Ross Clifford, former President of the Baptist Union in Australia and principle of Morling College, recently wrote on the state of the denomination in Together in Ministry and I though a few of you might find it an interesting read.
For those who don’t know the back story, Ross, along with my friend Philip Johnson, were the pioneers of Mind Body Spirit Festival ministry back in the early 90s. Together they co-authored Jesus and the Gods of the New Age and Beyond Prediction: The Tarot and your Spirituality in collaboration with John Drane. Community of Hope, the group they formed and which first introduced me to more contextual styles of Christianity, was the forerunner of groups like Dekhomai in the UK which is were Jonny Baker comes into the picture. Mike Frost, who many of you would know, is deputy principle at the college where Ross hangs out.
Morling, you may recall, is also where I am studying counselling. I was discussing the leadership issue with a few bods over dinner last night when Ross dropped by. Unfortunately a pesky exam precluded any in depth conversation over this but I appreciate that Ross is putting these comments out there. Anyway, onto the article:
President of the Baptist Union of Australia Rev Dr Ross Clifford shares some insights gained from his 3 year term which finished in November 2008.
In my columns I have endeavoured to highlight the many inspiring things Baptists are doing across the country as well as to challenge our thinking on sharing the gospel in the market place. I wrestled over this final column and I have a real sense the Lord wants me to speak about a prophetic reality check for Aussie Baptists.
Let me explain. A couple of months ago Mark Driscoll hit Sydney. If you haven’t heard of him he is a bullish pastor from Seattle who is growing a significant church and creating waves. He is the unusual mix of being a reformed pastor who is open to the gifts, eg. tongues. He shoots from the hip, which can be a concern. He preached at my College, Morling, and told us that we were world leaders in contextualization, but needed to lift our game in proclamation. He went to Moore College (Anglican) the next day and from the same passage told them they weren’t cool (i.e. weak in contextualization). He then spoke to a forum of mainly Sydney Anglican ministers and part of his presentation was 18 things wrong with Sydney Anglicans. It has created a stir around the globe, and it appears that many young ministers have responded positively to the challenge/rebuke. I believe that Sydney Anglicans showed a spiritual maturity by putting the 18 criticisms on their website, rather than being defensive.
I don’t want to match Driscoll, but I believe it is time for Australian Baptists to accept the challenge of a reality check. Unlike many denominations we are holding our own, but we are not significantly growing. There are issues we still need to address. After three years let me list some areas of concern I have. I only want to mention a few, as I would really appreciate your responses (firstname.lastname@example.org). My commitment is to ensure that your concerns are shared with our Baptist leadership. So let’s get in touch. My list is not about what’s wrong, but positively what can we do better together. Where is the Lord challenging us?
- Leadership – I don’t believe that we are challenging enough of our best young people to consider pastoral ministry. Our churches and our denomination will suffer if this does not change. Leaders also need to be empowered to lead.
- Theological education – How we train is still strongly influenced by accrediting agencies, consortiums that we are a part of. Our colleges are strong, and therefore it is time for some radical reflection and action.
- Baptism – In some churches it is lost. Have we become ashamed of baptism, in our openness to other traditions?
- Evangelism – Often spoken of, but I sense for many it’s left to the occasional church event/outreach.
- We need to support both our ‘mega’ churches and our ‘missional’ churches. Let’s call a truce, and empower both forms of church and learn from both.
- How can our pastors and smaller rural churches survive without a new paradigm of supporting them financially and with resources? This is a national issue for all denominations.
- Prayer has a vital role in all our churches, but without concerted prayer for denomination as a whole we will continue to struggle. A more national, global perspective to our prayer life is needed.
Well, just a few thoughts which are offered by a former President who has been blessed by many wonderful things God is doing in our midst. Let me know your thoughts.
I plan to respond to this, but first, what are your thoughts?