I need to start by offering a spoiler alert! At some point in this post it might sound like I'm actually advocating widespread redundancies as the way out of our financial crisis. I'm not, and please don't read it as such. On the other hand, if we are not prepared to think the apparently unthinkable, then the novel and creative might just be out of reach too. Let me explain by way of two stories.
The first comes from my time at British Gas. I was on some sort of course, can't remember what exactly, based at a hotel somewhere in West London. We were divided into groups and on one occasion given a research project to consider. In my group I was the only one currently working in a research environment. The project was the remote reading of gas meters. Each group had to do a presentation and a senior member of one of the research stations was brought in to reflect on our presentations. We were third up and I got the job of presenting our ideas.
The first two groups both included in their presentations thoughts about the impact of remote reading on the jobs of the meter readers. They both received the same criticism that that was not their concern, they were to focus on the remote reading question and possible solutions. So, although we'd talked about the same issue, I dropped it from our presentation because I thought by now we'd all have got the idea that this was not part of the project. Not so. One member of our group spoke up after my presentation to say that I hadn't mentioned the meter readers. My response was to point out to them that we already knew that this was not part of the brief.
The point is quite simple. No matter how much we cared about the meter readers and their jobs, that wasn't the project. Focussing on that one issue would not help us think creatively about solutions to the questions raised by the project brief.
The second story comes from a conference I attend some years ago. It reaffirmed something I learnt in my early days as a research scientist about the non-evaluation of initial ideas. The speaker at the conference talked about how they came to design a standard control circuit for many household appliances like washing machines and dishwashers. They began by thinking about how a ladybug might control such an appliance. From that seemingly ridiculous starting point came the design of the circuit board.
Again the point is simple. Think the unusual, even the unthinkable and maybe you will find your way to the solution.
So what about the financial gap in the Baptist Union's funding. Well, we could take the kind of approach we've taken many times before and simply ask the churches to give more. The truth is I can't ever remember that working. We may have increased income, but never enough to cover the shortfall. And it all rather assumes that the churches, and the people in them, actually want to give towards the centre. From personal experience the evidence is very strong that fewer people in our baptist churches feel any sense of connection to the denomination for all sorts of reasons.
Perhaps we need to take the radical thinking approach, not as the end of the game, but the beginning. Maybe we start by asking what a movement would look like if we started it today, rather than how we can shore up our denominational structures that may have served us well in the past, but may not be the best way to do things now. I don't know.
At our recent ministers' gathering someone said something along the lines of, "Well, of course we can't make everyone at Didcot redundant can we?" I have to confess that I wanted to ask why not. I also wanted to ask why we couldn't do a few other things either, like stopping home mission grants. I know it sounds horrible, but unless we're willing to ask the question and answer it in a way that has less to do with jobs and careers and more to do with mission and kingdom, well how far will we actually get.
Thinking the so-called unthinkable does not mean doing the unthinkable. On the other hand it might just allow some hitherto unexplored creative ideas to emerge.