Investing in local leaders
A number of churches across Baptists Together function without a full-time minister, while some do not even have a minister at all. Recognising this as the reality for around half the churches across its region, the North Western Baptist Association has developed a couple of initiatives to support those who have taken on the baton of ensuring there is a Baptist presence in their communities
Latchford is a monthly learning day for people who have assumed a strong leadership role in a church; the person who to all intents and purposes is now undertaking a locally recognised ministry role, but is not recognised as such.
The day seeks to equip them with skills and learning appropriate for their everyday context. It stems from the principle: “What is it that you need to equip you?” The day, set up by team leader Phil Jump, has covered both the practical (such as how to take a funeral or change management) to deeper reflection on who we are in Christ.
Gathering together in this way gives these local leaders a cohort, similar to the group those attending college on a more traditional path to accreditation would have. Such a group provides an invaluable source of support and encouragement beyond the actual day itself.
Some have gone to train to become an accredited minister; others have remained in the diaconate; others have come forward for local recognition. It has been helpful not to categorise people as they come in, and work out what box they fit in. “It has been really, really successful,” notes Jane Henderson, an NWBA regional minister who has delivered some of the training, “People feel encouraged and developed. It’s very much a local leader training ground for individual leaders.”
Phil adds that this is a creative, and counter intuitive, use of Home Mission funding: “Traditionally one of the churches that is benefitting might have received the funding to appoint a paid minister – we are able to help a dozen churches by investing in a learning programme. Yet we (the corporate Baptist family) can feel a bit uneasy when we don’t invest directly in local churches. We need the courage to recognise that this is not always the best way.”
The other initiative relates to Jane’s ministry, who joined the NWBA team as a regional minister for church transition two years ago. Hers is an experimental, pioneering role that sees her walking alongside churches in pastoral vacancy as a companion and facilitator. “It’s much more than a moderator – it’s helping churches to get to know themselves,” she explains.
It involves encouraging the church to think about what it can do for itself, to challenge underlying assumptions that some tasks are the sole preserve of a paid minister. She helps churches understand the gifts that exist within the congregation, and unlock that potential. (Many of our churches have very capable people, Jane says.) Ultimately it’s about helping the church identify who God is calling them to be.
Jane (pictured) is embedded with two churches, with whom she works every week, and has worked on an adhoc basis with several others. They are typically small congregations, between 15 and 45.
She cites one congregation she was working with was on the point of closure. “I said to them ‘I don’t have any doubt you can do this.’ It was a turning point: having somebody believe in you can make such a difference.”
Another church was beating itself up because it was struggling with Sunday services and how to engage with families and young children. Jane asked what would people miss if the church closed. “It turned out they were the only church doing youth work for 11-18 year olds. I said: “Maybe that’s your unique place in this town.”
Jane is clear to stress there are no easy answers here: naturally, every church, its situation and needs are different. Her challenge is how to develop tools that are useful, but not prescriptive.
Nevertheless, as Jane continues in the role, progress is being made.
“It’s an embryonic role but I feel I’m beginning to get some good principles,” she says.
“We’re on the cusp of seeing the fruit of this with some of our churches. It’s amazing to see churches that have lost their minister and thought “how can we go on?”, actually realise they can.”
Image | Phil Jump
This article appeared in the Summer 2019 edition of Baptists Together magazine