Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Church reorganisation plans - what happens next?

The Baptist Council is meeting in a couple of weeks time, with the 'Baptist Futures' process as the main part of the agenda. They seem to be one of many churches which is responding to a different cultural and mission context by looking again at structures, resources, priorities etc:

At the heart of these proposals is a desire to become a Union that is responsive to local need and vision, flexible in approach, and harnesses the skills, talents and vision of everyone in our Baptist family. If this is to really happen, then the focus of our shared life needs to be local; we do not want to draw all of our resources into a central vision. Our Union needs to be relatively simple and straightforward so that the energy, vision and commitment of our Baptist community can be invested in local mission

There seems to be a lot of this about - last year the Methodist church had a big focus on being 'a discipleship movement shaped for mission', and is talking a good game about restructuring and changed priorities. Earlier this year the Church in Wales recieved a report on reorganisation in the face of declining numbers, fewer clergy and new mission challenges. 

Not every problem has an organisational solution, but I heard the following quote recently: "show me a vicar who's been in post over 7 years, and I'll show you a building project" - sometimes the 'results' of ministry are so intangible that part of us yearns for something more (literally) concrete, even if that's not actually what's required. For national leaders, who don't even have a specific church to care for, is organisational tinkering the equivalent of building projects? 

Church structures are like clothes on a growing child, sometimes they need taking in, or letting down, and sometimes we have to recognise that they don't fit and need ditching entirely. Either that, or it becomes more and more difficult to walk without pain, to live within the structures, and not to look stupid. Of course the growth doesn't come from the clothes themselves, it comes from other things. The CofE, which I'm part of, is still by and large wearing the outfit it assembled in the Dark and Middle Ages. Sooner or later, we'll need to do what these other churches are doing, and look in the mirror. Here's one example of an Anglican Diocese (not in the UK) which is actually doing some serious recalibration. 

But...... I'm still hearing more about reports than I am about actual change. The CofE itself has been there and done that, producing radical ideas then quietly shelving them. At what point will the pain of not changing outweigh the percieved pain of doing things differently? Words are one thing, but what is required for them to become actions?

update: hello to all the baptists who've been popping in to this post, what's your take on what's going on in the Baptist Union? What do you see happening as a result of it? Is it something that other churches need to wrestle with too?


  1. The restructuring of the Union may all be for the good, but the Union isn't an institution in the anglican sense. The problem with us Baptists is that there is little to no authority in the centre to push change through. Any change must therefore be done at a local level in individual churches.
    Only when the local congregation with the leaing of it's minister realise the need for change will that change occur, and like so many other churches, that is easier said than done.

  2. Hmmmm....not so sure that having "no authority to push change through" is actually a "problem". It is actually something that makes the Baptist way of doing church quite appealing!

  3. Anglican experience on this is a mixed bag - some bishops are 'pushing change through' as far as Anglican structures allow them, others are doing very little. As a missioner I'd love to have a Diocese pulling in the same direction, and occasionally cast envious looks elsewhere (Sheffield, Liverpool, Chelmsford). What are the pluses to a lack of central authority/leadership? It strikes me that the baptist central office (judging by their website anyway) is actually more united and purposeful than just about anything I've seen in the CofE.