Here is the text of my report to the Annual Church Meeting last week.
James writes, ‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.’ (James 1:17-18)
It seems a little redundant to say that 2016 didn’t entirely work out as we had expected at BSBC. My expectation when I spoke to you at last year’s ACM was that we would have made significantly more progress in a number of areas than we have. I did correctly suggest that, ‘the year ahead will present us with new challenge.’ I’d like to claim this as a sign of prophetic wisdom, but this is something I could, and probably should, say every year, because it is always true! It will be true this year as well, but in the midst of that, James’ words to us remind us that Jesus does not change like the shifting shadows. God has chosen us to be his and has never deserted us whatever happens. While Garry’s departure was not expected by any of us it did not come as a surprise to the Lord and he has not abandoned us in this process.
Our volunteer youth team have stepped up and are doing fantastic work in leading our youth ministry. While we do not yet have firm sight on a replacement for Garry it is similarly true to say that God has this in hand. We are always struggling to understand God’s timing until we look back and see what he has done. I am confident that we will be able to see how his hand has been at work from a future perspective.
Even when situations don’t work out as we expect it is important for us to maintain our commitment to the idea of training people to the level that they require. This is true whether they are volunteers or paid workers. Indeed, training is part of the responsibility that we will be giving to the new Associate Minister. We have greatly benefited in the past few months from Heather’s continued presence with us, moving from an internship to becoming a student at the Institute for Children, Youth and Mission at Ridley Hall, Cambridge.
Last year I spoke about our need to take more seriously our responsibility towards vulnerable adults. I am glad to report that an updated policy and training have been delivered and will continue to be monitored closely. I also spoke about the need to look at the effectiveness of our disciple-making process. This leads me to the major point that I want to make this evening.
In 2016, we began to make progress in three related areas which weave together with other ideas that we are developing to begin to build a comprehensive model for the ministry that God has given us. We know that we are here to make fully devoted followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and to create a community of believers where Christ’s redemptive purposes are accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. We have that summary in our minds: Deeper, Closer, Wider. What has begun to emerge as we have looked at ideas that the Lord brought to us through Garry and others, and long-standing themes that the Lord has given to us previously, is our development as a church in which our discipleship will be profoundly missional and deeply healing. Those words of James that I read earlier, ‘he chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created’ are being made real among us. We are and will be modelling what Kingdom life looks like.
We spoke a lot last year about the missional model of discipleship but, if I’m honest, I suspect that most people would be hard pressed to explain what that means. We spoke a bit less about phase two of the development of our site, and were unable to make as much progress with that as we would have liked to in 2016.
We will be exploring in more detail what it means to be missionary disciples. We’ve got a name we’re going to use that’s a bit less of a mouthful and I will be speaking about that over the next three weeks. We have already undertaken a number of pilot schemes over the last few weeks, clearing gardens and lofts. Under Rupert and Jamie’s leadership we are learning what we need to be doing to be effective in this ministry and we will be developing this in the weeks ahead.
As we have examined phase two of the development of our site it has become clear that it fits within this same framework. Our vision to reach the poor, the deprived, the discriminated against and those without hope, is about using our resources to maximise opportunities to be missionary disciples. Transformation through Christ-centred community means helping people to meet with Jesus through our lives and offering them hope, help and healing. This is about us expressing our discipleship in a way that draws others nearer to Christ. Those of us that have been developing ideas for phase two believe that we must begin to demonstrate this community life now and not wait for a new building. Over the next few weeks and months we will be rolling out ways to support the ministry of Exchange, and relaunching the Celebrate Recovery ministry, bringing healing to those who are hurting, controlled by bad habits or overshadowed by events on the past.
So, alongside the missional model and phase two, the third strand of this is the promised discipleship training programme (unoriginally entitled ‘The Journey’) which is now running weekly. This seeks to give new Christians a foundation in the Word and the Spirit and covers five units of varying length:
- The Kingdom of God
- Who is Jesus?
- How do we live in the Kingdom?
- The Kingdom values
- The Kingdom mission
I’m excited about all of this because I believe that people are ready for the challenge that this will bring. I believe it will move us out in faith and trust in the Lord and that there will be fruit from it. I’m excited because already the nature of our community life is an example of Kingdom life and the Holy Spirit is using that to draw people to Christ. Over the next couple of months there are several people that will be declaring their faith in Christ through the waters of baptism. In each case it is through the life of the church expressed in one way or another that they are coming to make that witness. God is at work and these are the first fruits.
Robin paid tribute to those deacons who are standing down from leadership. I would like to add my own thanks to them for the very considerable contribution that they have made to the life of the church. In addition, I would like to express my deep gratitude to Trevor McKenzie who has served as an Elder for many years. Most of you will have realised that Trevor has been divided for the last few years between his responsibilities towards his family in Trinidad and Tobago and his responsibilities here. Trevor feels that this is the right time for him to relinquish the office of Elder. Trevor will continue to be part of the Pastoral Team and to be involved with our partnership with Eric and Claire and L’Eglise Vivante in Rwanda. Trevor has brought wise counsel and godly direction and we are very much in his debt. Thank you for all that you have given to us.
Richard Lake has been appointed as a Deacon in the leadership team.
I’d like to close by giving thanks to the Lord for all that he is doing amongst us. We are not worthy of him but we are chosen – chosen to be his body, to demonstrate his kingdom. This is challenging. It’s not necessarily comfortable and it involves elements of risk, but God is going ahead of us and this is going to be an exciting journey of which to be a part.
If you have any questions about anything in the report please do come and speak to me.
Now we look forward to the celebration of Easter. We shall be celebrating with a baptism on Easter Sunday as Deborah Hunt comes to witness to her faith in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that it will be a great day of celebration for us all.
Yours in Christ,