Last week I attended the annual Scottish Baptist Assembly in Dunfermline. I was asked by the SBLPA to review the third day of the conference, and here are my thoughts:
In many ways I came to my first Scottish Baptist Assembly as an outsider. Being born in Yorkshire, I am not Scottish, but have lived here for many years. Although I married a Scottish girl and have three Scottish children, I’ve never lost the accent. However, over the years I have felt an increasing burden for my adopted land and for the spiritual state of our nation and long to see God move in power again. Secondly, I’m not a Baptist minister, but am working full time in a secular role, trying to maintain a devoted life, whilst combining an often demanding job, with the needs of a young family, with my preaching and teaching ministry in my local church. However, as the son of a Baptist minister, and seeing close up the trials and tribulations the ministry entails, I believe I have a good insight into life in the ministry. Finally, although I have been very involved in Baptist churches for 20+ years (15 of those in Scotland), this was my first interaction with the Baptist Union. So, it was fascinating for me to attend the Assembly and understand more about the work of the Union in Scotland.
By day three I was getting into the swing of things! My daily trips from Alyth to Dundee resembled my commute to work, except that I then picked up a friend for the journey to Dunfermline. Our hour long trips each way were precious times of refreshing as the two of us committed the day to God, enjoyed the beautiful scenery and shared what God is doing in our lives. It was a real a blessing for me have such company when I normally am rushing conversations over lunch, or during a bible study, or after a service. How many other kingdom conversations would be going on as others made their way to the Assembly from all over Scotland? It was clear to me that the Assembly is an important time for our ministers to be able to relax, be themselves away from the pressure of their local congregations and catch up with old friends.
Once at the conference centre we finally managed to have a morning coffee with all the other delegates from our church and sit together for the morning session. The theme for the Saturday morning was the conviction of Mission. It began with a message by Stuart Blythe on Matthew 5.13-16, reminding us of the characteristics of salt and light. Salt and light by definition exist for the greater good – preserving and illuminating the environment in which they exist. Stuart’s challenge to us was: is that who we are? Do we seek the greater good of society, even of our enemies? We were reminded of the contributions to society made by both Joseph and Daniel – even to a pagan society that most of the time didn’t respect their beliefs. They are great examples for those of us who face jobs that place ever increasing demands on our time, energy and attention. Instant, ever-present communications, frequent job changes and subsequent relocations mean that the modern Daniels often have little time or opportunity to put down roots in our churches – I wonder if we know how to engage, equip and exhort them?
Following the message, Ian Randall led us in reflecting on some great missional thinkers of the past: Erasmus, John Bunyan, William Kiffin and William Carey. The challenge was to use our imagination in communication, poetry, literature and community in order to respond to the needs around us. Carey in particular was highlighted as seeking to bring both physical and spiritual freedom to those he was ministering to. Then followed a panel session with Newton Mearns Baptist Church and Business In Glasgow (BiG). Newton Mearns are providing their congregation with the space and time to engage in more relational events and meetings. The challenge was to allow our church body permission to do things that are primarily focussed on relationship building. It reminded me of when we decided to show football games on a big screen at Abbeyhill and had to decide whether to do an epilogue. In the end we didn’t and the aim was to build friendship and establish trust, which would lead to deepening relationships. However, if this is all we do then we become ineffective, but if we never do it at all we become irrelevant and disconnected from our community.
I was encouraged by the BiG team in Glasgow seeking to try new things to engage with the business community in this key city. Having been involved with Business Matters, a similar organisation in Edinburgh for many years I saw the value of this type of mission first hand. They ran a series of events and meetings, ranging from helping with redundancy and depression, through to a Business Alpha course in the city centre at lunchtime in a top hotel. This course was the perfect tool for reaching my work colleagues, as being held in a top hotel and at lunchtime, there was no excuse for them not to give it a try. The morning finished with an update from the Edinburgh missionary conference, 100 years after the first conference. In the afternoon Alan Donaldson gave his closing address and the Assembly finished with communion.
As we headed home I took with me the important role of the Union in enabling the Baptist churches in Scotland to be more than the sum of their parts, particularly in the key area of mission. These days, seeking a unique identity for Scottish Baptists may be challenging – we are communities of conviction, but there are many others who share our convictions. We should join with our evangelical brothers and sisters to promote the spread of the gospel in our land. Alongside this shared mission, the Union has a key role in calling each community back to the central truths of justification by faith, the exclusivity of Jesus Christ, the reliability of the scriptures and the eternal realities of the life to come. In an increasingly secular society, these are the essential truths that we must guard and which are the pressure points that really test our deepest convictions.