I've been chuckling today because I have appeared on the dessert menu or coffee course of a list of influential baptists. You can check it out here at Neil Brighton's blog (I don't appear until the comments kick in!). It's a good list - the dinner one, that is. But I share Paul Lavender's concern and would want to ask a broader question.
What do we mean by influence and where is that influence best felt? To be fair, Neil's post has come out of conversations about where the Baptist family in England (particularly) is going. We face times of austerity like everyone else and have to make choices about the use of resources. We also face declining numbers - not everywhere, but overall. There are also exciting things happening but these tend to be on the margins, in places where the centre of Baptist life isn't really looking. And they tend to be happenings that defy easy definition and corralling into tidy pigeon holes.
As a movement, we have tended to struggle with pioneers. How do we train them, how do we resource them and how do we give them time to explore and find new maps for our mission? Our current list of ministerial competencies doesn't seem to have much space for anything that doesn't look like church as we've done it for the past century. That clearly won't help us chart a way to mission for the current situation we face, let alone the future.
Our current models are all resource intensive - costly buildings, costly ministers, costly initiatives to attract people, costly technical specs for our outreach. Now, I am one of those costs - a minister who gets paid for it in a church that spends a small third world country's debt on our buildings. But I see the writing on the wall for us and all like us and we have got to find better, more organic ways of engaging with people in our communities; a way that puts the Kingdom before the empire (our empire that is).
So I have a feeling that influence is something that is going to emerge at the margins, probably from those margins that we're not paying any attention to. I have a feeling that what emerges that will be influential will, in the first instance, be very difficult to see or understand. The move of the Spirit and the emergence of the Kingdom tend to be somewhat shadowy and hard to pin down at first. They certainly do not lend themselves to easy measurement or categorisation. A bit like Jesus, really.
So, if I was going to name influential baptists, I'd begin with Peter Dominey and Ivan King and church from scratch precisely because it is so difficult to get a handle on what it is and yet it has the reek of authenticity, the aroma of the Kingdom. That'd be a good place to go an sniff.