Partnership in Mission is more than a name; it’s who we are. However, what does it mean to be a ‘partner church’ within Webnet? As Christian’s, we readily understand telling people who we are is a long way from someone else understanding and seeing something of the life of Christ lived out in the life of their friend, or work colleague.
The ‘Christian’ label we were given literally means ‘Christ’s one’s’, which means we have a lot to live up to! The early Christian’s became known as ‘the people of the way’, which tells their lives reflected enough of the life of Christ to be recognisable. Stop and think for a moment and dare to ask yourself what label people would give us, as followers of Jesus, today? Imagine if they were solely describing what they saw, lived out in front of their eyes, as in the first century.
The challenge I face, as an individual Christian, is to reduce the gap between who I am and who I claim to be in Christ.
The challenge we all face, as Christian churches, is similar. However, because we’re in it together, it’s way more complicated. We know the truth in the old joke, ‘wherever two or three Baptists gather, you have five, or six opinions.’
The challenge we face as churches in partnership together, as over 120 Baptist churches, is well … let’s just stick with complicated!
Partnership in Mission is the name for the funding mechanism we use to enable our network of churches, not simply to function, but pursue the mission of God across the west of England. Our hope and expectation is it will be an authentic expression of our reality as churches – partners in mission. Here’s four reasons why:
- We are one in Christ. in Christ Jesus you are all children of Godthrough faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:26-28). There are many places, in scripture, we could have gone to make this point, but as Baptist Christians, this is inevitably one of our favourites. We no longer need to meet in the woods, for safety, as the earliest Baptist congregations in our region needed to do, but we still want to identify and associate with one another, precisely because we have so much in common. It is the fact, as every Baptist church, we recognise the present authority of Christ we unite together.
- We are one in the mission of God. But you are a chosen people,a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9) At some point every English Baptist church affirmed what is known as the Baptist Declaration of Principle. We need to be honest and recognise most members of our Baptist churches are unaware of our history, but it is helpful, periodically, to reflect on the strong foundations we are now building on. Our emphasis on the ministry of all believers is reflected in the third point in the D of P: it is the duty of every disciple to bear personal witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to take part in the evangelisation of the world. Not so long ago a Baptist Minister, appointed to lead a local church, could have anticipated numerical growth with a focus on competent preaching, which expounded the biblical text, from the front and compassionate pastoral visitation during the week. Those days have long gone. Today we need pastoral leaders who are equipped to empower others much more than for well over a century. Today we all need to share responsibility, and this remains one of the clear distinctives for a network of churches such as ours.
- We cannot do it alone and want to encourage one another. Therefore encourage one anotherand build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) There are many places in the New Testament, which remind us that because we belong together, as the body of Christ we are called to do something for one another – in fact there are 59 ‘one-another’s’ in the NT. We’ll recognise none of them are achieved solely by attending the same gathering for worship service on a Sunday. I’ve just read through them all again and every one of them applies to as Regional Ministers, in our relationships with local churches, every much as to every local church member. My conviction is our ‘regional’ Ministry is more necessary than it was twenty years ago when I began in this role and the most necessary element is encouragement. Paul was writing to the Thessalonian Christian’s in the first century, against the backdrop of persecution. Today we are in a different context, but none of us can deny we are swimming against strong cultural currents.
- We cannot do it alone and need one another’s support. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows,and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:16) I’m not sure how I feel about being described as a ‘supporting ligament’, but it strikes me this is the best general descriptor of a Baptist Regional Minister today. Many people think of our role in a wooden way, which they can relate to when help, or direct advice is sought, but the vast majority of our engagements with local churches and leadership, arise out of concern to grow and develop further, rather than out of necessity and desperation. True, we are the conduit to provide some of the support most local churches do not have access to themselves, (leadership, safeguarding, training, legal) necessary for good governance and compliance in today’s world, but overwhelmingly our involvements are more proactive and positive and hopefully challenging too. Our team focus is very much now more on facilitating, networking, and releasing others.