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By Paul Beasley-Murray.

We have just had our church AGM, when one group of lay leaders relinquish office, and another come into office. In our church it is possible for leaders to stand again for another three-year term, but once they have served six years, they must stand down for at least a year. The theory behind this practice is that it encourages new ‘blood’ onto the leadership team. The so-called ‘sabbatical’ also gives an opportunity for rest to those who over the last six years have borne the heat of the day. Having said that, the term ‘sabbatical’ is unhelpful, implying that leaders, having been stood down for a year, automatically allow their names to go forward for re-election. But this is not necessarily healthy, either for the individual or for the church.

But this year, as for the last couple of years, we have been having great difficulty in getting sufficient people to stand for the leadership team. In the not so distant past elections would often be ‘contested’, in the sense that there might be as many as twelve members standing for the five or so places. This year, however, there was no contest. We had seven vacancies, but only two people stood. So for yet another year our leadership team will be under strength.

Leaders walk into the future

One could well argue that this is providential, in the sense that a leadership team comprised of fifteen ‘deacons’ (the traditional Baptist term for lay leaders), three ministers and one church administrator is overlarge. Indeed, at one stage we considered creating two separate and distinct groups, the first of ‘leaders’ and the second of ‘managers’. ‘Leaders’, it was suggested, ‘walk into the future’, while ‘managers’ deal with day-to-day and so ‘walk in the present’ Instead we created a smaller ‘strategy’ group within the larger team. We went for that second option, believing that the first option risked creating a hierarchy and would make communication more difficult between the two groups. But the fact is that, however we divide up our leaders, in a church our size we need a good number of leaders, for there is an immense amount of work to do. As it is we are struggling to find people prepared to serve in this way.

One comfort in this situation is that we are not alone in this struggle. There seems to be a nation-wide dearth of people willing to serve in leadership positions. In part this reflects the mood of this so-called ‘post-modern’ age where long-term commitment appears not to be the name of the game. It also reflects the pressures of a society where those in employment often work ever longer hours. Furthermore, it reflects the changes of work-patterns for women - not only do most married women go out to work, but many are pursuing demanding careers. Add to this the demands of bringing up children, and the result is that many churches are lucky to see their people as often as once a Sunday. Indeed, whereas in the past ‘twicers’ were those who attended morning and evening on one and the same Sunday, ‘twicers’ today tend to be those who turn up to church just twice a month. In such a context for many any idea of taking on positions of leadership is just unthinkable.

But let me not be too pessimistic. There are still those willing to serve as leaders in the church - and a good number more willing to serve in less high-profile roles too. Furthermore, they are not just the early retired. I am truly amazed and indeed humbled by the many volunteers we have as a church. And yet, for all this, we still have difficulties in finding leaders.

Recently I went to a day consultation on leadership. Theologically the participants were very mixed. Yet all were agreed on the importance of leadership. Among other things the following points were affirmed:

  • leadership is not optional - ‘without a vision the people perish’
  • leadership is always disturbing - we need uncomfortable ‘prophets’, not just establishment ‘priests’
  • leadership always involves change - where there is no change there is no life
  • leadership is always costly - the first head above the parapet always gets the flak
  • leadership always involves risk - this inevitably means failure from time to time
  • leadership needs to be rooted in spirituality - only thus can we be sure that we are going God’s way and not ours.

I am sure that the above is true. Sadly, this demanding role makes it all the more difficult to attract people to positions of leadership.

To whet your appetite

I am sure that you will find much food for thought in the articles published in this issue of Ministry Today. Michael Bochenski explores some of the trends affecting us as ministers and offers some suggestions about how we might respond. One of those trends is that the average age of many of our congregations is increasing at the same time as younger people are being expected to work longer and longer hours, thus depriving us of their volunteer service and ministry. In the light of this, Alun Brookfield offers a highly positive evaluation of the potential of older people and at the same time challenges us to take greater responsibility for evangelising the over 60’s.

Another trend which is often alleged to be happening is that people are no longer willing to be subjected to long sermons. So John Drane’s timely article on the role and relevance of preaching in the modern church, based on an address to the Baptist Union of Great Britain and originally entitled Tomorrow’s Pastors May Not Preach, will excite and encourage some and probably infuriate others!

Talking of being infuriated, Allen Holmes, pastor of a small Baptist congregation in Yorkshire, takes issue with some of the content of John Balchin’s article on large churches which appeared in the previous issue of Ministry Today. Allen was particularly annoyed by John’s apparent assumption that … well, perhaps you’d better read the article for yourself.

Finally, you will find in this edition a report of our highly successful first RBIM National Conference, along with Paul Goodliff’s splendid paper given at the conference. Next year’s conference will be on 5-6 February 2001 at High Leigh. This year we had to disappoint some people as the conference was fully booked. To avoid such disappointment next year, put the date in your diaries now and guard it against all comers.

Paul Beasley-Murray

Senior Minister of Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford<br>and Chair of Ministry Today

Ministry Today

You are reading Editorial by Paul Beasley-Murray, part of Issue 19 of Ministry Today, published in June 2000.

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