Waiting room for heaven

One of the joys of being on sabbatical is the freedom to visit other churches. Yesterday we went to an Anglican church because they were having an all age service. It was an unusual Anglican church, the vicar wore no robes or even a dog collar, there was no liturgy, in fact you wouldn’t have been able to tell it from a Baptist service.

What intrigued me was the fact that the content of the service made a link with something I had been reading on mission namely that the Christian life is not just about what happens when you die but more also what happens now, in life. So often the church has been seen as merely the waiting room for heaven. Yesterday’s service was harvest festival and the reading from John 6 where Jesus talks about himself being the ‘bread of life’. We started with a video from Tearfund about how they help people to not go hungry in Africa. The talk which involved some soil, some water, Some air, and some light, focused on God’s creativity in combining these things to give us food which then he links to the passage.

Sadly, for me, the vicar then focused on the bread of life for eternal life and how if we believed in Jesus then we would go to heaven. For me the link back to the Tearfund video of how faith in Christ spurs us on to help those in need, especially the poor, to make a difference today in our lives and other people’s lives within might have far better emphasis. You could have then added the piece about eternal life that God gives in the present and in the future.

I often hear about how we should be concerned for those ‘who hav ea lost eternity’ but sometimes little concern about thire ‘lost present’. Surely we need to combine both and not focus on one or the other alone?

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Echoes from the past

The interesting things happens when you research is that you come across connections you had never expected. In the course of exploring the Baptist Deaconess Order I have been directed to several editions of the Baptist Quarterly. In the January 1964 I came across an article called ‘The Ministerial Service of Women ‘ by LG Champion. In it he discusses the challenge to Baptist life of women who were increasingly wanting to be accredited ministers rather than deaconesses. He looks a biblical material and argues that it is only when men and women work together that the gospel is truly proclaimed.

Whilst I do have some problems with the tone and implication of some of what he says I applaud what he recommends in a world where women were very rarely accepted on this basis:

  • Men and women should share the same basic theological training for the work of Ministry, and the same opportunities for reading free university degree.
  • Men and women should be given at least 12 months further training after the basic theological course; this training would offer variety according to the function which the individual be likely to prevail in the Ministry
  • Men and women should receive the same ordination, be given the same status, and the same stipend.

What is more interesting for those of us interested in, and concerned by, the Futures process that the Baptist Union is currently going through is his next recommendation:

‘it is generally accepted today that the Ministry of the church fundamentally for the whole church offers in the name of Christ, with each member sharing according to gift and experience. Within such a Ministry there must, of course, be leaders, and among the leaders will be ‘pastors and teachers’. This is the concept of a corporate Ministry. But the Baptist emphasis on the independence of each congregation prevents us from accepting this corporate concept, makes us tried to retain the poorer concept of one man and one congregation.
I believe that she would we should interpret our emphasis upon the local church in terms of the community of Christians in a given geographical area, even though normally the community might meet in several congregations. In a town where there are now four Baptist churches, each with its own name, its own organisation, its own Minister, B1 Baptist church meeting normally in four separate buildings as for distinct congregations.
With regard to the Ministry, this larger unit could, of course, maintain several ministers, but since they were ministers of one church secretary chosen for the variety of their gifts, age, and experience. Then in addition to the duties or would fulfil, such as preaching, each one could specialise in one aspect of the work amongst the poor congregations. That’s one could specialise in youth work, another in pastoral counselling, another in public affairs, etc. In such a table finish governesses it would be easy and advantageous for at least one to be a woman. Such a corporate Ministry could offer a more comprehensive and effective service to the churches, and in the name of the church.’

Radical stuff! But one that appeals and I can see the many benefits that could come from such a team, both for ministers who can play to their strengths and for churches who are served by many gifted people that enabling the mission of the church to be strengthened.

I have a dream….

Catching up

Violet Hedger, one of the very early female ministers(1922) wrote an article in the Baptist Quarterly in 1941, about the experiences of a woman minister. She begins by talking about a placard she saw that said ‘War gives woman her a chance’ – she comments that it should be ‘the church gives woman her chance’!

Today I spent some fruitful hours with a female Minister who went to college in the early 1960s.  She had never considered being a deaconess, mainly because she had never met one, but she had met female ministers from the Congregational Church and they were her role model. Listening to her talk of how difficult it was in those early days made me realise again that women like her pioneered the way forward, and endured much pain, for those of us to come for which we are very grateful, yet, she and I reflected that we were sad that there were still so far to go.

It seems amazing to me that she needed permission to get married, which resulted in a discussion at Council – made more ironic by the fact that her husband was also a Minister and no such questions were asked about whether suitable for him to be married. She and her husband, eventually, went into joint Ministry but even this was queried by the then area superintendent who wanted her husband to be the senior and her to be the associate even though they had been in Ministry roughly the same length of time, both running their own churches. But then, when I was last in settlement, one person asked me whether my husband would mind me going out in the evenings to meetings – it seems the old prejudices live on.

She admitted to the feeling, expressed by some female ministers today, that she found ministers meetings very difficult, because there was always the sense of competition, and lack of openness and vulnerability about the difficulties of ministry. She had valued friendships with female ministers of other denominations within her area.

We both wondered at the too frequent lack of inclusive language when Baptists met together, that the structures of the Baptist Union, of which she had been a part, remained male dominated and male orientated. She reflected that, like many of her female counterparts, she felt forced into particular styles of behaviour in order to prove her worth, yet by doing so had colluded with the male ways of doing things, rather than transforming them into a more balanced way.

The Baptist Union has come a long way since those early struggles as a deaconess order decreased and women in accredited ministry increased but we both felt it had still had a long way to go. We were thankful to those who have struggled to support women in the past and continue this in the present but there is still work to do…

Violet Hedger,  the first minister trained at a Baptist college (1922)  states in an article in the Baptist Quarterly in 1941 that:: ‘I believe that the church will only be fully staffed and able to do its glorious work completely,when every community has a man and a woman minister and a doctor working together’!

I have a dream….

Pastoral Care or Pastoral Equiping?

Earlier this week I went to the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity in London for a conference that was part of the Imagine church program that may run. They began looking at a vision for whole life disciple making. They talked about the Front line which is where people were 110 hours of their week, rather than the 10 hours they spent in and around church. This is echoed the Baptist Union’s concept of a Crossing Place where people are encouraged to see the opportunities that arise out of their everyday lives. The trainer commented that people are already in the right place for mission – they just don’t recognise it. They usually see mission as something that happens in the gathered church but failed to recognise that the church is also scattered that they are full-time Christian workers exactly where they are. The question was how do we equip Christians in the 10 hours for the 110 hours they spend outside of the church, how can they make a difference where they are. It was suggested that we needed three perspective shifts:

  • we need to have confidence in the whole life gospel
  • we need to have clarity about a whole life mission strategy
  • we have to have a conviction about pastoral equipping

 

One of the challenges was that the church has often given the impression that God is enrolled in our cause so that we can live life better. We were challenged that actually Jesus enrolled us for his cause and that if Jesus really is King then our lives have to be re-orientated. They quoted Eugene Peterson:

          “Jesus is metaphor, the kingdom of God, defines the world in which we live. We live in a world where Christ is king stop if Christ is king, everything, quite literally, everything and everyone, has to be re-imagined, re-configured, re-orientated to an obedient way of life that consists in an obedient following of Jesus”

We were reminded that there is no sacred/secular divide, all of the world is God’s, and we need to see God at work through us in all of the world. It was suggested that the normal mission strategy for churches is to recruit the people of God to use some of their leisure time to join the missionary initiatives of church paid workers. The challenge was to see a mission strategy that included both the neighbourhood local to the church, the front lines where people worked, or had their leisure time, and the global perspective. We were told of a survey of 3,000 people at Spring harvest where 40% admitted that they struggled to apply faith to their lives, and 38% struggled about how to witness to Jesus in their daily life. How do we change from pastoral care world to a pastoral equipping world where each and every Christian is trained encouraged and motivated to be Christ where they are. In other words, how do we grow disciples? One challenge was how to change people’s focus from God as our problem solver, to us as God’s agents of change in the situation? The examples given of someone at church one Sunday morning confessing that he felt stressed at work and needed prayer. The usual response to this was that the person was praised for, that the stress would be removed and the situation at work improved. We were challenged to turn this around and, whilst acknowledging the stress that the person was under, to ask a different question: ‘how come we pray for you and all your work colleagues, how come we pray for God to equip you to be the agent of change, or comfort, in that situation?’. The challenge to us as Christians, and to leaders of the church, but how do we open people’s eyes to the way God sees their situation, to see where God is already working in that situation and to equip them to join them? They came up with seven questions that we all need to be asking ourselves, under the heading:

 How am I……?

  • Making good work
  • modelling Godly character  (i.e. the fruits of the spirit)
  • Ministry grace and love
  • making a culture (of kingdom principles)
  • making disciples
  • and mouthpiece for truth and justice
  • and mouthpiece for the gospel

The apathy that sometimes surrounds Christians was challenged in a tweet from N. T. Wright recently: “You must not presume that because you are baptised Christians you have reached a level that requires no further moral effort or restraint.”[1]

It was suggested that we needed to change church culture by 1° shifts, using the primary drivers of preaching, worship, and small groups. One of the suggestions was that there needs to be time within services for people to reflect on the things that they have heard, and maybe also some reflection questions maybe to be put on the weekly sheet, that people could take-home ( a Take-away!) and continue to think and pray about.

We were asked whether people who have attended worship left having been given a bigger picture of God, feeling more faith filled, and happy to risk more for Christ?  Miroslav Volf was quoted as saying that worship is both adoration and act: how come we transform individual Christians perspective on the situations that they deal with day by day so that they can be true Disciples of Christ in the whole of their life.

One picture of Ministry was that as the player manager of a football team who gives a half-time team talk helping the players to regroup by equipping them and strategising with them for what will happen when they leave the locker room. How do we discover the gifts and talents of our congregations, how do we equip them to see that God can use them wherever they are, that they are the right people in the right place for the right reason serving the kingdom of God. that this too is worship?

The aim is for Christians to be asking themselves how can I make a difference where I am? Or how can I help others thrive by/in your work?  Encouraging people to examine their lives and to see if they work with integrity, work to the best of their abilities, and care for colleagues, employees, and where relevant customers. This conference gave me much to think about when I return to Ministry in the local church. How can I, through worship, preaching, Bible studies, talking with people, equip them and encourage them to whole life discipleship?

Women!

I know it’s been a long time since I posted but I thought it was time to get back to it as I am now on sabbatical. My main focus of study is Mission but the BU suggest a secondary, very different area alongside it, and mine is The Baptist Deaconess Order.

For those not in the need it started when a need was perceived in the late 18/early 19th Century for Christian women to serve the local community health and social needs.: To cut a long story church they eventually became church planters on the new estates and people who would go and ‘revive’ dying churches as well as assistant ministers. They went where the men wouldn’t and were paid a pittance, with no housing provided. They built churches up and then, when they were large enough the men turned up and took over ( often the date of foundation for the church was the day the man arrived!) They did the work of a minister but were never recognised as such until 1975. (The first woman was ordained in 1918 as the BU did not see gender as a bar the ministry!)

I have become fascinated by their story and the questions it raises for women in ministry today ( but I have to stop writing on this to move over the main study so this is the last week I can devote to it ( I think there’s a PhD to be had from this for someone)

Here are the questions I have sent out to some deaconesses and female ministers and one or two men…

  1. Why was baptism so often not part of deaconess duties, when communion/preaching was apparently more acceptable? This came from both deaconess and churches
  2. The apparent tension in the churches and denomination between the acceptance of deaconess in full pastoral charge and a female minister: both doing the same role which I have not fully untangled
  3. Many deaconesses resisted ordination as ‘ministers’, even though they were often in sole pastoral charge, and doing a minister’s job. One reason appears to be that they saw ‘ministry as ‘male’ and so wanted something distinctively different where they could do it ‘their’ way – to resist male ways of doing things and  wanting to retain something distinctively female. (especially the uniform rather than suit and dog collar) There has also been the comment that by losing deaconesses order we have lost a ‘power-base’ from which women could influence the structures and decision-making within the Union – also that the support that was received has also been lost and women ministers feel isolated.Questions:

    1. Do you feel you have had to adapt to a ‘male’ way of being a minister. Either in your own mind or because that is what the church expects of you?

    2. Is there a ‘female’ way of doing ministry in your opinion or is it just that we all do it according to our own gifts and personality?

    3. Did you feel isolated  if are the only woman minister in your area – would you  value more contact with other female ministers or do you get enough from whichever ministers are around you?

    4. Do you feel that women are able to influence structures in the Union. If not what prevents it/what might make it easier?

Gentlemen…how do you respond to the idea that women do/should do ministry differently?

Any comments gladly received!

 

Courage

I have deliberately not posted on my blog in the last few weeks so that the previous post which pointed you towards a very important discussion that is happening within the Baptist Union at the moment: Beyond 400 – 40 Voices. http://www.beyond400.net/40-baptist-voices

We are now at the mid point – 20 voices have spoken and 20 to go…

I hope you have taken the time to read them all and if you haven’t then I plead with you to go read AND comment – this is meant to be a discussion where maybe we can begin ,along with The Futures group who are looking at the more financial and structural issues, to begin to discern where God  might be leading us all. I have heard too many people moan they have not been consulted and yet refuse to engage in this, yes unofficial’, discussion which is being viewed and considered by The Futures groups and, much more importantly, Council members who need our prayers as they have to take important and difficult decisions about the future – please help them discern God rather than snipe from the sidelines

This is more far reaching in than just structural questions – it is about how we relate to one another, what is the nature of the Union – do we even need it in any form, what should ‘church’ look like in the future. In my sermon this week I am asking how much of what we do is ‘tradition’ and/or ‘cultural’ that we treat as  Christian ‘law’? That question extends to everything we do as Baptist communities at all levels.

The 20th voice, Jane Day, asks: do we have courage?…..’Courage to say no to always meeting in a church building because that’s what we have always done, courage to say no to keeping things going, courage to say no to injustice and courage to stop putting off the dreams.  Courage is not something that you can buy from a packet of course but I think we can develop it as we spend time with God and allow space for the dreams to be birthed in our hearts.’

I wonder do you and I have the courage to read the voices and the comments, engage and dare to dream – it will be difficult to examine all we hold dear and wonder whether any, or all, of it needs to change and adapt to new situations. Do we have the courage to name the elephants in the room as at least one person has today?

Do we have have the courage to follow God wherever that leads us?

Be Bold……for God is with us

Join the conversation

Baptists face making big decisions in the coming months, driven by a financial crisis, but actually spurring us to re-imagine how we act as covenanted churches together. We’ve done geat things but do we need to change so we can better serve God in the coming decades?  Please do read the contributions and join the conversation

Beyond 400 starts on Tuesday with the first of 40 baptists offering their prophetic hunches to help us imagine life beyond the 400th year of baptists in Britain

You can get involved by commenting on posts.  If you want to write a longer reflection on your own blog you can link to it in a shorter comment on here.

If you want to contribute a longer reflection you can e-mail it to us and we may be able to post it on another section of the site along with others.

If you have ideas about how this conversation or website can develop please get in touch with us, we would love to hear your ideas…and would love any help to make it happen!

If you would like to be considered as a future voice to contribute after May please let us know and once it becomes clear what the next phase will be we may be able to get you involved.

http://www.beyond400.net/