Lessons from Ken Benjamin's Presidential Year
Lessons from Ken Benjamin President 2019-2020
My friend Yinka will be the next President of Baptists Together from May 2020. He has kindly asked me to share, here, some lessons learnt from my own year as President whilst bringing the, ‘Where do we grow from here?’ theme to ministers, churches, colleges and associations.
So here are ten key thoughts/lessons with implications for all or many of us. (For those who prefer to scan read – the key points are in bold!)
- Firstly, I’ve found that people genuinely appreciate it when we are honest about the current situation for our churches.
A key part of leadership is to define reality. To recognise the current state of play – to name the problems – to celebrate the good news stories – to articulate the challenges – to raise awareness of the opportunities.
I have tried to do that by asking a question looking a few years ahead, ‘Where will our stream of churches be in 10 years’ time (if the Lord doesn’t return and we don’t experience revival both of which could, of course, happen within that time). I have sought to honestly describe the danger of our churches, overall, ageing and declining but then I’ve looked to ask what could happen if we boldly pray for a different outcome.
What if, we learn lessons from churches bucking the ageing and declining trend? What if, we pray together ‘Where do we grow from here?’
A minister, in one of the first churches that I visited described my approach as, ‘bringing bad news but graciously and with hope for the future’. I’ll take that as a fair summary of what I’ve been doing! As church leaders, I’ve also found we can so easily fill our time addressing other issues. There will always be enough work filling our to-do list, other things shouting for our attention, such that we might not think about this, ‘what if’, question. There will always be enough good news stories somewhere within our churches to be encouraged, but maybe also those stories might distract us from the need for bold changes.
- Essentially my role has been to invite others to join in a prayer rather than a programme. It is not so much that we don’t plan or develop programmes but that prayer provides the keys through which doors open up. We so easily forget prayer in favour of our ideas, we forgo prayer in favour of busyness. We need to pray before the plans – with the plans – after the plans.
- I’ve found in asking a question about church growth that there are a variety of understandable reactions to a theme such as this. On the one hand there is enthusiasm and hunger for growth, whilst on the other hand there is a wariness based perhaps on past experience of some church growth initiatives. It is therefore helpful to offer reminders that it is God who makes things grow rather than us. God wants his church to grow, God will build his church and globally God is growing his church. Growth is also implied in so much of Jesus’ teaching, but there is no promise of guarantee that growth will happen in our time, within our stream of churches. That is something we should pray about.
- It has been helpful to recognise that any growth initiative starts by taking it personally. It starts with me and it starts with you, seeking to grow in fruit of the Spirit, in maturity, in Christlikeness. It is ridiculous to look for church growth without the personal growth of church leaders who have their own Frontlines where they regularly mix with people who don’t yet share their faith.
- A key lesson for many of our Baptist churches is, surely, that less is more. Very often the answer to what we should do next is to do less and do it better because we are not stretching our resources too thinly. Having too large a programme is a significant issue for some of our churches.
- We need to keep reminding ourselves to think in terms of Kingdom gain rather than one church’s gain. Our heart is for souls not statistics. We carry Christ’s message of help and hope both for now and eternity and that trumps personal church aims and agendas. Sometimes one church might decline or close but if a church closes well with a strategy for Kingdom growth then we can continue to see growth in new ways.
- So often it is our role as church leaders to ‘point elsewhere’. We are often called to point forward when others look back, to point out when others look in, and to point up when others look down. We are often called to remind others of the greater reality than the immediate issue in front of us.
- At any given moment, some leaders and some in our churches are exhausted, stressed and deflated. To some the ‘Where do we grow from here’ question can feel as though it brings even more stress and a new way to feel guilty. It is always important to remember that some just need encouraging to simply ‘remain’ in Jesus. One of the keys to growth is not losing those who are just trying to hang on in.
- It is helpful to recognise as well, that almost all of us think that someone else’s context for doing church is easier! I’ve found the differences in our churches and regions both encouraging and surprising in so many ways. Every area, association and church is unique, but differences can be excuses or opportunities.
- Finally, I’ve learnt the value of people taking time to process the implications and applications of any words I’ve conveyed for their own context. It is good to leave any gathering considering ‘Where do we grow from here?’ with a next step or steps. There is great value in identifying, one next step, something practical to take away.