Brothers, teach your people what Baptists believe…

Dear church leaders

I know its almost the end of the year and people are trying to find ways of lightening the load, but there is at least one more big thing that needs consideration.

I believe it is of vital importance that we as a church leaders decide and ideally agree on some form of study and discussion of the proposed new Baptist Union Statement of Faith by the members of the church. This statement has been officially tabled for discussion by all the churches of the Baptist Union, the hard copy documentation was sent out by the Baptist Union and it is expected that every church, read, think, discuss, suggest possible improvements and send delegates as a church to finally vote on this at next year’s Baptist Union Assembly to be held in Port Elizabeth in October 2017. It is hoped that the process of fine-tuning the statement will be taken in earnest by all the churches now, such that, by the October’s Assembly next year, the final form of the document is complete already, as churches have interacted with it and are in the loop as to it’s final form.

Thus, I would like you to consider how we can do this?

I think, and there may be other alternatives, that one of the ways would be to have church Bible studies take this as their discussion material in the first half of 2017. Consider an official church ‘kick-off’ event with the material available and such that new people can easily plug in and find a group and get going. Sadly, the document does not yet have verses attached for each affirmation.  That is still planned, so this will not make the study ‘ready to eat’ as it were, but maybe, if you decide to do this (and I really hope you will), you can record the verses used and send them to the Theological Forum Committee (TFC) for inclusion.

Everything’s on the web and you’ll find…

  1. the preamble (which is a motivation as to why we need a new statement after 92 years) here
  2. the proposed statement of belief here
  3. the powerpoint files here which show a page by page comparison between the 1924 statement and the 2016 statement and a powerpoint of the statement itself
  4. the email address for recommendations and suggested improvements to this 2016 draft statement

I am convinced that we as Baptists have arrived at a pivotal moment in history. This statement of faith seeks to define what we have always believed and never written up adequately. It defines what is meant by the word “Baptist.” If you’re not convinced, read the preamble – it will blow you away as to the quiet threat that Baptist churches face.  Dr. Kevin Roy, church historian, past-lecturer and pastor said this recently about this proposal, “I believe that this is the most significant thing in Baptist history in the last 30 years.”

Please give this your earnest, prayerful and studied consideration.
Yours in Christ

Lance Laughton
BNA Area Co-Ordinator

Are we seeing the rise of a new anti-theology theology?

With the recent debate stemming from Andy Stanley’s recent contentious sermon, and the counterpoint questions regarding why do we need a new Baptist Union Statement of Faith, I’m asking the question “Are we seeing the rise of a new anti-theology theology?”  This new theology seems to sing out that classic song, “All we need is love!” finding its support from the NIV’s translation of Galatians 5:6, “The only thing that matter is faith expressing itself through love” and questions the need for a clearly defined theology and definition of biblical orthodoxy.

This new theology is underpinned by a deep suspicion of the so called organised church, going way back to Constantine, in what is called a corrupted “Temple Model.”  Luther’s devision from the Catholic church and the resultant thousands of church splits are thus wrong and the result of a wrongly pushed personal interpretation and expression of a revised theology and as Andy Stanley puts it, “And protestants have been beating people over the head with the Bible ever since…”

It is no surprise then to find that we have a similar quiet “rebellion” against what is perceived to be the organised church, which is suspicious of any body seeking to define and sharpen up (and they would read redefine and corrupt) any doctrinal statement and especially any redefinition.  They would counter that doctrine is described as, “faith expressing itself in love” (acts of faith) and needs no further expression.  To what degree does this thinking underlie our Baptist anti-creedal stance and suspicion of any new definition of theology?

An interview with Rev Angelo Scheepers, General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Southern Africa

I recently had the privilege of asking the General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Southern Africa some questions that I have been asking myself and that some of the pastors have been asking me. This interview was conducted on 6 July 2016 at the offices of the Baptist Union in Johannesburg.

Q: Angelo, the Working Group has put forward their white paper in terms of recommended restructuring that the Baptist Union (BU) should undergo. In light of your position and years working with Baptist Churches, I’m sure you have some insight and can predict the feasibility of the outcome of this restructuring. How do you see all this working out?

A: The task has been a very difficult one since the Union is very complex in nature. The BU Working Group has done an excellent job up to now, but there are still some issues that need to be carefully thought through and clarified. For example,

  1. The issue of finance. A few questions are being asked. If all funds are centrally pooled, does this include the funding of the Baptist colleges? Does that mean that the colleges will receive their 10% from the centre? Are the colleges still free to call upon the churches for finance? How will existing Associational ministries be funded? Is the new model more expensive than the current one? The Working Group has promised to do an actuarial investigation in terms of costs and report to the September Executive.
  2. The place of regional Associations. The Working Group has suggested that the Associations become Networks. However, a distinction needs to be made between a formal networks and informal networks. In my opinion, the Associations should become formal Networks, especially since the formal body handles property, etc. as a legal entity. I do not believe that we can do away with the regional Associations. However, I do believe that the purpose and function of Associations need to change. They should not duplicate the national admin structure but rather add value to the local church by way of training, development and resources, etc. An excellent example was the BNA AGM focus of a “One Life Conference”, to encourage, to resource and to develop and plant churches.  It needs to be noted that the Baptist Union is not the only Baptist body struggling with the challenge of regional Associations. Many of the Southern Baptist Conventions’ Associations in the USA are facing the exact same challenges.
  3. The changes to the BU Constitution. There are those who are keen to see changes almost immediately. However, we can go no further than the BU Constitution allows us. At this Assembly, we must present Notice of Motion that the Constitution of the BU is going to change in two respects: the position of General Secretary will fall away and be replaced by that of President ( the two positions will be merged into one); and the National Leadership Council will replace references to the Executive in the Constitution. Moreover, there are no more ‘General Associations’ in the new proposed direction and thus the ABK is asking, “How are we to be recognised?” The General Associations are different to the ‘territorial associations.’
  4. The place of current Departmental ministries. This needs to be clarified and the question has been asked “Where do the Missions Department, DOLM, BWD, etc., feature in the new proposed model?” Currently, all BU Departments and territorial Associations are represented on the Baptist Union Executive, which is multi-cultural. The question has also been asked, “Does the Missions Department continue as an entity of the Union and how will it be funded?”

In response to your question about predicting the feasibility of the outcome of this restructuring, I believe that there are two major factors that are key to it being accepted:

  1. The response of the Executive/Working Group to the questions with regard to clarity that will be asked at this Assembly; and
  2. The response of our Black constituency. It is important that our Black constituency, which makes up a large part of the Baptist Union, clearly understands the model being proposed.

Two of the big challenges that the Executive/Working Group needs to deal with before the forthcoming Assembly are:

  1. Adequately addressing the issues highlighted in points 1-4; and
  2. Clearly spelling out how we cross the bridge between ‘where the BU is at present’ and where the new proposed model is wanting to take us.

Q: There are so many new network groups which are very appealing to Baptist pastors. What changes do the Union and Associations need to make in light of these?
A: None. The Associations would simply need to recognise them. They will have to be networks recognised by the Union with a distinction between formal and informal as previously mentioned.

Q: Do you think then that the Union will recognise the likes of ‘Acts 29’?
A: I must confess that I don’t know ‘Acts 29’. I would say that if a network is in conflict with our distinctives and objectives as a Union then there would be some question marks.

Q: There is a Task Team putting together a new Statement of Belief at the moment. What are your thoughts on this?
A: As I travel around, I have found three basic responses to a proposed new Statement of Belief. They are:

  1. Leave the current Statement as it is. It has served us for many years, why change it now?
  2. We need a complete and new Statement of Belief with Scriptural justification
  3. The Statement of Belief needs to be more contemporary, therefore, make the necessary minimal changes but maintain the spirit of the current one.

This is a challenge and the Theological Forum to be appointed at the Assembly will be seriously looking at the matter and the recommendations of the Executive Task Team that has been doing some preparatory work.
I believe the exercise is a meaningful one, but could be a hot potato in terms of unity. Our task as an Executive is to help maintain the unity of the body. This is always a challenge. The strength of the Union has been our unity in diversity, believe it or not! A number of delegates who have returned to Assemblies after a long absence have remarked that they are amazed to see how we’ve got the demographics right, especially with regard to cultural representation at Assemblies.

Q: You are in the wonderful position of seeing a lot of things having changed in the BU. Looking back, what are the big changes that you have seen?
A: One of the biggest changes I have seen which is very obvious, is how the once former predominantly White city and suburban churches are undergoing change in two areas, namely young adults, youth and children. In most of these churches, the bulk of the youth and children are from the Black community. What is concerning is that the leadership of these churches has not adapted to the changing situation. We don’t see cross-cultural church leadership at the pace that is required.
An increasing number of the upper and middle class Black professionals grew up in the townships and the township/rural churches invested in their spiritual life as well as their development. A number of these have now joined financially stable churches in the city and suburbs and are no longer supporting the township churches that invested in them. The result is that the suburban churches are becoming wealthier and the township churches are becoming poorer.
Today, the cost of theological education is the same for all. All students make the same sacrifices and are required to pay the same fees. An increasing number of our Black graduates no longer want to minister in the township churches but rightfully seek ministries that provide equal pay for equal work. Hence, a number opt for ministry within the various government chaplaincies where they are recognised and paid as equals.

The apparent failure to recognise and provide space for refugee churches within the Baptist Union, its Associations and local churches is a concern. We are going to see more and more immigrant churches arising.

Q: What changes do you expect to see in the future? What is the future of the churches and the Union of Baptist churches?
A: That depends on the decisions we make. We must not make decisions in a hurry. The decisions we take are key. The big weakness of our current government is a lack of consultation. It changes leaders without consultation. Look at the result. It does what it thinks is right, not what the people think is right. We can make the same mistake even as a Baptist Union Executive. We must listen to our constituency. Any future thrust must be well- researched and embarked upon with caution. We must not rush any decision without thinking through all the implications. What we need at this Assembly, and we have given about half a day to it, is intense debate and we need to have all the role players in the discussion so that the Assembly realises that, for our complex Union, change is no plain sailing exercise.
The Working Group has very wisely recommended a three-year phasing in and phasing out period for the new direction.

Q: Angelo, do you think there is enough time carved out for the necessary discussions for the churches to have at this Assembly?
A: We have planned for a half a day of discussion since there are a number of issues that need to be addressed at this Assembly. Every Department wants a prime slice of the Assembly’s time since the Assembly is the only shop window for the BU and its national ministries. However, if the need arises, we will need to adjust the programme to allow for more time. I believe, if the time given, is well planned we could receive maximum input. The WPBA recently held the Parow Consultation, at which 80 pastors/church leaders from 47 churches were present. The Consultation took place from 09h00-12h00. They achieved their objectives in that time and the outcome was phenomenal.

Q: If you were to take a call to pastor a local church, what would you concentrate on more than you have in churches in the past? What advice would you give to pastors in terms of pastoring churches in these days of drug abuse, marital failure and pastoral pressure?
A: With all the challenges facing the local church today it is not easy to be a pastor. The pastor needs to be well equipped and prepared to address the issues you have cited. His own marrage and family life needs to be an example to the flock.
What is the biggest need of the hour? I think the biggest need of the hour is for authentic, godly pastors. If you are such, things will find their rightful place. You need to be authentic, and deal with past baggage before entering the pastorate..You will require boldness to stand for what is truthful and right according to God’s word. We should strive to be God-pleasers rather than man pleasers. In this day and age, you can’t please everybody and you’re going to have to stand for what is right. This is needed, for instance, in terms of cultural and racial integration

Q: Angelo, we are, as an Association, pushing fraternals in a big way because we believe a healthy church with a healthy pastor is where we want to be.  How do we get that?  By putting guys of integrity next to other guys who need integrity is very helpful and when you do it in an informal way … (we’re not putting formal requirements in place).  We’re saying, for the sake of your brothers, you need to meet together.  We are pushing pastoral attendance at fraternals and with respect to the churches, it’s our primary push.  Your comments, please.
 I agree and would strongly support the idea of pushing attendance at pastoral fraternals. Relationships are important in the day and age in which we find ourselves. So is the issue of pastoral accountability. We all need accountability and all need mentors. We are our brother’s keeper! Even I have two mentors who walk alongside of me and coach me. Unfortunately, there are a number of ‘Lone Ranger Pastors’ out there who don’t recognise the need for pastors fraternals or pastoral accountability.

Big changes

There are a number of big changes this year in the Baptist Northern Association;

  • The new Constitution comes into play this year, which, driven by a desire to have equal regional representation from all four of the provinces of the BNA, means that there is a new method of nominating seats on to the BNA executive.  No longer do churches of the BNA nominate, but now, fraternals and regions forward their nominations from their fraternal/region.  This means that we expect the region to be represented on the BNA Executive dependent on the number of churches in a particular province or region.
  • The old method of nominating to the positions of Treasurer of Secretary of the BNA remains the same and is now online.  Note that nominations close 60 days before the One Life Conference which means that they close Sunday 24 April 2016.

Getting a Great Pastor’s Fraternal Going

I have had the privilege of being involved in a number of pastors fraternal meetings. The following four elements are a summary of what I’ve found to work best.

The Preparation of the Pastors Fraternal

Every good fraternal meeting needs a great co-ordinator. This person is the admin-heavy guy who simply puts the email list together and requests and allocates the necessary elements below. He needs to consider the following:

  • Who – this should be as broad as possible welcoming all pastors even elders in the area. There should be no theological or color filtering here. This is an area fraternal not a theological fraternal or a racial fraternal. There is no doubt that not everyone invited will come (and the reasons are many) but the door must be known to be open and all pastors genuinely felt welcome.
  • Where – the co-ordinator must request for people to host the fraternal. The hosting of the fraternal by others has a number of intrinsic benefits; the weight of the fraternal is shared becoming our fraternal as opposed to the one I attend, the pastor at whose church/home the fraternal meets prepares the devotion and leads the discussion (see The Process below), the task of hosting the fraternal is not too much for one person. The co-ordinator needs to share time and place (with street address / GPS co-ordinates is included in the email) and giving the RSVP name and email address ahead of time.
  • Why – the ministry is tough. This provides a space for belonging, growing, sharing and praying.
  • When – Time of meeting and address must be circulated to all and reminders given inviting the pastors to RSVP back to the person hosting the meeting not to the co-ordinator primarily, although he (and maybe even everyone on the list) can and should be copied. I have found that two hours together once a month is adequate and not too onerous.
  • What – What to do when you meet will become the norm, but initially the co-ordinator should point in the direction the meetings should go. This includes selecting a good common interest book for reading. Over the years, a number of good theological or books relating to the church, the calling or the process of shepherding can be read and processed together. Once a book is chosen, the chapter is indicated such that the guys read the chapter before they get together at the fraternal and come prepared to discuss or question that which was read (see “The Process” below).

Once the preparation is done, you’re well on your way to a good meeting. At this point, the co-ordinator’s role is done and he simply becomes one of the guys at the meeting itself.

The Place of the Pastors Fraternal

Whether the place is a church or a home, one of the pastor’s (usually the hosting pastor) takes the lead for all the following aspects:

  • Host – He needs to give thought to that preparing the venue and IMG_1632the food and drinks. This usually takes planning and discussion with spouse, church leaders or members. He should not try to take care of this by himself as he needs to focus primarily on the next point. The venue should be comfortable, and conducive to eating, discussing and praying. Special thought must be given to seating.
  • Lead – By the timethe pastors arrive, he should have read the chapter, and readied himself to lead the time together. This will involve leading the pastors through “The Process” below.

The People of the Pastors Fraternal

Pastors are people too. They have challenges. They have imperfections and short-comings. I have generally found that pastors sit somewhere on a scale between the poles of “Theology First” and “People First.” A good pastor is always both (and strives to be both) but the poles and the personalitie
s exist. Regardless of where people are, there must be willingness to “love the brothers” with considerable adequate proofs.

This may be a learning curve for some, but it is crucial, in order to build a meaningful and lasting “connection” and belonging beyond the local church. The basis and thinking must be, “These are brothers alongside of me fighting the same war, but in a different trench.” Thus, there must be not be “friendly fire” and if there is, it must be attempted only on the basis of a good relationship (which always involves a history), a same-pagedness awareness and a genuine love and concern for the person and the flock that they shepherd. A Pta Northfraternal must be a shelter from the storm not another storm. And this takes time to cultivate. So each should commit for the long haul and reap the rewards as a result. If they do plug out, it should be deeply considered first and a conscience issue second. Thus,
theological same-paged-ness and genuine love for one
another takes time to grow. Give it time

The Process of the Pastors Fraternal

What do we do when we meet together? I believe there must be at least these four elements:

  • Time for connecting – This takes the form of an informal, unstructured introductions and catching up. A good
    pastor knows that names are important, he should learn the names of each person and eventually those of his family and some of the details of his life. This time must be planned initially and kept until everyone knows and becomes used to the fact that this is the format and it is necessary and good.
  • Time for eating – we think we eat together because we are Baptists but the reality is that we eat together because we’re family – we have the same Father. Jesus ate with his disciples and the value of this is readily recognised today. A group of pastors who love one another will overlook the differing levels of food quality and quantity. This is not a competition.
  • Time for leading and discussing – adequate time must be planned for working through the discussion of the chapter of the book and considering the implications in our own South African context. I have found that if the leader talks too much or too little, the time spent together is less profitable than when many engage -its a personal observation. Thus, if the guys have not read the chapter when they come, they will be on the back foot in terms of engaging initially.
  • Time for praying – to meet together and not to recognise Jesus presence is foolish and short-sighted. The end of every discussion of personal character, of an aspect of theology or of the church must be “Help us, Father!”

“The Process” is the big deal. It requires all the other elements (preparation, place and people) too, in order for “The Process” to happen and thus, should not be overlooked. But “The Process” is the Thing – It is the purpose of a fraternal. It is the process of experiencing God in community and growing beyond the local church and it is hard to achieve. But it is well worth striving for. I praise God for the many good fraternal that God has placed me in. May there be many, many more!