Scotland is changing. The spiritual landscape has undergone a seismic shift in the last few decades. Obviously, there is nothing new under the sun and society ebbs and changes throughout history. The problem is that many churches have not reacted well, or in some cases even at all, to some of these societal changes, and they find themselves aging and dying in many communities. On schemes all over Scotland, mission halls and small independent churches are closing, and with them much gospel light is being extinguished. I recently spent a day with Harper memorial in Glasgow to discuss how we can move churches forward and to consider the following question:
How can we implement a vision for reaching lost people in Scotland within our local churches?
Change hurts. In John 15:2 we read that, “He (Jesus) cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” Likewise, the faithful gardener prunes his rose bushes to keep them healthy. It wouldn’t be much good if he left them to wither and die in the corner of the garden. In order to maintain their health, he prunes them. Many of our churches have not been pruned for many decades. They have just been left to slowly wither on the vine. They have not changed, nor have they sought to change. Of course, we are not talking about the gospel but, very often, the way that the gospel is presented has not altered in many churches for decades. We still expect people to turn up for our events. We rely on door knocking instead of cultivating relationships with unbelievers. I know of churches who still deliver children’s talks even though there are no children around anymore! They just haven’t reacted to change and so have just carried blithely on because that’s the way it’s always been done. Now, some of these things are not wrong. The question is, when did our church last do a complete assessment of all its ministries in an effort to ascertain which were healthy and which were not? When did the church last do an assessment of its local neighbourhood to assess how and if it has changed and what the church has done in order to respond to those changes? Any non-growing, non-fruit producing organism is a dead organism. We must prune or die. Many churches will die because of a combination of the following: poor leadership (a fear to cut programmes and long cherished ministries regardless of their poor health), hardness to change from congregants (who adopt ministries as their own and will not let go), buildings taking precedence over people (if we have spare money in the bank we use it to fix something rather than invest in people), members needs taking precedence and poor spiritual health across the board. “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me” (John. 15:4).
Evaluate what kind of member you are. Am I encouraging the pastor and the elders to embrace change, or am I fighting them at every corner? Do I greet every new idea I hear with cynicism or Spirit-filled optimism? Do I have an opinion on everything yet contribute very little in terms of constructive ideas? I say to my people that any fool can pick faults. That’s not a spiritual gift. But a wise person can spot weaknesses, see what needs pruning, and look for alternatives to help the growth of the local body. Maybe the problem in your church isn’t the leadership. Maybe it is you. Have you ever thought of that? Maybe the reason your church isn’t going forward is because you’re holding it back with your negativity, your bad attitude, your cynical comments, and your lack of spiritual fruit? Maybe some of us need to take a long look at John 15 and ask the Lord to prune us first.
All things must be covered by prayer. Pray for the unchurched people in your area: the elderly, the young, the unemployed, the poor, and the immigrants. Pray for souls to be saved and opportunities to arise, and they will come. God answers prayer. John 15:7, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”That’s a big promise, right? We must grasp on to that and persist in praying. How many lost souls is your church praying for by name? How many are you? If none specifically, why not? Maybe it is because we have lost touch with people and we don’t really know who our neighbours are any more. Often, we simply do not have because we do not ask (James 4:2). Bruce Ware puts it, “God has devised prayer as a means of enlisting us as participants in the work he has ordained, as part of the outworking of his sovereign rulership over all. . . . The relationship between divine sovereignty and petitionary prayer can be stated by this word: participation.”