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It’s been a joy to have served the church here as its National Director (ND) for over 12 years now, and both Shirley and I feel privileged to be part of our precious fellowship. Thank you for your love of Jesus Christ, and for your loyalty to our Church.
No matter where we’ve gone in our ministry, Shirley and I have always felt at home in our congregations. From Aberdeen to Zimbabwe, from Dublin to Venice, in London, Lisbon, Los Angeles and Lagos, we’ve always found brothers and sisters who love the Lord and who cherish our Church.
Once, when traveling from Entebbe airport in Uganda to the capital city of Kampala, I found myself in a taxi with a Baptist missionary. We began to chat and discovered we had a lot in common. He wondered what I had in the large bag I was carrying, and I told him it was 200 copies of our African Worldwide News, which was distributed in 27 countries. He then asked me about whether we were an international organisation, and I explained our connections and about how congregations in remote areas of Africa would pray specifically for members in faraway places like Canada, New Zealand and Wales, and vice versa. He looked at me intently and said, “I’d give my right arm for such a network. Never lose sight of it”. He was right, wasn’t he? Our international connections are part of the rich tapestry of who we are in Christ Jesus. Maybe you know the panel game “Name that tune” — ours is a melody of diversity and togetherness. Shirley and I played our own version of it the other day, and we called it “Name that church”. We tried to list all the churches we’ve visited in our ministry, and it came to around 180, mainly in the UK, Europe and Africa but also in the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and one (Singapore) in Asia. Whenever we entered any of them, we were welcomed with open arms. We’re still that kind of Church, and I resonate completely with the motto GCI has used from time to time, all kinds of churches for all kinds of people in all kinds of places.
At the time of writing, GCI President Joseph Tkach and GCI Vice-President Greg Williams are conducting a conference in Australia. Both of them feel a strong attachment to our UK Church and to the churches throughout Europe, and they send their regards. As you know, this is a year of transitions for us. At the end of 2018 Dr Tkach will retire, and Dr Williams will then become our denominational President. This year there is also a change in leadership in our Church in Canada — Gary Moore is being replaced by Bill Hall and the new Canadian office will be in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. In South Africa a change has occurred already and the Board there has appointed a National Ministry Team (NMT) as its leadership structure, which is similar to how our Church in France has been functioning for a number of years. Other international changes are under discussion.
It’s already been announced in In Touch and in our national announcements that I will stand down as ND for the UK and Ireland at the end of this year, and that I will continue as European Director until 2021. This means that, although I’ll not be leading the UK church directly from January of this coming year, the UK Church leadership will have a denominational accountability to me. Let me share with you an excerpt from an email that Dr Tkach sent to European leaders and pastors in February of this year:
As you know, 2018 is a year of transition within our denomination as I hand on the bâton to Greg Williams and the office moves to Charlotte. Some changes are happening internationally as well. Greg and I have been discussing how Europe will be structured in the next few years, and we have arranged for James Henderson to continue as European Director until 2021/22. As you may know, James has been working part-time as the ND for the UK and Ireland, and he plans to step down from that role at the end of the year. The UK Board has offered to help subsidize James’s European expenses in addition to any funding that HQ may provide. I know that many of you assist James and Shirley with accommodation when they visit and that is much appreciated. James himself has volunteered to continue his European role on a voluntary, non-salaried basis. Please feel free to share this with elders and members in your areas.
By the way, the UK Board’s commitment to helping with Europe is part of our Church’s contribution to the wider denomination. Over the past ten years we’ve been involved in assisting a number of areas out of our central funds. For example, our churches in the UK and Ireland have supplied funds for the building of a community centre and school in Uganda, sent emergency assistance to places such places as Nepal, Mozambique and Haiti, sponsored in part the cost of the denomination’s all-Africa pastoral conference, sponsored European involvement in our national conferences, and paid for desks and educational supplies for our Ghanaian Church’s school near Accra. Your prayers and giving of offerings, tithes and donations have been instrumental in our being able to do this — thank you so much for your kindness and generosity.
Shirley and I have certainly appreciated the caring support we’ve received from Joe and Tammy both in Africa and also here in Europe and in the UK. There are so many people I could thank, and I’d like to name a few. One is my friend, John Halford, who died a few years ago, and who helped me laugh in some difficult times — I miss him still. Another is Rod Matthews, whose international perspective has been helpful and whose friendship I have valued highly.
Above all I want to thank Shirley, who’s been with me and for me through thick and thin. A leader’s or pastor’s wife can be a very lonely position, and, in some ways, I think it’s the toughest role in any church. Shirley is and has been wonderful, and she has shared ministry with me in so many ways. In the 1980s, when I’d come home to her and our three children after a very frustrating day in our Elstree House office (there were many!) or a long day of visiting, she’d be there, always with a smile and a word of encouragement. What had her day been like, taking care of lively and noisy toddlers, and dealing with the house as well as having a part-time job in the church office? Did I ever ask her? Maybe I did, but I can’t remember. And then moving lock, stock and barrel to the new country and new culture that was Kenya, and facing the many challenges that lay in store for us? And returning to the UK eventually and settling into Market Harborough, a town we’d never heard of before until our church offices moved there? So, Shirley, if you’re reading this, and I know you will be because you proof-read for me, thank you for your love, and for being there always for me. I can’t imagine facing the future with anyone else. Those who know me know that I don’t like being soppy, so I’ll stop here.
So, what happens next for the UK and Ireland? The UK Board has been discussing this since 2014, and the denomination has given the Board input on how to proceed. The Board has invested in its future leadership possibilities by sponsoring various people in theological education. Should this transition not be a time to realize some of that investment? Let’s use some of the people whom we’ve been training in ministry, pastoral studies and theology. And so, the conclusion has been not to look outside of our churches, but to look to who we have already for a way forward.
Greg Williams is someone I’ve got to know more over the past couple of years, and he and his, wife, Susan, have been become friends of ours. He will be sharing more about his vision for GCI as time goes on. He also leads a course in Grace Communion Seminary (GCS) about Church Polity in which he leads his students in exploring how churches are structured and organised. He values the ideas of collaborative leadership and group discussion.
One of the problems with church pastors has been that sometimes they have become one-man shows. I’m sure we’ve all heard of the idea of the omnicompetent pastor. Some churches have expected their main pastors to be gifted in just about every area: speaking, counselling, financial matters, visionary thinking, writing, being a comedian, coaching, having legal expertise, able to advise on health. I came a cropper on this matter when we moved to Nairobi and the local congregation expected me to referee and sometimes star in their football matches. Me? A football referee? They must be joking, but they weren’t! It’s just not within my competency. Our Local Pastoral Councils have helped in this regard — there is a shared responsibility and accountability. What about National Leaders? Have we expected omnicompetence from them? To some degree the answer is yes, we have, and at times it’s been unfair on the church and on the individuals involved. It’s interesting to note what has happened in our French church where there is a National Ecclesiastical Council (NEC) in which they discuss ideas together while retaining individual portfolios. This seems to work well, and it spreads the stress and the workload. Marie-Angélique Picard is their operational co-ordinator and facilitates the meetings of the NEC.
Bearing these things in mind, our Board has decided to take the bold, daring and educated risk to move to a new style of leadership for our Church here in the UK and Ireland, and that is to create a National Ministry Team that will perform the ND role I fulfil currently. This team will, of course, be monitored regularly not only by the Board itself but also by the Denomination’s European Director (me). On a personal level, I find this exciting, especially in our societies where collective-decision making is safer and more widely accepted.
Let me explain how it will work. The Board has selected, with GCI HQ’s input and approval, three people in whom the Church has invested by sponsoring their education. Each of them is an ordained elder, and each of them is currently employed by the Church. The idea is to assign a new portfolio to each of their existing jobs and ask them to function together as a National Ministry Team (NMT). This NMT has already met with me twice, and once on its own. The names of the individuals involved are Pete Mill (ordained in 2005), Barry Robinson (ordained in 2000) and Gavin Henderson (ordained in 2012).
Pete and Jackie Mill are already our Pastoral Workers for Scotland, and that will not change although the area they cover may increase slightly. Jackie, as SEP Director, has spearheaded our re-siting of SEP from Loch Lomond to Lagganlia near Aviemore, and has done a great job in doing so. Pete is the SEP Chaplain. Pete has a background in advertising, media and communication consultancy, and we have asked him to become the Mission Developer on the NMT. We feel his previous experience will be a bonus to us. He’ll work some extra hours for us in this capacity, and he’s already bubbling over with ideas. Assisting Pete will be Richard Fowler, our Media assistant, who is passionate for our Because Project. Both Pete and Jackie are signed up for the GCS course.
Barry is our Pastoral Worker for the London area, and he and his wife, Corinne, travel frequently to the churches in that circuit. A pastoral worker comes alongside the local congregational structures (such as pastoral councils) to help, encourage and advise them, and is available for speaking, counselling, visiting, etc. Currently we have pastoral workers for two areas only, but it is hoped that we’ll have another by the end of 2018. The Church has sponsored Barry’s upcoming degree with the London School of Theology. By the beginning of 2019 his pastoral work is likely to incorporate some churches outside greater London. Barry’s title within the NMT may sound unusual, but it’s a term that is being used more and more in society and Barry is comfortable with it. He is the Ombudsman. This means that he will deal with matters concerning conflict handling and complaints. Not just that, of course. His responsibilities will also include ordination processing, personal correspondence re biblical and doctrinal questions, monitoring the speaking schedules for festivals and retreats, etc. In addition, Barry will oversee our Day by Day Bible studies in my stead. That makes it sound like I do a lot, but, in reality, one of our remarkable volunteers is the power behind these studies, and most of you probably know that she is Nancy Silcox. Thanks so much to Nancy for the work she does in co-ordinating this project, which has been well received by many members around the world. I don’t do much at all, but, for the sake of administration, it needs to be accountable to someone, and from 2019 it’s Barry.
Gavin has worked in the church service centre for about 10 years, and he is our Business Manager. His heavy workload has been recently much alleviated by the hiring of Alexis Luckhoo as the Office Administrator, who receives and banks donations, takes care of our mailing lists, is the In Touch co-ordinator, and organizes our conferences. Gavin has also been sponsored by the church in his GCS degree course, which he plans to complete in 2018. Gavin’s NMT portfolio is Operational Manager, and he will, in consultation with Pete and Barry, prepare and implement the NMT’s annual budget. He will also arrange and facilitate the NMT meetings, report to the Board on the NMT’s behalf, deal with outside organisations, attend to HR and legal business, continue to oversee the management of the church accounts, and be the point person for GCI HQ. He and Alexis will co-ordinate the sending out of weekly updates and other related correspondence.
As we look ahead, the NMT appears to be a financially sustainable model. The NMT plans to meet on a very regular basis, sometimes face to face and sometimes by e-conferencing. I know that they have the care of the Church at heart, and that there is a sense of mounting excitement among them. Please pray for them in this transition, and also please pray for Greg as he takes over from Joe, and for the new NMT in South Africa and for the changes in Canada and elsewhere in the world.
Being non-sporty I don’t like the idea of passing on the bâton, and other such analogies, unless it’s an orchestra’s conductor’s bâton. Even then, of course, it’s Jesus who conducts the Holy Spirit’s symphony that is our Church. So, what am I doing? I’m applauding our move to the future. Gavin, Pete and Barry have so many ideas, and they’ll tell you about them as time goes on. Should I just say that I’m stepping to one side so that others can lead the dance? Shirley and I will still be dancing, of course, wherever the music is playing, especially in the Church where we all sway together to the rhythm of grace.
Much love from Shirley and me,
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