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?
Free your leaders to lead. “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (Heb. 13:17) Many churches ‘call’ leaders because they feel the need to change but, once in place, do everything they can to resist any and all new ideas. A lack of confidence in leadership quickly spreads like poison and damages the church, making it less fruitful and effective for the kingdom. We all know of churches that spit out leaders with alarming regularity. Of course, if there are sin issues, then these must be addressed. But, if there are not and you are merely opposed to their leadership because you don’t like their new ideas or, more likely, you are annoyed that their changes affect your ‘ministry’ or comfort levels, then you must seek the Lord in repentance. Granted, as a congregationalist, the last word always lies with the membership in the major decisions of church life, but if a leader or leadership team are not allowed to lead then the church will stay stuck in neutral or go backwards quickly.
The Bible must remain central to everything. Any and all change cannot drift from the anchor of God’s Word. That’s what most people worry about. What will change look like? Will I introduce a puppet ministry into the church? Will I water down the gospel by doing interpretive dance? When Paul went to Corinth he went, not with wisdom and fancy strategies, but the gospel. “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:1–2). There are lots of ‘new’ ideas and books out there that promote alternative ways to do church (and just about everything else). A church must not resist change, but a leader must resist wandering from the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we build our ministries on gimmicks, then we will be having to reinvent ourselves every five minutes to keep up. If we build our community on the Word of God, it will have the stability, longevity, and sustainability required to keep moving forward.
We must be training leaders. We must be developing a culture of discipleship and participation, not consumerism and pacifity. Young people today, more than ever, in our culture are ‘issues’ led. They have a concern for the poor, and social justice for the environment, slavery, and a whole host of things. Because of this, many young men and women are applying to 20schemes because they are desperate to serve the Lord in needy places. We, then, are utilising that energy to educate them on their need serve the local church. We want them to think about spending their lives in revitalisation or church planting in the schemes. If we do not have a plan to train our young people, besides sending the elite few to Bible Colleges, they will go to the smorgasbord of para-church organisations currently in existence who will use them, harness their energy and vitality, and allow them to step out in faith in service to King Jesus. Many churches are lamenting their lack of young people. Here are the facts on the ground. Young people will follow visionary leadership. They will in turn create a buzz and ministry opportunities. That in turn will produce more new converts and more opportunity for discipleship. There are literally thousands of young people out there looking to serve the kingdom of God. If they are not attracted to your church, then why not? What real opportunities, besides throwing them at children’s clubs, are you offering them to serve and grow? What pathways to leadership does your church provide for its next generation? What are you going to do about it?