I'm not a fan of secrecy myself: when authorities use 'confidentiality' as a justification for being secretive, then I tend to assume they are avoiding accountability. Typically secrecy has the exact opposite effect from confidentiality: the information vacuum creates gossip and speculation to fill it.
We never did find out what had gone wrong at Rob Beardsley's previous church, Oakham Baptist Church, just that there was not a single person from Oakham who came to his induction at CBC - unheard of in my experience.
My take on what has happened at Caversham Baptist over the last two and a half years is as follows:
- The church has been haemorrhaging members;
- The church has been haemorrhaging money;
- Their outreach worker was moved to internal work and later laid off;
- Disciplinary action was taken against Rob Beardsley;
- The church has become deeply divided;
- It was clear that the situation was unsustainable so the parties agreed to Rob Beardsley leaving.
A year into this process I left the church, so I am not a neutral observer, but I hope the above is suitably objective anyway.
There is a less-obvious issue in all this: that of listening to God as a church.
Baptist churches, when recruiting pastors, don't seem to do the things that would normally be considered 'due diligence', like taking references. They just say that pastors are 'called' by God, so that sort of thing is inappropriate. Actually, my reading of the Bible is that things heard from God should always be checked out ('tested').
Nevertheless, the basic point stands that pastors are called under God's guidance, and a church knows who to call because they listen to God:
"[Jesus] calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice." (John 10:3b-4)
In Caversham Baptist's case, we clearly did not listen to Jesus. That, in my view, should be their priority now as they attempt to move on from this traumatic time: focusing on Jesus and following him.
Meanwhile all should acknowledge that, whoever might have been at fault for the things that happened whilst Rob Beardsley was pastor, the basic problem lay further back, with the church as a whole. We all messed up, so playing the blame game would be a singularly futile exercise.
It is time for Caversham Baptist Church to learn from the past, constructively; but, more importantly, to step out into the future: doing what is right, always showing compassion, and - most importantly - walking humbly with their God.
It strikes me that the bullet point list above is solidly negative. This is simply because I wanted to only list changes which were objective and demonstrable, and the list of such things that I am aware of is solidly negative. However, it does seem implausible that there was nothing objectively positive happened at CBC during that thirty month period. If you are aware of any such, please use the comments section to share it.
One thing I would add is that I am aware of individuals who went above and beyond the call of duty just to keep things going in particular areas of the church's ministry. 'Keeping things going' doesn't really fit into 'objective and demonstrable' changes, but it does represent a significant and costly contribution to God's Kingdom, I think.
I've had a letter claiming the above is defamatory: I've taken legal advice and it is clearly not (see the Defamation Act 2013). Nevertheless, for the avoidance of doubt, I wish to explicitly state that there is nothing in the above attempting to suggest that Rob Beardsley was in some way personally responsible for the heavy financial losses suffered by CBC during that period. This was a whole-church problem and CBC is a church with congregational government: all church members are responsible for decisions made, and Rob Beardsley was just one amongst many such members.
Sadly, in the kerfuffle I have disconnected the original comments on this post. I am recreating them below, but the links to commenters are lost. Sorry.