November 10, 2014

How Can the Church Respond to 21st Century Scotland? (4)

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?

We must develop a bigger vision of evangelism and mission. We have to work hard at losing the mindset that evangelism is just an event we invite our pals to. Who is living on our doorstep? What community groups are taking place that we could join and serve out there? The best mission and evangelism happens out in the world and not in our building(s). How many non-Christian friends do we have? How much do we seek to understand them and their world? Books like “Everyday Church” (Tim Chester & Steve Timmis) are supremely helpful in educating our people and helping them to think through how we do church on the margins of 21st Century Britain.

Be hospitable. Paul calls the church, not just the elders, to ‘practice hospitality’ in Romans 12. This is such a neglected gift within the church. Yet I think it is the key to evangelism in our churches. If our homes and lives are not open, then we will find very little opportunity to share Christ in meaningful ways. Many Christians would think of themselves as extremely hospitable. After all, they have a house full of guests for Sunday lunch. Yet, historically, Christian hospitality was one of the most subversive acts possible. It wiped out the barriers of race, gender, and socio-economic status as Greeks, Jews, women, and slaves all ate and worshipped God together. What greater witness to the watching world? How many of our guests are complete strangers? How many are homeless or destitute or from the highways and byways? We may serve at soup kitchens or food pantries, but how many of those we come into contact with have we embraced fully into our lives? The process of hospitality is to turn strangers into friends.

Embrace failure. It is our friend. Ministry is messy, and we will have casualties to go along with our trophies of grace. People come and go. They make commitments to Christ and they wander off. Jesus prepared us for this in the parable of the Sower. We are under no illusions that every plant and revitalisation we attempt through 20schemes will be successful. The problem with many churches is that they have allowed the fear of failure to cripple them, and so they try very little without excessive risk assessments. We will not win Scotland by being fearful and conservative. We will do it by taking outrageous steps of faith in the name of King Jesus. When was the last time our church engaged in a ministry or outreach that made us so fearful for its success that we just had to rely on God entirely if it was to be realised?

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