I wish you a Happy New Year. And more importantly, I pray for a year in which you are filled with the Spirit of Jesus, inspired by the word of God and drawn into his mission in new ways.
As the largest network of evangelical churches in the country, God has entrusted us with great responsibilities – to be his witnesses together wherever he has placed us and to make the most of every opportunity the life of discipleship presents to us.
At the start of the year I want to share with you the three priorities I believe God has called me to bring to our attention at this time: Transformations, Generations and Innovations. (Some will remember that I talked about these at our Assembly in November.)
1 Transformations: Our goal is transformation into a life fit for Jesus; to be people transformed through the sacrifice of the Son of God, in the power of the Spirit of God, under the authority of the word of God, seized by a passion for the kingdom of God. And we are commissioned by Jesus to invite everyone we can into this new God-transformed life through repentance and faith.
It is easy for us to give our best energy to keeping the church running, filling the rotas and trying to make everyone comfortable. This is focusing on what we are doing rather than what God is doing. It is tempting to measure fruitfulness by how many people attend our gatherings. A better measure will always be to focus on who and what God is transforming.
2 Generations: God has gifted our churches with people of all ages to be exemplary disciples and to carry leadership responsibility. We have tended to entrust responsibility to those of greater age. Now is the time to ensure that all generations are encouraged to become all that God is calling them to be, and this means paying particular attention to younger generations. There are some excellent examples of Scottish Baptist churches intentionally discipling, training and trusting younger leaders. The national work of Ali Laing, our Next Generation Coordinator, with the Invest programme is also vital for this. However, Generations is not simply a project but a cultural change that needs to happen in all our churches. It reflects the radical way Jesus chose his disciples, entrusting the mission of his kingdom to young adults and not just seasoned elders.
3 Innovations: I have been blessed, nurtured and hugely enriched through our inherited way of being church, and I give thanks for the life and growth in so many of our churches now. However, I am deeply unsure whether this form of church (even somewhat enhanced and modernised) is sufficient on its own for the evangelisation of our land. The Apostle Paul writes ‘I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings’ (1 Corinthians 9:22-23). In the same spirit, I believe this is a season for developing innovatory ways of being church alongside our existing congregations – churches where the message remains unchanged but the vessel is reconfigured. These may be, for example, churches that reflect the simplicity of disciple-making movements in other parts of the world, that make their central practice eating together or that purposely immerse themselves in relationship-building in local communities.
God has blessed our churches with faith, hope and love and I have high expectations for what he will do in us and through in the coming year. My prayer is that we will keep transformations, generations and innovations in the foreground as together we seek to live faithfully as disciples of Jesus.