But you’re Not a Real Baptist Church, Are you?
Graham Old refuses to be fobbed off with our cheap own-brand cola
Hi, welcome to our virtual coffee shop. Pull up a chair, take the load of your feet. Let’s chat.
So who are you, where you from, what do you do in life?
I’m Graham Old, based in the small town of Daventry (actually an over-grown villiage!) in Northamptonshire, UK. Daventry is a town of about 25,000 but growing at an alarming rate. It’s divided into a number of different estates, each with its own feel and attracting different types of people. It’s an unusual place – almost like a city in miniature!
I’m a pastor for the Baptist Church.
Can I get you a drink? Cappucino, earl grey, dandelion and burdock, pale ale?
I’ll have a can of Coke, thanks. But make sure it’s the real stuff!
Would you like a doughnut or pastry to go with that?
I’m on a diet, so you’d better make it a pastry! A Belgian Bun would be fine.
So, if you had to describe the church/project/experiment/thingy you are currently involved with in one sentence, what would that sentence be?
Hmm. A home-group-based congregation seeking to creatively incarnate the good news of Jesus through groups specifically focussing on individual estates.
In some ways, it feels like we’re somewhere between a church with house groups and a group of house churches.
Are you an instigator? / new recruit? / have absolutely no recollection of how you got involved?
I was called to be the Pastor in September, 2003, about 5 years after the church was planted. However, I guess I am one of those who dreamt up this new phase. It was great to see the whole church taking it on board and owning it as their vision and the mission that God has called us to in this town.
One of the things that gripped me was reading a small booklet by Stuart Murray-Williams and Anne Wilkinson-Hayes entitled, ‘Hope from the margins: new ways of being church.’ They look at a number of different expressions of Church and mention in passing that the Church or Christ the Saviour, in Washington DC began by asking themselves, What is the mission that God has called us to? What kind of church do we need to be to fulfil that mission? And What spiritual disciplines are needed to sustain that kind of church in that kind of mission?
Our church was seeking to reach out to Daventry but we were failing to come up with any strategies for effective evangelism. I came across these questions and shared them with the Church and we were all struck by how applicable they were for us. It turns out that we didn’t need a strategy as God had already come up with one: Church. What was needed was not a super-clever method for blitzing our town, but – and this was particularly relevant given the nature of life in Daventry – a way of being church that effectively embodied the gospel for the people living here. That would obviously be different according to the people we were trying to reach.
So, we have committed ourselves to releasing small groups of disciples across Daventry, with each group spending time and energy discovering what it means to embody the grace of God for their estate. This may involve sacrifice and ‘dying’ to what is comfortable for us – but that is what being the body of Christ is all about.
What do you value most about being part of it?
The opportunity to see people move from spectators to servants. It’s easy to preach the priesthood of all believers, but now I feel like we’re actually creating an environment where it can become a reality. We are not there yet, but we have certainly come a long way.
What excites you most about it?
The thing that excites me so far is seeing people who had given up on church deciding to give it a second go. The thing that drives me is making the gospel meaningful to people. I am haunted by the idea that we have given up on people because they rejected Jesus, when what they were actually rejecting was the monolithic and monotone way that Jesus was presented by the Church.
Has anyone ever turned up out of the blue not knowing what to expect?
What did they say?
Not really. Actually, being a part of such a mainstream group of churches (The Baptist Union) means that we often get people turning up, thinking they know exactly what to expect. Sometimes we get the “but you’re not a real Baptist church, are you?” comment. Other times people just shrug their shoulders and conclude that we are yet another Cell church.
I’m okay with that. I’ve got no problem with Cell churches as my whole approach to church structure is fairly pragmatic. The Baptist thing makes me cringe though. We (Baptists) used to be known as radicals, but – like so many cutting-edge movements of the past – we institutionalised and stagnated. For the Baptists that stagnation took place during the Victorian era and the age of pulpit giants like Charles Spurgeon. The thing is that Spurgeon was considered uncouth and worldly. He was anything but conservative! My response to those who question our Baptist credentials is that it is precisely because I am Baptist that I cannot consider doing things the way they’ve always been done.
Conservatism is great if you want to sustain external structures or guarantee the same results you’ve always been getting. What is needed today is people who are willing to risk it all – money, reputation, their very lives – to see the mission of God come to fulfilment.
Three words that describe your attitude to ‘being church’ in the big wide world: Incarnation, Incarnation, Incarnation!
The concept captures so much for me: it includes the idea of being sent on a mission – of actually *being* that mission – as well as sacrifice and service, being a means of grace, pointing to God and showing the way, flexibility and more.
Three words that DON’T:
Buildings, One-size-fits-all, out-dated
You have this weird dream – you meet Jesus face to face.
Where does it happen, what does he say to you?
On a Beach. He tells me the heart of God for this town and asks me if I’m willing to die for those to whom he offers life. I ask him when he needs an answer by.
What’s the big secret you’re itching to share with everyone?
Jesus didn’t evangelise anyone.
What would your ’emerging church survival kit’ contain?
2 Books – New Kind of Christian by Brian Mclaren and Hope from the margins. An internet connection – the Net is great for connecting people who feel as if they are the only ones on the face of the planet. Related to that, it would be great if we could take with us a sense of heritage and connectedness – for me, seeing some kind of connection between what I do today and what the Anabaptists did in the 16th Century has given me great strength. A willingness to be broken.
Anything else you’d like to share with us before you have to rush off?
At the end of the day, it’s not about the Church. The church exists to glorify Christ. It seems to me that it is essential that we continually re-focus our gaze upon Him. We cannot afford to ignore spirituality.
Thanks. Good to see you. Have a good day!
Thank *you*! Can I have my pastry now?