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BWA – Adults, Youth and Children Together

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I remember with joy visiting with Bruce Milne during the 2016 BWA Annual Gathering in Vancouver, Canada. During my college days, I used Dr. Milne’s commentary on the Gospel according to John. In later years, I became aware of ways in which this saintly man has contributed to the ministry of BWA. It was good to see him again, after we last met at the Baptist World Congress in Melbourne, Australia, in 2000, where he was a featured speaker.

For 18 years, Bruce Milne served as pastor of the First Baptist Church, Vancouver, where I had the pleasure to preach on Sunday, July 3, 2016. Shortly afterwards, I learned of the illness of Mrs. Milne and I joined three friends on the visit to the Milnes. Since that visit, Mrs. Milne completed her earthly journey. She ran her leg of the race of life as a child of God and we thank God for the glorious hope that is an integral part of our faith.

Dr. Milne gave me a copy of his book, Dynamic Diversity: Bridging Class, Age, Race and Gender in the Church (IVP Academic, 2007). In this book, Milne describes the crisis of the third millennium as “a crisis of community.” The church’s obligation to manifest our togetherness under Christ is critically needed in these times. Milne shares a compelling vision of the church as “the new humanity.” This is a community in which “all the primary divisions and polarities of [the] surrounding culture are confronted and find resolution under the gracious reign of the Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a “family” in which Jesus welcomes women and men, but also children and youth.

Around the world, people understand the term “youth” in a variety of ways. However we interpret the term, published resources are available to those engaged in youth ministry – the ministry the youth offer to God as well as the ministry the church offers to the youth. Among these are the Journal of Youth Ministry, which provides room for professional youth ministry educators to discuss relevant issues, and the Journal of Youth and Theology, which focuses primarily on “academic study and research of youth and youth ministry.” Perspectives on youth ministry are usually related to the specificity of the location, culture and tradition of the churches concerned. The need for more resources that address the concerns, and speak in the perspective of the Two-Thirds World, is evident.  

Meanwhile, BWA has a vocation to model inclusiveness in ministry. We are called to be a cross-generational community in which the gifts of young people and children are received with joy. In keeping with this conviction, BWA is currently redesigning its five-yearly congress to make it a family event with all age-groups planned for, represented, and participating fully – not only in discrete, separated, parallel groups.

It will sometimes be necessary for people in different age groups in the church to meet by themselves. Yet, how encouraging it is that churches that normally baptize only those who can speak for themselves are making sure people do not misunderstand what this implies. Baptists actually do recognize that the church ministers to, and with, families and people of all age-groups. They acknowledge that all congregants normally enjoy some form of belonging within the gathered community.

Insistence on the full, permanent “unsegregated” participation of children and youth is not part of a grand design to sideline the young by absorbing them into the mass over which adults preside. It is instead about affirming both groups as gifted participants in, and contributors to, the life of the church. With the inquisitiveness, vitality and daring approaches of the youth, who are not averse to risk-taking, the church becomes the arena for more vibrant and creative ministry. Only through the exercise of vulnerability can the church claim to have any comprehension of the meaning of God becoming a human being in the baby of Bethlehem.

In our 2020 congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the Baptist community has an opportunity to model what it means to be a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, cross-generational community in which the people – unbound by patriarchy – can receive with joy, and celebrate enthusiastically, the gifts of multiple groups of God’s people.

As BWA goes through the planning stages for the 2020 congress, may we approach this historic event not treating it as an experiment, but regarding it as a sign of our intention to honor such a vision as Bruce Milne so beautifully illustrates in his concept of “the new humanity.”

Neville George Callam, a Jamaican, has been serving as general secretary and chief executive officer of the Baptist World Alliance since his election in Accra, Ghana in 2007.


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Guest Monday, 06 July 2020