“Everything has to come to an end, sometime”. So wrote Frank Bauman in The Marvelous Land of Oz, a sequel to The Wizard of Oz. Bauman was simply echoing the well-known proverb, “All good things must come to an end” – for nothing lasts forever. Or if we want to draw upon the Scriptures: “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die” (Eccl 3.1-2).
What is true of life in general, is also true of the Christian life. Every Christian group or organisation – has a limited life. Over the last fifty years of Baptist ministry I have been involved in starting up three organisations. The first was ‘Mainstream: Baptists for life and growth’, which together with Douglas MacBain I cofounded in 1978: it had a powerful influence on the Baptist denomination in the late 1970s and 1980s, but eventually it petered out. The second was the Richard Baxter Institute for Ministry (later renames Ministry Today UK), which together with some friends I founded in 1994: it published Ministry Today, the at the time the only British interdenominational journal devoted to the practice of ministry, but that folded in 2018. Then in 2013 along with my friend Paul Goodliff we launched the College of Baptist Ministry with a concern for the well-being of Baptist ministers, and that too will formally close next year.
Compared to beginnings endings are not easy. Beginnings are often marked by a sense of excitement, while a sense of loss and sadness often accompany endings. There is always more that we could have achieved. But then, is that not true of life in general? When the day comes for us to retire, for instance, there is often a sense of sadness associated with not being able to complete all that we felt God had called us to do.
Yet endings are part and parcel of life. The important thing is that we recognise the time to move on. In the words of Brazilian novelist, Paulo Coelho:
It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn’t matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over.
Ellen Goodman, an American Pulitzer prize winning columnist made a similar point when she wrote: “There’s a trick to the ‘graceful exit’. It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage or a relationship is over – and let it go. It means leaving what is over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives. It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out.”
Strangely churches are not always good at endings – we find it difficult to close down a much-loved meeting or group. Yet at the heart of the Christian believing is the conviction that death is the necessary prelude to resurrection. To bear fruit for Christ some things have to die for something new to emerge.
Precisely what will emerge from the closure of the College of Baptist Ministers, I do not know. Some might say that the ‘new’ is to be found in the Baptist Union’s recent launch of a scheme for continuing ministerial development. Much as I wish this new initiative well, I am convinced that there remains a place for a body independent of the Baptist Union representing the interests of ministers. Hopefully, in God’s good time that may become possible.
In the meantime the Board of the College of Baptist Ministers wants to make what Ellen Goodman called a ‘graceful exit’. Rather than just close, we decided to bless our members – and others more generally – by producing a 50,000-word ‘legacy’ volume. Entitled A College of Peers, it tells the story of the College, and includes documents we produced over those years (for example, a relatively short and helpful code of ethics which others responsible for ministry would do well to emulate). However, the heart of A College of Peers consists of a selection of letters sent out to members every month dealing with a wide range of ministry topics (including two contributions on church life during and post-Covid). The final section is devoted to two ‘in memoriam’ pieces written by myself: the first on Servant Leadership and the second on Christian Worship seen through the lens of 1 & 2 Timothy.
A College of Peers will be produced as a hardback in the New Year. Complimentary copies will be sent out to all our members. However, there will be an opportunity for others to get a copy provided they put in an order by 31 December. It will cost £10 (including post and packing) for those in the UK , while for those living beyond the UK – we are willing to make a specially tailored deal. If I have whetted your appetite, then send me an email today!
To return to where I began: “Everything has to come to an end, sometime”. The challenge is to end well. As Henry Wordsworth Longfellow rightly declared, “Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending”. So when the time comes and an organisation needs to ‘die’, let me encourage you to end well – even if it is just having a good party to say to everybody ‘thank you and good-bye’.