Life is about to shift for us again as in September I take up a call to serve Hertford Baptist Church in the role of Associate Pastor. I’ve really appreciated the nearly 4 month process of meetings, prayer, conversations, eating together, preaching opportunities, and question answering that has all been a part of the discernment process. It gave plenty of time and space to sit with what was becoming quite a strong sense of ‘fit’ and eventually a clear call. I was certainly very humbled to receive 100% of the member’s vote, which was the final stage before they invited me to accept the call. That was such an encouragement to me in my several ‘not sure they’d want me’ moments waiting for the phone to ring, and certainly felt like a significant confirmation of all that I’d been sensing within myself.
My new role will be to work as part of a team, which I understand will eventually be 3 members of ministry staff: the senior pastor, myself as associate, and then a children’s/youth worker, along with the wider leadership team, Deacons and other workers/members. As well as playing a part in the ‘regular’ aspects of ministry (preaching, pastoral, etc), my areas of responsibility will be to develop and encourage the church’s outreach, both evangelistic and socially, and to give oversight to the church’s work with families, children and youth. I’ve never really felt like much of a ‘generalist’ in ministry, ad although I’ve plenty of experience in various kinds of ministry-related stuff, picking up on a role with these particular sets of focus was a real pull of the post even before having the chance to get to know the church a little.
At several times through the process helpful questions have been ‘why baptist?’ and ‘why an associate role?’ These were really clarifying for me. I guess, in the years since leaving The Salvation Army, we’ve been figuring out as a family where we might fit best. We’ve had good experience with the Methodist and URC, but the overall dis-jointed aspects for me were around the baptism of infants, which I’ve never quite been able to square in my own mind. I know that’s not a problem for many folks…and I wouldn’t even say it’s a major ‘problem’ per se for me, but it’s one that I have difficulty getting my theological head around, especially coming from a Salvation Army heritage of public confession of Christ as believers, and witnessing to the inner change Christ has accomplished. It’s just important to me, and key in how I understand conversion, regeneration and salvation, and our response to Christ’s work. It makes sense that, looking to the long term, I’m in agreement with folks on these things, especially if I’m throwing my lot in, which is our real hope.
I guess, also, I’ve had some fairly strong baptist people influencing my life for several years: especially people like Stuart Murray-Williams from the anabaptist tradition who I’ve got to know over these recent years, people I’ve met in Urban Expression settings up and down the country, and some very good friends in whom I see sound, wise and admirably qualities. I’ve been inspired, from slightly further afar, by the gentle and joyful evangelistic ministry of Chris Duffett, recently the [insert appropriate title for national figure-head of the Baptist Union] – I’ve witnessed in him a kindred passion for evangelism and loving action. So, yes, lots of very baptist influence and flavour which even goes back to my days at International Christian College in Glasgow where I had tonnes of lovely baptist friends who had a significant impact on my life and ministry as a younger man.
Finally, I guess my theology is still fairly firmly evangelical/charismatic and whilst my spirituality and theology has grown significantly in the last 6 years, there are still so many things from that tradition that are important for me that aren’t necessarily shared in other parts of the church. That’s not to say that, like many, I haven’t been fairly dissatisfied with some of the stuff that claims to speak for the ‘evangelical wing’ in recent years, especially in Trump’s America, but I guess I mean evangelical with a small ‘e’ – devoted to Christ and his saving work, the authority of scripture, the priesthood of all believers, etc.
And, then, it was helpful to work through the ‘why not look for a senior pastor role’ type questions. I guess the main answer to that is that, having found myself working reasonably ‘solo’ for the last 18 months or so, I really want to have an environment where ideas can be bounced, encouragement and challenge can be shared, and where all the gifts are laid on the table and harnessed for Kingdom purposes. I have never believed that leadership is a solo sport…I think the bible gives clear evidence of a multi-functioned ministry including apostolic, evangelistic, prophetic, teaching and pastoral giftings. I don’t think any one individual functions in all of those, and I’m happy to be looking forward towards working alongside Dave Sunman, who I think sings from a very similar hymn sheet when it comes to our understanding of the leadership function in the body. I’ll be perfectly honest…I think all of us who exercise some form of leadership in the church need the ’rounding out’ that working with others does for us. That works brilliantly when there is an atmosphere of openness and teachability, although thats not always easy to foster in some circumstances. The leadership task is a challenge, and in many circles it needs reimagining, but its important nonetheless. I’ve always hoped that I’d be part of a generation that is part of this rethinking, and I’m glad to be moving back to a situation where I can more wholeheartedly live out my convictions in this area.
Also, with being new to the baptist set up, there will be plenty of ‘learning the ropes’ to do. Hopefully, with the churches help, I’ll be entering into the accreditation process with the Baptist Union and it may be that several years down the line, taking up either a ‘single leader’ or ‘senior leader’ role will be right. But for now, I’m looking forward to offering what God has gifted to me into the team at Hertford.
I’m glad that God is always working to surprise me. In and of myself I’d probably have the tendency towards comfort, which I guess most of us would, but after a period of transition from the Army, some great years at Trinity, a period of challenging illness, but now with a deep sense of wholeness, by God’s grace I feel ready for this new chapter.
And its on that note that I finally have to give the greatest thanks: I have been feeling so remarkably well for the last couple of years and I’m thankful to God for his healing and restoration, but also to the many who stuck by me through challenges and transitions, who’ve believed in me and for me when I was powerless to do so myself, and who are a never ending source of love and encouragement….you know who you are! Thank you!