The following is an edited version of outgoing New Zealand Baptist Union President Merrilyn Withers’ reflections to Assembly Council at the end of last year.
1. Ministry of the whole church
As I have travelled I have sensed the growing need for ownership of ministry of the whole church by leaders. While we might specialise in and be passionate about our own particular areas, we have to work together and communicate across the generations for the good and the growth of the whole church. Otherwise we undermine our total effort for the Kingdom of God.
As youth specialists, we have a particular responsibility to and passion for teens, but if there is not good integration and communication with those who work with children and Intermediates, the ongoing value of a lot of our work is lost. And this reaches upwards to young adults and older adults.
It is no good one part of the body working effectively if others are not working alongside it. That includes every ministry within the church. I sense a growing awareness that many are expressing the need to strategise and work together across the whole board, and not just to spin in our own circles as we sometimes tend to do.
Nigel Cottle, in some research on young adult ministry, has strongly concluded that we need a far greater ownership, endorsement and support of what each part of the church body is doing. We need much more intentional working together and integration within the church.
The reality is that it is not just young adults who are leaving our churches, it is also the 50-plus group, and I wonder whether the time is right to have some solid dialogue between children’s specialists, youth specialists, associate pastors, and senior pastors as to how we best move forward as churches. I think this would be a stimulating and exciting discussion!
2. Authentic sharing
At the Baptist Assembly in Rangiora last November, it was interesting to note how many appreciated the authenticity and personal sharing of a number of people. It showed to me afresh the power of what being a family of churches actually is all about –relationship, knowing each other, being able to be real, and being there for each other through times of success and failure. That does far more for our commitment to a common cause, and willingness to support the wider picture through thick and thin, than anything.
Of course we need vision and challenge, and it was wonderful to have these at Assembly, but one of the key contributions that people seemed to have valued over recent years is the sense of family, togetherness and shared goals that is evident.
My hope and prayer is that this will grow and continue and bear much fruit in the years ahead.
As a family of churches, partnership has to be a high priority. One of our distinctives is a strong and autonomous local church, but I also love the idea that being a union of churches is more than being “just about me and my church.” It is about resourcing, empowering and supporting others. This also fits in with what I said above about partnering with other ministries in our local churches so that we can gain the best from our local family ministries.
I sense there are good days ahead for us as a movement of churches. That doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges and tough times, but I feel a growing unity – if not in all places and times – but nevertheless a unity that desires to see us move forward as a movement, and is more willing than before to do what needs to happen to see this achieved.
I am also really encouraged to see the depth and breadth of what individuals in leadership bring to our movement at this time. There is a great mix of gifts, personality, and leadership styles and focus which I think give a very well-rounded balance of pastoral care, supportive enthusiasm, ability to reflect and analyse the present, past and future, ask the tough questions, dream and envision, but also ask the tough practical questions regarding resourcing.
May God continue to bless our family and movement of churches as we move forward into the future!