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In step with the Spirit

By Neville Callam

The old quinquennium [of the Baptist World Alliance, 2005-2010] is over; a new one has begun and, early in this new period, do we not have opportunity to reflect on the road we took during the last quinquennium?  Shall we not take steps to ensure that we are benefitting from the lessons the Spirit has endeavored to teach us?

The 2005-2010 period was one of structural change in the BWA. A vast amount of time was spent discussing what structures best serve the purposes and priorities of the BWA. Much effort was expended in securing the constitutional changes designed to give expression to the agreements made and to build up a fortress against those who would not offer full compliance. Some people are still asking why this task was considered so urgent and why it occupied so much of the BWA’s time.

At this early stage of this new quinquennium, the task of identifying needed structures and clarifying operational principles has been found to be incomplete. One of the first tasks being undertaken currently is the completion of charter documents that are believed to be necessary for orderly governance within the organization in its second century of existence. The hope is that this task will be completed by July 2011. May God enable us to achieve this goal! Only so will we be able to move from consideration of structures to a fuller focus on actual mission.

Is it not wise, however, to remember that right structures do not necessarily secure right results? It is not logical to think that because processes are clarified and followed, favorable outcomes are guaranteed. Attention to structures and processes – necessary as this may be – falls short because it cannot deal fully with two factors.

The first is the human factor. It is not structures and processes that teach people the sort of persons they should be. The most efficiently designed systems can yield shameful results because of the sort of people who operate them. Besides, humanly engineered designs are not flawless!

The second is the divine factor – and this is where the theme for the next five years in the life of the BWA becomes so vastly relevant. For human beings to serve well within ecclesial structures, they need more than rules and regulations. They need the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit. They must be persons who have had, and are having, transforming encounters with God. They need to be persons who are willing to submit to the control of the Holy Spirit. 

It is indeed true that, even where the regulatory framework has been manifestly inadequate, wonderful results have been registered. Why? Because the people who served together understood that the work they were doing was God’s work and the manner of their service needed to be acceptable to God.

No system that human beings devise will solve the problems -real or imagined – affecting the operation of the structures they have created! Instead, it is people who regard their work in vocational terms, who consciously affirm their accountability as stewards in God’s service, and who understand that they need to be guided by Christian principles who will serve in a manner that will serve the just ends church organizations pursue. 

If we are going to do God’s work in God’s way, we must be a people who understand that ours is the calling to walk in step with the Spirit of God.

Neville Callam is General secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.

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Rod Benson

Theologian, researcher, teacher, writer, foodie, husband, dad. Works at Moore Theological College.

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