When we were the first three church plants of 20schemes, I used to joke that it takes one Andy Prime (with all his natural gifting) to plant a church in Gracemount (Edinburgh), one Andi Mathieson (with all his chat and back story) to plant a church in Lochee (Dundee), and two fat guys called Pete to plant a church in Barlanark (Glasgow). Truth is, I was a risky pick for church planter in many ways. I’d never been to Bible College; never been mentored by older, wiser pastors; indeed, come to think of it, I’d never even been a member of a healthy church before we were placed in Harper Church in Glasgow as part of the 20schemes process.
So instead of praying “Here I am, send me” from Isaiah 6:8, I prayed “There they are, send them”. Back when 20schemes was just getting started, Mez and Shabba were driving around Scotland trying to understand what ministry was happening in Scotland’s traditionally working-class communities. One typically dull November day, they rocked up to Barlanark where they were introduced to Pete Bell and myself. At that time, we were youth workers in the local parish church. From that moment there was a spark (well, for Pete and I anyway). Here were people talking about local gospel churches as the answer to the need around us, rather than social or community projects. These were people committed to solid conservative Bible teaching, not the more progressive version that gets sent to most of our communities. And yet, they were also people ready to pull up their sleeves, move in, and spend their lives raising up local men and women to do the work of the church. From that moment, I was in.
The problem was, however, there was NO way I could be a church planter. I had the desire, but all the training I had was years of listening to Alistair Begg sermons and devouring any 9marks or John Piper book I could get my hands on. I assumed training for ministry meant uprooting out of the area I was ministering in and taking my young family to Bible college for 3 years, something my head said was wise but my heart said was counter-productive. I was already here, I was always getting plenty of opportunities to share the gospel and make disciples, was it really right to go? I remember meeting Mez and Andi Mathieson one January day in one of the coffee shops just outside of Barlanark. By this point, both Pete and I were utterly convinced that 20schemes should plant in Barlanark, but we were utterly unconvinced that we were the ones that were able to do it. In light of the profile 20schemes was building, our cry to Mez was “there they are, send them”.
The field was white for harvest, so surely now Mez would send labourers, and don’t worry we would stick around for the ride and lead some youth or community stuff for them as part of it. And yet as clearly as I remember that meeting, I remember Mez’s response even clearer: “No one else is coming boys, you’re here, you’ve got the vision, the passion, you go and do it…”. In many ways, that was like being released from a cage. I’d prayed about doing it, I’d longed to be able to do it, but just assumed an inexperienced untrained lad like me was not what we needed. And in a way I was right—Barlanark didn’t need me, it needed Jesus, and it just so happens that Jesus loves using pretty useless jars of clay to do his work, so that in the end it’s clear it was Christ who did it all along.
A lot has been poured into us from that day until now. We were sent to be members of a local gospel church in Glasgow and mentored by the pastors there. We have been supported, trained and encouraged by Mez in more ways than I can count. The pastoral skills we needed were forged in the trenches, with caring and experienced brothers and sisters walking with us and pointing us to Jesus every step of the way. And since those heady initial days, we (20schemes) have learned a lot and have built a robust programme so that church planters and revitalising pastors for local churches really can be trained and equipped in the local church.
God Gets the Glory
However, my story is still rare. Out of our 10 current planters, I’m the only one who has not completed a course at Bible college or seminary, but it is proof that (under God) it is possible. But retelling the Lord’s grace in my life is not the main purpose of this post. Instead, I’m praying that it helps raise up more who may be in a similar position to where I was. I now have the privilege of heading up the ministry of 20schemes in Glasgow & the West, and we are desperate for people to come and give their lives to planting and revitalising churches here. We currently have three active church plant sites in the West and three trainee planters, yet they are all American. One of my neighbours in the scheme recently quipped “you sure do love Americans don’t you?!” The truth is: I do. It is completely humbling to see these guys uproot their whole families and move across the world to be part of planting churches in these needy places (and if you are American and reading this then please do consider joining the crew).
However, we have also faced pushback from others in the Scottish church who think we are flooding our communities with Americans instead of using local people to do the work. But my simple question is always: Where are they? Show me the Scottish (or British!) lads willing to count the cost of moving in and giving their lives to this work and we will train, equip, and send them out—to the glory of God. But I think many Christians in the church in Scotland are in the same place I was. We see the need, we long for it to be done, and then we pray “there they are, send them”. And so, here is my plea as we start to really focus on Glasgow & the West in the next 10 years: If you (or someone in your church) has (1) the desire to see churches planted here, (2) the character that comes from walking daily with Christ, and (3) the raw gifting that can be honed and trained by people already doing the work, then please get in touch with me. We need planters, revitalisers, women’s workers, gospel workers and even local indigenous interns.
The robust 20schemes training process is now being used in Glasgow & the West, where you can be mentored and trained in churches in Glasgow whilst working toward planting or revitalising in one of the ever-increasing number of churches here that need our help. We can even work towards providing the financial support that will be needed. We will support and care for your family as part of our ministry network. But we can’t create you out of the dust. We need you. A number of years ago I heard someone teach on Matthew 9:37–38 where Jesus said to his disciples: “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest.”
I’m asking you to join us in praying this for Glasgow & the West. But in the very next verses of Matthew (at the start of chapter 10) Jesus then commissioned and sent out to the harvest the very people he asked to pray for people to be sent. They prayed, there they are, send them and Jesus answered, here you are, I’m sending you. That resonates with me. In many ways, by God’s grace, that is my story. God took an untrained and unexperienced lad and used him to help plant a church in one of Glasgow’s needy communities. And I just wonder: Might this be your story, too? Glasgow alone has 97 working class communities with very little gospel light (and that’s saying nothing of the 100s more in the surrounding areas). The need is great, and the labourers are few. So maybe, just maybe, instead of praying “there they are, send them”… Is the Lord actually calling you to say, “Here I am, send me”?
To find out more about coming to work and serve in a church plant in the schemes, or if your church could partner with us, please email Pete Stewart.
You can also explore our work in the West of Scotland and find ways to get involved at the link below.