By Brian Craig
Director of Leadership Development
On occasion, you run into family members you didn’t know you had. This summer, as part of a sabbatical arrangement, I had the opportunity to travel to Bolivia to work alongside our Baptist partners, the Bolivian Baptist Union (UBB). It proved to be a real family reunion, connecting across time and distance with spiritual cousins.
Canadian Baptists first sent a missionary to Bolivia at the end of the 19th century. Archibald Reekie founded the work that would become the UBB. A product of one of our CBOQ churches and a graduate of McMaster, Reekie took the best approaches of his day and planted a distinctive family of churches that continues to this day. We share a common ancestry, based on how that group was founded. We’re cousins! And Canadian Baptist Ministries has continued to partner with this group throughout the years since that founding.
I was invited to lead in a retreat for the newly restructured directiva of the UBB, their equivalent of our CBOQ board. In the interest of being more missional, and by way of responding to the legal demands of the Bolivian government, a new structure has been put in place, and the majority of the people serving with this group were new to their roles. They’re in a transitional stage of discovering exactly what this new structure will mean for them.
Working with the UBB executive and our CBM field staff, I was asked to help them think about what it means to be Baptist in our times, and what does that mean for their vision and direction as a family of churches. Given that we have as one of our strategic priorities the question of CBOQ Identity, I was eager to have this conversation. Drawing on the conversations we had at assembly this year with Gary Nelson, as well as Baptist history material from Gord Heath of McMaster, we had a remarkable retreat experience of asking questions about our heritage as Baptists, the missional advantages it provides, the challenges it creates, and ultimately and most significantly, the directiva members began to define what they perceive to be God’s vision for their next chapter.
One of the real discoveries from our conversations was this: DNA runs deep in a family.
As we talked, it was clear we had exported our approach to churches and denominational life very well. At times too well! Many of their structures and assumptions have been based on what we told them was the “Baptist way” over the years. And as a result, at times they admit to institutional heaviness; something we’ve had to address over the years, too. At times their local churches have become rooted in older paradigms and practices, and have struggled to engage in mission for a new day; that’s been familiar to many of us, too. Sometimes the work they’ve done has been to serve the organization, instead of the kingdom of God; we’ve battled that tendency, too. But on the positive side, they too have seen in our Baptist approaches a place for God’s mission to unfold.
On behalf of our branch of the family, I acknowledged that we perhaps did too good a job of exporting our approaches. I shared that we have had to change and adapt over the years, and some of the approaches we exported to them are things we have since jettisoned, as they no longer serve God’s purposes in our day. Yet the core Baptist convictions of the centrality of the Scriptures, the Lordship of Christ, the autonomous and associating local congregation, congregational governance, soul liberty and the separation of church and state, our faith witnessed in the act of believers’ baptism – these convictions continue to provide a shared DNA which suits the mission of God beautifully for each new day. They received my “apology” graciously. And we’ve committed to continue prayerfully seeing where God takes us together.
When you meet extended family for the first time, sometimes you’re surprised by the family resemblance. In this case, there was great joy in realizing we’re all seeking to look more like our heavenly Father all the time.