This week I was asked by BBC Essex to reflect on my 21 years of ministry at Central Baptist Church, Chelmsford. In preparation for the interview, I wrote the following:-
On Sunday 25 October 1992 I came to what is now called Central Baptist Church and preached ‘with a view’ to becoming minister of the church. In our Baptist system the whole church is involved in the appointment of a minister – and so I had to preach two ‘trial’ sermons.
I ended my evening sermon that day with these words:
What kind of a senior minister are you looking for? Are you looking for a chaplain to keep you comfortable? Or are you looking for a leader with a passion for evangelism; a leader who will constantly seek to mobilise this church for mission; a leader who will never be satisfied with a packed church? If the latter, then I might be your man.
The church decided it wanted a missionary leader – and called me to be its pastor!
Missionary leadership – I think that is what has summed up my 21 years of mission. With George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, I believe that the church is never more than one generation from extinction. If a church is not reaching out to the community around it, then frankly it has little hope of survival. But how does a church reach out with the Good News of Jesus? It is at that point that leadership is called for.
Some years ago Robin Gill, a Christian theologian with an interest in sociology, likened British churches to the pelicans in St James’ Park in central London – peculiar creatures, stranded in an environment not their own –
Awkward, out of place, angular, with a big mouth but little brain, demanding but inactive… Churches in Britain need to make urgent choices about structure and direction. If they are to cease being pelicans, they need to be much clearer about how they might be effective in present-day Britain. They need to be more single-minded about growth… about how they might reach the nine out of ten people in Britain who seldom or never go to church.
My task these 21 years has been to lead the church forward in effective mission. When I first arrived we worshipped in a gloomy Edwardian sanctuary, with hard wooden pews. It soon became apparent that if we were to impact our community, then we had to redevelop our facilities. With that in mind we spent £2 million transforming our premises – and ended up with a marvellous base for mission. Raising that huge sum of money was an extraordinary challenge – but in fact it was the best thing that ever happened to our church. For it transformed relationships in the church, and at the same time made us even more aware of the need to reach out to community. As a result, we began to grow as a church – at the time we had 250 members; today we have 400 committed members together with many others who regard our church as their church.
Of course there is more to church life than growth. We are a seven day-a-week city centre church committed to serving the community in many practical ways. We run two clubs for people wrestling with mental health issues; a child contact centre for broken families referred to us by the courts. Four days a week we run a café; we help people to budget; we run activities for lonely people and older people; as also a host of activities for children and young families. Central Baptist Church is a great church – or in the words of our strap line, it is ‘a place to belong’.
Let me emphasise that the growth of our church has very much been a team effort. Without our army volunteers we would never be able to do what we do. I thank God for the amazing commitment of so many of our people. But to mobilize the church for mission leadership is called for – and again I need to emphasise that this has been a team effort. I thank God for my leadership team – and in particular for those who form the ministry team. Yes here at Central we have four ministers together with a children’s and families worker and an outreach worker for seniors. The fact is that in church life missionary leadership is key. For ‘leaders make things happen’; ‘leaders make a difference”.
A few years ago I was visiting the Auckland Maritime Museum, where was there a display featuring the work of Sir Peter Blake, the man behind New Zealand’s successful Admirals Cup bid. Following his death, a Blake medal is issued every year for outstanding leadership. I noted with interest the leadership qualities that the Sir Peter Blake Trust looks for: –
- Determination and the will to succeed
- Belief in achieving extraordinary things
- Willingness to learn
- Desire for constant improvement
- Trusting and empowering team-mates
- The initiative to pursue an idea
- Ability to have fun
I dare to assert that those qualities, thank God, have characterized the missionary leadership of Central Baptist Church.