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December 13, 2011


Rowena Wilding

Andy, thanks for your continued thoughts on this, I think it's a really important conversation to have. I completely agree that we must be careful not to fall into the trap of "hipster Christianity" (despite the fact I love the concept), but I think it is important that we begin to talk about what church looks like/ what church should look like. A couple of weeks ago I went to an NWBA day on Messy Church, to be told that Messy Church definitely isn't church, it's something that leads people to church. I've recently opened a tea room in which people have faith conversations based on what they are reading in their newspapers. My congregation are adamant that this isn't church. I wonder if this is why I can't help but have a negative reaction to the word "institution". Has a particular structure become so embedded in us that we can't see past the end of our own noses? Perhaps institution doesn't have to be a bad thing, but I feel there needs to be room within it for churches to look different, and support for those churches who don't follow the structure. Perhaps we could learn from the mistakes of he fresh expressions "movement" and work at mutual support?

Andy Goodliff

Rowena thanks for this. My response to this I think is something along the lines of what I've been reading in a little book 7 sacred spaces http://andygoodliff.typepad.com/my_weblog/2011/10/seven-sacred-spaces.html ... which wants to hold a broad view of church (church is made up of 7 spaces), which pushes against those who want to reduce membership to just turning up to a worship service (usually on a sunday), but I think also wants to say that membership (which I take to mean a desire to follow Jesus with others) is more than just a coffee morning or messy church session ... we need an understanding of church that doesn't reduce it to attendance anyone meeting, whether in a traditional expression or a 'fresh' one ... that is then a challenge to both traditional and emerging church to say that neither of us are the answer. So I need the likes of church from scratch, a local church plant that doesn't look like the rest of us to challenge me, in the same way I hope they recognise they might need the likes of me in my more traditional set up to challenge them. My fear expressed in this post, is we become oppositional rather than seeking as Union to walk together in our mixed economy.


Just a tentative and incomplete thought, but I wonder if sometimes 'institutions' get a bad press. A possible benefit of the 'institution' could be that it is ingrained and second-nature, it is established and relatively inflexible. This enables necessary work to happen but 'in the background' rather than distracting everyone who is engaged at the front-line/ grass-roots.

In other words, when an institution is strong (not necessarily big or powerful, but sure of itself and ingrained) it frees people up from constantly renegotiating the terms of their togetherness and enables them to take that for granted and move forward in other areas.

I think this utility of institution needs to be held in tension with the many problems it can bring (none of which I would deny or play-down).

Rowena Wilding

Yes I completely agree, what I pull away from is the temptation to say "our way is the most biblical way, this is the way we need to do it" which is something I hear surprisingly often. I think there is a general feeling that church, whatever day it meets on, whatever that meeting looks like, has been reduced to little more than a meeting - perhaps that's what Pete Rollins is getting at in "Insurrection"; that we are trapping ourselves in our own righteousness and painting ourselves into a corner of unquestioning obedience to "the way we've always done things". Yes. More mixed economy please.

Rowena Wilding

P.S. It turns out my Christian Hipster Quotient is 88 / 120. Do you think I need counselling?

Neil Brighton

Good thoughts Andy. I guess it depends what we mean by institution. If we mean a settled structure of relationships then part of what is happening, and is needed, is the remoulding of this structure. To the extent that institution implies a move away from relationships to administrative or process orientated ways of conducting our affairs then what maybe happening is a growing realisation that this 'thing' has become to remote from the churches, ministers etc which make it up. Again this is something which needs to change.

At this stage in the process I'm not worried about an over use of words like 'movement' or 'pioneer' because they are ways in which people articulate and model fresh ways of being.

That we have a divide between mission and ecclesiology is regretable, but indicative of the fact we struggle to understand either. To often we want to practice mission as if it is a branch of anthropology and separate ecclesiology and discipleship.

Jon Stannard

Good work Andy, all. I am all for revisiting what it means to be God's people together (institution, movement, union, etc). I am keen to see that the conversation be not just about solving the problem of finance and structure though. I also long to see a generation of people engaged in the conversation who will own the outcomes for the future along side those already engaged for one reason or another. I am not too worried about the potential divide between missiology and ecclesiology....yet! Keep up the good work.

Jenny Few

Andy, thanks for these continued and evolving thoughts. Am grateful for your word of caution on defining terms, and am aware how easy it is to polarise and simplify what is a complex and wonderful thing! I can't get the phrase 'Genius of Baptist Ecclsiology' out of my mind, having read 7 essays on it for RSC recently! Maybe part of its genius is that we don't need to think about it too much some of the time, like the unwritten constitution of the UK. I can remember a time when I felt it to be working gloriously - but not so much now.

David Hughes

Andy, your observations certainly resonate with my position.

As you say, however, the conversation is extremely limited at the moment, both because it is largely between Baptist ministers/leaders and because it is being conducted in the blogosphere and on twitter.

So, how can the debate be extended beyond the bloggers and twitterati, do you think? It seems that the Assembly in London next May will offer little opportunity for such discussion. Or, are we expecting the conversation to spread organically and, if so, would that be particularly productive?

I obviously don't have the answers to my own questions, but I wonder what others think.

Blake Stevens

Andy (and others) I don't suppose you'd be interested in joining baptistlife.com to share some reflections more in depth, would you? It's supposed to be a forum for Baptists to discuss all variety of Baptist issues, but at present it's mostly American Baptists (not the denomination though there are many of them around) discussing American politics and occasionally Baptist politics and inerrancy. It'd be nice to have some non-Americans to provide both contrasting and similar views on Baptist identity issues. Thanks for your consideration.

Charles crosland

Thanks for your hard work
I am delighted and relieved this conversation is happening at all- but how to extend it.?
From memory (and mine can be faulty!) I think in the eighties , Mainstream used to organise 2 day consultations often at Gorsley to which a wide variety of Baptists would be invited to listen to a paper and discuss an issue ( ,some of the participants were not in particular sympathy with Mainstream)
There were always officers of the BU present and adding to the discussion
I attended one or two and found them thought provoking and personally helpful
Is this one possible model ?

John Smyth

"So, how can the debate be extended beyond the bloggers and twitterati, do you think? It seems that the Assembly in London next May will offer little opportunity for such discussion. Or, are we expecting the conversation to spread organically and, if so, would that be particularly productive?"

Only when we orgainise ourselves into a movement for change. We need an open, democratic, inclusive and Christ seeking Union. Whether that need include Didcot is to my mind an open question #occupybugb

Phil Jump

Andy - re point 1, be assured that at least one of the Futures Steering Group is reading it. Please blog on.

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