Editor’s note: This column is the first of several EthicsDaily.com will carry from an initiative from Great Britain called “Beyond400.net – Baptists Imagining Life After 400 Years.”
A nearly $1.6 million black hole is projected for the Baptist Union of Great Britain end-of-year accounts. We can’t continue as we are, and it has got people talking. The talk is of change and cuts.
The financial predicament is painful; it will hurt when posts are almost inevitably cut and people tragically lose their jobs.
As well as being painful, it is bad in other ways: Are you worried that difficult discussions about allocation of finite resources may deflect us from more important questions? I am.
But these cuts can also be good news. Let’s get real: It’s very difficult for an organization that spans many centuries, churches, associations and colleges to undergo deep change unless sufficient destabilizing pressures are present.
The finances are providing one such push-factor, numerical decline in most churches over many decades another, and there are others.
I’m not shouting “tipping-point,” but ordeal loosens us up for change. This is painfully good.
In the coming weeks, 40 people will offer their thoughts to kick-start imaginative, hope-filled conversations.
They include voices of those in the middle and on the edge of our institutions, those from differing contexts and a breadth of experiences. Only they know what they will say.
Here are eight suggestions for ways to help us into the hope-filled conversation:
- Grieve what is wrong. Blessed are those who mourn, those who are soft-hearted. Don’t hold back from grieving over things that just aren’t right, things that are dead and things that need to die. I grieve our deep lack of mission.
- Imagine what is not yet. Grieving on its own sounds like whining. Prophets can have a knack of hopefully imagining and pointing to things that are not yet. This is dissent, a way of offering alternatives to what already is. This might be done playfully or seriously.
- Baptist poets and artists, this is your moment. I’m not one, but are you? We need your help to recover our imagination. We have given ground to overly pragmatic solutions and the uncritical importing of models. At this point is our imagination more important than our knowledge? Can artists and poets help us with this? (Hint: You can upload images as well as words when you comment at Beyond400.net.)
- Avoid romanticizing our 400-year history. There was no golden era. We can learn from the 400 years and rediscover lost ways, but we need to go right back and learn from Jesus. But we won’t find all we need in those two histories. We need to imagine new ways that harmonize with our historic faith, ways that have not been practiced before. This is incarnation.
- It takes time for right ideas to be adopted – keep speaking. Prophets are wired to challenge the status quo and organizations rightly focus on maintaining and administering the existing – can you spot the tension! You prophets may be mistaken for a threat; without you, we will congeal and start to die. Be thick-skinned when needed and keep speaking.
- A new idea does not mean a right idea. Caution: Just because it is alternative thinking doesn’t mean it’s right. It may be time to stop speaking!
- Where are we looking? Most of current Baptist life at all levels is configured expecting God to speak in the middle, but history suggests that God’s renewing often starts on the margins. Where are our margins? Can you share what you see?
- It’s OK to hit the pause button. These are tricky matters that need suspended judgment and open minds. Yes, we will need to innovate but not too fast. First we need to be creative, dream new ideas, interact with them and reflect. Big decisions need to be slept on.
A humble suggestion: Beyond 400 is fairly unique with its openness, degree of meritocracy, collaboration and informality. At this stage it is very much half-baked, but is it in some way embodying something of the future that we are fumbling toward? And if so, what?
Peter Dominey is a Baptist minister in the Eastern Baptist Association and a leader of ChurchfromScratch, which he pioneered 10 years ago. He also helps lead IncarnateNetwork, which is the church planting network of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. This column first appeared on “Beyond400.net – Baptists Imagining Life After 400 Years.”