This is the first of a series of conversations we are planning to share on seventy-two.network. In each one, Nigel Coles sits down for coffee with a leader who might help us find our way in God’s mission.
Overcoming barriers to the mission of God …with Dianne Tidball
Nigel: Dianne … as the current President of the Baptist Union, as well as someone passionate about the mission of God, you’ve a perspective few others are able to have. I’d love to hear what you’re seeing and hearing, which might help us grow in what I tend to think of ‘the habits of God’, so what have been the most encouraging signs you’ve witnessed among us?
Dianne: It is a privilege being able to visit so many different places and seeing God at work through Christ in his people. From Mizoram in NE India to Kathmandu, to Brisbane and Perth in Australia and from Newcastle to Plymouth (Nigel: I’m glad you’ve been somewhere in the UK!) I have had the opportunity to be encouraged by seeing the Holy Spirit doing His work of bringing life and wholeness, healing brokenness and transforming communities.
Nigel: … so what about the habits?
Dianne: The habits I’ve noticed amongst communities where God’s Kingdom is being seen most clearly include:
Reverence for God and a full acceptance of Jesus Christ as Lord and the Holy Spirit as the One who enables God’s purposes to be fulfilled in them and through them.
A hunger for God through his written word. A daily desire to learn more of God himself and his presence and purposes by regularly allowing the Bible to shape their thinking, attitudes and actions.
Expectant, adventurous, faithful prayer. Believing that God will change the world and we can be part of that. Allowing, through prayer God to lead and guide our plans and purposes and praying audaciously for God to act in provision; in breaking down barriers; in defeating evil and injustice.
Nigel: … and what’s the impact?
Dianne: Out of the simple habits of honouring God, prayer, reading and applying the Bible come noticeable traits:
- Compassion for the broken and anger against injustice
- Welcoming and valuing people of all backgrounds.
- Generous and sacrificial in the way individuals live and the way the community responds.
Nigel: That all sounds terrific and I’m not looking to turn this into a good news/bad news conversation, but we’re both keenly aware, as Baptists generally, (or particularly if you’ll forgive the pun) we have some way to go before we could be seen as fully part of the missional movement of God. What do you see as the major challenges we need to overcome if our Baptist churches are to become fully part of something we could identify as a missional movement?
Dianne: A few things come to mind …
- It is very easy to lose our Christ-centredness; Romans 7 reminds us all how easily we do the things we don’t want to do rather than following Christ, which we do want to do.
- We lose our Christ-centredness when we look to other things than Christ as our authority or focus. Even our history and background. Jesus when speaking to the Pharisees speaks of the God of Abraham but the Pharisees go back to Abraham and human insights. It is so easy for all of us to speak of our Baptist heritage and identity which is something of which we can be proud, but it is the God of our heritage and identity that is to be our focus ultimately not our heritage and identity in itself.
- For all Christians, Baptists and others, there is a huge pressure to conform to the values of our culture – materialism, thinking that the answer to all our problems (even in the church) will be solved by money. When we have the vision right before God then God will provide for us and not the other way round.
- There is a devaluing of the currency of love. God is love and that is a huge concept and fact. In our sentimental and indulgent age it seems as if we have lost the ‘holy’ aspect of love. Holy love wants the best for people not the most comfortable and the easiest – we are in danger of saying to people that things don’t matter, God understands. God does understand but he wants us to be like he is – he wants us to be delivered of anger, selfishness, pride, lust and sadly the list could go on.
- These challenges are all internal to the community, which is seeking Christ and I do think our biggest challenges revolve around godly character and discipleship and leadership issues but there are external factors which challenge and confront us.
The culture in the UK is increasingly intolerant of those who hold to Biblical truth and have values based on Christ. There is an aggressive, vocal and at times ugly opposition to anything which appears to stray from a liberal, inclusive mind-set. A discipleship movement has to express itself in tones and terms which enable a response in such contexts, but also has to be resilient in facing criticism and opponents with wisdom, love and grace.
Nigel: We’re talking about some big issues and I’m very aware some of our local churches feel overwhelmed and almost paralysed to respond to some of the issues of today. How do you believe, as local churches, we need to adapt, in order to facilitate what we believe is on God’s heart?
Dianne: We as local churches need to recapture the joy and fun of being God’s people. Church should be positive, encouraging and inspiring in all its dealings with people. We should do things in the best possible way – whether it is the worship or the coffee they should all reflect God’s glory and beauty.
Nigel: I’m always keen to encourage good coffee, but keep going …
Dianne: The local church should major on the basics – regular teaching of God’s word, the Bible and finding ways to apply it in discipleship groups; holding people accountable in a gentle and generous way. Doing all this in a culturally relevant way; thinking radically beyond what has become our ‘norm’ for worship services and growing in Christ.
- Having high expectations for behaviour which reflects Biblical discipleship – in the area of giving, lifestyle, comments and attitudes. Being forgiving and generous in all circumstances.
- Being prepared to take tough decisions; not permitting ungodly leadership to go unchallenged, expecting people to engage in mission and ministry according to their gifts and opportunities.
- Finding ways to tell the good news of Jesus. Being creative, thoughtful and respectful but willing and bold in the process.
Nigel: now a question which may not interest everyone, but we’ve both served as Baptist Regional Ministers … how do we need to adapt, in order to facilitate what we believe is on God’s heart?
- Around the world I see churches, which are seeing conversions, baptisms and people growing as disciples of Jesus. They all have effective and fruitful leaders. We need to welcome, encourage and support them.
- Somewhere in the past 60 years, as Baptists, we have drifted to a point where some of our leaders have been more absorbed in themselves and their needs rather than “seeking first the kingdom of God”. We have over emphasised the gifts of being caring and pastoral over against the ministries of being an evangelist, prophet and apostle. We need to recapture a vision of anointed leaders and implement a plan to raise them up.
- Our churches have become institutions, which give us comfort and security as Baptists rather than being the living body of Christ, which serves the world and its needs to know God and his presence. We need prophets to challenge unhelpful structures, attitudes and approaches.
- We have become cautious and fearful of upsetting each other because we see things differently. We need to learn to be agreeable even in our disagreements.
- We need to recapture the vision of our early Baptists who took courageous decisions to stand firmly for Jesus Christ and to allow the Holy Spirit to guide and lead them through Scripture.
- We need to be wise and have sound judgement as we go forward – we are in a spiritual battle, which is largely unacknowledged and forces of evil will seek to undermine and distract us.
- Our focus must always be God’s loving, gracious, powerful presence not the seemingly insurmountable issues that we face.
Nigel: Thank you Di … not for the first time, you’ve disturbed my desire for a comfortable life. I wont let it spoil my coffee, but I for one will want to prayerfully re-visit all you’ve shared. Also, I’m confident you’ll continue to be a disturbing influence, across our Baptist family, for good and for God. I’m grateful to you and to God, for all you’re bringing to our attention.