The Nature of Association

As a Trustee and Council Member of the Eastern Baptist Association I recently spent a fascinating day immersed in the language of charities recently being trained on Charity Law and Governance. Two comments there prompted me to reflect further on the nature and the life of our regional Baptist Associations.

  1. As finances are limited, many charities are increasingly mobilising volunteers to achieve things which previously they raised money and paid people to do. Successful charities are those who are mobilising the enthusiasm and efforts of their members.
  2. Our Baptist Associations are generally bodies made up of members which are themselves organisations. So constitutionally the members of the EBA are the Churches of the EBA, and by extension the ministers and the members of the churches.

Consequently, we should remember that the Baptist churches in the East of England are not the “supporters” or the “funding sources” of EBA. Nor are the churches the “clients” or the “service users” of the EBA. The Churches are the “members of the EBA.” That is not only their legal status in our constitution, but more importantly that is our theology and our ecclesiology. EBA is not just our RM team, nor Council, but it is the Association made up of all our churches. Churches, ministers and members all belong to EBA and EBA belongs to every one of them. This says two things to me.

We need to do everything we can to ensure that every minister, every church and every church member thinks and talks of the Eastern Baptist Association as “us” and not “them”. We do not want churches, ministers or Christians to think of EBA as something separate from themselves. We want churches, ministers, and Christians to think of themselves as members of EBA and by membership we do not want people to think of the nebulous relationship they might have with a motoring association, but rather what it means to belong to a football team or an orchestra.

To reinforce this understanding, we must make sure in all our thinking, talking and writing (e.g. on website, publicity, emails or prayer letters) that we only ever use “EBA” to refer to that body which is made up of all our member churches. We must avoid any implication that EBA is some kind of body or organisation distinct from the churches.

The finance EBA can generate from our members is limited by factors outside our control, and at the same time the workload of our RM Team is overwhelming. So, as well as encouraging greater giving from our churches we need to be looking for ways for EBA to do things by mobilising member churches, ministers and believers, rather than by paying staff to do them. In a church the role of the Minister (and the wider leadership team) is not to do all the works of the ministry themselves, but rather to “equip (God’s) people for works of service.” (Ephesians 4:12) Equally, in our role in leading EBA, RMs and Council need to give attention (as we already do, but perhaps could more) to enabling and encouraging churches, ministers and members to be actively involved in the work of EBA. This would be not only a pragmatic response to limited finances, but more importantly a proper expression of the shared life of our Association. As one example, this might mean RMs enlisting ministers and non-ministers for tasks which RMs have traditionally done, and spending time training and supervising others in those tasks rather than doing the work themselves.
I can make a case for these reflections to be equally applicable to BUGB.

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