I am excited, for the College of Baptist Ministers is about to be launched! After months of preparation and consultation the dream is about to become reality! Over the coming two years there will be a series of nation-wide launches – not just in England, but in Wales and Scotland too.
What is the College of Baptist Ministers? In a nutshell, it is a new professional body for all ministers whose churches are in membership with the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Baptist Union of Scotland, or the Baptist Union of Wales. On the one hand, it aims to help Baptist ministers grow and develop in their understanding and practice of ministry. On the other hand, it will be there to support ministers in times of difficulty. There is no other Baptist body in the UK with these twin aims – indeed, there is no other body of any denomination which combines these aims.
Furthermore, although there are other bodies seeking to help and encourage ministers to grow and develop, not one has set up a framework for continuing ministerial development throughout a minister’s working life. While in the world beyond the church every other professional body has developed schemes for continuing professional development, up until now there has been nothing for ministers. In this respect ministers are the most unprofessional of professionals!
The College of Baptist Ministers has identified the following seven strands vital to the well-being of every minister:
- Accountability – regularly opening our lives to the supportive scrutiny of one or two others.
- Applied Practice – gaining new insights through reflecting on our experience of ministry and church life, learning through failure as well as success, pioneering new ways of doing mission and ministry, creating courses that help our people grow in their faith, becoming more effective as a preacher, developing new skills in managing change, resolving conflict, building team, and in leading God’s people forward
- Appraisal – on an annual basis allowing others to help us review our ministries, affirming all that has been positive in the past year, and agreeing the shape of ministry for the coming year.
- Collegiality – meeting together with other ministers to strengthen, encourage and support one another.
- Learning – through attending courses, reading books, working for a formal qualification, or simply going on a broadening sabbatical.
- Practical competencies – relating to some of the more practical competencies of ministry identified by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, such as IT skills and safeguarding policies
- Spirituality – sustaining and deepening our walk with God.
Every member will be helped to create a personal online portfolio accessed through the internet – this portfolio will be secure and accessible only to the member and to those charged to monitor the portfolio, unless specific permission is given to others by the member. Members will be encouraged to post regularly brief date-marked entries according to the strands – over the year we would expect members to post something in every strand. Apart from the spirituality strand, which would be difficult to assess, each experience of development would link to a way in which it could be confirmed, for the rare occasion where verification could be helpful to the minister together with the date when the would be encouraged to post entries regularly in their portfolio, at least every two months.
Simple and lightweight in structure, this will encourage ministers to keep growing and developing. Sadly, some have misunderstood what is in mind and have accused the College of wanting ministers to become more ‘academic’. But this is not the case. True, some of our members may take advantage of academic courses being offered by universities and theological colleges, but others will undoubtedly engage in much more practical courses. Our concern as a College is that in a fast-changing world ministers keep learning and in this way remain effective ministers of the Gospel.
In addition to enabling continuing ministerial development, we want to be there for our members in difficulty. In this respect we recognise that there are others who share this aim – not least regional ministers. However, although regional ministers should always be the first port of call when things go wrong in church life, the reality is that regional ministers cannot always support the interests of both the minister and the church. In such cases, there is a place for a professional body to provide support and advice when things go pear-shaped in the life of a minister. Precisely because up until now there has been no professional body for ministers, an increasing number of ministers have been joining the clergy chapter of the trade union Unite. By contrast the College of Baptist Ministers is very different from Unite – in the first place we want to offer non-adversarial peer support for our members. We will always seek to encourage members toward reconciliation and the avoidance of legal proceedings. However, on the rare occasions that members may find themselves engaged in such procedures, we will provide personal support to the minister to ensure that they do not go through such procedures isolated and alone.
The more I reflect on what the College has to offer, the more I am convinced of the need for the College. Certainly there is no other body able to promote the health and well-being of ministers in this way!