Believe it or not, I’ve never been a “big B” Baptist. I suspect that most of you don’t believe me, given that I’ve been Executive Director of the Canadian Baptist national and global mission organization for the past five years. But it’s true. I was involved in church and congregational planting when I was younger so of course in those contexts you don’t focus on the brand of the church, you focus on its mission. And my Baptist roots were formed in Western Canada, which tends towards pragmatism and less towards tradition and roots, so most of us Baptists there are “small B”. (In two of the churches I served the moderator couldn’t even name the denomination.)
Over time, though, I have come to deeply value the place we as Canadian Baptists (see below for definition of the term) inhabit within the larger Church. Not because we’re “better” than anyone else or because we’ve got a lock on truth, but just because we’re distinctive.
When I travel internationally I hear from partners who deeply value the approach we take in mission: not arriving as experts with solutions pre-fabricated in Canada, but engaging as listening partners who collaborate collegially with local church leaders.
As for our role in Canada, I have a strong conviction that our place in the church landscape – our approach to the Christian faith – is vitally required for the Canadian church and for Canada. We are rooted in Scripture but with a thoughtful hermeneutic. We believe in evangelism but with respect for the other’s freedom to say ‘no’ (because we believe in religious freedom). We are advocates for justice but for biblical justice, not secular rights-based justice. We believe in all of the gifts of the Spirit being given full expression by both women and men. This is a unique combination of things. Let us not take it for granted.
Along with our distinctive place within the church landscape, we have some potential influence because of our size. Canadian Baptists are the second largest evangelical group in Canada, with a little over 1000 churches. Not that size is everything . . . but it’s not nothing. But we have a bit of an inferiority complex. We act as if we’re smaller, and insignificant. But when we don’t show up at national and international tables of conversation about faith, our absence makes a difference. I have seen it.
Okay, so I admit it: I am Canadian Baptist! [Remember those Molson’s commercials from 2000, where the guy shouts “I am Canadian!”? Just add Baptist, take away a bunch of the other stuff and keep the passion, and you’ve got the tone running through my mind when I say that. 🙂 ] It has been an identity that has grown on me, over the years, and about which I am passionate. Not the brand, not the term, but the content. And by saying that I am not saying that I/we are better than anyone else, just different. And tat our voice matters. Let’s own our identity and difference, guard and steward it, and offer it as a gift to the larger Church in Canada. Whether we are paid or we volunteer, whether we work in a local church or in a larger setting, we all work for the same thing: the healthy vibrant mission of the Canadian Baptist church, locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.
I love the outcomes of CBM. They are the outcomes of the Canadian Baptist church. We seek to bring healing to all of the brokenness in our world – physical, spiritual, relational – all of it. We see the local church as being the catalytic agent for God’s Kingdom, so that local churches in each country become the source of transformation. We believe that the Gospel is not just heard but is also seen but does need to be heard. And we always work in ways that preserve and enhance the dignity and freedom of people around the world. This is what we, as Canadian Baptists, do globally. It matters to me that we work together as a people, not just doing our own thing as individuals and as churches, but working together, because we’re better together. Stronger, smarter, wiser, and more effective. We, as a people, are known in the Baptist mission world for leading-edge thinking and practice – we are sought out for that by others — we can be proud of what we do globally.
Today is my last day in the CBM office. It has been a good five years of leadership. Parts were very hard, and other parts were sheer gift that I was doing this. I am a different person than I was five years ago, and I am grateful for this chapter in my story.
Grace and peace,
P.S. When I use the term “Canadian Baptist” I am using the historical term that identifies four regional Baptist denominations that were founded as Canada was being settled by Europeans: Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, Canadian Baptists Of Ontario and Quebec, Convention of Atlantic Baptist Churches, Union d’Églises baptistes francophones du Canada.
P.P.S. I like blogging so at this point I plan to continue here. There’s nothing there yet, but eventually there will be. This CBM/Sam blog will end with this entry.
P.P.P.S Some of you may know that I have a, ahem, somewhat quirky sense of humour. The whole time I was writing this blog a phrase kept going through my mind: “so long, and thanks for all the fish”. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the content of today’s post, but I just couldn’t get it out of my head, so . . . if you don’t recognize the phrase, click here! And if you do: I actually like dolphins.