This is the first of a new occasional weekend column called ‘Pondering:…’ where people from within the 'Team of 40,000 Baptists' can share issues they are thinking about, in a way that opens up a topic from a particular perspective. Feel free to comment on these pieces or contribute your own pondering. Opinion pieces are the views of individuals and need to be considered within the context of the diversity of our union of Baptist churches in New Zealand. When commenting or contributing please follow our Guidelines for articles, opinion pieces and online comments.

This pondering below comes from Mike Crudge, a member of Royal Oak Baptist Church in Auckland, and Communications Director at the Baptist National Support Centre. He admits this topic is most likely to be of interest to those who attend our annual National Hui (Assembly), and/or anyone with the time to read 3000 words!

The governance of our tribe

Julian Batchelor’s anti-co-governance rallies in the news last month prompted me to organize some of my own thoughts on governance and write this opinion piece. I’m particularly interested in the governance that is occurring in the church space – both locally and nationally, especially since at our last annual national Hui (Assembly) of the Baptist Churches of New Zealand we all together agreed to a constitutional review. Here’s the formal motion:

That the Assembly Council be asked to form a working group to investigate structural and constitutional changes to the Baptist Union to position the movement better for gospel renewal and to ensure better stewardship of our resources, and to bring to the 2023 Hui a proposal with a view to the 2024 Hui approving constitutional change.

As boring as constitutional review sounds, it would be a disaster if it’s only old white men (of Julian Batchelor’s ilk) on the working group who get excited about it and participate.

One of the great things about the ‘Baptist’ tribe of being Christian is how the gathered people, locally and nationally, make decisions together, hopefully guided by Christ. Rather than, for example, a Pope that can influence billions of people.

Baptists do set aside people to lead and to oversee – locally and nationally, and I would describe much of this as ‘governance’.

The state of a local church is often a reflection of its governing group – what we might call the Elders, or Board. The state of a large group of churches, such as a denomination, is also a reflection of its governing structure, in our case, the union of 234 local Baptist churches joined together historically through covenant (we are not officially a denomination).

With a constitutional change underway with our large union-ed group of churches, now is the time to start thinking about how we govern ourselves. I have an idea that I believe could revolutionize the future of our tribe – it’s not solely my idea – I’ve been hearing chat about this around the traps, but nothing shared publicly:

The idea

Our Team of 40,000 Baptists and 250 churches and faith communities, has an elected group called Assembly Council. The word ‘assembly’ comes from what our annual national Hui used to be called: Assembly – the gathering (assembling) of delegates from all of the churches to engage on important issues within the ‘tribe’ and wider society. Find out more about our Assembly Council here. In particular on that webpage, look at the people currently on Assembly Council – all good people. What do you notice about this group?

(The ideas in this opinion piece are not directed at the individuals currently on Assembly Council – I acknowledge the hard work they are doing on our behalf within the structure we currently have.)

Who’s around the table?

There are quotes, poems and Scripture references to tables and who’s sitting around them. One perspective about who’s sitting at the table is to do with influence: to have influence you need to be sitting around the table (or be represented) when important issues are being engaged with, and when important decisions are being made.

If everyone sitting around a governing group table is like me (old white male), there will be important perspectives missing. I would suggest that even in the discerning of the mind of Christ – which is a characteristic of the Baptist ‘tribe’ in how local churches come to decisions – rather than a pastor or Elders deciding in isolation, we together spend time on the important things, with prayer and concern for what Christ might be saying to us at this time… even in this, having a diverse group around the table, or in the room, will bring an enhanced hearing and understanding of what Christ’s mind is for us.

In my opinion, our Assembly Council must have the diversity ‘around the table’ that reflects the future we strive to imagine for the Baptist ‘tribe’ in Aotearoa New Zealand. A diverse governing group will have a much greater imagination.

Māori on Assembly Council

This is kind of where Julian Batchelor comes in (thank you Julian). I am not certain there are no Māori currently on Assembly Council, but it is not obvious looking at the photos of council members. What is obvious on our website is our Treaty Affirmation Statements (last amended in 2018), Point 1.2:

We the Baptist Union as the whānau of churches affirm our willingness to break down institutional and other cultural barriers that prevent Māori responding as ‘Māori’, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Ensuring there are Māori around the Assembly Council table would be one way to break down institutional barriers.

We as Baptists are certainly moving on a Treaty journey, and I know for the previous three years the three seconded seats on Assembly Council were intentionally offered, and taken up by Māori. Rather than second Māori onto our governing group, to take our Treaty affirmations seriously, I suggest we allocate a set number of places in our governing group to Māori. We might decide (and change the constitution) to say: at least half of the twelve Assembly Council positions are to be held by Māori. Can you imagine that?

It is exciting to see our Baptist Māori have called a hui in July to consider things like this for themselves – read about the Baptist Hui-ā-Māori 14-16 July 2023 – please encourage and enable any Māori in your congregations to attend.

The idea unpacked

It might seem artificial to put Treaty-motivated parameters onto our nomination process – and it is. A bit like the guiding lines in my 5 year-old’s school exercise book that help him learn where the letters go as he begins to write, just as these lines are eventually not needed, in time our culture will change, and parameters will become redundant. At this point in time I believe we need these parameters to fulfil our already committed to Treaty journey.

Women on Assembly Council

My idea doesn’t stop with Māori around the table (but note it starts with them). For at least 45 years our Baptist tribe have been affirming women as leaders. Why don’t we decide (and change the constitution) to say: at least half of the twelve governing Assembly Council positions are to be held by women. Can you imagine that?

This raises another issue: we have a women’s board: Baptist Women New Zealand: The people on this board are nominated and elected through our Assembly. I say ‘yes’ to having a group that advocates for, resources, and supports the women in our ‘tribe’, but I want the influence and shaping of women around the Assembly Council table, not just in some separate committee sitting off the radar somewhere. To me it seems like having a separate women’s board pushes women into a side room around a completely separate table of their own, and the walls of that room are the limits of their influence. I feel similarly with there being a separate group for Māori, in terms of the influence and voice that they actually have.

Too many boards

Speaking of boards (governing groups), I think there are more than a dozen boards within the Baptist ‘tribe’. A dozen boards seeking highly skilled and experienced people in governance. That’s more than 100 people we’re looking for each year with these skills to sit around these governing board tables – most of these are volunteers from the local churches. Imagine being our National Leader – trying to listen to and serve 12 Boards with 100 governing voices!

With a potentially re-invented Assembly Council through this constitutional change, maybe we just need one governing board.

Many of the current functions of these dozen boards need to continue: such as management and advocacy, just not governance. Get rid of all the disparate governance and let these sub-groups manage and be advocates.

Education and formation

Another example of who I want sitting around the Assembly Council table are our ministry training and formation experts. Let’s get either our Carey Baptist College Principal or the Chair of the Carey board around the Assembly Council table. To be consistent I would also then suggest we don’t need an elected board for our college, but rather governance comes from Assembly Council, of which at least one position is chosen with our education and formation as a primary lens.

Generational diversity

I suggest we also insist on having generational diversity on our governing group. For example. we might say there needs to be at least two Gen X (born 1965-80, currently 43-58 year olds), two Millennials (born 1981-96, currently 27-42 year olds), and two Gen Z (born 1997-2012, currently 11-26 year olds).

Anticipating an obvious pushback on this: what do people in their 20’s know about governance? I’ve met some people in their 20’s that have more governance experience and skills than I have – and I once chaired a charitable trust board for 6 years. If this generation isn’t around the Assembly Council  table in a substantial way I believe we’re limiting the life-expectancy of our ‘tribe’ – we’re not going to grow younger without them at the table.

And yes, I am intentionally not adding Baby Boomers (born 1946-64, currently 59-77 year olds) as a 'must have' because this generation never finds it hard to get a seat around the Baptist table – they will no doubt be around the Assembly Council table for a while yet without us needing to make it a priority.

Ethnic diversity

This is different to our Treaty journey and is in addition to that. Our Treaty affirmations rightly state that “Māori interests should not be subsumed within multi-ethnicity”. Therefore our ethnic diversity needs additional consideration. 27% of the population of New Zealand are ethnicities other than Māori and European, with the largest ethnic grouping being ‘Asian’ at 15.3%. They should be around the Assembly Council table if we imagine them in our future.

Regional diversity

It’s very easy to fill a board with Aucklanders, and much cheaper too! With two-thirds of the population being outside Auckland, we should expect a more national view and understanding will come from having two-thirds of the Assembly Council not being Aucklanders. If we think this is important let’s form this into the constitution.

Professional diversity

Our current Assembly Council contains eight pastors. Nice people. The outcome of elections are the result of who nominates and who votes. We have a situation where mostly pastors attend our annual Assembly/Hui, and it’s probably mostly pastors who have the most engagement with the process. Pastors make up about 1% of our Baptist ‘tribe’, so perhaps there should be less of them sitting around the Assembly Council table. Maybe the constitution should state that no more than one Assembly Council member is to be a current pastoral leader.

Theological diversity

New Zealand Baptist churches express a wide range of theological diversity, although predominantly conservative-evangelical. There are growing ‘charismatic’ and ‘progressive’ groups. Perhaps some intentional theological diversity around the Assembly Council table would be good – if we think this is important, we need to be explicit about it.

Other diversity found in our churches

We might also decide there are other significant life experiences that we want around our Assembly Council table. A few examples that come to mind: people living with disability, people from different socioeconomic sectors of society, people from the Rainbow Community, etc. 

Matrix of priorities

What I’m suggesting is a matrix of priorities that our governance is selected through – this is not my idea, but it is something I have recently attempted in my own work capacity.

For example, if there are 12 positions on our governing group (Assembly Council), we might have our priorities represented as a grid or frame that maps out the types of people we believe we need in this group. We might decide to have at least:

  • 8 people to be living outside of Auckland
  • 6 people to be women
  • 4 people to be Māori (or we might at least start by insisting 16.5% of Assembly Council are Māori – the current Māori population of New Zealand, let’s start with at least 2 Māori people on Assembly Council.)
  • 2 people in Generation X
  • 2 people in the Millennial generation
  • 2 people in Generation Z
  • 2 people to be non-European ethnicity (in addition to the Māori people)
  • 2 people who identify as ‘charismatic’
  • 2 people who identify as ‘progressive’
  • 1 person to be from our education and formation areas
  • 1 person who is currently in pastoral leadership
  • 1 person from an ‘other’ category?

The list above has 12 categories and is very aspirational. We might start with a plan to implement this over a decade. If you add all the ‘at least’ people in the list above you get 33 people. This is not how the matrix works. In the example above, of the 8 people living outside Auckland, 3 of them might also be Māori, 5 might be women, and they might all be under 50 years of age. You see what I mean. Can you imagine this?

Governance skills

In my mind it is obvious, but I need to state it here: we want our people on Assembly Council to have excellent and proven skills and experience in governance. They are to work with both the determinations of the annual Assembly of the churches (what happens and is decided at the November annual National Hui), and in-between Assembly: for the wellbeing of the movement (or ‘tribe’ as I call it) of Baptist faith communities and churches. And I also say in order to be explicit: these people are also dedicated followers of Jesus and members of Baptist churches.

This means we don’t nominate someone just because, for example, they are a women, and we have a ‘quota’ to fill. We nominate women who are the best, willing, and available ‘governor’s’ in our Team of 40,000 Baptists in New Zealand.

More of a challenge

Selection of our governing group, and finding nominations is likely to be more difficult for a while. I found this myself when I was establishing a group recently and following a diversity matrix – I couldn’t just fling the net out wide, I needed to be specific and focused and patient – in the end I had one space left to fill, and I could have easily found a dozen white males willing to fill this space, but that would have ignored the priorities I was aiming to achieve.

Fund it

In this opinion piece I have eliminated a number of our boards, and focused our governance requirements. I now suggest we fund it well. A bit like the fee Directors of many professional organisations get, let’s give each of our volunteer Assembly Council nominated people $10,000/year to be on this board. This means we’re funding this by at least $100,000/year (plus travel, administration, etc). This is around the equivalence of having one person on a New Zealand average salary ($99,033).[1]

We might collectively decide this fee needs to be more or less than $10,000 each, but my point is to add value in order to make the decision easier for volunteers to commit. For example, if we want women on the board, many women of school-aged children work part-time. A $10,000 payment to be on our governing board makes it an easier pragmatic decision to make – to fund child-care and replace other needed employment. I’m also suggesting a $10,000 payment would make it an easier decision for the person who needs to take Annual Leave from their employment to attend meetings – currently pastors on Assembly Council generally absorb the cost into their normal church work time – I suspect it’s generally a hidden cost to the local church rather than a personal expense to the individual.

How this will pan out

I’m not alone in thinking we are in need of change (last year the Hui decided to review the Baptist constitution). My opinion is we will get some change with a more diverse governance group, as well as a more focused governance infrastructure.

Using a matrix of priorities for a period of time (maybe a generation – 20+ years), will guide us to act in line with what we say is important to us (for example, our affirmation of Treaty partnership, and our affirmation of women in leadership). In a generation’s time (the year 2045) our values will hopefully be engrained enough so that all our groups reflect the values we say we hold – we won’t need so many guiding lines.

In my mind, I can see our governance group reflecting something of what heaven will be like. We have a chance to organise ourselves like this now: by participating in the review of the Baptist Union constitution. It’s not boring at all: it’s part of articulating an expression of a future we hope to become. Can you imagine it?!




Photos: supplied by Mike Crudge.

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