Sunday 30 December 2012

Out With The Old

It's a rather sad end to 2012, as I have resigned my membership of Caversham Baptist Church, where I have been a member for almost seventeen years.

The new(-ish) pastor at CBC, who is a little inclined to say strange things without thinking them through, reckons that being a member of a local church is like being in a marriage. As a pastor he must have been a member of some four or five churches over the past twenty years - I wonder if his wife realises how casually he views marriage? I view being a church member more like living in a house: moving house is a painful experience, but sometimes the old house is just not suitable. It is following Jesus which is the lifelong commitment, like marriage; where one is based can help or hinder, but it is not the main thing.

Why have I resigned from CBC after all these years? Basically because seventeen years ago Caversham Baptist was a church I admired and was proud to become a member of; and because back then I found it a really good place to worship God with my fellow Christians and to seek to work together for God's Kingdom here in Caversham. Neither of these things is now the case: there are some lovely people at CBC, but as a church it has lost its way; and as a place to worship it no longer does anything at all for me.

There is a classic alternative approach, which is to hunker down and outlast a lousy 'minister': "I've been here x years/all my life, I'm not going to allow some johnny-come-lately to drive me out." This is a fair enough approach, especially for those who have grown up in a church, or who are getting on in years, but it does ignore the question of what sort of state the church will be in by the time the duff 'minister' leaves. It also treats a church as more of a club to belong to, rather than a working organisation which is tasked with actually achieving something. Better would be to work together to actually change things, but passive deference is a hard habit to break.

Really, though, CBC has been moving away from its roots for longer than the new pastor has been here; indeed the whole process of 'calling' him (the procedure a Baptist church goes through to - in theory - seek God's will for its new minister) was severely tainted. The church direction and organisation have been becoming more top-down and centralised, and less member-driven (the Baptist theory is that Jesus' will is best discerned through his many followers within a church rather than just a single individual 'minister' or small group of 'leaders'), for many years. Focussing out, into the local community, has long been a talked-about aspiration: lots of preparation, not much action. To be fair, during the 'interregnum' - between pastors - there were some encouraging steps made towards this, but these were quickly killed off by the new boss.

For me, preaching is at the heart of Baptist worship; it used to be the one thing they did really well. But even this has, for several years, been drifting further and further away from teaching Scripture and proclaiming Jesus, to be more and more about highlighting the preacher and his traditions and opinions. Granted the new guy has taken this to a new low, but the CBC congregation has happily accepted substandard fare for far too long (remembering that Baptists, in theory, are very Bible-centred).

So, where now? Another disillusioned ex-churchgoer worshipping Jesus in daily life, but without an established Christian community behind me? I hope not: many, many people take that approach, but I am too aware of my own limitations to think that is an effective way for me to live and serve. Obviously there are no perfect churches, in Caversham or elsewhere; for now I'll worship freely and see where I find a calling.

Footnote: I can't help feeling that my final post of 2012 (not my favourite year, in truth), and my only post for December, ought to have more shape and more point than this. But I guess that's where I am at the moment: lacking in shape and clear point. Nevertheless, 2013 is another year, and God always has something new to say; the trick is to be in a place where one can hear Him and respond.

A happy and blessed New Year to any and all who read this.