.
Every Association is different because the approaches are shaped by the churches and ministers in that patch. What is the same though, is an uncompromising commitment to invest in God’s mission as best we can for as long as we can.
'the Lord is challenging us about renewing our sense of family connection'
Continuing in faith mode, I also want to express huge appreciation for the faithful giving of so many of our churches over so many years. Our culture has largely been that churches give to support the Baptist family because they belong, and it is simply a practical outworking of our covenant. Giving to Baptists Together Home Mission is a free-will gift, it is not a levy or a demand. The suggestion of employing a fundraiser causes many Baptists to shudder because it is so out of sync with our culture; both because we have faith that the Lord will provide for the Baptist family through the generosity of the Baptist family and because we are a movement that is mature in faith and shares the generous, encouraging heart of our Living God.
And so now, the reality zone. Giving to Baptists Together Home Mission has been in long term decline and, when adjusted for inflation, has fallen by 21% over the last decade (meaning that we can only afford 80% of what we did 10 years ago). This trend accelerated in 2018. Many things have contributed to this decline.
From a human perspective the UK’s prolonged economic uncertainty, the Pensions crisis that has hit us alongside many other businesses and charities, the numerical decline of some of our churches, and the wider cultural shifts that have led to changes in how people identify with, and are part of, the historic churches, all impact our giving. And our current situation might simply reflect that there are fewer financial resources out there and that churches are being as generous as they can be with their own reducing resources. A faithful heart that shares as God has blessed them is a wonderful thing and makes the actual amount given of less importance. If this is reality then the Lord might be prompting us to do things differently or even do less and we will need to discern this in our churches, Associations, Colleges and Council and be wise about what we will be able to sustainably support across Baptists Together in the future. What I want us to be absolutely clear about, though, is the implications of this. We need to be aware that less financial resource in a time of rising salaries and increasing charity compliance will bring us to some stark choices about what we have to do and what we want to do.
The reason I am writing this now is that I don’t want us to be sleep-walking into this. If this is where God is leading us, all well and good, we will seek him and follow him as best we can with the resources we have. But I don’t want anyone turning round to me in the future saying, “we had no idea…”, “we assumed everything was ok…”, “we didn’t realise that the shaping of the mission priorities of our Association and Baptists Together as a whole needed our participation”.
I am aware that, for some of our churches, the reality is not a lack of financial resources but a lack of ownership and sense of connection with Baptists Together. I often reflect ruefully, that the new church movements that some view with great admiration, do not have a culture where their leaders and churches minimise their commitment to their own stream and major on their connection to other churches in their locality. From what I observe, it’s not an ‘either/or’ option, they robustly embrace a ‘both/and’ way of being. I also recognise that we live in a time where change is the new normal. Some will feel that the demise of past patterns of relating and participation are a source of sadness and a sense of dislocation from the wider Baptist family. Moving forward we need to keep working at nurturing and strengthening our value of ‘feeling like one team’. This looks different now and will look different again in the future as we continue to listen and discern together in these ever-changing times. What remains constant is our commitment to covenant partnerships across Baptists Together for the sake of the Kingdom.
So, in the face of this reality, it is clear to me that the Lord is challenging us about renewing our sense of family connection. I am always so encouraged when I hear about local churches witnessing in and serving their local communities with sister churches from other streams and denominations. In fact, I believe that ‘Unity movements’ growing in our cities and towns across the country are part of a move of God in these days. But I am convinced that we Baptists have a unique and valuable contribution to make to the Christian church in our nations at this time. We participate in the wider mission of God through Baptists Together Home Mission, and the way we are able to share resources through Home Mission isn’t about self-preservation, it’s about equipping each other to play our part in God’s mission. Local churches supporting other charities is a vital expression of our Kingdom generosity, but I believe that we have the privilege and responsibility to share resources with our Baptist sisters and brothers through financial support to Baptists Together Home Mission, our Baptist Colleges and BMS World Mission as an expression of our family bond. As I said earlier, we need to ensure that we continue to live in a ‘both/and’ world where we share resources within the family to equip each other for mission and are also sacrificially generous for the sake of God’s Kingdom.
'we are the generation that together can face reality and take responsibility'
Yes, we need to be real about the decline in Home Mission giving but I definitely don’t believe that we should simply accept unquestioningly that this is just how things are. I believe that God has not finished with us yet! Rather than passively dwindling away by default, I want us to face reality, get on our knees in prayer and then start dreaming dreams and engaging our imaginations in faith about how we can strengthen our shared resources and the ways in which we share them. We can be inspired and encouraged by recalling our own recent history! When faced with the enormity of the Pensions deficit and the dispersed nature of our resources, we prayed earnestly, we worked collaboratively and imaginatively, and we shared resources so that our mission could remain central and continue in the future. Then we were able to combine reality with great faith and I have confidence that if we can find creative solutions to the Pensions deficit together, how much more can we achieve if we pray and work together and share resources for the sake of God’s mission! We have demonstrated that we are the generation that together can face reality and take responsibility, so now let us together have the joy of seeing God doing immeasurably more than all that we could ask or imagine! Let’s do that for the sake of God’s mission.
Lynn Green is General Secretary of our Baptist Union
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of Baptists Together magazine
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