'To Such As These' The Child in Baptist Thought
British Baptist Scholars (3) Ernest C. Lucas

Beyond 400: we must now reform associations

This week the BUGB Council decided to transform its Union life. A smaller Council (reduced by about a third), a smaller national staff (reduced by about a third) and a new Steering Group (made up by all the major constituencies of the Union - associations, colleges, council, trustees, specialist teams).

Both a smaller Council and the new Steering Group are decisions that can be read positively with potential to make Union life both lighter on its feet and more coherent. Council is a bloated beast when it tries discussion (too much talking at rather than talking to one another), a small body will hopefully enable conversations with more depth and more honesty. The Steering Group has the opportunity to bring part of our wider life round the table and so help avoid some of the disjunction that exists (this still requires trust from the associations). A small national staff has been forced by a shortfall in Home Mission, while there are some who may argue this is a positive move - a re-balancing of the Union away from the 'centre'. In my opinion it is neither - both because the equivalent of 14 persons are now left without employment, and, I think also those who remain, in the now three specialist teams, will be hardpressed and overworked. The response is that some things will either be stopped or be picked up by associations. While the national resource (mis-named, they do not just resource, but they enable churches and associations to relate) was in need of re-shaping and it may well be the three specialist teams will be more focused, there is no doubt that these are forced financial decisions, for all the rhetoric of them being about mission. 

The future now requires a transformation of association life, we cannot stop at reforming the Union. This will be much harder, because each association is a law unto itself. Association partnerships - associations forming partnerships with each other, not as new bodies, but in the way two churches might partner together - has the potential to bring change, but there is some doubt in the air whether associations will commit themselves positively to this venture. The larger question, in my mind, is what are associations for? 

The variation in the thirteen associations are wide, with different strengths and weaknesses in each - history, geography, personnel all play out in different ways. The disconnect in some (if not many) associations between the association as a body (an independent legal charity) and the churches within their area is often bigger than many will admit or recognise. In addition associations largely refer now to regional ministers - they are the association - local churches relationship is with their regional ministers, not with the association. One criticism from some towards the Union was it too was instiutional and inhibited Associations from some of what they wanted to do. We may find as Associations become more free - e.g. they have more control of how Home Mission is spent in their region - that they to are found to be too institutional and not missional enough. Alongside what are questions for, is the question, what kind of regional ministers and association council/trustees do we need? 

Behind all of this is the question of finance - will we be able to financially support everything - from pioneering church projects, to rural ministry, to association staff, to the three specialist teams - at the moment the future seems very uncertain.

This may well be the last in a series of posts that have occupied the focus of this blog in the last 12 months. Below are links to four earlier reflections.

Beyond 400: Revisting the Past, Renewing the Future (June 2012)

Beyond 400: Questioning Some 'Myths' (March 2012)

Whose Union? Which Future? (November 2011)

What Lies Beyond 400? (November 2011)


ian tutton


Thank you for this. At least somebody has taken the time to communicate something of Council's deliberations to me, a 'mere minister' - unlike my Association which tells me nothing about anything that is happening at Union level. There is an interesting but profound omission from the list of major constituencies - THE LOCAL CHURCH - truth is, BUGB is becoming entirely conciliar, with all decisions taken regardless of local churches who are then 'told' that this is all for their good...

Andy Goodliff

Ian, if its not clear above, I am claiming that reforming associations would re-establish the link to local churches more concretely. It many places, but not all, associations are largely independent of the churches that they consist of and are meant to represent.

There is still work to be done to re-establish Assembly has a place of deliberation. The Baptist means of seeking the mind of Christ beyond the local takes place in Council and Assembly. Again this has almost been entirely lost in terms of Assembly, it must be re-discovered.

Annie Weatherly-Barton

I am pleased that BUGB are going to reform but I am not sure it goes far enough. A great many ministers we know find that HQ is irrelevant to what happens on the ground. A law unto themselves I would suggest. Making decisions without any consultation with those who will be the most affected? Out of date, out of time, and irrelevant.

As for Associations. Well most are pretty relevant as the areas are far too big and with only one or two people covering said area. It doesn't work! So many years of churches having to cow-tow to area Superintendents? I don't think so. Our local ministers fraternal is where the support and action is. That is the nub where exchange of ideas, pastoral support, and real, honest to goodness support happens. The area is much smaller and ministers feel supported and understood. It is relational and it works.

People on the ground are fed up with being "told" what to do by faceless and unknown people. BUGB changes just re-invents what is already there and in place. Smaller yes, but better? I don't think so.

Perhaps it would be good for the Council to ask itself: who did we involve in this consultation about the future. No one I know. Be lucky to know what is going on. You only find out via the internet. Little information and no consultation. Rural areas? Forget it. No one is interested in the rural churches, unless they have big congregations. Our small church was told it didn't have a dog's chance of getting a minister: no manse, no money, small congregation. Well we've been here for 2 years and our small congregation has grown - nearly doubled. Small can be indeed very beautiful. Methodist, Baptist and Anglicans all work together and make things happen. And it is not just rural small but also urban small. BUGB do not understand that and are not interested. Until they do start understanding they will continue to be irrelevant.

Annie Weatherly-Barton

Maybe have a look at this as it is where were here in our little rural community are at or are working towards being. Jonny is a real inspiration.


Andy thank you so much for your post.
Some really interesting points, and I am grateful for your thoughts, but if I am honest very doubtful that association life can be renewed( at least round here)in the way you suggest.
I really wanted to pick up Ian's point in the comments section. It staggers me that there is so little told to local churches and their ministers about what happens at council except for a press release at the end. Compare that to live blogging ,tweeting etc coming minute by minute from synod as I type
I do understand that this council had some sensitive (and very sad )employment issues to deal with, but actually in my experience this lack of communication is pretty standard
sadly if we stop communicating with people in the end they may stop being interested in us

I do think there is something in what you say about Assembly though


Thanks Andy, helpful thoughts and questions.
If I may share a brief quote from your dad's "networks" paper:

While Baptist ecclesiology has retained a form of associating through the Councils and assemblies of Union and Associations, the intermediate level of associating that is closest to the local congregation has been adopted in a fragmentary way. Associating has become instrumentalised through representative bodies. Rooted in Scripture and remembering the practices of our earliest forebears, a new focus upon local associating, networking or clustering is urgent and necessary.
Goodliff, P. "Networks" (p22) available from http://www.baptist.org.uk/component/docman/doc_download/1166-baptist-futures.html .

Having heard, and as I attempt to respond to, the challenges (many from you) on the importance of inter-dependence, I guess my question amongst all the re-organization at National and Local Association level is:
"what place do you think "clusters" or "local-networks" should or do play in the relationship between local church community and the wider (more institutional?) associating with the Baptist movement?"
do you have any "stories that encapsulate and illustrate good practice" ;-)

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