MY PREACHING YEARS...
How I Personally Observed
the Sardis-like State of Numerous Congregations Which Had Opened
a Door to Liberal Teachings...
The Woeful Liberalism I Discovered in Baptist Union of Great Britain Churches
(My title here may appear to suggest that I was a baptist/independent preacher for perhaps 20, 30 or 40 years, but no - I went onto the preaching circuit in 1996 and 2004 was the last year that I considered myself part of that circuit but my experiences in those eight years could, I believe, fill several books!)
ARTICLE QUOTE: “...I became quite astonished how often a congregation had something like “50 members” (officially), yet most of these people had not attended for years and nobody had even gone to visit such people – in fact, it seemed to me that quite a few people listed as “members” had probably been dead for several years!!...In one such case I learned that the small congregation actually had a pastor (many of these congregations did not), but he had not attended for two years.”
Our Own Little Sunday School and the Start of My Theology Degree...
This will be a short series which I will occasionally add to. I think it will probably come to about 6-12 articles covering the eight years in which I preached quite a lot. Some of the anecdotes will be found to be amusing, others quite ridiculous and at least one of the stories which I can relate from this period will probably stretch credulity to the limits!
My wife and I had set up our own completely independent home-based Sunday School in 1995 and this became a labour of love for us for seven years until 2002 when we, somewhat reluctantly, wound it up because we felt a bit stale with the format we were using, and wanted to commence regular attendance at a new church (that is, when I was not preaching elsewhere). We wound it up with prayers that the Lord would show us a new path in which to serve Him. In specific congregations no husband and wife would be expected to carry a Sunday school all on their own for so many years and there is a point at which one gets a little stale and needs to move in a slightly different direction. We had felt motivated by the Lord to set up our little school and there were some incredible moments when we really felt the Lord's presence. The school was small and unfortunately we could only attract girls – no boys at all. But our little group of girls were enthusiastic and commited and appeared to thrive on being taught the Word of God in our home every Sunday morning. Sometimes there were only four of us, but there could be eleven or twelve. At harvest time we made it our job to gather some fruit and vegetables, arrange it attractively in baskets and take this out to the older people who lived in our road. Our girls just loved being involved this. Three girls from one family living quite close to us became the sort of basis of our school. Whenever we see these girls now (eleven years after we first started the Sunday school, as I write this), the affection which developed from their attendance is obvious and Tina and I are greeted with hugs and kisses and we are careful to always remember the girl's birthdays. I don't think that bond is going to be easily broken! Oh, by the way, we lived in Shakespeare Avenue and so we called ourselves Shakespeare Avenue Sunday School. We even had a Christian charity which we supported: The Barnabas Fund. Occasionally (under no pressure from us), the girls would arrive with a few pennies which were placed in a box for that fund. When we finally wound the Sunday School up, we counted what was in the box and were surprised that it contained a very nice little sum of money which we converted into a cheque and sent to the fund.
I took my theology degree 1995-98 (from the first year of launching our little Sunday School); in 1996 a friend I had made on the theology course who was in the Baptist College (some of the students on the university theology degree course were attached to a local Baptist College, others were attached to a local Anglican College and the rest of us were independent university students), asked me if I could 'fill in' for him on a preaching assignment because he was 'overbooked.' I willingly agreed because I had become a regular preacher on the pro-reformist evangelical wing of the WCG and I had come to enjoy the experience of carefully preparing a biblical message and then delivering that. To me, this was a godly job, oh, I don't mean that I thought I was holy and perfect and without fault – far from it, but I genuinely wanted to serve the Lord in any way He would show me to the best of my ability, and, yes, my wife and I were fully commited to the Gospel of Jesus and we did strive to be good ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ and for His kingdom in any way that we could. Anyway, I fulfilled the preaching job and that turned out to be just the start of an eight year period in which I did a lot of preaching; I say “a lot of preaching” but of, course, these things are all relative; in general, it was a lot, I recall preaching three sermons in two different places one Pentecost Sunday, but at other times, I got few sermons to preach which was frustrating.
Mr Brace preached in this lovely little baptist chapel in deep country in south Wales several times around 1999-2002. The surrounding graveyard is unusual for a baptist chapel but many of the people buried there had been stalwarts of the little chapel during a period of about 150 years. Any criticisms in this article do not necessarily apply to this chapel.
The preaching jobs flowed from about three contacts I had made during the university theology degree years, as well as from the South Wales Baptist Union superintendent whom I met in 1998. I won't mention this man's name (indeed I won't be mentioning any actual names in this series of articles), but he warmly welcomed me 'on board' as a prospective baptist pastor even though my background was – strictly speaking – incorrect for a baptist pastor. Normally, only a baptist congregation can put forward a particular man as ideally suited to ministry after the man has served in a particular congregation for a very long time. His name then goes to the local superintendent who interviews the man. If he is considered suitable he is then sent off to baptist college. That is the way it should happen, but in fact, it quite often does not happen that way. For example I know one guy who did it all the right way, went through college, but was then rejected for ministry. Yet the irony is: that particular guy is today a pastor, yes a B.U. pastor (although the Baptist Union had rejected him).
“Our Pastor? Oh, He Hasn't Attended For Two Years!”
So, many of the preaching dates which came from my local B.U. 'super' were (necessarily) Baptist Union of Great Britain churches. But later I would reject any further preaching in B.U. churches because the majority of them had been so seriously compromised by liberal theology. For a while, I certainly realised the problem but was naïve enough to think that – all on my own – I could help turn things around and raise a genuine spark of biblical, evangelical Christianity in these places. Of course, I could not. Most of these congregations were in their death throes, some of them down to as few as just seven people in attendance, having been fatally weakened by worldly compromises. One or two were a little stronger but were frequently paralyzed by indecision and lack of direction among their leaders/deacons.
I became quite astonished how often a congregation had something like “50 members” (officially), yet most of these people had not attended for years and nobody had even gone to visit such people – in fact, it seemed to me that quite a few people listed as “members” had probably been dead for several years!! Wherever I went to preach I made it my business to ask the secretary/deacon/deacons how many members that congregation had and there was usually an embarrassed, uncomfortable silence followed by a 'membership number' bearing no resemblance to those actually present on the day. I sometimes followed this up with the quip, “Where are they all then? Did they know I was going to be preaching today?” Then came the admittance that most “members” never attended. On a few occasions over this eight year period I was presumptuous enough to ask, “Shouldn't somebody call around to their homes to have a chat with them?” Upon pressing a little I sometimes discovered that some of these people had been ill for many years but had not been visited in a very long time. In one such case I learned that the small congregation actually had a pastor (many of these congregations did not), but he had not attended for two years. When I got over the shock of being told this, I asked, “Why not?” The answer was that his health had been poor for many years. My response was, “I trust this poor man is being visited regularly?” There followed an embarassed silence and it became plain to me that this poor man was never visited.
My experience was actually fruitful in a certain way: I was able to personally witness the dreadful damage that liberal theology had caused to numerous congregations right across southern Britain (for the most part, I preached in south Wales, but I made a few preaching trips into southern England). Look out for further articles in this new occasional series and be prepared for some examples of the mind-boggling things which travelling preachers sometimes have to face.
Robin A. Brace, 2006.
MY PREACHING YEARS (2)